“One who is loved, never dies.”
– C.S. Lewis
Certain people we meet in the course of our lives become so important to our reality, that permanent separation from them is something the mind can never fully comprehend. The duration of meeting may not be long; it is the intensity and impact that linger in the memory.
Death is an inevitable end, but some people are simply larger than life, or should I say, death. Many times, it is easier to forget that they are no longer with us. We visualize their expressions, remember their presence, and hear their voices clearly in our heads as we recall conversations. For those who were known to the wider society, their work remains as a landmark to their lives, however short . The happiness of a memory quickly mixes with the sad recollection of absence.
It is with such mixed feelings, but mostly with a sense of great honour, that I remember, on what would have been Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru’s 56th birthday, a man of immense character, discipline, selfless service and dedication above and beyond the call of duty. With a sense of supreme privilege and humility, I pay a post-humous birthday tribute to Attahiru, who was in all ramifications, a consummate officer and a gentleman, and truly a soldier’s soldier.
As we commemorate him today, it would not be out of place to remember him as a nation builder and a true patriot in his own right, who served his country impeccably in a stellar military career through which he rose admirably to become the 25th Chief of Army Staff.
It is in his final role that many – including myself – will most potently remember General Attahiru. Upon his sudden and tragic demise in May last year, I recalled his reassuring ebullient presence, underneath which he carried the determination, discipline, and professionalism of a born soldier. I reflected on his attentiveness and enthusiasm in our fight against banditry, terrorism, and general insecurity in our state, and in the region at large. I remembered then, as I do now, his crystal-clear vision and passion for the Nigerian Army.
That is the General Ibrahim Attahiru with whom I was blessed to interact. I also know that he is fondly remembered within military circles as a leader who reached out to the men under his command, and even to all who came under his care, and he looked out for them.
In contemplating the lives of great Generals, we wonder if the uniform makes the man, or if it is the man who fills up the uniform he wears. Beyond all that General Attahiru was in his professional sphere and in the limelight, we must not fail to remember him simply as a human being, as a father, as a man who lived by a creed of openness and accessibility. At the launch of the General Ibrahim Attahiru Foundation earlier this year, we heard about the man behind the uniform, Ibrahim Attahiru, the family man, the loving husband who never failed to put a smile on the face of his wife Fati. We learned of the doting and devoted father to Aisha Farrah, Zainab Maliha and Fatima Iman, who made it a priority to spend quality time with his three lovely daughters, encouraging them in their faith, in their academics, guiding them in their social lives and always letting them know that he was proud of them.
His job and its attendant demands notwithstanding, he made time to be a father and a friend to his daughters, and through his charm and courage, mentored them. These are the actions that will forever remain priceless in the lives of his wife and children, and they reflect the dedication with which General Attahiru conducted himself even outside the spotlight.
I will always be grateful for the privilege I had to interact with him, albeit briefly. During our engagements, he demonstrated to me quite clearly the power of hope, through his optimism, energy, and cooperative disposition. For me, and for others involved in security management, our highest tribute to General Attahiru, would be to walk in his footsteps, and to throw ourselves with unalloyed commitment at the fight which remains before us.
The General Ibrahim Attahiru Foundation which was launched at the one-year memorial of his demise, will seek to cement and transmit the legacy of the man, and the virtues which he typified; the values of strength, dignity, commitment to excellence, leadership, tenacity, openness, accessibility, mentorship, and fatherhood. It is upon such values that nations are built. It is these virtues which have led to so many honouring him today, on the 56th anniversary of his birth, to celebrate what he stood for in his life, and indeed the way he represented the Nigerian Army with distinction for nearly 35 years.
Today, once again, it is right that we celebrate the legacy of a hero, as we also continue to immortalize his love for service, knowledge and impact. It is a mark of honour, and a tribute to his memory. He is no longer with us, but he lives on in the quality of life that he lived; a life, cut short just shy of 55 years on this earth. We are saddened at the fact of his absence, but we are reminded by so many aspects of his legacy, that truly, he lived.
And so today we salute the memory of a patriot, and (I am privileged to say) a companion and ally, who would have turned 56. We celebrate with honour, the memory of a mentor, a brother, a father, a husband. We commemorate the birth, the life and the times of a quintessential soldier, a true General, who exited the arena suddenly, in the middle of a war, and more so, in the line of duty.
In remembering him on the day of his birth, we ensure that the torch of his legacy and ideals will continue to burn brightly, to inspire and lead, as he did.
For truly, one who is loved, never dies.
Aruwan is Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Kaduna State.