In Memory of Commander Murtala Mohammed Daba

1.         The death of Commander Muritala Mohammed Daba leaves a huge vacuum in our lives. According to news reports he died on active duty while flying the governor of Kaduna state and the immediate past National Security Adviser in a Nigerian Navy helicopter. We mourn not because we are naive about human mortality, fretful for our turn or impudent of God’s prerogative. It is Gods privilege alone to give life and every officer in the Nigerian Navy, Army or Air Force knew the risks before we bravely signed up. Naturally, the statistics for death are startling. One in every one will die, as none of us will leave this life alive. However, even the heavens applaud the brilliance of a shooting star and Commander Daba did shine. If the situation was reversed Oga would not bother with the circumstances of death like some do. He would smile and say “Chukwunonso .... Allah Yayisah”. Well I am not that charitable. This is the second day since Al-Jazeera broke the news and we are in more shock than the first day. Despite the hurt in our hearts our thoughts and prayers go out to his family especially his beautiful wife and lovely daughter.

2.         Every time I am privileged to witness the glory of a military wedding ceremony, my first amazement is the sparkle in the bride’s eye not the glitz of participating in the sword crossing ceremony. It fills me with awe that these amazing women dare to become what late Hajia Maryam Babangida calls the “Officers Wife”. It is incredible that any woman (or man) would accept to marry a man (or woman) who’s very job demands obedience without complaint and loyalty without restraint. Why would anyone want to settle with a military partner who is trained to love Country first, God second and then spouse/family in that order? As Oga Daba would tell me whenever I bring up an idea he does not like, “Eh Nonso(h) .... Bad market”. He pronounced my name with an accent that suggested there was an “h” at the end. An officer is essentially on duty twenty four hours a day and seven days a week. At all times an officer’s wife waves her husband good bye without any guarantee he will return. Others live a life of perpetual sacrifice and loneliness. These superwomen wives often have to deal with long months without their partners because he is on assignment in another state, country or continent. It seems these courageous spouses essentially sign up to serve their nation along with their military spouses. Consequently officers and men are forever grateful to God for friends and family knowing that any moment could be the last. They hold their wives and family with high esteem and Oga Daba was no exception loving his wife and daughter till death.

3.         Oga Daba was not just a compassionate father and faithful husband, he was a consummate professional. Since graduating from the Nigerian Defence Academy with a bachelor’s degree he has served his country both ashore and afloat. Commander Daba completed several courses within and outside Nigeria and earned his wings as a member of the elite squad of Nigerian Navy helicopter pilots. During one of his numerous trips to Italy we met up in Amsterdam for an unforgettable 36 hours in 2008. He told me of how he escaped racists in Hungary with “Regular” moves and military alacrity. Rather than save his course allowance as most officers on course would traditionally do, he chose like me to travel and see the world as means to understanding other people’s and cultures. He believed in a border-less world where race, tribe, wealth, nationality and religion could be defining but certainly not definitive. Lots of things happened that fateful day in Amsterdam but two of the actors will never speak and one is now gone.

Commander Daba leaving Amsterdam
4.         Yet to live in the hearts and minds of those whose life you have impacted is never to die. As officers and men all over the world keep a stiff upper lip and grieve in silence, I will end with three lessons I learned from Commander Daba and for which he would be forever missed.

Commander Daba is on the right

Lesson one. You do not need to be wealthy to be generous.
I am not certain how rich he was on Saturday 13 December 2012 when he piloted the Navy Augusta helicopter from Bayelsa to Port Harcourt but I do know that in 2002, I was so broke that I could not afford to fuel my Honda Accord. This was a time when a one week delay in salary payment or “NG” could wreck a new officer’s budget and a two week delay meant disaster. In between pay checks I asked Mac Olowu to “raise” me. He was in the same broke-boat but took me to Oga Daba who himself did not have. Within minutes Oga Daba took me in his car to another officer’s house in Arakan Barracks, borrowed from the officer without disclosing my identity, lent to me and never accepted the money back. I still do not know the officer he met but anyone that knew Oga will not be surprised that he could go to such lengths for a junior officer.
Lesson Two. Respect is best earned not demanded.
The first thing that struck you on meeting him is his cheerful, humble and honest personality. This became most evident during the Junior Staff College course 59/2005 at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College. In true “onward together” fashion, he gracefully took “yabs” (petty jokes/ amusing insults) from my course mates who were the most junior on the course and sometimes returned “yabs” of his own. His initial pilot training meant that he had to attend this course with his juniors. Yet you could not tell how senior he was, because he would laugh, motivate and teach fellow syndicate members in an affable manner that endeared him to everyone but never diminished him. At no time did any of us his juniors “try” him. We just trusted him to help, advice and understand because he always did.
Lesson Three. True friendship has no boundaries. Think outside the box.
Oga Daba was my superior but more importantly he was a friend. In too many instances and in so many ways he was there. After several stints abroad I have painfully discovered how easy it is to lose track of friends, colleagues and most surprising of all course mates for many reasons. Yet the last time I spoke to Oga Daba was the same day he departed this world. I was on my way from Lebanon where I presented a research paper at the IEEE ACTEA 2012 conference. We discussed how pleasant my trip to Lebanon was, marriage conundrums (for me) and the significance of my research. In typical Daba style, he started the conversation at 8:38 PM Friday Lebanon time (GMT+2) and sent his last message 12:32 AM Saturday (see the blackberry screen shot).

Last Message

Daba: Guy what are you doing in Lebanon?
Me: Oga na Conference to present my research work.
Daba: Guy U no de joke ooooh.
Me: Oga sir why?
Daba: U’re moving, I like the courage and determination
Me: Lol sir. Thank U sir. Other people will not hesitate to cut my neck
Daba: haba man get all U can get its time we all start thinking outside the box
Me: “lol” (My last message was delivered to his blackberry but remains unread).
Boy Soldier who became a Pilot

Oga Daba rest in perfect peace and may the souls of all the other faithfully departed rest in peace. Your life has changed other lives therefore in a sense you still remain in our hearts and prayers.
Permission to Carry on Sir.
#Smart Salute


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