An afternoon with Mahmud Jega

July 20, 2018 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS



Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



Shortly after picking an interest in journalism partly for its productivity and partly for its being a hub of information, power in disguise, I started to poke my nose into journalism-related things. The questions of how journalists (especially editors) cope with working in isolation sometimes, meeting publication deadlines (deadline pressure) which may mean all-nighters, paying attention to detail, which I have seen in the eyes and words of Musa Tijjani of the Triumph newspaper, and the mobility that requires a high sense of adaptability and versatility began to trouble me.


How do editors and their trainees manage all these? I do not know. All I know is whenever I visit the Triumph newspaper’s office, I will see the editor-in-chief, Sabo Lawal Ibrahim, and other editors busy with their eyes fixed straight on their laptops. Or like a pendulum, they will be oscillating from one place to another in search of what will enrich the newspaper.


On 28 July, 2018, I was at the Daily Trust’s head office in Abuja. It was one of the greatest moments I had with newspaper editors. To be sincere, that was my first journey to Abuja. Forgive my stay-at-home mentality.


Six days before the visit, I received a text message from Mr. Kamal Ayanbiki, the Assistant Manager Human Resources Department, Daily Trust, inviting me to their head office, in Abuja, for an interview.


I later acknowledged receipt of the message and assured them of my being there on the appointed day, hoping to kill two birds with one stone: to honour the invitation offered to me and take a big sip from that fountain of knowledge and profound experience called Mahmud Jega, the deputy Editor-in-Chief of Daily Trust and a columnist par excellence.


I read many of his columns. The man is too much. In a word, a first class social analyst who always makes the first move. Two things led me to this conclusion: his ‘On learning from the South West’ in which he refuted the idea of learning politics from the South West by furnishing the proponents of that idea with reasons more than they could bear; and ‘K-leg, bulging tummy and oversized head’, a satirical and powerful comment on the Independence Day and Nigeria’s situation.


Previously, I had some moments with the Editor-in-Chief of the Triumph newspaper and other editors there. I can testify that they are as busy as bees. That is a weekly newspaper. What were the chores of editors of a daily newspaper?


As a young writer, on meeting someone who is more experienced, I always take searching looks, listen attentively and retain the pieces of advice I receive from them. This, as I was told, will be my radar to success in this profession.


To travel is to learn. It was about a four-hour drive from Kano to Abuja. My intention was to read all the way from Kano to Abuja. However, the sitting arrangement in a commercial bus was uncomfortable and the anxiety of seeing Daily Trust corporate headquarters and this renowned columnist eyeball to eyeball would not let go of me to concentrate on my reading material.


I arrived at the Daily Trust’s gate at 2:15pm, some forty-five minutes to the interview. The building is ultra-modern and computerized. I told a guard of my name and mission there. A minute or two later, he gave me a visitor’s tag and said: ‘Go to the fourth floor.’


After waiting for about two hours as he was not at his seat, Mahmud Jega arrived. When he arrived, he had an important visitor to attend to. I killed the time with Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad old Man. My head was somewhat dizzy. Maybe because I had imagined Mahmud Jega somewhere far away like the sun or the moon and that day I was meeting him in person. You know what I mean.


Before, it was a silent communion between me, as many of his ardent readers, and this great columnist through his writings. ‘The Monday Column,’ as a go-between, had no power that day to draw on the curtain. I would see him and vice versa.


I was ushered into an elegantly furnished office by Mr. Kamal. A huge table populated by newspapers: The Sun, Vanguard, The Nation, etc, books, a laptop and other gadgets, was placed at the centre. He bade me to take a seat.


The first question that came to mind was: how can I become a veracious reader? It takes a veracious reader to read all those newspapers and consult those books I had seen on his table. Perhaps as a deputy editor-in-chief, his responsibility required him to do that. Perhaps to be an editor in such a newspaper which the public has so much expectation from is to try dying, to cut one’s self from other social activities.


I groped for words. ‘How does this man handle his editing work, read these papers and books, and manage to write a column week in, week out? Has he sacrificed his worldly pleasures for the sake of enlightenment? Has he not a family to sit with?’ I asked these questions secretly in my mind.


After apologizing to someone he called a colleague and a column guru, he turned to me and asked, ‘What is your name?’


‘My name is Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, sir’, I responded lacing my words with my usual infectious smile.


‘Quite a familiar name’, he concluded


‘May you tell me about yourself?’


I narrated my story about my background, education and most importantly my writings, punctuating my narration with some of my published works.


After discussing some of my writings, especially ‘To heal the world, fix the child’ and ‘Remember that libratory tool’, he asked me why I wrote on those topics. I told him of the stimulants that gingered me to write on these: the first is about how parents especially fathers evade responsibility and how children fail to become productive members of the society. The second is about declining standard of education in Nigeria which is apparent.


“To be a successful writer’, he began, “you have to write on things you know best. You need a profound experience to achieve this. Your writings open a window for your readers into your ocean of imaginative and emotional experiences.


“What you need now, young man is to work hard, and learn sincerely from those who have made a name for themselves in this profession and even those at par with you. When the experience is accumulated then you can run a column, a first class column if you like with an in-built pleasure of the text: the pleasure a reader drives from reading a text and which will qualify you as a good writer.


“Many of our staff here write articles using pennames and submit for publication, but when I find out I discourage it, not because I do not want them to write. No, I want them to accumulate more experience. I want to them to be rife enough for the craft. One writes better when he accumulates enough experience to write.”


I wanted to say, ‘Sir, I am so obsessed with the idea of writing that I feel sick when a day goes by without writing anything.’ I wanted to request a minute even to meet Munnir Dan Ali, but I did not have the courage to so. I wanted to say, ‘Do I write well, sir?’ But the question seemed out of place and I had taken enough of his time.


His sense of humour is gripping. His bluntness is sincere. He is a complete public speaker. The pieces of brotherly advice I received from him still ring in my ears.


I could only look into his eyes and murmured, ‘Thank you very much, sir’. He offered me his hand and I shook it so dearly.





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

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