Mallam Ibrahim Bello: Transition of a Cherished Family Treasure
AREWA AGENDA – The Magajin Rafin Gwandu Family of Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, and the entire family members at home and in the ‘diaspora’ are mourning the sad and painful loss of yet another senior member and strong pillar in the family, Mallam Ibrahim Bello, or Sabbene Illo to many of us, his youger siblings.
The late Sabbene Illo died in the early hours of Monday, June 13, 2022, after a protracted illness, and was buried hours later, following the prescribed Jana’iza prayer held at the family compound, along Magajin Rafi Road, Nassarawa, Birnin Kebbi.
He was a very important repository of our family history, which he generously shared with everyone who was interested. I personally benefitted a lot from his vast knowledge of our roots and also gained a lot of deep insights that I would otherwise probably never have known.
Little wonder when our family patriarch, the late Magajin Rafi Muhammadu Bello, MBE MON, was to be posthumously hounoured along with other founding fathers of Kanta College Argungu during its Founders Day celebrations on Saturday, November 19, 2019 and I was saddled with the task of writing a Citation by elders in the family, Sabbene Illo was the natural first port of call for me to not only secure the required information and gather the requisite bits of material that will form the necessary building blocks for a befitting citation, but also clear some grey areas in respect of same.
Sabbene Illo was equally a very friendly and jovial elder brother of ours, who was undoubtedly always fun to be with at any time of the day. As such, I was particularly drawn to him from my early years and we remained fairly very close up until the very end. This was largely on account of his very welcoming and amiable disposition at all times, along with his exceptionally affable and down to earth nature, which I have particularly come to admire and appreciate the most in people, be they my own relations or otherwise.
His sad loss is, therefore, very personal to me, especially in view of my closeness to, and fondness of him in this life’s journey, which I will continue to cherish for as long as I breathe.
Much as one would expectedly be deeply saddened by the loss of such an important family member and companion in one’s life, however, I will still prefer to retain and focus on the beautiful memories I have of him, arising from the great company he provided each and every day I have had the privilege of being around him while he was alive.
As a growing up kid back in Birnin Kebbi, I would typically visit his house often, where one would always be warmly welcomed by him and his late wife, Hajiya Balkisu (may Allah SWT continue to shower His mercy upon her blessed soul). This continued during my undergraduate years at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, when I also regularly visited him at his house in Kaduna, where he lived while he was working at the then Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI).
I recall this extremely scary, yet very funny experience during one of such visits, when I arrived at his house located along Wurno Road, Kaduna, following a students riot that led to the closure of the ABU Campuses. Upon arrival at the house, I dropped off my luggage and told his late wife that I was going out briefly, and would be returning much later in the evening, by which time Sabbene Illo would have closed from work.
Upon my return to the house a couple of hours or so later, it was raining heavily when the taxi I took dropped me off at the gate, and I was completely drenched by the time I managed to run into the room I was staying at the back of the house. Unknown to me, the Buzu (Touareg) guard, who has not around when I arrived from Zaria, had noticed some strange individual running into the expansive compound, and had tiptoed to the room I just entered, the entrance to which I had left completely wide open.
The next thing I saw as I was busy taking off my soaked clothes to change was tje silhouette of this tall man clad in black turban pointing his bow and arrow at me and branding me as a thief that was trying to take advantage of the heavy downpour to sneak in and rob the house.
Much as I tried hard to explain that I was actually Oga’s brother and not a thief, the maigadi wouldn’t listen. I then pleaded with him, amidst loud sobs, to please let me wear something and then follow me into the house to confirm the truth about myself and the story around my visit to the house from Madam.
The Buzu then marched me straight into the main house as he followed closely behind, with his ‘corked’ bow and arrow all set and ready to shoot, even as he kept on screaming to remind me that he would go ahead shoot in the event that I made any attempt to run and escape. All the while, my mind kept going back to the tales we heard as children, to the effect that they usually lace the tips of their arrows with some deadly poison that will pass through the bloodstream to eventually poison their victim’s heart.
Madam was upstairs when we finally got into the house in what looked like eternity, and I kept on screaming and calling her name at the top of my voice, and pleading with her to come down quickly. She finally heard my loud screams from her room and shouted back, “Abdullahi, lafiya haka?” (Abdullahi, what is wrong?). I was very happy to hear her response, and I immediately screamed back, “don Allah, Hajiya Balkisu ki yi sauri ki sauko k’asa, ga maigadinku nan zai kashe ni!” (Hajiya Balkisu, please come down quickly, your guard is here trying to kill me!”)
