This was meant to be a tribute to mark ten years since the passing of my father. However, on the 24th of September, I lost the closest person I had to a father in this year’s Hajj stampede, which prompted me having to put the original idea on hold.
In every family, there is that one special individual who can best be described as the center of the universe or the life of the party. This remarkable individual is usually the glue or one of the strongest unifying factors that hold the family together. He is a peacemaker, a guide, a guardian, a pillar of strength & support and a beacon of light. In our family, that individual was Justice Abubakar Abdulkadir Jega.
Baba, Baba Justice or Uncle Justice as he was fondly called, was an amazing individual. You could employ various high sounding words to describe him; kind, generous, amiable, wise. The best word, which in my humble opinion sums up his character, which is what most people who came to commiserate with the family all seem to agree on, was that he was a complete gentleman. Baba was such a larger than life character whose influence and presence in the family was so strong we are finding it hard to accept the fact that he is truly gone. Death is inevitable and it will come for us all but when it comes in such circumstances where there is no corpse to be seen or buried and you’re left playing a mental game of hopscotch between “maybe he is and maybe he is not”, a sense of closure becomes elusive. But this is not about Baba’s death, it is a remembrance of his life and how he touched us all.
Baba was the second male grandchild of Alhaji Abdullahi (Magatakarda) Kakale Jega and the second son of Alhaji Abdulkadir Jega (Baba Na Kakuri). Both men were primary school headmasters. From what I’ve heard about the two, education, discipline and orderliness were top on their agenda when it came to raising kids. Therefore, it is not surprising that Baba realized the lofty nature of the responsibility and trust reposed in him from an early age. Perhaps it was the nature of his upbringing which influenced his decision to study law.
Family was very important to Baba. My earliest memories of him was how back in the 90’s in Lagos, when he was the Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, he made time on almost every weekend to take us (my cousin Abba, my sisters and I) to the beach. While at the beach we would each want to do different things; Abba and I wanted to ride horses while my sisters wanted to ride on the ferris wheel. Baba would patiently watch over two of us while my sisters rode on the ferris wheel or while we rode on the horses. Considering how much Baba spoilt us with snacks and candy, I would say we were all fortunate to be born with very good teeth hence we would have had to visit the dentist monthly.
The extended family was also of the utmost importance to Baba. He kept very close ties with everyone in the family. I know he had the habit of calling all or most of his brothers and sisters on a weekly basis to inquire about their well-being. Weddings, naming ceremonies and condolence visits never passed him by. His work schedule permitting, he always attended family functions. As far as I can remember, my family always had a scheme to pitch in and assist other family members financially during weddings, medical emergencies and in other times of need. Baba was usually the designated fundraiser/treasurer. He would usually call other relatives and remind them of the urgency and urge them to make a contribution.
Baba was also a peacemaker. He was at the forefront of reconciling relatives whenever they had a misunderstanding. This, he seemed to do flawlessly. Not surprising though, when you’re a judge settling disputes becomes second nature.
Baba’s generosity wasn’t just limited to family. I can safely say anyone who walked through his door would get the assistance being sought whether it was financial, a word of advice or assistance in getting a job. I have on various occasions witnessed random individuals come to him for advice or assistance. As long as your request was legal and within his powers, even if he didn’t know you, he would stretch himself far beyond his limits to make sure he gave the required assistance.
When my father passed away in 2005, Baba called me and in his usual calm manner urged me to be strong. His exact words were:
“Abba, be patient. I know you are hurting from your loss. You have to be strong. In shaa Allah, for as long as I am alive, you and your sisters will never lack anything.”
For the past ten years Baba has diligently kept true to his promise. Earlier this year when I fell ill and required medical treatment in Dubai, Baba called me to inquire about my health and what my treatment plans were. When I told him I was trying to raise funds for the trip, he was furious. He said it was insulting that I would say such to him after he had on numerous occasions told me I was under his care and all my affairs were to be directed to him. Baba rallied the family and helped me raise the funds I needed for the trip.
Religion was an integral part of Baba’s life. No matter how busy his day was, every night after the Maghrib prayers he would sit for one hour meditating and praying. Even though he never told us to do the same, by his actions he influenced us to do so. I recall how I would rise immediately after Friday prayers to fold my mat and put on my shoes. Baba would tell me to sit down and at least express thanks to God even if I had nothing to ask for rather than rushing off with the crowd.
Baba was an astute jurist whose passion for the law was so evident you could see his eyes twinkling when he spoke about it. It didn’t matter if you were a layperson who had no understanding of the law. Baba’s passion for the law was so infectious one would have no trouble making sense of the legal principles he was talking about.
I have always admitted that Baba was my inspiration for studying law. While growing up I always marveled at how he unraveled and dissected complicated matters with ease. But what struck me more than anything else was his humility. Despite being a justice of the Court of Appeal, he didn’t let his lofty position get to his head. He always viewed his job as service to humanity. On the numerous occasions Abba and I would chat with him about legal issues he would always close the conversation with words of caution reminding us that at the end of the day we as lawyers owed a huge debt to our fellow man as our jobs should be deemed a service to humanity.
Respect for humanity was at the heart of everything Baba did. He never looked or talked down at anyone. Due to the nature of his job he was always busy during weekdays, but on weekends he would sit down, go through his phone and return all the calls he may have missed during the week. It didn’t matter who called him or how lowly placed they were. Baba ALWAYS returned missed calls.
Perhaps it was childish naiveté or denial, when I heard about the stampede, I had an unflinching belief that Baba would survive it. I felt so because that was the kind of person he was; surmounting challenges seem to come easy for him.
I could still be suffering from some residue of childish naivete and denial, but not seeing Baba’s corpse or attending his funeral has left me with a nagging afterthought that he may still be alive. Then again, I know he would never let us go through such pains of uncertainty if he was alive. I have to come to terms with the reality of the situation.
When my father passed away, I was left with such huge shoes to fill due to the lofty ideals my father represented and stood for. Now with Baba’s passing, the shoes I have to fill just jumped thirty more sizes.
Baba, you may be gone but your memories and the great ideals you stood for will live on in our hearts. We shall always miss you.