While some or many, may write about Malam Isa Gusau’s exceptional role as media strategist to Governor Babagana Zulum, I chose to go memory lane, in my birthday tribute to a dear brother.
By the title of this tribute, I decided to recollect part of the speech I delivered on Monday, August 7, 2017, at the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, press week.
I gave the vote thanks at the end of the colorful event, after serving as secretary of the press week’s organizing committee.
The last of the week featured a presentation of awards and a lecture that was well delivered by then commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Professor Babagana Zulum, now the Executive Governor of Borno state.
Zulum spoke around the theme of the press week which was about peace-building and post-conflict resettlement of persons displaced by terror.
The event took place at the multipurpose hall of the Government House in Maiduguri.
The event was attended by then Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, his deputy, Usman Mamman Durkwa, minister of defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, other top government officials, the CEO of Dangote Foundation, officials of the UNHCR, then President of the NUJ, Waheed Odosile and about 200 resident journalists.
Those journalists, particularly the oldest members of the Correspondents’ Chapel of the NUJ, who had been in Borno State, back in 2005, part of when Isa Gusau worked as a journalist, confirmed what I said at that August 2017 event.
In my vote of thanks to everyone who made that event successful, I felt morally bound not only to acknowledge the overwhelming contributions of Malam Isa Gusau to what became the best press week ever held in the northeast, but also to reveal, that Gusau’s support for journalists in Borno State started long before he took a political appointment.
While he was first appointed by then Governor Shettima in March 2012, Gusau did rescue the Correspondent’s Chapel back in 2005, which was seven years before he joined the government.
Sometime in October 2005, the Correspondents’ Chapel, which was and still is a union of all resident representatives of national and international news organizations, had planned to host a press week. Like myself and other colleagues, Gusau as state correspondent of the Daily Trust back then, was a member of the Correspondents Chapel in Borno State.
While we had fixed a date and invited dignitaries from within and outside Borno State, to come for the event in Maiduguri, we faced a serious problem with cash.
Major funding from a particular source became a problem and time was running out. The chapel simply needed funds to release to sub-committees of journalists for payments that would secure us a hall at the Maiduguri International Hotel, produce programmes, banners, mobilize refreshment vendors and handle many things which needed to be done on time, to escape problems.
The Chapel needed help and the option of getting a loan came up. We were prepared to even collect loans from anywhere and pay interest if that was a condition.
To our pleasant surprise, our colleague Malam Isa Gusau, who was not an official but a dedicated member of the chapel, asked what amount was needed to finance key things needed for the week.
Gusau was told that the chapel needed the sum of one million five hundred thousand (N1.5m) which at that time in 2005, was certainly big money.
Isa Gusau just brought out his laptop bag, removed his cheque book and issued a cheque of N1.5m to the Chapel.
Gusau phoned his account officer at a particular bank, authorized release of the fund and told the chapel leadership he was not going to accept any interest and the chapel could pay at whatever time it was in a financial position to pay back.
The correspondents eventually paid back the loan and yes, it was paid the same year, 2005.
However, for me, that act of selflessness remains indelible.
Before the reader wonders how Gusau was that buoyant as a journalist, the fact is that Malam Isa Gusau has been a businessman for a long time. As a friend and close colleague, I knew he was into textiles and property businesses.
As a student of Mass Communication at Kaduna Polytechnic back in the 90s, Isa Gusau’s nickname was “Rough Coins”, the name I still use in saving one of his mobile numbers on my phone.
He once told how his classmates named him so because of two things. And even one of the classmates, John Femi Adi, once recalled that “Isa was known to be a medium-size importer of textiles, shadda in particular from Cotonou and whenever his goods arrived, he would give to awaiting classmates at discounted cost without collecting advance payments. The classmates would market, sell, make some profits and pay Isa’s money into his account. Isa had a good business sense and he was very supportive of his classmates”.
Femi added that Gusau was also a regular lender of financial support to his classmates at Kaduna Polytechnic in the 90s, to the extent that he was forced by the department to become secretary general of the mass communication students association, without contesting elections.
What made Isa Gusau so unique in school was that while he was helping classmates with cash, he was also one of the best students in class.
“Oftentimes, when scripts are marked by lecturers and returned after tests, Isa scripts were collected by many classmates and photocopied for exam studying,” Femi said.
Significantly, he added: “Isa was famous for giving pre-exam tutorials to classmates and amazingly, that guy doesn’t look at notes to give lectures. He gave most lectures from his head. His secret, however, was that Isa normally began to study from the beginning of the semester and exam periods were like revision time for him. The guy was just hot and he remains one of the best graduates of mass comm in KadPoly” Femi recalled.
To attest to the depth of his generosity, yours sincerely got his first Swatch Wrist Watch as a gift from Isa Gusau.
Isa’s selflessness was indeed felt not only by journalists but by many youths who have lived around him.
In February 2004, when Isa was transferred by Daily Trust from Taraba State to Borno,, he immediately rented a gated three-bedroom flat with BQ in Bulumkutu.
He gave out his BQ free of charge to support a journalist who needed a place to live with his new wife.
It was in Bukumkutu that Isa met his powerful P.A Umar Dahiru back in 2004.
As a close friend, I was aware of how, in 2005, Isa opened and donated a barbing saloon to Umar and a motorcycle and encouraged him to further his education.
In 2006, he bought Umar a car, got him a job at Daily Trust, later bought him a house, sponsored his wedding, sent him on hajj and got him a permanent job at the Government House in Maiduguri.
It was not just Umar, when Isa lived in Bukumkutu, I can still recall how he gave start-up capital to dozens of youths and this can be verified.
Isa established a prominent football club, and provided jerseys and boots to dozens of youths he united through sports. He mentored those boys.
I will not dive into Gusau’s role as an amazing media adviser, that will be a matter for another tribute.
Here is saying Happy Birthday to a very selfless, inspiring and outstanding brother. Interestingly, and incidentally, this remarkably kind personality shares the same birthday with my youngest son, Yusuf.
Happy Birthday, Malam Isa Gusau.
~ Abdulkareem, is currently the Editor Lake Chad Region for HumAngle, Publisher of The Humanitarian Times, a former Bureau Chief of Premium Times and Leadership Newspaper, and of course, a former Chairman of the Borno State Correspondents’ Chapel.