Her Excellency, Hajiya Aisha Atiku Bagudu is a distinguished woman of substance with multiple interests, which include: being a wife of the Kebbi State Governor, a philanthropist, founder and Chairperson of MALLPAI Foundation (Mass Literacy for the less privilege and Almajiri Initiative).
Her philanthropic programmes include: I Stand with Almajiri, Almajiri Skills Acquisition and Literacy, Youths and Women, Adult Literacy Programne, Persons’ with Disability Programne, Food Support for the vulnerable People in the Society and Orphans, Fulanin Rugga Empowerment and Radio Awareness, enlightenment program on Parenting and Care for Children (Uwa mai idon ganin ya’yanta).
A soft-spoken and ever-smiling personality is passionate about giving and for this, she has many sobriquets: Maman Almajirai (mother of streets children), Uwar Marayu, Garkuwan Nakasassu, Inna Durubbe’, Sarauniyar Bakuwai and many others. Her best moment is when; she touches lives with gifts .
In this interview with ABDUSSALAM and ABUBAKAR, her emotional attachment to plights of the vulnerable Nigerians comes to fore.
How valuable is a girl-child as a family member in Northern Nigeria?
Let me starts by saying either as a girl-child or a male-child every child is important in a family. Therefore, the value of a girl-child in northern Nigeria is equally important with that of a boy. Notwithstanding, there is a tendency the girl may marry at an early stage of her life. There is this saying that if one educates a girl-child, one educates a nation. Education, here I do not mean western education alone but also Islamic education, which is more broad and helpful in making a happy home. Comparing a woman that has neither of these, with the one with any of these, the difference is clear. Here, we value Islamic education (Hadith and the Quran) because the two books have various teachings on how one lives one’s life. All Sciences, Philosophy and in fact Algebra are taught in Islam. So, a girl-child here might not attend conventional western school but, because she is valuable, she is encouraged to seek Islamic education to be lettered. Illiteracy is when someone is not lettered either Western or Islamic education. Anybody that can read the Quran and has Islamic Knowledge is educated as far as we are concerned. I think, many who are not from this side of the country, might not understand this, so they think we do not value a girl-child. Whereas when you compared a woman in the Northern states of Nigeria that has Islamic education, with any other one without western education, one would see the difference from the way they bring up their children and their styles of living.
Why do you think people are misunderstanding the Almajiri concept?
Understanding the concept of Almajiri is premised on the individual definition but certainly, it does not mean a wretched person/child. The term is deduced from Al-muhajirun, a set of people which migrated from a place to another; often used for companions of Prophet Muhammad that migrated with him from Makkah to Madinah. But now it is commonly used for a person/child travelling in search of Islamic education. At first the system worked, but today, people see Almajiri as a nuisance, a disturbance and a beggar. Whereas, when you bring the child closer to yourself, you will find out that he is like any normal child. Almajirichi as bad as it may currently appear can be worked upon and corrected to serve its purpose. I may not want to blame the parents for the situations, but somehow, they have to take a large portion of the blames; because if they make adequate provisions for their children, there would be no Almajiri child; provision, that must include feeding and shelter. Children can seek education elsewhere and still go back to their parents’ homes. In Northern Nigeria, there is no Malam that you will take your child to for Islamic education that would send such away. Imparting education propel them to take many children even far beyond what they can take care of. These are Islamic clerics without salaries, sustainable means of the livelihood, large space for accommodation and who have their children as well. Now tell me, how do we expect them to cater for these children in hundreds and accommodate them? So, if the system is to be corrected and a Mualim is going to keep large numbers of children the solutions have to be collective. It is not only a Government nor the Malams problem but everyone who has the means, passion and the willingness to do what Islam recommended we should help one another. Similarly, parents, the society and governments should make sure there are accommodations and feeding provisions that can support these children while learning.
How can wealthy individuals be of support to these children?
Let me give examples from our NGO, the MALLPAI Foundation. When we started 18 years ago, (first six years were the teething years) some people including Islamic clerics frowned at our styles of interventions. Then, we started with two schools for our interventions and on Thursdays and Fridays whenever these schools break from Islamic and Quranic classes, we offered the children free meals to encourage them to add western education to their learning process thus adding values to their primary interest, Islamic education. Subsequently, we integrated some of them that were willing to go to conventional schools to such and the moment we did that; their lives changed for the better. Besides, we added skill acquisition as part of our interventions for some of them that were also willing. Our interventions therefore helped them to be productive in the Nigeria socio-economic system. I think it is worthy of emulation by wealthy individuals in the country. In fact, at MALLPAI Foundation centre in Kebbi, some of the then beneficiaries of our interventions are now staff, teaching the children in the centre.
What were the motivational spirits behind MALLPAI Foundation?
Let me say, it is the passion. If one does not have it one cannot do it. So, the passion is there for me. One day, I was at a petrol station and was attracted to two male toddlers, between the ages of 3 and 5. They were begging and the little boy was crying because he was hungry. Somehow, I had sugar-canes in the car and offered some to them and also asked a bread hawker around the station to give them some. The motherly instinct in me forced me to ask questions because they were too young to be begging on the streets. They do not even have shoes and told me they are from an Islamic school. I kept asking the elderly boy why were they on the street for his brother to be crying? He told me touchy stories. I was touched and wanted to take them, back to their father or the Malam place, with the hope of talking to either of them to take them out of the streets and see how I can help them. But perhaps for fear of being kidnapped his brother forcibly dragged him and they ran away. I felt so sad because I noticed the younger brother wanted to follow me but was discouraged by his elderly one. I went back there several times trying to track the children with the assistance of the staff of the petrol station but all efforts proved abortive. That brought out fully my passion to touch lives. Secondly, I was brought, up in a house where our father did tell us that if we have ten Naira, we should give out eight Naira to impact on people and holds on to two Naira, because, when one dies, only the eight Naira one gave out, stands in one’s favour, with Allah and humanity. My father was a passionate giver. He loves giving and loves charity. May Allah be pleased with him, Amin. When he died, they shared out his properties accordingly and I thought the best I can do with my inheritance is to do what I am doing now because I am convinced; it would make him happy and be proud of me. MALLPAI Foundation has been touching lives in the last 18 years but the last eleven years have been dramatic and pleasing.
What are the foci areas of your foundation?
We focus on vulnerable Nigerians, less privileged, widows, disabled, and anyone that wants our help. Let me explain in practical terms what we do in MALLPAI Foundation. Some, we send to schools, empower some with skills acquisition and loans, many we feed, provide walking aids for some, help some on their health challenges, and some we take out of poverty to prosperity. For instance, there is this blind man with a lot of children from three wives and two of whom are also blind. Remarkably, Ma Sha Allah, Allah blessed him with beautiful girls but, because of his then status some people, particularly men were trying to take advantage of his daughters. Fortunately, his plight was to our attention. Subsequently, we decided and acquired a land and build on it a house for him and his family. In addition, the Foundation now sends his children to schools on our bills with enough provisions to make them comfortable at school. For the wife that can see, we bought her grinding machine and for the ones that cannot, we set them up selling firewood. Another family member was allowed to learn sewing and today the family is doing exceptionally well. Through us, Allah brought happiness and took them out of poverty. At any rate, it is our joy and part of our goals to do that.
Are there mechanisms to measure the changes in the lives of beneficiaries?
What we do for instance is when we give a grant to set up anyone, we tell such person, it is a loan that has to be paid, back no matter how long such might take in paying up and with that, we know our intervention works. We tell the beneficiary to pay N500 as monthly payback from the investments on the borrowed loan. By the time you make them believe it is a free grant, they would misuse it and the money will go down the drains. Furthermore, we do not give cash in some situations; we rather empower you with the items needed for your survival. There was a woman that says she wanted to be producing groundnut oil, so we gave her a machine to that effect. Initially, we noticed she was doing very well, paying us more than we asked for but all of a sudden she stopped bringing the money. At the end of the day through the check and balances we put in place we realized, the new man she married sold off the machine. We found where he sold the machinery to, went there, collect it and returned it to her. The man was not sincere; he only married her for her house and the little money she saved using the machine. And for children we sponsor their schooling, we have a communication channel with teachers in their various schools, so that we can know when a child is not in school or not doing well.
