You are a lawyer and you combine the arduous task of the jury with being a journalist. How do you actually manage this?
I am from Katsina State; my dad, Alhaji Musa Musawa, is a seasoned politician in northern part of the country. He is of the school of the Aminu Kano and was part of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) movement back in Kano. So, he is a sort 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 sort of mindset, a sort of way that he thinks.
My father was a great feminist so to speak. Even though we are from Katsina which is a conservative part of the country it was always a matter of as a woman you have that opportunity or you can do whatever 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 siblings and we went to school there.
So, it is that sort of objective mindset that I had and I always wanted to be a lawyer because I always felt being a lawyer is a way that one can fight for certain freedom that at a young age I thought was required, especially growing up in a very conservative setting. 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 a sort of British. It was a case of keeping our identity as a Nigerians. So, one always had that mindset of wanting to come back. I came back and found myself in the legal career. This is what I wanted to do.
I started my legal career quite early but even with that I always felt there was something missing and I felt it wasn’t enough. I really wanted to do something more. In 1999 during the fourth republic I had interest in this new found democracy that I have always seen my father from an early age. Of course we had military rule, so I always had interest in democracy but I never knew in what capacity or in what way I would be able to be gravitated into that.
It was in 2002 when President Muhammadu Buhari declared himself as an aspirant and because I grew up also with Muhammadu Buhari as another father, I knew him; I knew his children; they were my very close friends. His wife was my mother as well. When I was getting married he was one of the fathers who gave me out. So, it was sort of natural for me knowing the kind of pedigree he had and also knowing the kind of integrity that he has as a person. It just made sense for me to join his political movement.
So, I joined his political movement in late 2002 and there were very few of us women from the North, including Sadiya Umar Farouk who is the current Humanitarian Minister. The way the election turned out in 2003 following the declaration of INEC, I also became part of his legal team for the presidential election petitions tribunal. We went to court; that didn’t work out either.
Along the way I met the late Sam Nda-Isaiah who was Chairman of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group. We became very close; he was part of that Buhari organisation. I knew Sam had interest in setting up a newspaper. So in the aftermath of the election petition in 2004 when we didn’t win, Sam told me he wanted to start his newspaper. I went to Buhari and asked him what we are going to do next. He said we just have to wait in the next four years when we can contest again but I said that is not good enough. He said what do you want to do? I said I have a hobby; I like to write.
It’s just a hobby that I have; I am not a professional writer but Sam said he wants to start his newspaper will it be okay if I just exercise that hobby there, and he said ‘what are you even going to do with that?’ I said it is a way to keep our message alive and to use that medium to continue to keep the message and this movement. Then President Buhari said well, that’s a good idea.
Many people can consider me a journalist; I am not. I am just a lawyer but because I write they see me as a journalist. Since 2004 up to now, I write my column every single week. I use it as a medium to keep the message of that movement but along the way you pick up other ideas. So, for the whole notion of trying to fight for women rights or the child rights act, I used that as a medium.
Along the way in 2011 or 2010, I got a call from the inner caucus of President Buhari and they said ‘with the new party, CPC, why can’t you come and contest?’ I said no, I am not really interested in contesting. But they said you keep on writing your columns; every day you are trying to fight for the masses or whatever you are fighting for but if you are in the National Assembly, especially as a lawyer then you will be in a better position to really fight, making laws that would benefit these sort of courses that make a much deal.
So this is what I really did; I came in 2010 and contested for the House of Representatives. It was a very tedious exercise and along the way I found myself gravitating to ACN, Bola Tinubu’s party. Even though I knew about Bola Tinubu, that was the first time I really took more interest in Bola Tinubu. Being part of CPC to ACN, this whole image, all what Bola Tinubu has done in Lagos and the sort of innovation that he has brought was very attractive to me. Even though I didn’t win that election, we now got together in 2014 and with Buhari and Tinubu it was natural for me to be part of that particular movement.
Did you become an activist by default or as a result of your background?
I think it is a result of my background. 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 had a prominent role in my life; they were activists. I think it was an ample opportunity for me. Even if I didn’t join politics I would have been an activist. Whether in my legal career I would have been that. And of course growing up at a very young age in the UK and the sort of freedom that was available to people like me, I think it was just a natural part of my background. In my family I am not just actually the only activist, probably I am the more prominent one but I think it’s as a result of my background.
