Friday, 14 November 2014

360 Woman: Lawyer, Zainab Magaji On Love, Family, Islam And Boko Haram

It's not everyday you come across women like Zainab - Northern, muslim, educated and vocal about issues. She talks freely about her gist partner of 15 years, her kids, her father and his influence over who she has become. Most importantly though, she shares her opinion about Boko Haram. Hear her "I believe that the North, especially the Muslim north, has contributed a lot to the decay eating away at our safe existence. We allowed our family units to disintegrate by sidelining or even completely removing women from our social, economic and educational affairs for too long..."
This is a chat I'm really glad I had and one you should take time out and read...

N: Hi Zainab, how are you doing? 
Z: I am fine dear "Nayomi" 
N: I think if I were trying to see the President, I would have seen him by now. You are one of the hardest people to pin down. In other words, I feel particularly honoured that you are doing this. 
Z: Ha ha ha ha. You have to share the blame too you know? You were silent a few times when I was ready... 
N: Really? Okay, 1-1 lol 
Z: And I am honoured to be your guest too. You are one formidable lady you know. 
N: All of you people praising me up and down, don't put me in trouble o :) 
Z: Yes really. Go through our chats, messages and call logs and jog your memory. You must never try to corner a lawyer. 
N: Oh dear. Thanks for the reminder :)
Z: You know its true. 

N: *Blushing blue and crimson* Thanks ma’am. Seriously though Zainab, please share a little bit of your background with me. What do you do exactly?
Z: I am a lawyer, a writer, a social critic and strong shoulder for the people in my life to lean on. The last bit may not sound like much to many people but to me it means a lot. I love the fact that for many of my friends and relatives, I am the first option when they need to "offload" the heap of garbage that life can sometimes pour on one. I like knowing that people have that much confidence in my ability to listen without judgment and offer sincere advice and help. 

N: Wow. Mentor of life! Well done. Did you want to study law or... 
Z: I enjoy being a lawyer, a fun mother (yes, My kids tell me I am fun, lol) and a good friend to my husband of almost 15 years. 
N: Em...shouldn't I be calling you Aunty Zainab then? 
Z: Lol. Call me Aunty Zainab and you shall kneel down! To answer your question, yes, it has always been a dream of mine. In the secondary school I attended, you were given your choice of subjects only after you had talked to the GC teacher and established a career choice. All of us who wanted to be lawyers or go into some careers in the Arts fields were put in the same class. 

N: So you had your path figured out early? Nice. Some of us were just going to school, lol. 

Really though, I have admired you up close and from a distance especially on Facebook. You are vocal and unafraid. I read your updates and I see how much the situation in the northeast bothers you. I’m sure you must have a unique perspective. Do share...
Z: The tragedy in the NE, I won't lie to you, causes me sleepless nights. I have practically run out of answers to all the questions my children ask me. I believe that the North, especially the Muslim north, has contributed a lot to the decay eating away at our safe existence. We allowed our family units to disintegrate by sidelining or even completely removing women from our social, economic and educational affairs for too long. 

Women are the bedrock of the society and any society that refuses to see that will eventually be forced to realise its folly at its own peril. When mothers are so sidelined in their families to the point where they cant even control their own children without the approval of the men of the house then you know there is a big problem. 

In many Northern Nigerian homes, mothers are so disrespected that their children call them by their first names but call their fathers "Baba". Most mothers have no control over when and where their male children go nor do they have any control over the kind of company they keep. The situation has gotten so bad now that unofficial statistics state that one in every 5 homes in the North has a drug addict son (and in recent times even daughters too). 

For decades, little boys have been snatched from the bosoms of their mothers at very tender ages (some as young as 4yrs ) and practically flung as far away from their homes as possible in the supposed name of "acquiring Quranic education". These boys end up growing up bereft of social and psychological connections with their societies and become ready armies for wicked elements in the society i.e. politicians and now BH although I will be quick to tell you that I don’t believe that the present day BH as we now know them are mainly made up of these kind of people. Maybe the original one was more populated by these kind of boys and people like them. But now that BH has completely metamorphosed into not just a group angry at the government and law enforcement but a group that wipes everything and anything in its path, I must say, I am totally confused. 

 N: Hmmm…Zainab, is there a way out of this? This mess that is threatening to swallow us all... 
Z: Well, the honest truth is that whatever BH has become now, it is here because it found a good breeding ground in Northern Nigeria, most especially the Muslim North. I recently made a post about the need for the Muslim north in particular and the North in general to realise that in the world we now live in, we must embrace all the different identities we have either been born with or have acquired along the way. We must be proud of our heritage, be proud of our religion, be proud of our acquired identity as citizens of the modern world and also be proud of the fact that we can be and we are indeed very well educated in the modern way. 
N: True. 
Z: To insist that we are only Muslims/Christians and maybe Hausa/Fulani or Muslims and Kanuri or any such combination and refuse to embrace modernity and western education is to continually reduce ourselves to the position of perpetual followers to those who embrace all four identities (much like it is happening now). The world needs western education, it needs modernity just as much as it needs religion and culture and our world can’t be different. 

