Commander Murtala Muhammad Daba was in charge of the helicopter carrying Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa of Kaduna state, erstwhile National Security Adviser, Gen. Patrick Azazi and four others, which crashed in Bayelsa state last weekend. MAIRO MUHAMMAD MUDI spent a day with the late pilot's family at Layin 'Yarkasuwa off Jakara Road Gwaran Dutse in Kano and reports that Daba would be sorely missed by family and friends to whom he was a close confidant and a great helper.
If Commander Murtala Muhammad Daba were alive today, one would have loved to ask him how he was able to achieve and maintain such a splendid relationship with his immediate and extended family members despite the nature of job as a naval pilot, which kept him away from them most of the time.
One striking feature LEADERSHIP WEEKEND noticed at the family house where family, friends and well-wishers that trooped in to mourn the late pilot was the recurring statement tearfully uttered by most of them was: "I will miss Murlata for his love and commitment most especially to my problem."
His wife, Hajiya Ummulkhairi Abubakar Daba, who was apparently shocked but calm as she received condolences from a stream of individuals and groups who came offering prayers for the response of her husband's soul, responded with appreciative head nods and "Amin" to them all.
When she was first approached for an interview, she politely asked to be excused to go and pray. When she later sat for the interview, the first question drew tears from her eyes. In between sobs, she told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that Thursday December 27 would have been her fourth wedding anniversary.
She described her marriage to Murtala, which was blessed with a two-year-old baby girl, as "a very happy and peaceful one."
A tearful Ummulkhadiri moaned: "Without Murtala in our lives, nothing would ever be the same again but I am taking solace in the fact that Allah giveth and Allah taketh. He has given Murtala to me and He has taken him away from me; there is nothing I can do than to say Alhamdulillah."
Mrs. Daba said every moment spent with her husband was memorable "but the last one, which was a weekend three weeks ago was the most memorable because we spent the weekend indoors."
Murtala was raised by two women, his aunt, Hajiya Zuwaira Habibu Daba, and stepmother, Aishatu AbdulRaham.
With a voice dripping of anguish, Hajiya Habibu Daba said: "Murtala was my brother's son. He was handed over to me to raise when he was a year and 8 months old. When he turned five, we went to live in the United States where he started primary school. He also spent time with his stepmother whenever he was in his father's house for holidays."
Hajiya Habibu Daba remembered Murtala as a very courageous lad who faced adversity with remarkable equanimity. "Murtala was always jovial and never got angry. He could endure anything. As a young boy, whenever he was sick and was given injection at the hospital, he would never betray his feeling. Once, a doctor told me that I had given birth to a soldier," she stated.
With a torrent of tears cascading down her face, the late pilot's stepmother, Hajiya Aishatu AbdulRaham, recalled her last contact with her beloved stepson: "The last communication I had with him was on my way to Abuja when I called him and we chatted happily. Despite being in the military, he laughed a lot."
Family and friends said they would also miss Murtala's concern for their welfare and his generous nature.
Lacing her comments with occasional anguished hisses amid an endless flow of tears, Hajiya Habibu Daba said: "If Murtala had N50 in his pocket and you needed it, he would give it to you and remain kobo-less. I always cautioned him to save money to buy land or a house but he would turn it into a laughing issue. My last communication with him was last Thursday when he told me he would send N100,000 for the wedding of one of his cousins."
Murtala's uncle, Mustapha Abu Daba, said: "We shared a lot together. Despite that, he respected me greatly as his uncle to the extent that when he and his group of friends saw me coming in, they would all stand up in respect before we again mix as friends. He was a great peacemaker in the family and beyond."
One of the late pilot's cousin and a columnist with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, Auwal Sani Anwar, said "Murtala was the pillar of the family whose loss is colossal to us as it is to the nation he served so diligently."
Recalling how Murtala came to his rescue at the Lagos airport where he was stranded recently upon a return from a trip abroad.
"I spent six hours with him at the Lagos airport where I was finding it difficult to get a flight to Abuja. I just placed a call to him when I returned from China and there was no flight for me despite my ticket. Murtala swiftly moved to get me on board and was the first to call me when I landed in Abuja about an hour later."
Mallam Auwal disclosed that Murtala urged him to pursue a career in the oil sector rather than the academia.
"His reason was that since he had accepted to sacrifice his life for the nation, believing he could die in the line of duty as a pilot, I should work in a sector with a better remuneration regime in order to take care of our family members," Auwal explained.
Auwal, a chemical engineer, added: "My last contact with him was when he sent a text thanking me for my intention to organise a celebration in the family for his recent promotion as commander. He sent a text to most members of family informing us of this achievment and we were all happy for it. But then shortly afterwards, death took him away."
He described the late pilot as "the best. Though we are saddened by his demise, we are also most grateful to God for giving us someone like Murtala in our family. We prayed to God to have mercy on his soul."
Murtala Muhammad Daba was born in Kano in 1975. He had his early education in the U.S. and finished it off in Zaria.