In northern Nigeria, women are perceived to be discouraged from active 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 emergence of someone like Sadiya Umar Farouk as a minister, it has a serious effect on many young women in rural and ruga areas who understand she is only there because she was educated. I remember when she was nominated as minister; there was a complete turnaround within our communities. Everybody now wants their children, their girls not to aspire to marriage but to aspire to education.
Even though it’s been a little slow, the emergence of the likes of Binani in Adamawa is going to have a profound effect and break those sorts of barriers that have been sort of hindering the emergence of women. For example in Katsina, I remember when I came out for the National Assembly some people were astounded 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 earlier because there are so many women out there who have an impact.
You are from the North West and from data released by INEC recently the zone has the highest number of registered voters. What assurance are you giving the party and its candidates of victory?
I can guarantee that we are going to deliver. The North West is coming out to deliver Asiwaju. Many things will happen in this election. One of the things is that the people who support Obi or rather those of us who may not give Obi much credit as probably he should be given will be surprised by how well he is going to do. Those people who are supporting Obi on the internet are going to be shocked at how badly he is going to do. And then, the nation is going to be astounded by what Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is going to do in the North West.
Let me tell you that the North West is the backbone of this election and the North West is ready to deliver for Asiwaju. I am from Katsina State. I am the secretary general of the campaign council there and our target is to even get Asiwaju more votes than Buhari got. And for everybody, it is like a challenge for us, especially now that we have northern candidates that are trying to appeal to those northerners. But there are those of us who are on the ground and are willing to do everything within the legal purview to sell this man. That’s number one.
Number two, we talk about the Buhari 12 million votes. These Buhari 12 million votes are vested in one person. Everybody is trying to claim those votes; those votes are vested in Muhammadu Buhari himself. These people support Buhari; it doesn’t matter what has happened in their lives in the last eight years. They have a cult-like following for Buhari. You can’t go to them and say anything bad about Buhari. Whether there is insecurity in their community they don’t care. You cannot explain this sort of connection that they have with Buhari. I never understood them even back when I was part of the movement. And now that Muhammadu Buhari is coming out to campaign for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, especially in those areas where he knows he has those 12 million votes, we are going to give Tinubu the votes.
By his character, his sort of person and his philanthropy even not knowing he is going to venture into this political (contest), Tinubu has been able to build so much on ground. So, people have a good sense of him. It is Asiwaju that 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 that love Buhari whether Buhari comes to campaign or not, should understand that it is Asiwaju who had nothing to do with the North that gave us that platform.
For us in the north, there is something that we prided ourselves in and I think traditionally in the north when somebody does something good to you, you have to repay the person. It is part of our culture and this is exactly how people of the north feel. So, you will be shocked. In fact when you go to the campaign you don’t need to talk; they will tell you Jagaban! So they claim ownership of him. And people talk about this Muslim- Muslim ticket. There are a lot of people that were not happy about the Muslim-Muslim ticket but there is a community that is going to vote for him because of that. So, I think that the North West will deliver to Asiwaju. There will be a shock at how he is doing to win. That’s my projection anyway.
If you were to present a charter of demands to northern menfolk, what will you be demanding on behalf of women in terms of the major challenges militating against northern female politicians?
I think the main challenge is perception. Sometimes I think there is a certain perception of women in the public eye, especially in the northern part where it is not too positive. So, a lot of us have to go out of our way to fight and prove that perception wrong.
I have always seen the positive and I will tell you what the positive is. The positive is that it is such a conservative part of the country. If you go into the rural areas, the men can’t enter into the houses. That gives us an edge. We are able to go and campaign to the women and when you go into the house that is where you meet the women and youths and stuff like that. For example, in my community that is what we are using to sell the message of Asiwaju, going into the houses where men can’t go to tell them this is the action plan of this man. So, there are positives and negatives.
What I would want from the men is for them to judge each person on their own merit – to be able to give every woman an opportunity to prove herself and her capacity and not just to look at us as women. Sometimes it even works to our advantage 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 capacity and I wish they would be able to do that. I will urge the male folks to look at each of us and assess us based on our individual merit.