We thought my mother was praying when she died — Tafawa Balewa’s son Usman

Usman Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, a retired senior public servant in Bauchi State, is one of the children of Hajiya Jummai Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the only surviving wife of Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who passed on recently at the age of 85. He spoke with DAVID ADENUGA about his mother’s passion and lifestyle.

 

Your mother, Hajiya Jummai Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the only surviving wife of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, passed on recently at the age of 85. What effect has the loss had on you?

Her death is devastating. She has been my guide and mentor. I lost my father at a very early age and she took over both role as a father and a mother. She inculcated the value of honesty, hard work and faith in us before her demise.

Where were you when you heard about her death?

I was right by her bedside at the hospital in Lagos where she died. I was even holding her hands 10 minutes before she passed away.

In which hospital did she die?

Premier Hospital on Victoria Island

What was she diagnosed of before her death?

She was diagnosed of heart failure.

 

 But she travelled to India this year for medical treatment. Didn’t she get better?

She was in India for some time. When she came back, she was better, so we thought she had recovered. But you know when your time reaches, there is a way to go, so her health kept deteriorating.

Who sponsored her trip to India?

She actually travelled twice to India this year. The first trip was sponsored by the former Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, with help from the state government. The Federal Government also contributed its quota to her second trip to India, together with the former speaker and the state government.

 

 How close were you to your mother?

Among the male children, I was the closest to her.

 

 What are your fondest memories of her?

I don’t want to heap praises on her because she is my mother. But a lot of people who trooped into our compound then had said Hajiya was a kind hearted woman. Hajiya is a woman who cares about the needy and will go all the way out to assist even if she doesn’t have enough. She has touched lot of people’s lives.

She was so generous that those days when we (her children) gave her gifts, she would give them out to those in need. I cannot count the number of orphans she brought up. That was where her happiness lay; seeing other people happy.

As I told you earlier, she is also prayerful. She prays fervently. When her moment approached, we heard her praying. She was praying on her sick bed when she died. That was about two minutes before she died around 5pm on a Sunday evening.

We thought she was still praying; we didn’t know she had passed away. She had an oxygen mask on her face but we could hear her audible voice reciting the name of Allah. After some time, she just kept quiet and we thought she was sleeping.

I, my elder brother and younger brother went out thereafter. We were happy that she was finally recovering; we didn’t know she had passed away. It was the doctor who confirmed her death. All efforts to revive her proved abortive.

 What were her hobbies?

Hajiya loved watching India movies and football. She supported Manchester United Football club, which is the club my younger brother also supports. She took to Man United because of him. She stopped attending ceremonies due to her age and poor health.

 How did she manage to take care of her children after the demise of her late husband and former prime minister, Tafawa Balewa?

From the proceeds she got from her landed properties, she took care of her children. At times, the federal and state governments assisted, and some people of goodwill also contributed.

 How many children did she leave behind?

We are seven in number, apart from those that have passed away. We are four females and three males.

 How was she able to ensure peace, been the only surviving wife in a polygamous family before her death?

My father made sure he united everyone before he died, so they had this element of respect among themselves. She happened to be the second wife among the four wives my father married. Before the other wives died, you would not know if there was a friction between them, as they were able to handle their mutual relationships while all the children lived in peace.

 What did she hate the most?

She hated cheating. What she always told me was to never cheat anybody. I will never forget her for that.

What are the things you think that people don’t know about her?

What people don’t know is that Hajiya was very protective. She always made sure her children were safe. When she came back from India, she made sure she called everyone of us. There was a time I travelled to Abuja, immediately my flight landed, it was her call I first receive when I switched on my phone. She actually monitored my flight (laughs).

Has being the son of the late PM Tafawa Balewa really opened doors for you?

Not really. It is a long story. What I like the most is when people say my father is a good man. While I was resident in Abuja, there was this mosque in Zaki where I observed ablution. The Imam,

though not from Bauchi, there was no Friday he would not call for prayers for the late PM. That is a great honour. But in terms of  his name opening doors for me, it has not.

What was Hajiya favourite music?

Mostly, she listened to Hausa music. She was very current too. She listened to more of news though.

 What did she use to tell you about Nigeria?

She was not happy with the style of leadership in the country, but she always prayed that one day, it would get better. She wasn’t happy with the situation of things in the country. To her, it was mind-boggling to hear that somebody can steal N10,000 not to talk of billions of naira. She used to be sad to hear this kind of thing.

What did she tell you about your late father who died while you were still very young?

There was a time I was trying to be a truant in secondary school. She used to tell me to follow my father’s example. She said he normally trekked from

Bauchi to Katsina to go to school. She told me that he went through a lot for the unity of Nigeria. She also told me about his integrity. She said her husband had every opportunity to enrich himself but he feared that one day, he would die, and what would he tell Allah in heaven? She said one of the values her late husband imbibed in his household was honesty.

What specifically would you identify as your mother’s core contribution to humanity?

There were some leaders who use to come to seek advice and counselling from her on certain things. She helped a lot of orphanage homes, mostly girls. She offered several humanitarian services to them. She just assisted without caring to know where they came from.

Have you ever considered following in your father’s footsteps by going into politics?

I did, but I got scared. Now I am a retired public servant. I was in service for 27 years and retired last year.

How large is your polygamous family, as your father was believed to have many children?

We are only 16 left. Some have passed away.

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