Isa Gusau: A Gift That Touched Everyone

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TRIBUTE

By
Nasiru L. Abubakar

On Sunday, January 14, 2024, we buried our friend, Isa Gusau at the Gudu cemetery after a well-attended funeral prayer at the Abuja National Mosque.

Hours earlier, his body had arrived in Nigeria to the waiting hands of Vice President Kashim Shettima and Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum, two personalities he served as spokesperson. After serving Shettima during his eight-year stint as Borno State governor, Isa was retained by Zulum from 2019 until his death on Thursday, January 11, 2024 at an Indian hospital in New Delhi.

As a testament to his dedication to duty for the more than 12 years he had served Borno State, making many to mistake him for a ‘son of the soil’, Zulum led a powerful delegation to Isa Gusau’s funeral.

Those on the delegation included Senators Kaka Shehu Lawan (Borno Central) and Mohammed Tahir Monguno (Borno North), as well as House of Representatives members from Borno, Secretary to the Borno State Government, Bukar Tijjani and the Group Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) Mele Kyari. Many others from Borno attended on their own.

As Shakespeare would say, “Death, a necessary end, will come when it will come,” but Isa’s death has left not a few of us shattered. Personally, after relating closely with Isa for about three decades, his death has left me with more memories than I can begin to reel out here, none of them negative.

We first met as students of Mass Communication at the Kaduna Polytechnic in 1996 and were together until our graduation in 2002.

Back then, he was known to all of us as Isa Alhaji Umar (or Rough Coins, which probably followed him from FGC Kano).

His sense of style was apparent: shirts were tucked in, Kaftan went along with caps. He also looked good in casuals, mostly weekends. Always smiling, he had a good sense of humour and was very brilliant. He hit 4.35 out of 5.0 in our final examinations!

Socially, Isa mixed well with both students and lecturers.

He was also very enterprising and industrious, never afraid or tired of giving. When we were leaving after completing our Higher National Diploma (HND), Isa had a gift for each and every member of the 2002 set.

There was even a wall clock for the whole class, which I mysteriously found in my possession long after our graduation.

Unknown to both of us, we were to remain glued together after our graduation.

We were mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) the same year – 03-03-03 – and posted to Taraba State.

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After our orientation, we were posted to the Press Unit of the Taraba State Government House as our place of primary assignment.

The Rev Jolly Nyame was the governor then. To this day, I have no idea how it all happened.

As youth corps members, we wielded considerable power, even though our primary duty was to go through national dailies, identify and cut stories about the governor or the state, as well as take notes during events at the Government House. In the absence of our immediate boss, journalists in the Government House needed our cooperation (approval really) to use the phone or fax machine because we had the passwords. Personal calls, when allowed, must not go beyond one minute.

We could refuse permission without any explanation. And there was no GSM service in Taraba State then.

After settling down as corps members, Isa would cover events and send stories to Daily Trust, which had no correspondent in Jalingo at the time.

Rather than use the free phone at our disposal at the Government House, Isa would go to a business centre around Nitel office. “It gives me independence,” he would say.

Being one of the most respected newspapers in Taraba State, Isa instantly became popular with news makers within and outside government because his stories were always published, even as copies of the paper arrived Jalingo a day late. Some journalists were not happy because Isa took the shine off them.

I used to go to Isa’s place at the Commissioners Quarters where he was staying. My own accommodation was around the palace of the Emir of Muri.

We would eat (Isa was a good cook), and pray together. After our prayers, Isa would sometimes remain on his praying mat doing zikr (chanting praises or prayers repeatedly seeking the blessings of Allah) for hours.

I took over his small car because he would hand me the keys when going home, usually late. Still, the next day, he would be in the office before me.

When the then Taraba State NYSC coordinator, Alhaji Bashir Yakasai, asked him to lead the production of NYSC magazine for our set of corps members, Isa agreed only after convincing me to be the editor-in-chief.

We successfully produced two publications (for our set and for the set before us). Back at KadPoly, we were part of the production team of KADASCOPE, a publication of Mass Communication students.

