It was shocking and difficult for me to come to terms with the reality of the news about the death of a personified news character in person of Aisha Bello Mustapha. Why wouldn’t I be shocked to the marrow when a few days ago my cell phone rang? Lo and behold, the same Aisha was on the line with her distinct branded newscasting voice. The following conversation transpired on the phone between us:
AISHA: Salam alaikum, the General.
ABDULKADRI: Wa alaikum salam, Aunty Aisha. It’s been a while ma.
AISHA: Yes, I’ve been sick.
Like siblings, my concern for her was spontaneous on hearing about her sickness, direct from the horse’s mouth. The mutual conversation continued on phone beyond what can be revealed in this write-up. Sadly, though, I never thought that the call was a fare-thee-well one.
The reality of her death, however, became so devastating and soul-breaking with accompanied flurry of uncontrollable tears streaming down my forlorn face.
That was an open betrayal of my deepest emotion. The more terrific one like the punches by Mike Tyson and the late Muhammad Alli cowed me down when I saw Aunty Aisha’s lifeless body on a stretcher. I ruminated over her sojourn on this planet and concluded thus: hmmm, here lies the motionless body of this great woman, who had toured the seven continents of the world and had seen it all in the course of rendering quality service to the nation.
That was at the National Mosque, where I joined colleagues and the congregation for her janazat. Indeed, it was a well deserved last respect for my dearest sister from another mother.
In my state of overwhelming sadness for the loss of this great senior colleague, I became speechless like my other sisters, Halima Musa and Rabi Abdallah.
The truism of a wise saying also engaged my busy thoughts on that ill-fated black and dark Monday, 11th December, 2023.
Alas, the death of the famous newscaster extinguished the fire of activism burning in me even as a Media General.
Instantly, my terribly bad mood swung into the mode of soliloquies: “Hmmmm, what goes around surely comes around”. Not in the case of Aisha coming back any more, but the sting of death is going round circlically, critically and clinically taking away its victims.
Away from sololoquising, I sighted former NTA Director General, Yakub ibn Mohammed. I immediately walked up to him. That movement at that moment was akin to hurriedly switching from a television channel to NTA to catch up in the ’90s with the late Aisha Bello Mustapha’s news presentation at 9pm on Network News. Of course, the sorry story to share with the former NTA DG was about the end of the news for the late consummate and passionate newscaster.
The shared moments of sorrow between my mentor, the “boss”, and his mentee “boy” expectedly dovetailed into consolatory sermonisation towards mitigating the pains in our hearts for the irreparable loss of the former Aisha Katung.
The visily sad DG said, “As Muslims, we must accept unconditionally that it was her time and turn to answer the last call by her Creator”. So sad.
Thereafter, my earlier line of thoughts that was put on pause when I saw the former DG resonated thus: “The Angel of Death had made the round and took away a beautiful soul from the NTA family.” One in a million, you may say, with the Director General, Salihu Abdulhamid Dembos, as the Chief mourner.
In her life time, she was the doyen of newscasting. A role model and veteran broadcaster who, through dint of hard work, gained so much milage in visibility, popularity, responsibility and respectability on NTA Network News. Cyril Stober and Aunty Moji Makanjuola can write a book on this my assertion. Many a-times, while she was on duty calls as newscaster, she broke the news about the deaths of many notable personalities to end the news bulletins. Be that as they were, she displayed on each occasion, after reading obituaries, uncommon spirit of a strong believer by reflecting on the departed ones, believing in the reality that one day will be one day when someone will also break the news of her own death.
By the sudden turnaround, it took a newscaster on duty to break the news of her death, on the same station, same belt and same time. What an irony of life’s turn-by-turn of deaths syndrome in this ephemeral life! According to the holy Qur’an, every soul must taste death. It therefore goes to say that when it is my turn as writer of this tribute and your time as readers, no Jupiter can fast-forward or rewrite the destined time, date and where we will breath our last.
To her credit and to the eternal memories of Nigerians, as well as residents of Nigeria and beyond, Aisha will be remembered for her delightful news presentations. News garnished with fantastic diction, laced with confidence and candour.
To the late veteran broadcaster, news presentation was like eating bread and butter.
Once upon a time, too, the larger than life Aisha was a co-producer of one of the weekly popular flagship programmes on NTA, Newsline.
If in doubt, enquire from the former Executive Director News, Shola Atere, the Director News, Aliyu Baba Barau, and Aunty Asabe Abubakar.
The amazon Aisha gave her best for several years just as she replicated the same enthusiastic and charismatic service in her productions and presentations on Nationwide and AM News, as well as programme belts.
