If you are familiar with the Nigerian TV schedule of programmes of the 80s, then the name ‘Samanja’ should put a smile on your face.
It was a time when Nigeria was under military rule, and the memories of the civil war were still fresh in the minds of the people. What better way to entertain people than with a drama about life in the barracks?
It is the story of a gentleman actor who was one of the forerunners of the Hausa film industry now known as Kannywood after his exploits as a war veteran with the Nigerian Army.
The character, Samanja, was portrayed by Usman Baba Pategi, who, unfortunately, passed on last Sunday.
Born 20, May 1942, into the royal house of Pategi Emirate in Pategi, A Local Government in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, he was the son of Etsu Usman Patako, the late King of Pategi.
He started his early education at Pategi Primary School and went to Ilorin Middle School. He later went to Kaduna to live with his uncle Alhaji Audu Bida, where he became his assistant.
He also worked with the public works department in the mechanical store before joining the Northern Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in Kaduna.
In the 1960s, Mr Pategi answered the call to service when he joined the Nigerian Army. He left the Broadcasting Corporation to join the army and trained at the Signal Training School, Apapa.
He served under former military head of state, General Sani Abacha, then a platoon and battalion commander. The late actor retired in 1985 and went on to an acting career in drama at the FRCN Kaduna, where he also directed and wrote movies.
In 2010, he was in India for surgery for a heart illness, which later N1.5m was given by the Chairman, Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, which was reported by the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).
Pategi, who was born into the royalty house of an emirate, was also the heir to the Etsu Pategi Emirate.
His grandfather was the Etsu Usman Patako, the king of Pategi, who was succeeded by his father.
However, the war veteran chose to surrender his claim to the throne to pursue his dream career, acting after being reported as the primary candidate for his father and great-grandfather’s throne as Etsu Pategi.
He left the throne for his younger brother, Etsu Umaru Chatta, who died in 2017 and was succeeded by Umaru Bologi.
In 2019, the late actor was in Lagos, where the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners awarded him the Fellowship of Theatre Arts (FTA).
The quintessential actor had three wives and 20 children. One of his wives, Maryam Baba, died at age 46.
The Pategi Distortion
Although Pategi is well-established, the Senior Special Assistant, Research and Analysis to the Vice President, Gimba Kakanda, points out that it distorts the original name, Patigi.
Mr Kakanda, a writer, noted, “But how did Samanja’s last name become distorted as “Pategi” in all his records and mentions in the media that one has come across? He was consistently referred to as Usman Baba Pategi, but “Pategi” is incorrect.”
“The accurate term is Patigi, a place in Kwara from where he hailed, with even ties to the royal family. Patigi is a Nupe word meaning ‘small mountain’ or ‘hill’. ‘Pati’ means ‘mountain’, and ‘gi’ is ‘little’, ‘small’, ‘tiny’, ‘diminutive’ or ‘infant’.”
Many ascribe the distortion to a variation in dialects.
Created by late veteran broadcaster Yusuf Ladan, the now-rested ‘Samanja’ was a drama chronicling life in the barracks.
The name Samanja is a coinage from the rank Sergeant Major, which Baba Pategi held as a soldier.
The character of Samanja cuts quite the impressionable personality with a bushy moustache, think former Edo State Governor Lucky Igbinedion.
In one episode, Samanja’s boss must verify a date and asks Samanja to fetch him an almanac. Samanja, having never heard the word before, musters the officers and men under him and sets them hard at their task to locate and retrieve the almanac by every means necessary.
Also known as Samanja Mazan Fama, which loosely translates to Samanja, the male farmer, his character’s wife in the play ‘Bariki’ was also influential.
In the drama series, he abides by his wife’s orders, particularly when soldiers in the barracks misbehave, and never hesitates to deal with them.
One element that endeared the Samanja character to the hearts of Nigerians was his penchant for mixing the Hausa language with English, thus fuelling the humour.
In another episode, a case of assault by one of his soldiers was brought before him, and he didn’t fail to assure the accuser that the offender would be disciplined for ‘defamation of karkata’ despite several corrections.
‘Samanja’ started airing in 1973 on NTA Kaduna and Radio Kaduna.
The show was so popular that it finally got a slot on national television and quickly became the favourite of many, with the language changing from its original Hausa to pidgin English to cater to audiences that did not understand Hausa.
Other shows he featured in that are also popular include; ‘Malam Jatau na Albarkawa’, ‘Ka Bani Ka Baka’, ‘Kafi Kwanan Azure’, and ‘So Ko A Lahira Ciki Da Kwano’.
He also was in the commercial for Harka Air, a defunct Nigerian airline.
Expectedly, tributes have continued to pour in from high-profile Nigerians in honour of the late Baba Pategi.
The President of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, described the death of the famous thespian as a painful loss, saying he contributed to the country through the various vocations he pursued in his lifetime.
“The late Pategi chose to obey the call to national duty when the country needed his service. His television show, Samanja, was a must-watch entertainment for decades. Through the show, he taught young citizens national values and respect for our service people. He was a patriot who left behind several indelible impressions,” the President said.
Also, the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, expressed deep sadness at the passing of the war veteran.
According to the VP, his presence on TV and radio brought joy and laughter to various generations of Nigerians.
“Through humour and sincerity, he explored our diversity and mirrored our society to remind us of our shared values and humanity.
“Like millions of other Nigerians, I am grateful for the enduring memory he created and the legacy he left behind after decades of contributions to arts and society. A pan-Nigerian ambassador and patriot extraordinaire, may Allah repose his soul and grant his loved ones the strength to bear this loss,” the VP’s statement reads.
Another high-profile personality, Bukola Saraki, the former Senate President, said that the news of the passing of the veteran came to him as a rude shock.
“Samanja was a true legend of the film industry. He was a master of his craft, and his work brought joy to millions worldwide. His performances were so captivating that they often freed up one’s evening, as watching him was a pleasure not to be missed.
“I extend my heartfelt condolences to Samanja’s family, friends, and the entire Nigerian entertainment industry. May Allah (SWT) grant him Al Jannah Firdaus and give his loved ones the strength to bear this loss.”
For Samanja, it may be curtain calls, but he leaves behind an ‘army’ of loyal viewers who would miss his television humour.
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