… And the breath stopped suddenly, at 11.33 p.m. on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
It was the moment I lost my beloved motherly father and brotherly friend, my dad, Imam Abdulhameed Shuaib Agaka (PhD).
I had arrived Ilorin on Friday and met him at a private hospital where he had been admitted for the treatment of malaria. I gently collected the prayer rosary from his fingers and held his hand gently, even if a bit tightly… He responded with a very brief smile, without uttering a word.
Inside me, I felt that his prayer over the past two years was about to be answered… But I refused to accept that it could come so soon. I recall that on his 75th birth in February 2020, he told me, as the eldest child and in the midst of my siblings, that we should be strong, as he would soon depart for the world beyond.
That encounter influenced my homage to him during my birthday on October 10, 2020.
While he prayed for his transition to occur, we prayed vehemently against it. We were not unmindful of the fact that he had been having a running battle with diabetes and hypertension. He was even advised to reduce his participation in public engagements, which was quite hectic, including his weekly Islamic radio programmes, sermons, advocacy visitations and other activities outside the house.
From that period in 2020, he had devoted more of his time to Quranic recitations, remembrance of the Almighty, and prayers… and nothing else.
As I held his hands tightly, praying, and with tears rolling down my face, I had a sudden recall of the circumstances of the year 1998, when he finally agreed to accept the title of Imam Agaka, a community with close proximity to the Emir of Ilorin’s palace.
Since he had made up his mind, we couldn’t stop him from leaving Kano, where he was fully established as a respected spiritual leader, Islamic preacher and Arabic scholar, even with a PhD in Arabic Morphology and Quranic Grammar from Bayero University Kano in 1992.
He voluntarily retired from the public service afterward and to start a new life in Ilorin.
His family compound in Agaka hosts one of the oldest Quran as well as Quranic centre in Ilorin, where members of the royal family, including the late mother of the current Emir Sulu-Gambari, learnt basic Islamic teachings.
Apart from his prayer to be buried close to the grave of his parents in Agaka, he had refused all appeals to travel outside the town in the last five years, not even for a visit to Abuja, for the fear that he could die far away from his preferred burial ground close to his parents.
We shared great moments together and he was always glad about his children’s accomplishments.
On May 26, when I told him about my plan to travel to Daar es Salaam in Tanzania for the annual African Public Relations Conference and Awards, he had urged me to return as soon as possible to Ilorin with the award, in order for him to bless it as he had always done on similar occasions in the past.
On my return, I received a message that he had a fever and had been admitted into a private hospital. Earlier on that Friday morning, I had packed the awards that I intended to present to him, as part of my most recent professional acknowledgements, which I was certain would cheer him up, and boarded a 40-minute flight to Ilorin. On arrival, I rushed to the hospital to see him. As mentioned earlier, he noted my presence by opening his eyes, but he could not talk.
As I collected the rosary of prayer beads from his hands, he was still using his fingers consciously in counting the Tasbiu (Muslim prayers). I clapped his hands and he responded with a brief smile.
At that moment, I pleaded with the Almighty Allah to kindly grant my father more time, so that he could counsel and pray for me as he usually did, at least for the last time. I wanted to experience his jokes, smile, prayers and embrace, even if for only one more moment.
I beseeched the Almighty to restrain the Angel of Death for another instant to allow me to present our latest publication and awards to him in a state of full consciousness.
With my eyes raised to the high heavens, I implored: “God, this man has devoted the last few years doing nothing else but just praying and praying and praying. Please spare him some moment so we can talk.”
I was at this and hardly knew when my sister and in-laws took me away for medical attention in a nearby health centre. I was thereafter checked into a hotel close to the hospital, to calm down, while sleeping away the stress and trauma.
I returned to the hospital the following morning to see him. He was sleeping and breathing normally, without being unconscious. By evening, however, the rhythm of his breathing had become a bit faster.
At 11.33 pm on that Saturday, his breathing stopped, and his prayers had been answered.
I momentarily became an adult ‘orphan’ and lapsed into deep grief. My thoughts were suffused with sadness, loneliness and an overwhelming sense of grief. I equally experienced fatigue, confusion and anxiety in heightened measures.
We were consoled by the kind words of many leaders and scholars, and even the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu-Gambari whose exhortation reminded us of how Imam Agaka had positively impacted Arabic scholarship and Islamic teaching in the North.
It has now dawned on me how it really feels to lose a truly loved one.
My sincere apologies to all those whose calls I have been unable to pick or whose messages I am yet to respond to in the last week of a final caregiving leave in the honour of my late father. May we all find the fortitude to bear the deep losses that come with life when these come our ways, while still retaining the presence of mind to keep giving thanks to God despite everything.
Yushau A. Shuaib is the Editor-in-Chief, PRNigeria