I also recall with nostalgia her scintillating pedigree of performance as a producer and presenter of a weekly programme, Environment Matters. She made her indelible mark to make the programme a must watch by lovers of nature and environmentalists. Ask Jennifer Igwe at the Lagos Network Centre. No wonder she became an expert on climate change owing to her deep wealth of experience and expertise garnered from her various participations in national and international dialogues and conferences which broadened her horizon on the global perspectives that shaped her views to become an authority on the subject matter.
Looking back at my years of service, especially at NTA Headquarters, Abuja, my path crossed with the deceased. For instance, we were roastered severally on the same shifts for the production of several news bulletins. We both worked dedicatedly, creditably and cordially like brother and sister. Sometimes, she was my News Producer while I served under her as Production Editor. Her winning and disarming sense of humour can’t be easily forgotten. She was so ebullient, amiable and amicable to staff on her shifts, which paved the way for mutual cooperation and coordination. Emmanuel Ayinmiro, Oyinnaya Kalu Oka and Odan Masawaje will testify to her sisterly disposition wherever we worked on the same shift with her.
Late Hajiya Aisha, who can’t hurt a fly with her uncommon soft-spokenness and outspokenness, excellently passed integrity, reliability and relationship tests of camaraderie as a notable member of NAWOJ and recipient of many awards.
She left her footprints on the sands of time in the annals of NTA as a peacemaker, pacesetter, a bridge builder and rallying point for all. Occasionally, she communicated with me by jokingly forcing herself to speak Yoruba. That was a humorous side of a detribalized Aisha for you, my readers.
Beyond the tin lines separating Network Newsroom and other workstations at News 24 and NTA International up to Language Channels, Aisha Bello Mustapha traversed the news landscapes and made friends without any aura of arrogance and discriminatory attitude on the platter of self-pride. She was a leader to look up to for guidance, advice and shared confidential talks at all times. Although as human, she was friendly, jovial and generous but on the other hand whenever operational environment took a nose dive, her other sides would be revealed. Sometimes she was impatient, temperamental and forgiven whenever the dust settled after the mad hours of striving to meet the deadlines for the day’s news business had been successfully accomplished.
Aunty Aisha, as she was fondly called, was as cool as cucumber. As hardworking as a lion. As firm as Aso Rock, and as gentle as a dove.
Throughout my exciting tour of duty in NTA, I worked with many accomplished broadcasters but none could take away from my heart the late Aisha’s humble, humane, pious, easy-going and ever smiling dispositions. With due respect and recognition of my esteemed mentors, managers and directors who impacted on my career like the retired Executive Director News, Garba Mamu, former General Manager, NTA News 24, Femi Ibrahim, Muhammed Labbo, Halima Musa ,Yinka Ajayi, Adamu Abdullahi and others.
Not many of those who became TV celebrities were able to combine humility with integrity and simplicity, but Aisha Bello Mustapha did in a grand style. In fact, she stood out in character, superb human working relations and professionalism.
She bestrode, like a Colossus, the newsroom as a distinct and distinguished, calm and collected broadcaster who paraded high value marketability credential and an on-air aura of a TV goddess that attracted the viewers’ buy-in.
The vintage late Aisha was a woman of substance who was unassuming but full of courage, carriage, class, and distinction among her contemporaries.
She was persistently painstaking, passionate and professional about rendering service till she retired in 2022.
ABM will be greatly missed by family, friends, colleagues and fans who were unable to hold back their tears as she had her last journey on earth from the National Mosque to the cemetery, her last home. She journeyed to the great beyond, beneath the planet and never to be seen and be heard any more, nor be called upon again for newscasting.
Her death at 57 drew the curtain, like a dramatic personae character in a movie who played her part diligently and quit the stage when the ovation was loudest. Call it the end of an era in the annals of the nation’s broadcasting sector in general and, in particular, the largest TV network on the continent, NTA.
As Aisha joined the league of late veteran broadcasters on the other side of the planet, she had been well received and welcomed on board by the likes of Tokunbo Ajayi, Yinka Craig, Cele Eradiri, Tunde Saiki, Sikeola Ipinlaye and Jonathan Bulus, among others as unforgettable departed members of the NTA family.
Adieu, Aunty Aisha Bello Mustapha! Goodnight to a mentor of many young broadcasters. Fare thee well, till we meet to part no more in Jannat Firdaus.
* Mohammad Abdulkadri, erstwhile NTA Defence Correspondent, writes from Abuja