Interview With The President, Abuja Market Women Association

ImageAll her life, she had been an advocate of women emancipation. She is passionate about organizing women traders  and making them more productive. Long time when she started pursuing this passion, She  went on to establish popular market in Benin City called  known as  Iyanga market. That market is still there.
Today she is the President of Abuja Market Women Association and a trustee of Market Women Association of Nigeria. In this interview, She spoke on several issues. Exerpts
What is the Abuja Market Women Association all about. what exactly has the association achieved for its members under your leadership?
The Abuja Market Women Association is actually  non governmental, non tribal and non political. But the fact of the matter is that every human being is involved one way or the other in some kind of politics because it is your responsibility to vote in your leaders and again, you ought to be interested in your government at any level. So our association, though non political is some how involved in politics. The Abuja Market Association actually started when General Jeremiah Husseini was the FCT minister and a  section of market in area1 was demolished. What they did that time was to demolish and immediately, pack away the debris. When children came back from school, they could not locate their mothers because the structures were no longer standing. So when I observed this, I invited the woman traders from the market. That time the market was in area1 and suggested that we should gather all the school children who couldn’t locate their parents and then, I also suggested that we should register the association. At general Husseini’s residence, his wife, late Mrs. Husseini was very kind.  She gave us all the assistance we needed and soon, mothers started trooping in to collect their lost children. That day, the Abuja Market Women Association was formed.
How far has this association advanced the cause of women economically?
Well when people don’t like you, you have to like yourself. This is very important. It was obvious then that government does not have interest in women. How did I know that? Simple: government was silent about women. I mean you don’t hear anything about women. So we decided to come together instead of waiting endlessly for a government that does not have any clear policy on women, we decided to come together so that we could empower ourselves economically. My banking experience was an asset as I took the women to different banks to access facilities. Now we did not even end there; we went ahead to do something else. Our women, who travel to buy garri to sell in Abuja, were always involved in road accidents, most of them, fatal. Our association decided to do something to minimize the frequency of our women’s trips in other to reduce the hazards they face regularly on the roads. So we went to a village in Delta state and asked them to teach our women the art of garri processing. The name of the place is Ezeonu in Ukwani local government area. When we got there, we went to the chief and elders of that community and the people were so kind and receptive. For three weeks, we were there learning every thing about garri processing. We went there on the 14th of July. Years back when we came to Abuja, garri was common man’s food and a measure was actually N40. Gradually, the price increased. Our traders who were into garri business told us that some Chinese people were buying cassava and taking same back to their country. So we went to ask them what they were doing with cassava and they told us that they use cassava to produce starch. So we came and told our Minister of Information, but he never had time for us and told us to see the Minister of Trade. You won’t believe this, but it took us three months to book appointment with the Minister of Trade, but we couldn’t see him. Meanwhile, the price of garri continues to rise until it rose to an outrageous N150. So with this skill that our women have acquired, we want to go to all the area councils and mount our machines and fry garri in large quantity so that the price would be forced down. We also sent some of our women to Kano to learn how to make tuwo and how to grind corn because it is mainly done in the north. As I speak with you, we enjoy cordial relationship with some banks and they give us loans. Our association stands as guarantor for you to access a loan and so far, non of our women has defaulted.
There is so much on television and in the press about the wife of the president’s activaties towards women empowerment. Do you think all those activities is making some impact on women?
Frankly speaking, this is the first time in the history of this country where a president’s wife is putting so much efforts in addressing issues that has to do with women. Market women are not sycophants. We will tell you as it is. If you are not performing, we will tell you so, because no matter who you are, you don’t teach us how to count our money.  All we do is to go to the market and trade. We are not looking for the post of a minister. We are not interested in being appointed as a minister or director. What we really want is to go and trade and make some profits. Therefore, we can speak out our minds freely and fearlessly. Frankly speaking, Dame Patience Jonathan has played a very prominent role in the lives of market women. As a matter of fact, she approached us and pleaded that we should vote for her husband. We obliged her and followed her. Any where she was going, we went with her. All the market women in Nigeria followed her and supported her husband. We are not just praising her, she has tried. We have respect for her. She is the only First Lady that has actually come down to our level. That is the highest display of humility considering her exalted status in the society.  She embraces us every time she meets with us and we are really so pleased with her. The First Lady has empowered our women. Women don’t need much to be empowered. Take for instance; when you give one of our women N100, 000, it is enough to start her on the path of economic stability. N20, 000 is enough to start akara business. We are talking about grass root women and the First Lady is down to the grass root. We in Abuja here do not really need much money to trade with. We have gone to places like Dobi and we realized that there is a lot of food in Dobi , but no road. We have gone to Gafa to empower women. We have actually gone to several other places within the FCT for the purpose of women empowerment and that is what our association is all about. When the First Lady empowers us, we go on to empower the rural women.  We brought our women from the villages to meet her and she gave them money directly and they have all started various businesses. One of those women just left before you came. She started with kwosai and later, added Kunu.  Now she has been able to multiply her capital. There are several other women like that.
Is the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory also encouraging  the women traders?
Yes. The honourable minister has magnanimously allocated  a parcel of land to our traders to enable us establish a market. That man, Bala is a nice fellow and all the market women in the federal capital territory supports him. As a matter of fact, we are  grateful to the president for reappointing him as minister of the FCT. The day he was reappointed, all the market women were dancing. We actually closed the market that day to enable us rejoice over his reappointment. We support Bala because if you visit a sick person and tell him sorry without  providing that person with drugs, then , you have not really done anything to help that sick person. Bala actually knows our problems and try to offer solutions. He has encouraged us in several ways. Bala has really encouraged us to make money. I am using this medium to tell Nigerians that they should not encourage people to give them what I call free money. How long would somebody continue to give you free money? Please get yourself engaged in productive ventures, Make yourself useful and stop idling around. Minister Bala and Dame Patience Jonathan  have really touched our lives in positive ways.
Thirty five percent of all position is set aside to be occupied by women. Are you satisfied with that?
First and foremost, I want to say it here that if  not for this president, who would have remembered the Nigerian women? Nigerian women wouldn’t have gotten anything. Who would have given the Nigerian woman the Minister of Petroleum and other sensitive positions? The administration of President Jonathan has  given women a sense of belonging. This government has really encouraged Nigerian women to embrace education, because by these appointments, women  now do have hope that at the end of their schooling they could go far. Let me tell you what happen in Portharcourt in 1957, a woman was beaten almost to the point of death just because she said; “vote for NCNC”. That time, if you were a woman you dare not raise your voice to speak out. I remembered what happened that day. Azikwe and people like Adelabu finished speaking at a campaign rally on the field  and this woman was given the platform to also speak. As soon Zik and his entaurage left, they decended on the poor women and gave her the beating of her life. I know that woman. She was from the present day Imo state. Her offence was how dare a woman speak at such an occasion. But now, women have been encouraged to talk at any particular time without fear. Apointing them to such exalted position means that younger women are encouraged to go to school since the benefits are obvious. The place of women is no longer in the kitchen. If  we continue to think that women are confined to the kitchen, then we are deceiving ourselves. Now, we have gotten to the stage were everybody has accepted the fact that women must be treated fairly and president Jonathan is giving us that fair treatment.
In a nutshell, what is you ultimate vision for Abuja Market Women?
My goal is to make our women realize that we are the neck of the nation. I want them to embrace hard work and avoid all forms of laziness. I want them to become good and productive wives who would be assets to their husbands. I want them to be good mothers and conduct themselves with dignity and the fear of God.  I want them to be highly industrious. Okay, look at me at the age of seventy, on, July 22, I became 71. I am still working. My parents trained me in such a way that the only thing I know is hardwork and I am imparting that on all the women around me. You have yo work. If you don’t work, don’t eat. Its as simple as that. The meal we just finished eating now, I prepared it myself. I don’t want to leave on sympathy and that, I am teaching other women too. We are trying to change the pattern of our women’s life into something better. Now market women must conduct themselves peacefully at home and in the market. Before you hear of market women fighting. But today, if you fight I ask you to pay N10,000. You don’t have to fight. I am training them to conduct themselves as ladies.
At 71 you are still looking beautiful. In fact, you don’t look that age……….
