Friday Sermon: Isma’il Babatunde Jose: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

By Babatunde Jose

I believe it’s a sin to try and make things last forever
Everything that exists in time runs out of time some day
Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered
Take your place with grace and then be on your way

That’s true not only of people, but of “everything that exists in time.”

– Bruce Cockburn

Late Dr. Ismail Babatunde Jose, Sarkin Muslumi and  Bobatolu of Ikare and the Ba’ameso of Lagos; former President of Anwar-Ul-Islam Movement of Nigeria; past President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and acclaimed doyen of modern Nigerian Journalism, was many things to different  people but one thing he is to all  is that he is today a man of yesterday. Like him we all have our today and our yesterday; but what will be our tomorrow?


Many people of yesterday who bestrode the land like colossi are today mostly inconsequential in the scheme of things. Many are who would pray to be with their maker, at least to avert the shame and ignominy of being looked upon as wasted bullets and spent political arms. Most of them, like the General we saw at a function last Saturday are sorry sights and elicit pity for what the ravages of time; challenges of health and spiritual devastation has wroth on them. Many are who had a yesterday but have been forgotten and all memories of their existence have been obliterated and consigned to the dunghill of history. People without a ‘today can never have a tomorrow’; which is to say a legacy worth talking about. It is said that the ‘evil that men do surely lives after them’. Let it be with the men of yesterday.


For late Alhaji Isma’il Babatunde Jose, his legacy remains untainted and tattooed in our minds. Only last week, the Punch newspaper carried a story on the man Jose as an icon. If he were alive, Jose would have been 94 years old today, December 25, and all roads could have led to his house for the traditional annual birthday prayer and a sumptuous meal for all visitors. Jose’s last outing was his 80th birthday bash that attracted all-comers. It was a glorious day at the Kings College ground on Victoria Island.

Shortly after that grand command, Jose regressed into the twilight zone of his life. It was to become an anticlimax to a fulfilled life of service to God and man. The Alhaji was a humanist who had perfected the art of good human relations. He was also a kind and forgiving soul who never harbored ill-feeling or grudges against those that trespassed against him. It is this humanism in him that propelled him to extend a hand of forgiveness to his traducers, even shortly after he had been lied against and vilified by those whom he loved. His philosophy was that, since Allah and the regime that set up a probe of his tenure had exonerated him, who was he not to forgive. This spirit was displayed on many occasions to the utter surprise and embarrassment of those concerned.


Till his death he was on cordial relationship with Obasanjo and never expressed any bitterness for the 1975 ‘Daily Times’ takeover and his premature retirement at the age of 50. When OBJ left office, Jose’s printing press made his first call-card as a civilian courtesy of their mutual friend Chief Olopade. However, before Obasanjo left office his regime appointed Jose as the first chairman of the Nigerian Television Authority and he was consulted on crucial issues as they pertain to the press. The mutual respect was carried to an embarrassing level once when Obasanjo stopped his motorcade on the way to the commissioning of the Tolaram Group’s Ethanol factory at Ibeju-Lekki EPZ and asked Jose to join him for the ride. But trust Jose, Baba declined saying he did not want to breach protocol.


Once during a visit to Ibadan, he asked Felix Adenaike to take him to Areoye Oyebola’s house; unfortunately ‘Omo Oye’ was not in his office nor at home where notes were left for him. But, alas there was no acknowledgement of the visit by Oyebola. Yet, on another occasion a former Times man would bring his family challenges for Jose to settle for him; as if nothing ever happened and Jose would plunge into the matter with all that he had. Interestingly, the likes of Gbolabo Ogunsanwo were welcome to the house during his numerous visits. Gbolabo even presented a cow during Jose’s burial rites.


During a chance encounter with Kunle Elegbede, another Times Alumna, I was blown away when he confided in me that of all his bosses, it was only Alhaji Jose that ever visited him at home. That was our father for you. No one was too small in the pecking order for him to fraternize with. This would account for why one should be prepared for surprises when travelling with him, as he could remember that there is someone he would like to visit in one remote, off-grid place along the way.


He had undying loyalty to his friends and associates. The height of his love and affection for Osoba was revealed to this writer shortly after Osoba lost the election and was on television; Alhaji Jose was so emotional that he shed tears. Immediately, he decided that we needed to pay a consolatory and solidarity visit to Osoba, which we did. Osoba however, has always reciprocated that fondness even after Alhaji’s demise.


Despite his humanism, kindness and forgiving spirit, Jose remained a believer till the end. In the last two years of his life, he must have communed many times with his maker and asked the question why a good man should suffer affliction of ill-health that tends to waste the flesh of an erstwhile robust and healthy body. To all those who attended to him in those last days, it raised the issue of theodicy without any valid answer, lest one is thrown into the warm embrace of atheism. Theodicy is the ancient and unsolved problem of how an infinitely beneficent God can allow evil and random disasters. Thinkers have proposed many answers. In the biblical Book of Job, God makes a wager with Satan. Job loses his wife and family, his health and his wealth. Even a sheltering tree withers. He calls on God for an explanation. Literally ‘without any evidence of shame, God tells Job to ‘mind his own business’. Rabbi Kusher, in his thought provoking book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, says that God is not omnipotent; that even He has limitations. But, I do not agree with Kusher whose extreme view borders on the anti-religious.


We still find our future mysterious. It is, however, much less mysterious than it has ever been. Our today demands that we live a fulfilled life and prepare for our tomorrow when we will be remembered for what we sow today. It is the fruits of what we plant today that our children and our children’s children will reap tomorrow. Galatians 6:7-8 says:  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.


How often do we regard something that befalls us to be a great misfortune, when in reality Allah is showing His mercy to us. The opposite is equally true. Allah says: “Perhaps you hate a thing that is best for you, and you love a thing that is bad for you. Allah knows, while you know not.” (Quran 2:216)

Allah’s decree in the world is known to Him alone. Therefore, it is wrong for us to take the general texts that show a cause and effect relationship between virtue and worldly consequences and try to apply them to specific people and circumstances. The Prophets and the righteous people of the past were all tried with serious hardships. We cannot say that they suffered because Allah was punishing them. We can also see that Allah has granted certain sinners and unbelievers with considerable prosperity in this world. We cannot say that this shows Allah is pleased with them.


A believer should live between hope and fear. He should at all times be equally self-accusatory and conscious of Allah’s mercy and grace. The believer’s feelings of self-accusation and his awareness of his sins should be more acute when he is in health and prosperity. A Muslim should always be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity. To be sure to achieve this state of mind, he should be conscious of Allah’s wisdom in testing us with every blessing and hardship. Such a Muslim will then show fortitude in sorrow and when his means are straitened.


Like Job Allah tested Alhaji Jose, but not with the full force of the afflictions visited on Job. Alhaji Jose did not lose any of his children but a wife whose death he was oblivious to. After his death, his legacy of good has remained and his children and children’s children have prospered; even his protégées have advanced in age and continue to celebrate their association with him. He has not become a pillar of shame or an epitaph of dishonor or embarrassment. Even in death Alhaji Jose remains a man of glorious yesterday, relevant today and a historic tomorrow.  It is a great lesson to all: Is there any Reward for Good other than Good? (Quran 55:60)

May Allah reward him with Jannatul Firdous. Like him we will all return to our maker because: Inna Lillah wa ina Ilehi rajiun.


Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend


A Date to keep: The Unveiling of our book: Reflections on Juma’at Greetings is next Thursday, 19th December at the Sir Adetokunbo Ademola Hall, Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos. At 11 am. Thank you.



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