By Emelife Uc
It is almost impossible for an outsider who has never heard of UDUS to guess correctly who Jatau, whom the famous bridge was named after, was. One would think that prior to his death, Jatau may have been a past Vice Chancellor of the school or a rich sponsor behind the construction of the Jatau bridge; Jatau was, as a matter of fact, a menial labourer who built some of the earliest structures in school before going blind, an almajiri who had lived most of his life perched on a corner of the bridge and the only thing rich about him was his wit.
The humorous blind beggar – Muhammadu Bello popularly known as Jatau, was an average height, scrawny-looking old man, famous for his unique pattern of begging. He would ask for ridiculous sums from students – his plate outstretched, as though in offering, his sense, acute as he picked up names from the lips of passers-by which he attached to his pleas. His catchphrase was: Kabani sadaka, then a name, and give me two million. So if he heard ‘Uche’, he would go, “Kabani sadaka. Uche, give me two million,” in a rich sing-song Hausa accent.
Jatau was also found listening to his antique radio – seeking connection with the world outside his or counting his Tasbih beads: an innocent mien, devoid of the grumblings of his stomach, the spank of the scorching sun on his back, the ache from his cracked feet and the darkness his obliterated vision beheld; thinking: what peace is there than that with your maker? Benevolent, he once responded to a student’s plea for money by asking him to take whatever he liked from his plate. This was a shock to the student who – to show appreciation – gifted Jatau some money, to which Jatau, surprisingly, turned down.
Jatau never presented himself as a pity-case. He didn’t guilt-trip passers-by like most beggars do. Nor allowed himself be shrouded in dirt to gain the beggar look. Jatau used entertainment. He was an entertainer. He made students laugh. He was vivacious and so stood out from others in similar situations as his.
These traits endeared him to all students and even hearers of his story so much that his demise on the 22nd of March, 2015 pierced through the hearts of everyone – undergraduates and graduates alike and its news, a trending topic on the fingers of bloggers. Hundreds of tributes and tons of panegyric were written in his name, even those who didn’t know him were touched by his story: “A beggar whose death affected thousands, even though he never had a thousand.”
In 2016, when some students took to Jatau’s domain, costumed in an old worn-out raggedy ‘babanriga’ in remembrance of him, their facial expressions mirrored their thoughts:
“If only I had a million, Jatau might still be at his domain, might still be his cheerful self, chanting: Mutanen UDUS, give me two million.”
It’s been four years since Jatau’s death, yet it seems like yesterday. He was a beggar but was loved dearly. At the end, a life hack taught by the legend, was to live a good life not minding the condition. Cause at the end what really matters isn’t how long your life is, but how well you lived it.
Rest in peace, Jatau. You’ve been immortalized and will live on each time we walk through your bridge.
Emelife Uc, 200L