N: Just imagine the President reading this, what will be your recommendations for restoring sanity to the Northeast? 
Z: The thing that needs to be done, that has always needed to be done and that will continuously need to be done is to match words with action. Let the government make just ONE high profile arrest in this BH nightmare and actually try the person publicly and within a short period and convict the person so that a strong message is passed to whomever the sponsors and perpetrators of this nightmare are. 

This whole thing started like a sick joke when some members of the first BH were killed at a police checkpoint. Nothing happened. The government neither made any arrests nor wedge in effectively when these people decided to undertake a reprisal attack. Then they went on a rampage and instead of the government to make arrests and hold public trials, their members were summarily executed (we all saw the video on Aljazeera that time with the name tags of the army officers who carried out the executions clearly showing in the video), then their leader Mohammed Yusuf was captured live and, and just when everyone heaved a sigh of relief believing that now the real sponsors would be named and arrested, like a ghoulish nightmare, he was again summarily executed while in police custody, while in handcuffs and while he had stated that he was ready to "disclose everything!" 

And as we all know, till today, no one has either been publicly tried for that gross injustice to the Nigerian people (we had permanently lost the chance to know who our real killers were) nor jailed or even executed. Till today, no one has been tried and punished for being involved with Boko Haram. Some people will say Senator Ndime has been arrested but I will ask them, please who has heard anything meaningful since then? He has since been released "on bail". 

N: Yeah... Let's hope they listen. Talk is not cheap, if we can't bear arms, we must speak as you have done and continue to do so... How do you think this has affected perception of the north and northerners? 
Z: Someone said that when Thomas Hobbes mentioned that life was "nasty, brutish and short ", he was speaking about Nigeria and I totally agree. As you know, there are lots of conspiracy theories flying around and I must confess that some of them make a lot of sense to me. When people are being slaughtered like chickens in their homes and their daughters are stolen in lorry loads in broad daylight and their sons bombed and shot in their schools and the Government simply seems not to care and doesn't even attempt to soothe their pain with some calming words, then they will certainly come up with all sorts of explanations for the attitude of the Government and you cant blame them. 

N: True…these days I blank them all out so I can function. The theories I mean. Anyway, moving on to lighter stuff, you talked about your husband of 15 years. That's a long time to be married. 
Z: Hmmm, it never ceases to amaze me. Especially when I see all these semi-human beings around my house calling me "Maama" lol. My husband is the type who just takes everything in his stride, some call them the strong silent type, and nothing seems to faze him, so it is always me asking the "can you believe it has been... number of years already?" 
N: Lol @ semi-human beings. 
Z: Yes, my son is 13 and he is already as tall as I am! I am just so shocked to see how my life has been wonderfully transformed in just 15 years. It seems just like 15 days to me. N: That is one tall dude right there! 
Z: Lol. You know what, the time I have spent with my husband doesn't surprise me so much. We remain the very best of friends and never tire of gisting. When women say they get tired of their husband's company, I just keep quiet because for some reason we are always together and always talking and we never seem to run out of talk. 

N: You found the perfect gist partner. Don't tell me you met him in primary school? Or JSS 1 
Z: We met in law school. We started gisting in law school and have never stopped. 
N: Lol. At least it's not high school. 
Z: Ha ha its not high school. That would have meant like two decades of gist! 

N: I was just going to ask how you manage. Being Muslim, northern and vocal must grate on some nerves. 
Z: Ha! Naomi, you sef you know now. Vocal independent minded women (who refuse to let chauvinistic men be) from where I come from are to be tagged, shamed, silenced and even threatened with hell fire and eternal damnation. And when all else fails, they are to be totally ignored, ha ha ha. 

N: Lol. You've grown a thick skin I see… 
Zainab, her parents and children
Z: I think I was born with my thick skin first and then my darling sweet father watered and pampered it. He is the reason I am me. He didn’t only oil my wings he added feathers to them. He always let me have my own opinions and he always gave me the right to be heard. 

My father never gagged me so imagine my shock when I started having serious conversations with men in the University who wanted me to just "shut up and listen!" But to be fair to both me and my "people" (the men I initially clashed with over my strong opinions about the way women are treated in the name of religion) we have mostly come round to becoming good friends and many have joined me on my side and have taken my fight back to their peers. I think, the initial gra gra (inji Lagbaja) was because it was just an alien concept to many. Now they know we exist, they have softened up a lot. I was also pleasantly surprised to find many who shared my views right from the start and not only encouraged me but joined me too. 

N: Thank God for that :) 
So Zainab, imagine that you are standing in front of 1000 young girls all in SSS 3. What would you say to them? 
Z: I would tell them to first know that they are individuals with the same God given rights to exist and reach their full potentials as their brothers and male cousins. I would tell them that along the way, many many many people will try to pull them down using all sorts of excuses, the most potent being religion, but that if they only take the time to learn about their various religions they will find that it is the best weapon of empowerment they have. 

I will tell the muslim ones amongst them (because they are the most subjugated and disadvantaged group in all the North) to read about strong muslim women around the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as well as other women around other prophets (as equally mentioned in the Bible)
  • some women around the holy Prophet (pbuh) were big entrepreneurs (like Nana Khadija his wife and earlier employer)
  • some were sword carrying soldiers who physically went to battle side by side with him (like Nusaiba Kab)
  • some were eloquent orators who could deliver speeches even in the most fearful courts and sway the hearts of powerful Judges (like Zainab Ali) 
  • some were so versed in knowledge and scholarship that they were referred to as the greatest scholars of their time (like Nana Aisha Abubakr) 
  • some stood up to some of the most tyrannical men that ever lived (like Asiya the wife of Pharaoh) 
  • and back home here in Nigeria, Nana Asmau the daughter of Usman Danfodio was a great scholar, poet and orator who has written many poems, articles, letters and and books on philosophy. 

They have role models all over Islamic as well as Biblical history and it is their right to try and emulate these great women. They must never let our misogynistic society misquote religion to tell them what they can do and what they can't do. Being a woman is a privilege given to half the population of this earth and it must be for a reason better than to live under the shadows of a man.

Are we finished? I need to go gist with my husband. Lol. 
N: Lol. We actually are done. Thanks Zainab for this wonderful chat. 
Z: You are welcome.

According to Zainab:
“I was born in Pankshin in Plateau state. I am the first of 4 children and my sister and I grew up like a princesses in our father's castle (lol) as he spared nothing to ensure that we never lacked attention. The attention we got used to annoy our two brothers. I remember a friend used to joke that my father would probably not mind having the super ability to create the man I would marry himself to ensure I got a perfect man! I attended Federal Government Girls College, Bakori, Katsina State. 

My set suffered the indignity of waiting for our immediate juniors to get admission into the University because the Nigerian Govt then was trying to find its foot in its 6-3-3-4 system policy and for some reason we became the guinea pigs. In the 1+ year that we spent at home, most parents in Lagos enrolled their children in extra curricular schools. I was enrolled in School Masters summer school in Ikoyi where I spent more than one year re-learning everything I had learnt the previous year just to get me out of my parent's hair in the mornings. 

Then our admissions came out and I gained admission into Usman Danfodio University Sokoto to read Law. After that, I went to the Nigerian Law School in Bwari, Abuja where I qualified as a Barrister and also obtained my marriage certificate (lol). I have since been practicing in Abuja and have along the way become a mother to 4 great kids. All I can say about my life is Alhamdulillah”


Oluwatosin michelle said...

God would grant you More grace to speak up for the Women Folks @ AuntyZainab.

Kamila said...

I'm glad that I know you Zainab. You remain an inspiration to many. When ever I see you, I see a huge bird that is chained to the ground in a bid to prevent from flying. Only that the 'chainers' don't realise that the bird is well oiled and the shackles cannot hold! Lol.

You are one fearless woman and despite attempts by our arewa men to silence you, you just forge right ahead. Allah's blessings always dear Zee.

Hannatu Tijjani said...

Thank you Zainab for fighting/voice for women, You are an inspiration to me and my role-model because you don't let anyone bring you down and a lot of us look up to you, you are the best keep doing what you do.
One day I hope I get to meet you. You have inspired me a lot and I'm very proud of who you are! Xoxo

Anonymous said...

ZAM for president!
Ur paddy from back inthe days

Aishatu Yusuf said...

Dear zainab .I hope a lot of our daughters grow up to be like you. Keep doing what you are douing cos if we all do our small bits it adds up.As khun said the world changes through a punctuated equilibrium. We will get there someday in Sha Allah

Aishatu Yusuf said...

Dear zainab .I hope a lot of our daughters grow up to be like you. Keep doing what you are douing cos if we all do our small bits it adds up.As khun said the world changes through a punctuated equilibrium. We will get there someday in Sha Allah