Remembering Alhaji Babatunde Jose (1925-2008)
IT’s been seven years since our father Alhaji Isma’il Babatunde Jose Inoodi, ara’resa, omo’badu left this sinful world. His legacies shall continue to be with those of us he left behind. The greatest thing he would be remembered for was his life of compassion. From his lowly beginning and his meteoric rise to the doyen of modern Nigerian journalism and as a religious leader, his life was always strewn with compassion for all he came across. Born into the Jose family, lately of Ojubanire Lane, Agarawu Street, of old Lagos, Baba as we fondly called him lost his mother on June 12, 1932 when he was just a primary school pupil of Lagos Municipal Primary School, Oke-Suna. At that time he was enrolled as Sunmola, the Yoruba version of Isma’il. He however had other ‘mothers’ who took very good care of him and showered him with love and affection. It is possible that his later life of compassion to others took roots from this infant period. To all those ‘mothers’, we pray that Allah grant them Aljanna Fridous.
Baba later attended Yaba Methodist Primary School, where he was enrolled in 1933 as Ishmael; another version of his name. He later attended Saviors Boys High School, where he could not further his secondary school education due to downturn in his father’s fortunes as a result of the Second World War. He asked his father ‘not to strain himself further and let him learn a trade.’ Thereafter, he was apprenticed as a technical trainee in the Daily Times and from there he veered into news reporting and journalism. The Grace of God and good fortune smiled on him and he was discovered and mentored by the white Chairman of the Daily Times and the story goes on from there. He rose to become the first Nigerian managing director of the company and also chairman/managing director of the first publicly quoted company in Nigeria. He became a confidant of heads of state and government and ‘walked in the corridors of power’; he was also head of the foremost Islamic religious organization in Nigeria and thereby ‘walked in the corridors of heaven’.
In 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo proclaimed him a National Role Model and an Icon of Hope at the National Independence celebration in Abuja. In all these, he refused to be carried away by the flight of success in life, which he regarded as transient. If at all, he was humbled by these successes in life. He lived a contented and frugal life and was not given to ostentation. He feared God and believed in the inevitability of death; hence he had a bag packed with his burial shroud in his room. At sixty, he claimed he had gotten his ticket and boarding pass to heaven and was only waiting for the boarding announcement; he waited for 22 years before his flight was eventually announced. Therefore, he lived every day as if it were the last.
He was steadfast in his commitment to his God and it increased his compassion for his fellow men. He took care of both immediate end extended family. As a mark of this, he always had a full house because he found space for the children of his immediate and extended family to live with him, including the children of his out of town friends; just like his own father did before him. Even at work, he had his adopted sons and daughters whom he groomed and mentored and whose success he followed till his last breath. He was a just and fair man. His belief in the goodness of his fellow man made him become over trusting to a fault. His kindness and ready to forgive spirit led him to forgive his traducers after the enquiry into the Daily Times exonerated him; even to the point of helping to settle family quarrel for one of his traducers.
“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity.” Karen Armstrong
As a mark of his compassion, he was known to visit people when they were bereaved or afflicted with illness. I cannot count the number of times, he had asked us to make a detour from our planned journey because he wanted to visit someone who lived in a remote village or town out of our way. He kept a list of people whom he never forgot to send birthday greetings each year till he fell gravely ill. For some, such cards were accompanied with a cash gift, especially the old and his grandchildren.
One hallmark of his life was in seeking forgiveness of Allah and as a corollary of this he first sought the forgiveness of man. He would always seek to atone for his transgression against man and God, and this led him on many occasions to seek out those whom he felt he had wronged to ask for their forgiveness. We once went to Itire for a ceremony and he decided to visit the house of his old driver who lived nearby. When we got there, he asked the driver, who incidentally was a Quranic scholar, to say a small prayer for us. After that he asked the driver to forgive him for an incident that occurred on an occasion they were travelling together. The driver could not recollect and Baba had to remind him. Even the old driver was flabbergasted. That was the extent to which Baba would go in order to have a clean slate. On another occasion during his illness, he asked our cousin to specifically go to his father in-law who was an elder in the same religious movement he belonged to, to name whatever he might have done to wrong him in the course of their relationship and forgive him. He even asked the old man to grant him an audience so he could come to apologize personally. The old man told my cousin that Baba should harbor no fear as he had nothing against him. The old man later visited Baba to allay his fears. Incidentally, Baba named the old man in his last wishes to give a graveside oration when he dies. He died, but the old man was out of the country.
For a man who walked with a constant fear of God in him, it was therefore very sad that in the end he was visited with trial and tribulation of a Jobian proportion. His illness was so bad that sometimes one was inclined to believe that it was due to the wrath of God for his sins and iniquities; but Baba was a righteous man who ‘kept the Sabbath holy’. We took consolation in the fact that Allah always try those he loved. The Quran and holy books are full of stories of prophets and men of God whom were afflicted with worse tribulations. After 30 days of fasting the month of Ramadan, the Holy Prophet was dressed for ‘Eid Fitr, when his son suddenly died. Equally, Prophet Muhammad did not survive his illness too. Towards the end of his life, he could not even lead the prayer as he was too weak to do so. Prophet Ayyub (Job) suffered the worst tribulations of any ‘man of God’. All his possessions, animate and inanimate were wiped out, while his body was afflicted by an illness unknown in his time. His friends and his wife implored him to deny God, but Job never railed against the Almighty. In the end, God not only restored his health but also his wealth.
The same could be said of Baba Jose.
Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity: “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return” Quran 2: 155-156
Each time he was granted the grace to talk, he was always reciting the Shahadah. There was an occasion, when he was in intensive care and he kept on reciting ‘lillah illallah’ and his friend who was present had to beg him to stop as it was dissipating his energy. But he would not stop. The greatest of God’s afflictions was visited on his greatest prophet, Jesus Christ, who in the course of his travails in the Garden of Gethsemane asked God to ‘let this cup pass’, Mathew 26:43, and when the pain was too much on the cross, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi Eloi, lama sabach-thani? Which means, ‘My God my God, why have you forsaken me? Mathew 27:46. And in the end he proclaimed ‘It is finished’. With that he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. John 19:30.
To the end Baba believed in the benevolence of God. Your Lord knoweth best what is in your hearts: If ye do deeds of righteousness, verily He is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true penitence). Quran 17:25.
As we mark the 7th year of his departing this life on Sunday, August 2, 2015, we thank Allah for his life and the protection He had given all those he left behind. Since, he departed, it has always been one good commentary or the other on his life. These are testimonies to a life of godliness.
It is also a relief to us all that just as we are praying to Allah for the repose of his soul, we at the same time would be thanking Allah for the life of two of his last children, Abubakar Sidiq Oluwatosin Jose and Rabiu Akanni Jose both of whom would turn 50 on Sunday, August 2, and Tuesday, August 11, respectively. We wish them many happy returns.
ur take away from the life of Baba is:
Ina Lillah WA Ina Illehi Rajiun: “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return” Quran 2:156.
If we remember that, we would be compelled to live a godly life.
ose 11 is the first son of the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose.