You are a lawyer and you combine the arduous task of the jury with that of a journalist. How do you really handle this?
I am from the state of Katsina; my dad, Alhaji Musa Musawa, is an experienced politician in the northern part of the country. He is from Aminu Kano’s school and was part of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) movement in Kano. So, he’s kind of a radical. Mallam Aminu Kano was my godfather; So obviously growing up I see my father in this kind of role as a radical. And then seeing Aminu Kano, of course you grow up with this kind of mentality, kind of the way he thinks.
My father was a great feminist if you will. Even though we are from Katsina, which is a conservative part of the country, it was always a question that as a woman you have that opportunity or you can do what a man can do. My father was also in the Foreign Service and was posted to different parts of the world. So, because of the stability that was needed for the family, he took us to the UK when I was five years old with my brothers and we went to school there.
So, it’s that kind of objective mindset that I had and I always wanted to be a lawyer because I always felt that being a lawyer is a way that one can fight for some freedom that at a young age I thought was required, especially growing up. in a very conservative framework. But even though we were in the UK at the age of five, we always got the identity. It was not the case of going to the UK and becoming some kind of British. It was a case of maintaining our identity as Nigerians. So, one always had that mentality of wanting to return. I came back and found myself studying law. This is what I wanted to do.
I started my legal career quite early, but even with that I always felt like something was missing and I felt like it wasn’t enough. I really wanted to do something else. In 1999 during the fourth republic I had an interest in this new found democracy that I have always seen my father from a young age. Of course we had a military government, so I always had an interest in democracy, but I never knew in what capacity or in what way I might be drawn into it.
It was in 2002 when President Muhammadu Buhari declared himself an aspirant and since I also grew up with Muhammadu Buhari as another father, I got to know him; I met his children; they were my very close friends. His wife was also my mother. When I was getting married, he was one of the parents who discharged me. So, it was natural for me to know the kind of pedigree that he had and also to know the kind of integrity that he has as a person. It made sense for me to join his political movement.
So, I joined their political movement at the end of 2002 and there were very few of us women from the north, including Sadiya Umar Farouk, who is the current humanitarian minister. As the election turned out in 2003 after the INEC declaration, I also integrated its legal team for the court of petitions for the presidential elections. We went to court; that didn’t work either.
Along the way I met the late Sam Nda-Isaiah, president of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group. We became very close; he was part of that Buhari organization. He knew that Sam was interested in starting a newspaper. So, after the election petition in 2004, when we didn’t win, Sam told me that he wanted to start his newspaper. I went to Buhari and asked him what are we going to do next. He said we just have to wait for the next four years when we can race again, but I said that’s not good enough. He said what do you want to do? I said that I have a hobby; I like to write.
It’s just a hobby I have; I’m not a professional writer, but Sam said he wants to start his newspaper, would it be okay if I pursue that hobby there, and he said ‘what are you going to do with it?’ I said it’s a way to keep our message alive and use that medium to continue to keep the message and this movement going. So President Buhari said well, that’s a good idea.
Many people may consider me a journalist; I am not. I am only a lawyer but because I write they see me as a journalist. From 2004 to now, I write my column every week. I use it as a means to keep the message of that movement going, but along the way you pick up other ideas. So for the whole notion of trying to fight for women’s rights or children’s rights law, I used that as a medium.
Along the way in 2011 or 2010, I received a call from President Buhari’s internal committee and they said ‘with the new party, CPC, why can’t you come and participate?’ I said no, I’m not really interested in participating. But they said you keep writing your columns; every day you’re trying to fight for the masses or whatever you’re fighting for, but if you’re in the National Assembly, especially as a lawyer, then you’ll be in a better position to really fight, making laws that would benefit these kinds of courses. they make a lot of deals.
So this is what I actually did; I came in 2010 and ran for the House of Representatives. It was a very tedious exercise and along the way I found myself gravitating towards ACN, the party of Bola Tinubu. Although I knew about Bola Tinubu, that was the first time I really got more interested in Bola Tinubu. Being part of CPC for ACN, this whole image, everything that Bola Tinubu has done in Lagos and the kind of innovation it has brought to me was very attractive. Although I didn’t win that election, we now meet in 2014 and with Buhari and Tinubu it was natural for me to be a part of that particular movement.
Did you become an activist by default or as a result of your background?
I think it is the result of my training. Like I said, my dad was an activist, being part of NEPU. Aminu Kano was an activist and then people like Hajiya Nàja’atu Mohammed who played a prominent role in my life; they were activists. I think it was a great opportunity for me. Even if I hadn’t joined politics, I would have been an activist. If in my legal career it had been that. And of course, growing up at a very young age in the UK and the kind of freedom that was available to people like me, I think was a natural part of my experience. In my family, I’m not only the only activist, I’m probably the most prominent, but I think it’s a result of my experience.
In northern Nigeria, women are perceived to be discouraged from actively participating in politics. What are you doing to bring Northern women out of their cocoons?
I think the most important thing is participation because if you look at, for example, the rise of someone like Sadiya Umar Farouk as a minister, it has a serious effect on a lot of young women in rural areas and it makes them understand that she’s only there because she was educated. I remember when they nominated her as a minister; there was a complete change within our communities. Everyone now wants their sons, their girls, not to aspire to marriage but to education.
Although it has been a bit slow, the rise of people like Binani in Adamawa will have a profound effect and break down those kinds of barriers that have hindered the rise of women. For example in Katsina, I remember when I left for the National Assembly some people were amazed and wondered how they can have a woman in the House of Representatives. I think things are changing. I wish they had changed a lot sooner because there are so many women who have an impact.
You are from the Northwest and according to data recently published by the INEC, the area has the highest number of registered voters. What assurance are you giving the party and its candidates of victory?
I can guarantee that we will comply. The North West is leaving to deliver Asiwaju. Many things are going to happen in this election. One of the things is that the people who support Obi or rather those of us who don’t give Obi much credit, as he probably should, will be surprised at how well he’s going to do. Those people who are rooting for Obi on the internet will be shocked at how badly he’s going to do. And then the nation will be amazed at what Asiwaju Bola Tinubu will do in the northwest.
Let me tell you that the Northwest is the backbone of this election and the Northwest is ready to deliver on Asiwaju. I am from the state of Katsina. I am the general secretary of the campaign council there and our goal is to get Asiwaju more votes than Buhari got. And for everyone, it’s kind of a challenge for us, especially now that we have candidates from the north trying to appeal to those northerners. But there are those of us on the ground who are willing to do everything within the legal power to sell this man. That is number one.
Number two, we’re talking about Buhari’s 12 million votes. These 12 million Buhari votes are given to only one person. Everyone is trying to claim those votes; those votes belong to Muhammadu Buhari himself. These people support Buhari; no matter what has happened in their lives in the last eight years. They have a cult following for Buhari. You can’t go to them and say anything bad about Buhari. If there is insecurity in their community, they don’t care. You can’t explain this kind of connection they have with Buhari. I never understood them even when I was part of the movement. And now that Muhammadu Buhari is going out to campaign for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, especially in those areas where he knows that he has those 12 million votes, let’s give the votes to Tinubu.
Because of his character, his type of person and his philanthropy, even without knowing that he is going to venture into this political (contest), Tinubu has been able to build a lot on the ground. So, people have a good sense of him. It is Asiwaju who gave a platform in 2007 to Atiku Abubakar, in 2011 to Nuhu Ribadu and in 2015, without Asiwaju, Buhari would not have become president. So those 12 million voters who love Buhari, whether Buhari is coming to campaign or not, they need to understand that Asiwaju, who had nothing to do with the North, gave us that platform.
For us in the north, there is something we take pride in and I think traditionally in the north when someone does something nice to you, you have to repay the person. It’s part of our culture and that’s exactly how people in the north feel. So, you will be surprised. In fact, when you go to the campaign, you don’t need to talk; they will tell you Jagaban! So they claim ownership of it. And people talk about this Muslim-Muslim banknote. There are many people who were not happy with the Muslim-Muslim candidacy, but there is a community that will vote for him because of it. So, I think the Northwest will give up Asiwaju. There will be a shock at how he is doing to win. That’s my projection anyway.
If you were to present a letter of demands to the men of the North, what would you demand on behalf of the women in terms of the main challenges facing women politicians in the North?
I think the main challenge is perception. Sometimes I think there is a certain perception of women in the public eye, especially in the north where it is not very positive. So many of us have to do everything we can to fight back and prove that perception wrong.
I’ve always seen the positive and I’ll tell you what the positive is. The positive is that it is such a conservative part of the country. If you go to rural areas, men cannot enter the houses. That gives us an advantage. We can go and campaign with the women and when you enter the house that’s where you meet the women and the youth and things like that. For example, in my community that is what we are using to sell Asiwaju’s message, going into houses where men cannot go and telling them that this is this man’s plan of action. So there are positives and negatives.
What I would like from men is that they judge each person on their own merits, that they can give each woman the opportunity to prove herself and her ability and not just look at us as women. Sometimes it even works in our favor because if you are a woman they treat you with kid gloves. But I don’t think it should be; they should judge each of us based on our individual ability and I wish they could. I will urge men to look at each of us and evaluate us based on our individual merit.