THE seventh day prayer for the late Justice Saidu Kawu took place in the family house in Ilorin on New Year’s Day. And just as on the day he was buried, Boxing Day, December 26th, 2013, his 85th Birthday, there was a turn out of hundreds of people from all walks of life. And since he died on Christmas Day, the family has received hundreds of visitors as well as messages of condolences.
His death brought home most poignantly, the well-quoted observation by the Malian Professor Hampate Ba, that when an old man dies in Africa, it is the equivalence of the burning of a library. Justice Saidu Kawu’s life was reflective of some of the major phases of our nation’s development. He was an incredible unifier of our family; a man with a generous sense of community and a genuinely decent father and patriarch. He ceaselessly reminded us all of the importance of a sense of honour and of fidelity to the history of our people and Islam. They were points he harped on regularly. Let me illustrate. I was appointed pioneer GM of KWTV in February 1997.
On the eve of my resumption of work, he called my late mother and I, to remind me of the history of our forefathers: “We have never been ‘materially rich’ in our family”, he told me. “We have always been a family of scholars and public administrators; please uphold our honour in your new appointment”. I could NEVER have forgotten those words!
Similarly, many of the people who experienced his incredible humanity have spoken with a deep sense of appreciation and of loss, since his passing. In response to some of the messages of condolences we received, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari wrote: “Thank you…for sharing the grief of all true sons and daughters of our community in Ilorin who have lost a rare gem, a true gentleman, an incorruptible judge and an outstanding leader. He was my surrogate father, yet so humble.
To illustrate: just last June when I was in Ilorin for the ceremony of my installation as pioneer Chancellor of Kwara State University, he not only attended the event at the campus which is several miles out of town, he was with me at the Emir’s palace for the special prayers which HRH organised to mark my retirement from UN service and appointment as Chancellor, but he also came to the Airport to see me off!!
That was who he was: kind, decent, humble and caring”. Yemi Candide-Johnson said of him: “A judge from a different age and time. It is good that we can remember what is possible. May his soul rest in peace”. While Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman of the NHRC, added that: “his humility and decency on our bench at the highest levels all seems like it was from such an age ago. May Kawu JSC’s soul find merciful and eternal rest”.
Twice a year, during the Sallah holidays, he brought the whole family together and given the dispersal of people in all directions, they were dates we endeavoured to keep, because one was sure to meet other members of the family. It is a tradition we would have to consciously uphold in his memory.
He was a remarkable conversationist, able to engage young and old alike about various issues. And because of my own work in journalism, in recent years, he became particularly obliging with tales of his years as a teacher, headmaster, scoutmaster, development administrator in the old Ilorin NA and as Magistrate in various parts of the North.
The politics of the 2011 elections caused a major chasm within the family, because some of us supported Dele Belgore and became pitted against those in the family who had been part of the Bukola Saraki government. It got so bad that people on both sides stopped relating with each other. He called something close to a family truth and reconciliation meeting to mend relationships. He reminded us that our forefathers never broke over partisan differences and he was not going to allow division, so close to the end of his own life.
I think his generosity of spirit and leadership helped to mend fences. That was the person he was and who we lost: father and patriarch; modest; decent; unifier; honourable; incorruptible judge; a proud sense of community and a very sincere Muslim. May Allah forgive his sins and grant him Al-janna. Allah ya Jikan Justice Saidu Kawu.