Hajiya Baheejah Mahmood, popularly called Mother of the Orphans (Uwar Marayu), was the only female governorship candidate in Bauchi State during the last election under the platform of Action Congress Democrat (ACD). In this interview, she told Ali Garba that religion and traditional leaders were against her at the last election; while on the other part, money and male marginalisation played a role that led to her withdrawal from the race a week before the election
You were confident that you will win at the Governorship election but you withdrew from the race along the way, what happened?
My confidence stemmed from the fact that out of the 31 contestants for the position of Governor in the state, I was the only female. Historically in Nigeria, females participate in voting more than males and youths and I have years of experience working with women groups and individuals in the state. Secondly, during my work years, I have put in place structures and programs that stood the test of time and are still being enjoyed by our citizens. So I was confident because I believed most women will vote for me if effectively mobilised, and they will come along with their children who are the youth.
On why I withdrew from the race, I wish to state that I ran the full course of the race up to a week or so before the Election Day. I joined the gubernatorial race after I concluded that there was a total collapse of governance in the state. The people were crying from lack of any improvements in their lives as a result of the level of non-performance of the state government. I wanted to deliver life changing programs to the people. Bauchi is a conservative Muslim state and still gives credence to the religious and traditional establishments, and it was a tug of war for me as a woman to contest the gubernatorial election as the first ever female to do so. Some religious and traditional leaders were vehemently against the move and did many things to work against my efforts.
Another major challenge I had was the role of money in our politics. Money still plays a very significant role in determining who wins election in Nigeria. Even when one is a more credible candidate and is qualified, if your political opponent has more money than you have, he is most likely to be voted in, even by the electorate, talk less of the security agents and the electoral officials. The system needs to change. There is also a systematic marginalisation of women in Nigerian politics. When you seek donations, a lot of people, mostly male will make pledges which they will intentionally refuse to redeem, thereby leaving you stranded and unable to implement your strategies.
Therefore, in a political race, one needs to think about his supporters, the state, generality of citizens of the state and the possible pressures that may be coming from different quarters in that regard. I implore Governments and Organisations all around the world to make provisions for women in politics with the intention of supporting them, especially when they are contesting elections. Women will work hard, especially towards the 2023 elections to secure slots for the Deputy Governor position all over the country, like in Kaduna state where the Governor selected a woman as his deputy governor for the 2019 election.
Winning an election is a relative term in Politics. The main thrust of any politician with genuine intentions towards his people is to form a good government that is service and people oriented, and that is winning. Finally, in my opinion, there are three or more kinds of withdrawal from a political race.
Can you elaborate on the three kinds of withdrawal please?
There are candidates who right from day one are not sincere with their contest. They merely indicate their interest with the sole intention of withdrawing along the line for material and financial benefits that they will negotiate in order to support the highest bidder. It’s all about what they can get from the deal. There is a particular gubernatorial candidate in Bauchi who has contested four times just to withdraw for someone else. These are political prostitutes.
The second category is a candidate who may be qualified and has the financial capability to run, but is not a favored candidate by the electorate. He may withdraw from the race and continue to work on his lapses and on sensitising the electorate for the future.
The third kind is a candidate who is qualified, has the interest of the state at heart, has a strong support base but lacks financial capabilities. The candidate’s paramount interest is moving the state forward so that its citizens will enjoy the gains of democracy, instead of thinking of his personal interests. He/she may withdraw from the race in order to be part of a more formidable union that would even perform better for the people.
So, in which of these categories does your withdrawal falls?
Hmmm- you will agree with me that I am qualified, willing and capable to govern the state well. I joined the race and put together my structure and started working long before any other candidate in the state. I had a very good plan and strategy of winning the election. I confronted and crossed both religious and traditional stereotypes; I enjoyed unflinching support of my family, friends and overwhelming supporters. I spent plenty money to get to where I am today, I built a formidable, honest, sincere and dedicated campaign team like no other. I pray Allah reward them abundantly. I did not compromise my position for the sake of financial inducements, but as a result of the perfect understanding we had with all stakeholders and our supporters. Our interest in the people is more than our personal interests which resulted in our collective decision to collaborate. I pride myself that I did not collect any money from any quarters as inducement or payoff to be where I am today; it is pure sacrifice from me, for the general good of our people. My integrity mattered to me.
Are you impressed with women participation in politics in northern Nigeria?
Women all over the world are not fully integrated into Politics. In Nigeria, despite the affirmative action that allows around 30% women participation in Governance and in Politics, they are yet to fully enjoy from the constitutional provision. In the North, because of our religious and traditional values, believes and stereotypes, women are still largely not accepted as equal to the men in Politics. Despite all these though, it is impressive how more women from the North are joining Politics and becoming bolder in contesting for Political offices
How and when did you start helping the Almajiris and the needy in the society?
All my life, from childhood, I was, on my own way helping the needy and Almajiris. I don’t deal directly with Almajiris except through the normal tradition of our set up as northerners. Presently, in my house you will see many Almajiris, living with us. They use to come sometimes to assist us; we also give them alms and support their education. We took them as our children; I didn’t deal directly with them. Even though the Almajiris fall within the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) concept, I worked with the well-structured OVC concept that was driven with policy and strict rules of service delivery. How I wish parents would stop sending their children to the Almajiri schools at an early childhood age outside care of their parents. So, we established two non-governmental Organisation (NGO)-Support Initiative for Vulnerable Women and children (SIVWoC) and Bauchi Grassroots Development Initiative BGDI party of our activities we deal with orphans and vulnerable Women and children, we take care of their basic needs we support their education by paying their school fees , we provided them with uniforms and leaning materials we also give them support in education, health, shelter clothing even legal and psychosocial support when the need arise.
Do you have any support from government, donors, politicians and philanthropists to help them?
Like I said, I don’t deal with the Almajiris directly, so I have never received any support in their favour. Actually, Government is often reluctant to collaborate with and support NGOs. That said, I am aware that the Federal Government has a special program designed to specifically cater for the Almajiris.
So far how many Almajiris have you helped; do you want to add in the future?
Personally, I do help the Almajiris in whichever way possible to make it easy for them to concentrate in studying the Qur’an but the one I deal with orphans and vulnerable women and children we support over thousands of them I even mentioned them in my books called “ the Journey so far” and another book called “the Voices” talk less of the one that benefited under the Bauchi State government agency I initiated and established. Bauchi state Orphans and Vulnerable Children Agency, Under the agency we have successfully built a befitting s Secretariat for OVCs , we have given thousands of OVCs and there care givers interventions, in all the thematic areas of intervention, we built schools for the orphans in the orphanage homes, we built training centers for the OVCs in Bauchi, Misau and Zaki local Government areas plans are under way to establish the centers in the 20 local government areas, before the tenure of the administration expires in 2015.
What do you have to say about the suffering of women in Nigeria especially in the crisis zone?
Women are among the most vulnerable segment of our society and the world over. Majority of Nigerians live below the poverty line of $90 per day. Women are the worst hit in this index, because there are a lot of women who are widows and are left alone to cater for their orphans while they themselves may not have a means of subsistence. Whenever there is strife or any form of breach of the peace, women and children are always at the receiving end. As if that is not enough, women are not carried along in the distribution of aid materials in the crisis zones.Government philanthropist, communities and the entire societies should come to the aid of the suffering Women and children.
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