In life, there are certain truisms, the most factual and definite of which is the prescription of Allah (SWT), which says in Surah (Chapter) 3, Verse 1, “ Kullu nafsin zaikatil maut! That is to say, “Each life will have a taste of death”. The Hausa People have translated the saying into: “ Duk mai rai mamaci ne.” But there are very important aspects of this truism that the Almighty Allah SWT has kept to himself. Only He knows the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘how’ of the occurance of death.
Why am I saying all these things? It is because I have just lost a very dear friend whom, some months ago, we had toyed with the idea of travelling to Egypt with our families for a holiday. But man proposes, while God disposes, because as fate would have it, he was to travel to the same Egypt with his family without me and my family and was destined to remain there until the Day of Judgement. The family he travelled with did return home tearfully, but he was destined not to return with them. He died there in the eallrly hours of Monday, December 12, 2019 and was burried in Cairo on after Asr Prayer on Tuesday, December 11, 2019. That friend was no one other than Alh. Lawal Wowo Gafai, porpularly known to his close friends as ‘LAWAL A. WOWO’.
Lawal Wowo was more than an ordinary friend to me and many others. He was a confidant, a companion, and an adviser to me. He was a person that would never shy away from expressing his opinion on any issue. He was a sparring partner when we disagreed, which was something quite often. But most importantly to me, he was one person that would insist that I did what he regarded to be the right thing to do given the circumstances, even if my inclination was not to do that thing. On the other hand, he would stand firm that I would not do a thing he considered to be the wrong thing to do, no matter how much I wanted to do that thing. given the circumstances. I would say, with the benefit of hindsight that he usually turned out to be right.
Although he was a little bit older than me, Lawal Wowo and I were born in different quarters of Katsina town. But by mere conincidence, while his uncle lived close to our family house, my aunt lived very close to his family house, so even if we were not acquainted, we must had cross each other’s paths when we were in junior and senior primary schools. For our respective post primary education, I went to Katsina Provincial Secondary School, while he went to Katsina Teachers College. Later he went to finish his Teachers Grade II course at Ibadan. Thereafter, he left Katsina to Kano, Zaria and Kaduna, while I left Katsina for Kano and Ibadan for our respective tertiary education and working career.
Lawal Wowo and I discovered each other fully in Abuja. Later, however, we came to realise that we had played and interracted together at same places in Katsina. But we came to appreciate each other almost immediately we met. Perhaps reason for that was because we immediately came to realise that we were of different character traits. While he was quick tempered, I was not; while I was always persistent on issues, he was more easy going; and while I could be circumspect with people on issues, Lawal was bold and direct when expressing himself on issues. But most most telling was that while he was quick and hot tempered, especially when he thought he was being looked down upon, I was more tolerant and took long to get agitated.
We became so close that when I was the Permanent Secretary Economic Affairs in the Presidency, he was transferred to that department. Later when I was transferred to the Ministry of Defence, because of his ability and hard work, I asked that he be transferred to that ministry. He was, and he worked directly in my office. Lawal Wowo was both a patient and an impatient man. He could be cool and accommodating, and the next minute combative, especially when he was provoked, At that time, his anger would know no bound!
The priorities of Lawal’s life were his faith, family (nuclear and extended) and his friends in that order. He would never do anything not permitted by Islam, or question or deliberately refrain from doing what the religion of Islam prescribed or permited. Although he was not a religious extremist in the real sense of the word, Lawal could go to any extent to champion the cause of Islam. He would go to any length to promote it, and that in regard, he was an active member of various Mosque Committees, and Islamiyya Schools. He had helped to raise alot of money for the construction of mosques and Islamiyya Schools. Whatever had to do with Islam, Lawal would champion, promote and protect it. May the Almighty Allah (SWT) reward him abundantly for that.
Next in his priorities was the welfare of his immediate family – his beloved and dutiful wife, Hajiya Magajiya, as he affectionately called her, his children – Mustafa, who preceeded him in death, Muktar, Mubarak, Mujahid, Nana and Maryam. He took great care to bring up his childred well and he never recovered from the loss of Al- Mustapha, his first child. Lawal was caring to members of his extended family too, and was most of the time on the road to attend to one function of theirs or the other. He was always attending one family fuction or the other mostly in Katsina, but nowhere was too far for Lawal to drive to to attend one function or the other. And he was always driving himself there. At one time towards the end of his life, I had to come down heavily on him to stop driving himself to long distances. I had to insist that if he was to travel that frequently and to long distances, he had to get someone to drive him there. When I put my foot firmly down on that, I partially succeeded to some extent, but I knew that in reality he never stopped driving himself completely.
