In this interview, the former Chairperson of the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum (NGWF), Hajia Asmau Yari Abubakar, stresses the need to give more women roles in government.
The former Chairperson of the NGWF also enjoins First Ladies to choose a sustainable aspect of society when contemplating a pet project, adding that it should not be halted after they are no longer in office. She refuses to take the credit for founding the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum.
Who conceived the idea of the Nigerian Governors Wives Forum?
I will not want to say I came up with the idea. But if I can remember I came into office in 2011 as a wife of a governor during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. If I can remember clearly the chairman of the Governors’ Forum was Rotimi Amaechi but, the governors’ wives did not have a forum then. But immediately the current government was elected in 2015; the election that brought in President Muhammadu Buhari, my husband became chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the wife of the President Aisha Buhari said you are the wife of the chairman and you have the experience as the wife of the governor for four years and this is a second term you can carry other governors’ wives along.
I can say we came up with the idea with the wife of the President and I took over naturally as the Governors’ Wives Forum Chairperson. We felt we needed a platform where new and old governors’ wives can put heads together to have a good relationship and it helped because someone from the northwest can have an idea of what is happening in the southwest. We shared different stories, different problems affecting women, including women empowerment, girl child education, health issues concerning women and children in any given state.
Also, I will want to congratulate Mrs. Bisi Fayemi as the current chairperson. I know she can do it because she is active and intelligent, and I wish her the best. I also want to thank all the wives of the governors. I want to thank them for their patience and love. I also want to thank the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari, because she was the one that brought us together to form this forum and also champion what this forum is doing right now because initially there was Southern Governors Wives’ Forum and there was Northern Governors’ Wives Forum and I was the chairperson of the Northern Governors’ Wives Forum for two years but she brought us together, we interacted and put our hands together as she pushed us to excellence. I will also like to wish that the forum has a Secretariat where members will meet quarterly and come together to have a meeting and discuss ways to move our advocacy forward.
So how do you engage women on issues bordering on health, environment sanitation?
We tend to streamline our activities with that of the wife of President, Aisha Buhari if she attends our forum meeting and she is planning a programme to touch lives we tend to replicate it. If she has a programme on health issues like malnutrition, cancer or girl-child education, we adopt it and take it back to our various states to see how we can push it further, and try and break it down, translate it and ensure we communicate the message to the people in the local languages they understand to ensure success of such programme. We endeavor to make women understand the message.
Tell us about your pet project, how does it impact the people now that you are out of office?
A governor’s wife must prioritize pet projects for national growth and development. For any governor’s wife that has a pet project, what such person must first think of is continuity of the pet project. Pet projects should not be put to a halt after you are no longer in office. Because in the end, it is all about touching people, helping children and women. My pet project has continued. Recently, we went around some hospitals and donated items in our little way, although our support isn’t going to be the same as before when we are in office as the mother of the state, we will keep giving back to the society. We have so many people in dire need of humanitarian support and I don’t think pet projects should be focused on when you are in the office alone. There are so many ways to reach out to children and women.
What should be the best personality and qualities of a chairperson of the NGWF?
Definitely, the chairperson of the governors’ wives forum must be very articulate, she should communicate with all governors’ wives, and she should be very active and know that she has a home in other states because if a co-governor’s wife is having a programme in Imo for instance, I think the wife of the chairperson should endeavour to go there to support it as it will go a long way to make the governors’ wives to further come together.
Like I said when we started, we put our heads together, like for me, there are many states that I have never visited in the country. I have no business going there but, as the leader, lots of governors’ wives will invite you for a programme. What we tend to do is that we will find out people who are available through our various platforms, we will go there, support her, so that helps our relationship, we are now more like sisters. Even out of office we still call ourselves to check up on each other to discuss ways to be more self-reliant and give back to society. Some of us are in our 40s, 50s some 60s and some are already grandparents. So, we are more like one big happy family and all thanks to the NGWF.
How true is the assertion that the first lady is a free employee of the state?
Well, this is because whenever and wherever her service is needed, she has to be there because a lot of people are looking up to her. It is so difficult when you are in the spotlight. Whatever you do and say matters, you have to divide your time and understand how to go about it.
Do you still cook?
I do, I love cooking, I enjoy cooking but, sometimes I don’t have the time. But, now I am not very busy and I still go to the kitchen but, not always.
What do you do differently then?
For you to be a good leader, you have to be a good listener because you can’t handle everyone’s problems but when you listen to them you can proffer a solution. I can recall that we do make a donation as a group and we went to a local government in Ogun state for instance, and we dug a borehole project on behalf of the Nigerian Governors’ Wives Forum and we sometimes donate money when we need to congratulate someone very important on national dailies.
What’s your advice to women who want to join politics?
Zamfara, for instance, is a very conservative state. It came out of Sokoto state, so you can’t compare them with the women in Kaduna. In Zamfara, women are not given a chance. In Kaduna, Kano and Bauchi for instance, women are given more chances. But like I said times are changing. Women now know their rights more. In Zamfara we don’t have a female political office holder, but gradually we will get there, although it is very challenging. In Zamfara, religion is being used to relegate women and it breaks my heart because I do see lots of women that have potentials even more than men. I keep telling my husband to give women a chance.