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For the commitment he had shown, Isa was issued with a letter of employment by Daily Trust long before we completed our service year.

And on completion in February 2004, he was posted to Maiduguri as a reporter. That was when he switched from Isa Alhaji Umar to Isa Umar Gusau to reflect where he hailed from, but he was born in 1975 in Benin City, Edo State.

Though I had been freelancing for Weekly Trust (now Daily Trust Saturday) from August 2000, I didn’t become a fulltime staff until in October 2004, and I was posted to Abuja.

About four months after our service, Isa was to take us back to Jalingo for his wedding, which held in June 2004. While I travelled from Kaduna for the wedding, Ismail Omipidan, our schoolmate in KadPoly and currently the media aide to the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Gboyega Oyetola, came with Isa’s colleagues from Maiduguri, where they reconnected as journalists.

When it was my turn to get married exactly two years later, Isa supported me and travelled all the way from Maiduguri to attend my wedding in June 2006 in Kaduna.

We continued as colleagues in Daily Trust until Isa resigned to become the spokesperson of then Governor Shettima in March 2012.

Before then, he had worked in Borno, Yobe and Rivers, where he was responsible for the whole Niger Delta region. Indeed, he exited Daily Trust about the same time he was promoted from Bureau Chief in Maiduguri to Deputy Editor (Sunday) in Abuja.

As a journalist, Isa showed courage and dedication to duty. In a widely published tribute, Shettima narrated how Isa had been a problem for them during the administration of Sen Ali Modu Sheriff with his factual reporting.

For refusing to be compromised in the course of his work, Isa became the first to win the Daily Trust Board Chairman’s award and cash prize for Integrity in the journalists’ category. He also enjoyed other incentives and accelerated promotions due to performance.

When he took up appointment as Shettima’s media aide, Isa did not stop trying to further his education within and outside Nigeria.

While serving under Shettima and Zulum, Isa did a masters’ degree and a postgraduate diploma in Labour and Public Relations from the University of Maiduguri. He also obtained a bachelor’s degree with first-class in Media, Public Relations and Advertising from Middlesex University in London, as well as another master’s degree in Media and Public Relations with distinction at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

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When in 2020 he requested a one-year study leave to focus on his studies in the UK, Zulum urged him to continue and oversee activities from there. As a show of support, Zulum, in November 2020, visited the family of Isa Gusau after his return to the UK for studies. Zulum, during the visit, interacted with Gusau’s three children to give them some respite from their father’s absence.

Shettima had paid a similar visit a few days earlier to check on Gusau’s family. Unknown to both, their visits were like a dress rehearsal of what to come.

It is indeed painful losing Isa at such a young age. Nothing prepared us for this exit, not even the piece he penned in January last year, where he informed of a surgery he had to undergo in India, but which he didn’t tell us because, according to him, “Sometimes, the best way to protect your loved ones and friends is by making them think everything is okay.

You may torture and potentially harm some if they know precisely what you might be passing through. Unless it happens beyond your control, what is really the point of deliberately making your loved ones and friends suffer from the pains of extreme imagination and mental bereavement, whereas putting them in that state would not quite change your condition?”

That piece, which was written to assure us that the surgery he had was successful, turned out to be a self-written obituary in retrospect, just as it has proven Isa’s belief in Almighty Allah and the divine decree.

The last time we spoke was on October 28, 2023 when he called me. I never knew he was preparing for a return to India because, just like the previous instance, he didn’t tell us.

The Almighty Allah had decreed that Isa would exit this world at the time he did in far away India, but as many have testified, he made very positive impacts on the lives of many, from family members to colleagues and associates, including people he didn’t really know.

Isa was married with three children and had many brothers and sisters.

It is our prayer that the Almighty Allah would forgive his shortcomings, accept his numerous good deeds and admit him into jannatul firdaus, along with our departed loved ones.

May he also strengthen Isa’s family, guide and guard his three children to their fullest potentials.

Abubakar is the editor-in-chief of DATELINE.NG

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