I received one of the saddest telephone calls on the morning of Sunday April 28 that you had passed away. It was difficult to comprehend, my wife could not believe it, we consoled each other that it couldn’t be true and thus quickly sought out information that could debunk that announcement of your death. With a bit of hope in our hearts, we called Alhaji Raji, your husband. Daddy, as he is usually called, however sadly confirmed that you had truly passed on, at the young age of 76. My wife, your daughter, immediately lapsed into petrified shock.
Even though you are now no more, I still believe in the words of late Professor Ali Mazrui that “death is just a change of address.” I strongly believe that this letter will get to you in your new abode, as it is the only means of communication left to me, as you never gave me and countless others the chance to say goodbye.
Although I was with you on April 2nd when in Nigeria finalising my trip back to the UK the following day; we had a brief discussion and I also called my wife to speak to you on the phone. I never knew that would be the last time I would see you.
You were known by many names: Mummy, Ameera, Nurse and Grandma, all indicative of how you touched many lives. I called you ‘mummy’ because to me you were never just a mother-in-law; you treated me as your own son.
Mummy, I must confess that I don’t know how many children you had, but I remember that when my wife was traveling to join me, I was told that there was a wedding ceremony going on in the house for one of your children on that day. I had no clue who this child was, but if I limit myself to those I have met, your impact in their lives have made them all much better people.
You were also mummy to countless other children, and your biological children – Shukurat Sanusi, Jemilat Shabi, Saidat Gbadamosi and Salim Abayomi Raji – had to carry the cross of sharing you with so many others. Let me start with the special case of my wife, Bilikis Abisola Omotayo-Raji. After courting her for five years and knowing you throughout that period, I remembered that faithful day, actually a few days to our wedding in 2003, when you summoned me to a meeting, which I thought was about putting finishing touches to the wedding preparation, but which however turned out different. In the room was a woman I had met a few times of being around you, making it just the three of us. You had started by going straight to the point, and re-introducing the the third lady as Mulikat Raji, a junior sister to your husband, and then dropped the bomb: This is the “biological mother of your wife”. That knocked me off balance, and I did no know how to respond to this, as I had always known you as her mum. You have always treated her as one of your daughters, and there had never been any instance in which I would suspect your not being her mother, as it then appeared that my wife was possibly more loved than even your own biological children. As I drove home that day, I still struggled with the truth, but came to a conclusion that I would not accept it, as you were my wife’s mother. You had looked after her for 26 years, and breastfed her as a child, along with your own son, Salim, both of who were almost the same age. I thereafter considered my wife as being extremely lucky to be loved and cared for by two mothers.
You were also Ameera. When I met you, mummy, there were always visitors in your house, and it didn’t take too long for me to notice your special people- and conflict management skills. You were the president of Al Ameen Asalatul Group – a group of almost 200 female members – for more than 30 years, till your passing. Your house was essentially a judicial chamber, where issues were resolved one after the other, and yours was fundamentally a heart of succour, providing for those who did not have. You provided an alternative platform for struggling women and widows to be active and happy. You led these women to countless Islamic events in which they were overtly visible through their songs and other interventions. You thus made sad and miserable women rise beyond their personal issues and difficulties, to become happy at each of these events. Not only did you provide support for those struggling financially, but I witnessed countless occasions in which you were instrumental to the resolution of marital issues involving members of the Assalatu and their children. You have left a big leadership vacuum in this group.
Mummy, I must confess that I don’t know how many children you had, but I remember that when my wife was traveling to join me, I was told that there was a wedding ceremony going on in the house for one of your children on that day. I had no clue who this child was, but if I limit myself to those I have met, your impact in their lives have made them all much better people. Of remarkable importance is how you shaped the lives of people like Yusuf Lawal (who is U.S. based), Afusa Popoola/Bilikis Popoola (who are also U.S. based), Dr. Ayo Solademi (U.K. based) and others like Ramota Olaide, Taiba Olaide, Waidi Raji, to mention just a few.
A nurse, yes you were mummy. I actually first met you – never knowing that you will later become my mother-in-law – when I was a special assistant to the supervisory councilor for health at Lagos Island Local government in 1999, and you were the head of the primary health care unit at Amuto in Lagos Island. We came on inspection, and despite your challenges, you were articulate and displayed professionalism. I was later informed by a senior civil servant that you were a qualified nurse and pharmacy technician – two skills that are essential for primary health care. It was actually the community’s impression of you that gladdened the attention of the supervisor then, that he came to the conclusion that you were a staff that we couldn’t afford to lose.
Mummy, you always demonstrated passion, affection and trust to those around you. You supported everyone with all that you had, of which money was just one part of.
You touched so many lives in the community, including those of your staff, including Sikirat Ogabi, whose wedding you single-handedly sponsored, and Ahmed Tokosi, whose higher education you also sponsored. So many families in Lagos Island will find it hard to believe that you are no more.
You were grandma and mummy. My children (Faiza and Jabirah Ameen) had the opportunity of meeting you about three times during our visits to Nigeria, but I still felt that was not enough. I had planned on ensuring that when they were a bit more grown and can appreciate life better, they would be sent to you for tutoring on how to become good mothers themselves in the future. Its so dad that I have now lost that opportunity. But I thank the Almighty for others were fortunate to have benefitted from your stock of timeless knowledge, such as Ayodeji Sanusi, who was closer to you than even her own mother. Also, Mariam Sanusi, Munirat Sanusi, Abdul Basit Shabi (who is now Canada Based), Khadijat Gbadamosi, Zainab Gbadamosi, Abdul Barry Shabi, Aishat Ayinde, Aishat Raji, Abdul Rasaq Raji, and Nobulat Raji. I cannot speak for them on their perception of you, but I can only cite how this has been captured in the way that AbdulBasit Shabi put it on his Instagram page:
“She was like a second mum to me; she took care of me the majority of my childhood and put the needs of her grandkids ahead of hers. She was really good at giving advice and very compassionate as a person. She believed in family and didn’t limit her family to people related to her by blood”.
Mummy, you always demonstrated passion, affection and trust to those around you. You supported everyone with all that you had, of which money was just one part of. I remember those days when I went for TV interviews on AIT, and I always knew that if no one was watching, you would, interestingly even on topics of little relevance to you, such as the International Criminal Court. You would watch, listen and demonstrate support for my work.
Mummy, I may have wronged you, as well as others around you, and I wish to use this opportunity to express how sorry I am about this. But I take comfort in knowing that as a mother to countless children you never entertained any grudge but was always at peace with all. On behalf of all your countless children and the beneficiaries of all your hard work, I say, rest well and rest in peace. May Allah Grant you Al-Jannah.
Bashir Ayodele Ameen.
Bashir Ayodele Ameen is executive director of Human Rights Advancement, Development and Advocacy Centre (HURIDAC).