We all call him Baba. He is 84½ years old and still going strong. He was born in Girei, a small town not far from Yola. He went to the famous Barewa College back in the day and he has lived in many many places over the years. Many Nigerians know him or of him because he was around when Nigeria got Independence from the UK and back then he was a Permanent Secretary for Education to the Federal Government of Nigeria and was involved in a lot of the well done legislative processes related with forming a new Government structure. Unfortunately, a lot of the good work done then has been unravelled by our unscrupulous Governments but enough said on that one!
Nowadays, he is just a farmer. I say just because all my life, he has been a farmer but he was also working full-time in Civil Service and an active board member of several companies and institutions. His farm is massive. It’s many hectares of prime land in Fufore…I used to think it was as big as Yola but maybe not. It stretches from the main road to Fufore from Yola to the mountains in the horizon. Within it are a lake and a large pond. There is the round house, the abattoir, the horse stables, the building that houses the tractors and other large machinery, the barns for the cows, the clusters of huts and bungalows housing all the farm staff. As a Fulani man, his main focus is the cattle. Of course. He has cows for beef but his love is dairy cows and he cross-breeds cows from all over the globe to make them better milk-producers. He is also big on his fish farming these days so has 3 other farms with fish ponds etc. Over the years, he has kept horses, rabbits, chicken for eggs, sheep, goats and more. To feed his large herds, grass is obviously a necessity so a lot of the land is given to planting of grass and making hay. He also routinely plants rice, maize and beans. The beauty of it is that a lot of our food at home is fresh from the farm. We have fresh milk which we make into yoghurt every evening at home. We have fresh meat and fish whenever my granddad decides we are due some. We get large sacks of maize, rice and beans every year so we never have to buy some things.
One thing that stands out about Baba is his discipline and strong will. I found out that he used to be a heavy smoker until he was in his 40s. I was stunned to find that out because as far as I knew he was too strong to be addicted to anything. I am told that he woke up one day and decided he did not want to be a smoker anymore. He went into his room, got his stash of duty-free cigarettes and gave it to one of the house staff and told them to take it away. He never, to our knowledge, smoked another cigarette. Now that is how you go cold turkey. He also used to drink strong black coffee every afternoon at 4pm on the dot. I would have sworn then that he was addicted to his coffee but apparently not so because nowadays, he can do without any coffee for days.
Back in the day, his Yola daily timetable was almost military. He would wake up and leave for the farm at 6am every morning. He would come home for 8am in time for breakfast which he expected to have on the table at 08:00. After breakfast, he was a little flexible and would go out to visit people, have meeting, work in his home office etc. Lunch was at 1pm followed by a siesta which ended around 3:30pm. He would wake up and play solitaire on his bed (back then using real cards) until about 3:45 to 3:50pm when he would get dressed and go into the living room to await his 4pm coffee. He was in the car for the farm at 4:15pm and then back at 6:00pm. So basically, it was a strict timetable from 6am to 6pm daily.
His military tendencies also extend to punctuality. If you say to Baba I will see you at 7pm, he will call at 07:05pm to check why you haven’t yet turned up. If he asks when to expect you and you say between 7pm and 7:30pm, he is a little better but again, he will be on the phone or go out at 7:35pm because he will get impatient at your ‘lateness’. Travelling by road with him can be a hard trial too. Even if the journey is for a holiday somewhere 4 hours away, he will insist that you set off at 6am in the morning and woe on you if you are more than 5 minutes late getting to the car. He once invited a young woman friend of his to join him on a trip to Gembu in the Mambilla which is one of his favourite places to go in Nigeria. He asked her to meet us at home at 6am to set off. He never mentioned to us that he was expecting a guest so no one knew anything about her. Off we went to Gembu that morning and we were there at around 1pm. He decided he wanted to go check out his farm and see the cows in an hour. Now, my sister and foster sister were there too and we were sharing our room and bathroom. We also had to use a kettle to boil some hot water for our baths because there was no working heater. Suffice it to say, Charo (my sister) and Bilky (my foster sister) managed to have their baths and I was last so at 2pm, I was just about to step into the bath when my granddad gave the order for the troops to assemble for departure. Knowing my granddad, I said to the girls ‘you go without me’ and took my time freshening up. I was mooching in the kitchen trying to find some food when there was a knock on the door. I hesitated for a second and then went to investigate. There was a strange woman at the door with a guy. Apparently, they had driven down from Abuja to join us on the Mambilla trip and they had turned up at the house in Yola 30 minutes late and found we were gone. It took them 2 extra hours because they kept getting lost (no sign-posting and no satnav then) but here they were. I shook my head and took them out with me to find lunch. LOL.
