Two weeks ago, on a Tuesday to be precise, I had woken up to this urgent feeling to call the Conservator General(CG) of National Park Services (NPS), Mallam Ibrahim Goni. Though, it is usually a routine for the members of National Park Service family, which I belonged to call each other to find out about the welfare of the larger family and one’s immediate household.However the low tone from CG Goni on this tuesday morning was full of anxiety and disturbing.
Initially, I tried to brush it off, thinking it was a sign of fatigue and the burden of managing a strategic national flora and fauna resource enclave, key to Nigeria’s ecological tourism expectation, hydrologic reservoir and pharmaceutical breakthroughs.
To manage such an institution with manifold and strategic presence across the six political zones in Nigeria without adequate funding and lack of support from stakeholders could indeed be a daunting task to anyone, so I had thought and was about to rabble on other issues when Mallam Goni halted me in my stride with news that Alhaji Abubakar Tanko has passed on.
For what appeared like eternity, there was a pin drop silence from both end and for a while, Goni, who was at the Turkish Hospital in Abuja where Abubakar Tanko passed on picked up courage and told me he possibly thought I called to say that am Abuja bound to join NPS management to Suleja for the interment of the departed soul of a big brother, friend and mentor; Abubakar Tanko.
I was indeed in shock and could not believe that Tanko, the former and immediate past Conservator General of NPS had truly left us in this sinful world. Tanko Abubakar while he lived was a jolly good fellow, who did his best to advance the growth of National Conservation efforts and sought government understanding and support for proper recognition and welfare for Park Rangers men and women, who risk their lives protecting and providing succour for endangered forest ecosystems, including fauna resources.
Late Alhaji Tanko was very “technical” in his service to the fatherland and NPS workers, who came to love him for sense of leadership and the sustenance of protected areas legacy left behind by the father of modern day Nigeria effort in conservation, Lawan Marguba, dubbed him conservation “technician” who readily find easy solution to most problems facing his staff.
It was Lawan Marguba, who brought me into the NPS family and introduced me to Tanko and Salami, two promising young conservationists that made NPS tick and solid in cause of national determination to join the global conservation community. Both held forth as General Managers in Yankari National Park, Bauchi and Kainji Lake National Park New Bussa, Niger State respectively.
We became good friends when he held forth in Yankari National Park and there was no week or in cause of any conservation education and tourism event that Tanko would not personally invite me and a team of conservation sensitive tourism journalists.
Alhaji Tanko was very humble, full of life and always smiling. He knew I was very close to his Boss, Lawan Marguba, whom he later took over from as Conservator-General when Marguba retired. Though every man born of a woman has one affliction or the other, Tanko managed his health with absolute confidence in God.
A disciplinarian, an officer of officers, Alhaji Tanko became Conservator-General at most difficult period in the life of NPS and the burden of leadership posed a challenge to his health but Tanko would not give up. I recall a trip of about 10 hours with him from a conservation seminar and official commissioning of key conservation facilities at Ghashaka Gumti National Park in Taraba state.
Tanko made sure I was at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table with him throughout the conference despite the red carpet attention given to me by the then Dr. George Okeyoyin led management of the Park.
We spent our free time discussing the future of conservation into late hours of the night, an opportunity for both of us to blend together more than ever before. Indeed, where Lawan Marguba stopped in providing me support and access to conservation education and knowledge, Tanko Abubakar went progressively further without let and was never patronising.
We drove together in his official vehicle back to Abuja, dropped him off at home, where again he prayed I spend the night with him which I politely turned down so as to enable him have enough rest after that long trip. I knew he wanted us to continue our national discussion on conservation.
On his return from a medical trip to India few years back, I made it a duty to visit him at home in Suleja. He was surprised to see me at his home and as wont with him, expressed concern about my taking a risk to travel by road from Lagos to Suleja.
I had told him that all I owe him at this period was prayer and I recall he knelt down for prayers even though he was a Muslim being prayed for by a Christian. Tanko was never a tribalist or a religious bigot as all that mattered to him was to keep the NPS family together and he so treated all equally without fear or favour.
When my father died in 2013, Tanko mobilised the NPS family to assist me bury my dad just as Marguba did when I lost my mother in 2002. I was with Tanko frequently in Abuja before he retired and as a member of the Federal Government Environmental Assessment Team on Super Highway Project in Cross-River State, Tanko never failed to keep in touch.
Though he was human and possibly made mistakes, those of us who were close to him would forever remember Tanko Abubakar as a conservation “technician” of immense human feelings and love for Nigeria conservation advancement and growth. His demise at the age of 64 is painful to everyone at National Park Service and in particular to Mallam Ibrahim Goni, Kugnam Borgu and current CG NPS, Alhaji Lamidi Monsur, who worked closely with Tanko in Bauchi and Abuja, Alhaji Salami, Tanko’s bosom friend in and out of service, Alhaji Lawan Marguba, the grandfather of modern day conservation in Nigeria and mentor to late Tanko Abubakar.
Indeed, Nigeria conservation has lost a patriot and dedicated servant of our green tourism dream. My dear Oga, may God remember your love for fauna and flora resources in Nigeria and may God welcome you with open arms in heaven. Rest in peace.