Is insecurity in the Northern States a concern among elites in the area?
Generally, insecurity in the country is now something that everyone is scared of, including the elites. It is everywhere in the country not only here in the northern part of the country. If one looks at years back while growing up, one can commute from one town to the other without any apprehension but, that is no longer possible. Then, as late as 7 p.m, one can leave Kebbi to Sokoto or Kaduna to Lagos without any fear of insecurity. What I need to say at this juncture is that, the current situation should not be left in the hands of government at all levels. Instead, it should be a collective task. What I mean is that when we see something suspicious, we should endeavour to report it to the authorities. And if we suspect a person doing something wrong, we should also report that person and let him or her be investigated, by this, we are all helping to improve on the security level of the country.
As a mother, why do you think there is high rate of divorce in Northern Nigeria?
Divorce is not common only here in the North but now rampant everywhere in the world and factors that heighten it are many. There is no-longer patience because children of nowadays do not have patience. Other factors are lack of trust, communication and requisites understanding needed between couples. In a house whereby the wife feels she has equal rights with the man and the man feels he has more right too, there are bound to be friction. Another reason is the exhibition of anger from both sides. As a Muslim, one is taught not to be angry and if it comes, one needs to keep quiet. But couples are not mindful of this; instead, they say whatever comes from their mouth angrily and in the process causes more damage to the marriage. Let me also add today, people go into marriages with over expectations and fantasies. For example, someone would say, I want to marry from a rich- man house, marry a rich-man daughter; the father will look after us. Eventually, when the father of the girl realized his intentions- marrying his daughter for his money, he takes the girl back into his house. Or the girl says I want to marry an already made man. In our spinster’s days for instance we married our husbands not as the ready-made man but we grew up together with them. Lastly, the influence of western values also plays a role. Children of today are no longer cherishing their cultures but foreign ones. They want western cultures in African continent. Soon, such is repelled and lead to divorces. But if one looks at the typical white people, one would see that their marriages last longer than today marriages in our cultures because their cultures maintain and respect their marriages. These are my views on why divorce is getting more rampant.
What are your advises for the Nigerian Youths?
I would advise them to shun violence all times and never allowed to be instigated to cause mischief in the country. Currently, some youths are not ready to develop new skills; some do not want to start from the grass but in graces and some are waiting for their parents to die so they would inherit their properties. It is unfortunate. So, I will implore them to move away from these vices and rise to do the rightful things and re-model their lives towards what will benefit them in the future. Today, youths-only wanted a blue-collared Job, but, should think more of being self-employed, should go back to the farm and do a lot of farming. Also, youths should stop manipulating their parents, stop cursing the country and its leadership but come out with different acts that the leaders will appreciate and support its contents for the growth of the country.
What are the challenges therein as the first lady of Kebbi State?
There are a lot of challenges. One is under watch because beyond being a wife of the Governor, one is a model for other women in the state. Thus, whatever one do or do not do, all eyes are on you. Similarly, while talking and visitations to public, places one must be mindful of what one says so that it neither affects the political interest of my husband nor embarrasses his government. My husband has never been un-comfortable with my attitudes, mode of dressing and utterances. He allows me to be myself and he only guides when necessary. Al-hamdullilah.
In the next world, would you still marry your husband?
Of course. My husband is a nice person and very caring as well as a supportive husband. He is a very gentle person. He guides me in the right places. His support and advice are tremendous for MALLPAI, long before he became the governor. Without him, I doubt if we would have achieved much. I married him at a very young age and shall ever be grateful to him for all what I have achieved today. I matured in the marriage with his support, so he will still be the same husband to me in the next world. My husband is a very generous, loving father and a wonderful personality. We have gone a long way together a lot has happened between us and to be honest 30 years is not a joke.
Which is your best verse and chapter in the Quran?
If it is a verse, I like the one that talks about patience but Suratul Rahman comes first as a chapter.
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As-salam Alaekum Waramatullah, Wabarakathu
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