To his friends, Lawal was a pillar of support. Sometimes in the early 1990s, a few of us from Katsina who were resident in Abuja, formed an association, which we later named ABOKAN AMANA. The objectives of the association were to foster close relationship amongst ourselves and our families, and to contribute money to undertake some philanthropic works in Katsina State. Our slogan was, and has remained, ‘ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE!’. The association has since become so formidable that we got it registered with the CAC as an NGO. Lawal was a foundation member of the association and was at one time even its secretary. Although Lawal was close to all his friends, I have to say that since his retirement from public service, he and I became very, very close. We were always together in the day time and on Sundays that some people took to calling us the ‘Katsina Twins’.
The benefits of our closeness was both ways, although I can now admit that I was the greater beneficiary. Lawal was always at the forefront of my affairs and was always accompanying me to functions both within and even outside the country. He was one of my closest advisers in politics, such that if you really wanted to see his anger, then do or say something against my political interest. By choice, he was not that interested in partisan politics. If anything at all, he was a political radical by disposition. But because of me, he moderated on his radical views and came to be a staunch member of the PDP. When I leaft the PDP for the APC, although he never really liked the APC, nonetherless he moved there because of me. And he remained a loyal member of that party until his death.
Lawal was someone that would never like to be a burden to any body. When he fell sick, his one regret was that he could be a burden to his family or friends. Two things I would never forget about him were that he always prayed that his life would go back to the Almighty Allah (SWT) without his being a problem to his family and friends. He said that much to me when we visited a very sick friend who later died from the sickness. The other thing was that he never supported the idea of one dying in one place and then being transported to a different country to be buried. He always said to me that he would prefer to be buried where he died, where ever that would come to be. I believe he must have been saying that much to his family, which might have influenced their decision to have him buried in Cairo, Egypt, where he died. From all indications, the Almighty Allah (SWT) had answered his prayers on the two issues. He died peacefully in Egypt and was burried there.
Earlier, I had quoted the Holy Qur’an, where Allah SWT says: “Kullu nafsin zaikatul maut”, which translates as – “ Every soul shall taste death”, and had indicated that the humans that we are, whenever we are thinking about this prescription, we mostly consider it in terms of the certainty of the appointed time of death, that is to say, the ‘When’ of the death. We hardly think in terms of the manner of death, the ‘How’ and the environment in which the death will catch up with us, that is the ‘Where’.
When Lawal started showing signs of illness, it never occurred to either of us that he was setting out on his last trip in life.
We had the unshaken belief that one’s life will end, only when it will end. It never crossed our minds that it was the begining of the end. As time went on and he grew progressively weaker, we, his friends, started to get worried. When we realised that things were only getting worse, we got together and decided that he should travel out of the country to be treated. Because he had not very long ago taken a member of his family to Egypt for medical treatment and it had turned out to be a resoundly successful trip, he naturally opted for that country. Arrangements were made and he went with his wife and two children. I was told that when he went there, the hospital he went to set out to treatment, but he got progressively worse. In the very early hours of Monday, December 10, 2019, Lawal passed away, with his wife and some of. As per his wish and the consensus of his family, he was laid to rest in Cairo, after a well attended funeral in a historic Mosque.
What a loss to his family! What a loss to his very wide circle of friends and acquaintances! What a loss to Katsina people! What a loss to Nigeria, a country he served as a civil servant with love and dedication! And and what a loss to humanity as whole!
Lawal Wowo died at the age of over 74 years and was survived by his wife, children and grandchildren, a full sister, many brothers and a teeming number of friends. He also left an uncountable number of friends, all of whom will miss him greatly. May the Almighty Allah SWT grant repose to his soul, may Aljannah Firdau’s be his final abode, and may He grant his family and friends the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss. A MUTUMIN KIRKI has gone! Adieu Lawal A. Wowo. Allah (SWT) ya jikanka, ameen!
Sen. (Dr.) Ida, CON