“From Allah we came and onto Him is our return.” And so it was with Mohammed Uba Salisu. The inevitable call came for him two days after his 60th birthday, at the NAF Base Hospital Kaduna, on the night of 20th May 2018. Allahu akbar! May Allah have mercy on him. May He also have mercy on us when our turn eventually comes, as we all are on the queue of that inevitability.
Uba Salisu had a humble background in the Zaria neighbourhood of Samaru, from where he got admitted into the Nigerian Military School Zaria, with the 1973-77 Class. While in NMS, he quickly became visible for his peculiar play style and position, and exploits, on the soccer pitch. Off the pitch, he was quite sociable, and was very equal to the fashionable trends of the times.
Salisu was a peaceful and patient person, somewhat shy, and always with an assortment of unique ideas and alternate viewpoints, and was rather quick to jokes, than to anger. In his complex simplicity, he always had his rather peculiar ways and means, often behind the limelight.
Salisu later joined the 24th Regular Course of the Nigerian Defence Academy, from where he was commissioned into the Nigerian Air Force in June 1980, and after the necessary basic courses, he was deployed to the Air Intelligence Department. Soon after, he got admitted into the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in Sept 1981, where he bagged a BSc in Accounting. Upon graduation in 1984, he was posted to the NAF Finance Corps.
The watershed for him and his military career came in 1986 when, as a Flight Lieutenant, he was posted to the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow, the then Soviet Union, as the Finance Attaché of the Defense Section.
The Moscow posting launched Salisu into the international scene, and opened up great opportunities for him. He quickly found his feet, as it were, and deployed his skills in the new environment. With time, he developed a wide network, especially among the Nigerian and other African students in that country. His admirable patience, down-to-earth demeanour, and friendly disposition, ensured for him the popularity and rather addictive loyalty it evoked in many of those he came across in his Moscow days. Some of such beneficiaries whose life-changing encounters with his kindness critically lifted them, are today big people in Ethiopia, with others in England, and elsewhere. They still dearly hold onto the Salisu name and memory with reverence and gratitude.
Salisu returned from his diplomatic sojourn in Moscow in early 1990, and was summarily retired from military service as a Flight Lieutenant, later that year. He took it in stride, and his characteristic calmness, perhaps in the knowledge, belief and hope that he had accumulated enough goodwill to mitigate his new, unexpected situation.
This was also the period of the Soviet Union political upheaval and transition to the Russian Federation. From this political dislocation emerged perhaps the greatest opportunity for Salisu, when through the instrumentality of his special Russian friend and confidant, he was offered the opportunity of his lifetime, to lease the Soviet Aeroflot aircraft that were in surplus availability, on very generous terms. He took up the aviation business challenge, and made a success of it, by initially establishing the Harka Airline partnership, which later became Harka Air Services, operating an all-Russian aircraft fleet, a pioneering status in Nigerian aviation indeed.
Harka Air had an all-Nigerian management team led by Salisu and his deputy, Mohammed Yusufu (who later became the MD FAAN, and now of blessed memory too), with a Russian Resident Representative, Mr Zhukov. It had an all-Russian flight crew, with the cabin crew mostly Nigerians, with two Eritrean hostesses from London.
Salisu’s peculiar management style was largely a reflection of his personality. In Harka Air employ, he had place for everyone related to him and his interests that needed a placement with his airline. He particularly offered massive employment to his NMS classmates out in the cold, and to other NMS ‘Ex-Boys’ and other retired military personnel who needed jobs with him. He thus created a destination in Harka, where everyone, especially in the foregoing categories, had a place to hang onto. In this motley crowd, Salisu was able to create the ‘Harka tribe’ and family, that have largely remained gratefully loyal for the shade and platform he offered them when it mattered most.
In his generous spirit and the love for his truncated career constituency, he had introduced and instituted the novel idea of a 50% discount on airfares to all military service personnel flying with Harka Air. This was a very popular move among members of the military, and a move that endeared him to his former constituency for such a thoughtful subsidy relief.
The concentration of a sizeable number of his NMS mates under his business leadership virtually made his office the ‘centre for Ex-Boy’s affairs’, from where he selflessly nurtured the formal formation and operations of the “NMS Ex-Boys’ Association”, with his office as the ready secretariat. It is thus to his credit that the association he laboured hard to establish is now flourishing with several state chapters all over the nation.
Salisu will be remembered for his large heart that had room for everyone and everything, as testified to by many of his associates. He was a paradox that always simplified complex issues with his characteristic humour. He had health challenges he was battling with, and in one of his hospital visits he had called to intimate me of the visit, and when I asked what the diagnosis was, his dismissively simplified response was: “Alhaji, it is all a naira-and-kobo matter, and I even told the doctors so.”
Salisu left behind his two wives and many children, his siblings and relations. May Allah comfort them, and protect, guide and care for them all. May Allah forgive his shortcomings and abundantly reward his good deeds with Aljanna Firdausi. Ameen.
DanAsabe wrote in from Abuja.