Madu was your ideal journalist – lively, chatty and full of fascinating stories. Madu’s stories about his underground stay in Malabo were fascinating.
The death, early Thursday, of Augustine Madu-West at his Kano home, effectively drew a curtain on a long career in reporting dating back to over four decades. Chief, as members of the NUJ Correspondents Chapel in Kano called him, has literally seen it all and reported on significant happenings in the country, and beyond. Easily one of the oldest field reporters in the country, till his death, Chief was an institution whose years of experience in the field made him an oracle both to his employers and his “colleagues” at the Chapel. Yes, colleagues should be in inverted commas because for several years running no one could lay claim to be Madu’s colleague in the Chapel, at least in the Nigerian sense of the word. Kola Adeyemi of The Nation, Kola Oyelere of the Nigerian Tribune and Mohammed Kabir of Champion, who trail the Chief behind in terms of years put into the profession, all lag behind with nothing less than a decade.
He became an oracle, an institution within institution whose words were rules. However, he exercised his “powers” with great restraint, giving orders or requests only when necessary, when he did, it became the law. Whereas news editors from Abuja or Lagos call reporters to bark orders and issue deadlines to file a particular story, in the case of Madu, he would occasionally call the news editor or the editor of the title he had worked for and demand that a particular story he sent be used in so and so manner. When one jokingly reminded him that he was talking to his editor, Chief would reply in his fast-paced Igbo accent, “Ah, forget my friend! He is just a young man!” And he would chuckle. In fact, Chief could literally query a news editor for failure to use his stories.
It was the same in Galadima, another name for the Correpondents chapel christened after Galadima Road – the hub of newspapers in the ancient city. However hot-headed or brutal an official of the Chapel could be, he knew he could not do it to Chief. The truism that respect is earned was true of Chief for he respected himself tremendously, by not interfering into that which did not affect him, by knowing where to draw the line and how to scold or reprimand. This was reciprocated to him in equal measure.
When I found myself in the Chapel early in 2008 – for one doesn’t practically join– Chief had been reporting Kano (alone!) for years that were about my own age. Ultimately, he was the oldest both in age (before Tanko Kangiwa, another veteran, resurfaced) and on the job experience. I was the youngest of all, my good friend, Jaafar Jaafar being my immediate “elder”. While I coped with the initial challenges of integration – including awful discrimination and bullying from colleagues who found the refrain “do you know when I started this job?” as a potent intimidation tool, Chief was one person who was accommodating and exuded some air of humility. He found no fancy in that. Indeed it could be true that those references have become worn out for someone who had seen so much happen and saw the coming and going of hundreds of people both in government and within journalism circles in Kano, and beyond.
He saw the coming and going of governors and their appendages from the Second Republic administration of Abubakar Rimi to the ouster of Rabiu Kwankwaso by Ibrahim Shekarau and the historical second coming of Kwankwaso. He knew the Kano elite by name and character and related with many of them as acquaintances. With such political elites like Bashir Tofa, Sule Lamido and the like, Madu publicly exchanged banters. However, it should be stated as a tribute to him that the Chief saw no need in pushing desperately to exploit his relationship with those people for financial gain. He knew where to draw the line and that ultimately earned him their respect and confidence.
Another class of people with which Madu had enduring relationship in Kano was the Police. As someone keen on reporting crimes, he was friend to virtually all the police commissioners that served in Kano including MD Abubakar, who is now the Inspector General. I was there when the IG visited Kano State governor immediately after his appointment. It was Madu he called by name ahead of even those who tried to push for recognition. For this acquaintance with top police brass, sometimes he would visit an AIG in Umuahia, or Calabar or some other place, who must have served in Kano, and would spend some days as his guest before he would proceed to see his kinsmen in the village.
From the bits and pieces I gathered from him, Madu must have started journalism before he clocked 20 and that was around the Biafran Civil War. He witnessed the war on the Eastern front and in the aftermath he moved to Lagos where he started as a cub reporter. His adventurism and knack for news earned him the confidence of his superiors at the then Daily Times, who smuggled him to Malabo, in today’s Equatorial Guinea to report about the ordeal of black labourers working in cocoa plantations under the grueling regime of white colonialists.
Madu was your ideal journalist – lively, chatty and full of fascinating stories. Madu’s stories about his underground stay in Malabo were fascinating. He went in without any papers and disguised himself as a worker for months that he stayed there. One story I could remember him narrate was of his arrest at a night club which was raided by the local police. The funny thing was that Madu, who was having challenge understanding the Malabo variety of pidgin, almost got arrested – which could have been dangerous – but he managed to escape. He narrowly escaped many other dangers and maneuvered to send dispatches about the harrowing labour crisis there.
As the Chief breathed his last, he caught his constituents truly off guard. A colleague quipped that he went without notice. Yes, the ailment he lived with for about two decades suddenly overpowered him and in a matter of an hour or two he became no more. His of course was a case of a man of peace that went home in peace. Adieu the Chief!
Abdulaziz wrote from Abuja. Email: email@example.com @AbdulFagge