He died exactly 40 years ago yesterday but in my mind’s eye, I can still see my paternal grandfather Magatakarda Abdullahi Kakale sitting by the roadside on his reclining tarpaulin chair, near Malam Haruna’s mosque at Jega. The place was about 300 metres away from his own house at Kasuwar Birni ward. He used to sit there twice every day, in the morning and again in the late afternoon.
Sitting by the roadside was part of Magatakarda’s strict daily schedule, which began with dawn prayers. He then loudly recited the Qur’an until 7 am, when we came to greet him before we went off to primary school. He then took bath, read the Qur’an again until 11am, when he went to sit by the road. He returned home just before zuhr to pray, drink fura, read the Qur’an and take a nap till asr. After praying, he went to sit by the roadside again, returned home just before maghrib, prayed, ate tuwo, did the isha prayer, then read the Qur’an, this time silently, until around 11pm. He said more prayers and then went to sleep.
Magatakarda read the same loose-sheet copy of the Qur’an for decades. He had memorised most of it because if you approached him while he was reading, he will raise his head and stare at you, but will continue “reading.” Sometimes he flipped the page while still staring at you. At nearly 80 his eyesight was poor but his hearing was very sharp. His wife Hajiya Allami, who was from riverine Argungu, once said that “Magatakarda’s hearing is like that of a hippo.”
“Greeting” him before we went off to school was obligatory because as we did so, he gave each one of us one and a half pence for breakfast. That was enough to buy koko with sugar or to buy rice sprinkled with groundnut oil [wasa wasa], with half a penny to spare. Sometimes when we were returning to primary school after breakfast, we asked Magatakarda for another penny to buy snacks. If you were lucky, he would silently toss one at you. Other times he simply ignored you.
On some Fridays, we would ask Magatakarda for permission to go to Birnin Kebbi to see our maternal grandmother Hajiya Amo. If he felt that you deserved to go, he would give you a shilling for transport fare. If Magatakarda did not want you to go, he would say, “Greet Hajiya Amo.” We found ways to circumvent his sarcasm, because we would go to our maternal grand uncle Alhaji Mamman Alakwa or to Alhaji Bala Na Baban Gwari at the motor park. They would put us in the lorry to Birnin Kebbi for free.
Magatakarda’s two wives, Hajiya Allami and Hajiya Umma, had a way of rewarding a kid who behaved well. They would assign you to take his food to him at sunset. Each one of them had kids lodged in her room and would only send one of them. Invariably, it was tuwon shinkafa with kuka or vegetable soup. Thirteen pieces of boiled meat were spread on top of the tuwo [not inside the soup, as is the usual practice in Hausaland]. When you deliver the food and slowly begin to walk away, Magatakarda will call you and give you two pieces of meat. Trouble is, the food was taken to him at sunset, when he was just about to begin his maghrib prayer. If you happen to bring the food when he had already started praying, that was it!
Born in 1902, Malam Abdullahi Kakale Jega was a member of Katsina College’s pioneer set that enrolled on October 1, 1921. He graduated from Northern Nigeria’s first secondary school on February 26, 1927. He taught Mathematics and Geography, was Headmaster and Inspector of Schools at Birnin Kebbi Middle School [1927-38], Sokoto Middle School [1938-41], Argungu [1941-43] and Birnin Kebbi [1943-45]. He was the Chief Scribe of Gwandu Native Authority [Magatakardan Gwandu] in 1945-1954. He returned to Sokoto Middle School until 1959, and was in long retirement at Jega until his death on February 14, 1981.
Magatakarda was the first Western-educated person in Jega District. By the early 1970s, nearly 20 of us were going to primary school from his house. He was the town’s most reliable supplier of pupils. At the onset of every school year, Jega’s two famous headmasters, Malam Muhammadu Bande Besse of Sabongari Primary School and Malam Ahmadu Jadadi of Town Primary School went to Magatakarda and requested for pupils. He would divide his wards equally between the two primary schools. The local builder Danladi Gardi even called our house “gidan boko.”
In the years that I knew him, Magatakarda was a pensioner and a farmer, apparently well catered for by his children [my father and uncles]. He had three large farms—Gonar Kasuwa, Gonar Idi and Madoccin Duna. The latter one was very far away along Birnin Kebbi road, and we were often sent there to deliver fura to the hired hands who tilled it. Magatakarda had a lot of cattle as well as sheep, donkeys and horses. He fed his sheep diligently with corn stalks. One day in 1971, he bought a very majestic horse from Alkalin Kalgo for 7 pounds. He also bought a donkey for 7 shillings; it was so skinny we nicknamed it Nakwala’iza.
Magatakarda imposed very strict rules on his grandchildren. With nearly two dozen unruly boys in his house, the old school master banned us from bare hand fishing [lalabe], diving into the river from cliffs [alkahura], sliding on muddy river banks [bube], fighting with fire [wowo], catching scorpions under the influence of charms we bought at the market, gang fighting with other kids, smoking corn stick ‘cigarettes’ [huke], playing games in the dark [aci duhu], making a pass at girls etc.
His punishment for transgression was severe; he could whip us with gindi, the thick rope he used to tie his horses. One day in 1972, I narrowly escaped Magatakarda’s severe punishment. His elder brother Alhaji Hamisu sent me on a Saturday morning to deliver the gift of a woven Malian blanket to Alhaji Danjuma Kurciya, who gave me two shillings as tukuici. From morning till sunset, I was spending the money by the roadside, eating cakes, sugarcane, mangoes and groundnuts. News got to Magatakarda that I was spending money like it was going out of fashion, so he sent three big boys to apprehend me. He already had several thick ropes near him. He thought I stole the money, but the two boys he sent to Alhaji Danjuma Kurciya confirmed my claim that he gave me two shillings. I was then scolded for collecting too much tukuici and squandering it.
Magatakarda once caused us financial distress. One day in 1971, I escorted my brother Ibrahim to the market to sell his hen. One man offered 1 shilling 9 pence for it but we held out for 2 shillings. We returned home late afternoon with the unsold hen. Magatakarda was sitting in his reclining chair as we passed by. Our Qur’anic teacher Malam Haruna offered 1 shilling 3 pence for the hen. Without consulting us, Magatakarda said, “That is a good price. Give him the hen.”
Magatakarda had a very soft spot for his maternal grandchildren, especially “Sahabi” [Justice Abubakar Jega] and Mainasarawa. Whenever Sahabi visited Jega, Magatakarda would send us to the market to buy big wrappers of kilishi for him. One day in 1972, when Mainasarawa came on holidays, he walked up to Magatakarda and said he wanted a bicycle. I was amazed by his audacity, but Magatakarda quickly sent me to Danladi Sipikin’s shop to find out the price of a Raleigh bicycle. It was 18 pounds; he just opened his wallet and paid. Mainasarawa complained at dusk that the bicycle had no headlight, so Magatakarda dished out another three pounds to Danladi Sipikin for a bicycle headlight. Earlier that day he had denied me a penny to buy snacks.
May Allah grant Magatakarda the Aljannat Firdaus that he much cherished.