Baba decided when I was in Primary school that because I had an aptitude for mathematics, I should be an Economist. He didn’t share his brilliant ‘plan’ though until I got to midway through secondary school when I had to make choices on subjects. One of the many choices was Economics which I opted not to do because I was into my sciences, biology and agriculture in particular. When he found out over dinner one evening that I was not going to be studying Economics, he wasn’t impressed. I was like ‘why do you care?’ Then I found out he thought I would make a brilliant economist. Sadly for him, I am a girl who knows what I want and I knew from the age of 4 that I was going to be a doctor. He is still somewhat sad that I chose to become a doctor and not an economist.
Baba is a type 2 diabetic and has been since he was in his 40s. He was so good with his lifestyle modification regime that he did not need any medication for decades and he has only in the last 3 years or so started using insulin. However, about 2 years ago, he became naughty with his diet. I went to Yola for 6 months in 2012 and one day, I came to the kitchen and found bottle of diet coke in the fridge. Now there are never pop/fizzy drinks in our home unless there is a dinner party or a wedding or something so this was highly unusual. I questioned the cook and found out that Baba had taken to sending the boys out for bottle of coke after I had gone to work when I was on-call or after I had retired to Mammie’s side of the house for the night after work. I was shocked. Why would he after 40 years of being good suddenly opt to start drinking probably the unhealthiest drink on earth? Of course, I took all the coke bottles out of the fridge and gave it away and I never allowed him to store any in the fridge. I am not sure whether he snuck some past me into his bedroom and drank it hot but I know there was no way I was going to let him kill himself slowly through high blood sugars and the attendant miserable complications. Oh dear!
Another stand-out thing about Baba is his vigour. By that I mean his physical stamina and strength. As I have described, he would spend hours every day on the farm and still does when he is Yola (he is not in Yola most of the time these day). He used to walk at such a speed that we had to trot alongside him to keep up with him when we were younger. My grandmother Mammie had tiny size 3.5 feet and walked quiet slowly (don’t know whether it was because of her baby sized feet or just that she was such a dignified lady that she never rushed). We found it quite comical this contrast between Mammie and Baba. I remember once bumping to them on Oxford Street in London. Well, I say bumping into them loosely. We bumped into Baba as he hurried down the street and asked where he had left Mammie. ‘Oh she is back there somewhere’ he said, pointing vaguely in the direction he was coming from. So we had a brief chat and he moved on whilst we went searching for Mammie. We found her about 300m away, calmly walking and window-shopping as though she wasn’t supposed to be with her husband. When we teased her, she shrugged and said ‘you know what he was like’. Yes we do.
He was on his way out in his home in Abuja about 4 years ago when he slipped and fell down the marble staircase. My mother found him unable to put his weight on his leg and when examined, they found he had an open fracture of both his tibia and fibula (the 2 lower leg bones). He was flown to London for surgical repair and then had to learn how to walk again. He went stir-crazy and sent my poor mother up the wall by refusing to do anything. He must have been depressed and scared because he refused to co-operate with physiotherapy for many days and just wanted to be left alone despite claiming he had never felt any pain except at the moment he broke the leg. When he finally made it out of bed and was confident enough on crutches, he was sent home with the plan to use the crutches for 6 weeks until the wound was fully healed. He called me 2 weeks later to ask permission as a doctor to ditch the crutches. I asked what the Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon had instructed and he brushed off my question and insisted he was fine to walk. I refused to give him the go ahead to go crutch-free so soon. It didn’t make the slightest difference. To my mama’s misery, he threw out his crutches and was back to walking in no time. He is now almost back to pre-fracture vigour and only if you look closely will you notice that when he has to step down when walking, he hesitates ever so briefly as the memory of his accident comes back to him.
As I already mentioned in another blog, I inherited my facial features mostly from my grandmother Mammie. I did however inherit some things from my grandfather. His toes which my mum has and I have too with the funny 4th toe. Also the vein-iness of our hands and feet. All of us (my mum, sister and I) have a funny patch 2/3rd of the way of one of our eyebrows which has coarser longer haywire hairs that like to stick out rather comically. Mama studiously ignores her eyebrows and bats our hands away when we try to smooth the funny patch down. My sister gave in to the eyebrow shaping. I am resisting shaping my eyebrows and usually brush them into order but these days, there are usually 1 or 2 really stubborn long pointing hairs that I have to pluck out. A big thing I have inherited from Baba is my stubbornness. I prefer to call it tenacity, determination, decisiveness or ‘knowing what I want’. Most of the Joda grandchildren exhibit the same characteristic to one degree or the other. I have been called hard-headed a few times in my life. I never back down from an argument if I know I am right. I will do things the right way even if it will make my life awkward as long as it is right to do it that way. I would face the scariest person down if they lie about me rather than be quiet for an easy life. I will plan and work hard for years to achieve a goal or dream.
The last thing I have inherited from Baba is his principled ways. As you probably know, for anything to work in Nigeria, you need money and the more money, the better. That is why corruption is so rife. People want to get things done for personal gain and the more they want, the more money they need to accumulate to pay for it all. Sadly, many of these people are the people governing Nigeria so a vast chunk of all of our wealth (and it is vast being one of the largest oil-producing countries) is diverted into personal accounts and safes in homes and spirited away to offshore accounts in Switzerland, the Caribbean Islands and Asia where it can be kept private from inquisitive eyes. Baba is often accused of being a ‘bature’ because he will not make a penny more from a job than the contracted amount. A ‘bature’ means a white person which in the Nigerian context means the colonising Brits. So when you are accused of being a bature, they are suggesting that you follow the white man’s laws and are transparent in a way that is not natural in the Nigerian tradition. 3 out of 4 of his children are just as principled when it comes to earning their way the honest way and I strive to be like them. To me, money is nice to have and necessary to provide the basics of life but my ambition has never been to be rich. I just want to be comfortable. Baba is also straight-talking. If you want to know something, you ask him a direct question and you get a direct answer. Unless he doesn’t know, in which case he will say so. I too am a straight-talker…although people have called me precocious, abrupt and even rude because of it on occasion. To be honest I don’t really care what people say about me unless they misconstrue what I say and get mad. And fair enough, rarely I am intentionally rude because someone is being mean, unhelpful, unfair or verbally abusive at work.
Anyway, I digress again! I will finish by saying that I know Baba is lonely these days because at nearly 85 years, his friends and all of his friends have died. Most of his brothers and sisters are gone too so he feels alone a lot of the time as his children and grandchildren are busy leaving their lives and many of us are not even in the same town as he is. He had diabetes and hypertension and several other organs are beginning to show signs of old age. He keeps losing interest in all of his old interests and every day, he has a new project that gets abandoned when he dreams up something else. Despite all that, I pray that he stays with us until we can have an even bigger party on his 90th birthday compared to his 80th. Because I want to have children and for him to meet them and look at them with the wonder with which he looks at my nephew, his first great-grandchild.