She quickly raced downstairs and on getting there to see what was happening, she yelled at the maigadi, who was still aiming his arrow at my back, “Kai ba ka da hankali ne halan? Wannan ai maigida ne ka ke k’ok’arin ka halaka!” (Are you crazy! This is my husband’s brother that you are trying to harm!) The next thing the Buzu said was that nobody told him earlier on that a guest was being expected. Sabbene Illo would subsequently go on to seriously reprimand his maigadi when he returned from work later in the day and heard what had transpired in his absence.
He demanded to know from the guard how on earth he would have expected him to explain to the family back home that his own brother had been shot with an arrow in broad daylight and possibly killed by his guard at his residence. His late wife would go on to continue to make fun of me anytime we saw after that incident.
This is one story that I always enjoyed relaying back to Sabbene Illo each time we met afterwards (and there are many other similar funny stories to tell), and he would simply laugh and reply, “Abdullahi, wato kai dai ba ka da mantuwa” (Abdullahi, it’s like you do not forget things easily), to which I would often promptly interject, “Sabbene, ina ko ni ka mancewa, bayan na yi facing ‘firing squad’ cikin gidanka”? (Sir, how could I ever possibly forget the fact that I faced a ‘firing squad’ in your house?”)
Back in Abuja in the later years, Sabbene Illo’s house would later become my preferred last port of call during my traditional Sallah greetings rounds to the houses of senior family members residing in the city. And it was deliberately designed to be so, just so that I could have enough time to enjoy his interesting company, as I would then typically not have to be in any rush to leave him to head elsewhere.
Sabbene Illo was his usual funny self even on his sick bed, as he continued to view life from the positive side in spite of the obvious pains he must have been going through. He would often speak fondly about his late daughter and niece of mine, Aisha, reminding me how nice and friendly she must have been in her lifetime, as many of her friends were still calling and visiting him at the hospital to check on his health.
I remember asking him during one of my visits to him at the hospital why he had to bother himself by leaving his sickbed in the Apo area to visit our brother, Faruku’s house all the way in Gwarimpa, following a fire incident that razed it down. Sabbene Illo took a long look at me and replied, “Abdullahi, ai in irin wannan abu ya samu d’an uwanka, dole ka yi kokari ka je ka jajanta mi shi” (Abdullahi, when this kind of tragedy happens to your own relation, it’s mandatory that you do all within your powers to go over and commiserate with him). He wouldn’t listen to my protestations to the effect that he didn’t have to do that becase we all knew about his present health condition.
When he finally left Abuja to relocate to Birnin Kebbi, I remember calling him to greet him one day, following which I then asked, “Sabbene, now that you have relocated back home, yanzu ga hannun wa ka bar mu ke nan a nan garin, and who will be our new Magajin Rafin Gwarinpa”? (Sir, now that you have relocated back home, in whose hands have you now left in this city, and who will be our new family head in the Gwarimpa axis?).
He gave out that familiar big laugh of his and replied, “na bar ku ga hannun Allah da kuma iyalanku, Abdullahi. Sannan, maganar Magajin Rafi kuma, ai k’ane na Faruku na nan, kuma ka san ni ma Gwarimpa na same shi”. (I am leaving you in the hand and care of the Almighty, and that of your respective families, Abdullahi. And on the issue of the family head, my younger brother, Faruku, is there, and you know that I met him there in Gwarimpa).
Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilaihir Raji’un! Sabbene Illo has now finally not only left those of us residing here in Abuja and the numerous other family members living in Birnin Kebbi, but he has indeed left the entire world for good, following the inevitable conclusion of his appointed sujourn on earth, like all fellow mortals before and after him.
And to borrow the following words from the tribute paid to him by a niece of mine, Asma’u Faruk Usman:
“We have lost yet another strong pillar in the family, for indeed He gives and takes when He pleases. May Allah SWT forgive your shortcomings and grant you Jannatul Firdausi Baba (Sabbene) Illo. Allah Ya sa mutuwa ta zame ma ka hutu. Allah Ya sanyaya makwancinka, Ameen”.
– Abdullahi Usman
(Tuesday, June 14, 2022)