Thank you. George you make me blush. I am not a glutton. I eat what is necessary. I don’t waste my time on frivolities. You wont catch me  talking rubbish. I don’t gossip and I don’t encourage it. I get myself involved in lots of activities, like encouraging and helping others. All these contribute to ones life. The other day, I was driving my jeep along Area 3 here in Abuja and I saw some boys, probably  bettween 14 and 16 tears old. They were flying their shirts and you know in those days, boys have to tuck in their shirts. So I parked and asked them to tuck in and look clean.  One of them tucked in with his belt dropping low. So I told him no you got it wrong. Low belt or low waist as they call it here is  something that is identified with American prisoners.  Look at the provocative dressing our ladies put on now. It offends people’s sensibilities. Look at the queen of England, she still maintains decency in  her dressing. We must be decent in all that we do. I don’t compromise on decency. I have no excesses and I try as much as possible to reach out to other people. You know, such things give me joy and that has some effect on your life too.
What exactly should  government at various tiers do to encourage women towards a better standard of living?
No. Our women shouldn’t wait for government to start anything for them. They must begin by helping themselves. If you are seated in your house and you don’t come out for government to know what you do, how can they assist you? When you are home, you can still be productive. We have women in purdah who are part of our market women. They don’t come out, but from right inside their houses, they trade. Some fry groundnuts and send them out to be sold. One of our women traders in purdah, but she travels to Dubai to buy and sell furniture and she is not even schooled. But what I really want government to do is what they are doing now. Build more roads and ensure constant power supply to every part of the country.

You are reputed to be a courageous woman. Some people say that you are fearless. Is that true?
(Laughs) Well, it is true. Fear weakens you as a person. I don’t fear anybody except God who is above all. There was time some burglars broke into my house. I confronted them and asked them what they wanted in my house, people hid themselves, but I faced them. I am not afraid of anything because you die only ones. I then told them to get out of my house. Believe me sincerely, they apologized and left my house without taking any of my properties. My head was clean shaven and they were asking is this a woman or a man. I took after my father. He was a courageous person and I look exactly like him. My dad was a powerful man. In those days, he would take me to the late Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadau Bello in Kaduna. The Premier was his friend. I even spent on of my holidays with the Premier. Sardauna was a great man.  He doesn’t discriminate along ethnic or religious lines. He doesn’t discriminate at all. So my father told me not to be afraid of any person. El-Rufai said that I was insulting the government and I told him at Arts and Culture that you have no right to make people refugees in their own country.  He demolished people’s residents without making alternative provision for their shelter. The whole exercise was done without plans of relocating them I told him what they did were wrong. The sycophants around him told him that I was insulting the government. After that encounter, he went and demolished my shops, including the first standard restaurant in Abuja which I owned.  He demolished my 18 shops in Wuse market. They demolished my place in Area 3. This country is funny. They broke my shops reallocated it to somebody else and that person is doing the exact thing I did there. But I don’t bloody care. I have told him my mind that what they did to people was wrong and they say that they want one Nigeria. What El Rufai did then was to cause quarrel between those who came to Abuja and the original settlers of the place. They’ll approach the Gwari people and ask them to point to their own houses. After that, they’ll go ahead to demolish houses belonging to Nigerians from other places. I don’t see any reason they should go around demolishing people’s houses and say that they are non indigenes.. Nigeria’s constitution permits every Nigerian to reside in any part of the country without being discriminated against. When I went to my village the other day, I saw people from other parts of the country leaving there without being harassed. This sort of thing caused the problem in Jos when they said that these are indigenes and these are not. We should learn from past mistakes. Jos which was one of the most attractive places in Nigeria has been turned into a battlefield. It the government that is responsible for that trouble. It is that government that allows people to differentiate between indigenes and non indigenes that is responsible for the Jos crisis. This is one Nigeria and nobody has the right to trample on people who came to settle in other parts of the country. In Abuja when you start saying that this is indigene and this one is not, then you are brewing confusion. Our leaders must try as much as possible to do things that will cement Nigerians together as one large family. Any leader who does not try to promote peace among the people is not doing  his people well. Nigeria is a beautiful country and it is God that has placed  us together and must continue to cherish this divine arrangement. Let  us continue to promote and pursue  peace where ever we find ourselves.

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About newsmailonline
Moses George is a versatile journalist/prolific writer.His career as a journalist dates back to over 10 years. During this period, he has worked for several media organizations across the country. His reports and writings serve as references to credible newspapers, magazines and web sites. His passion for investigative journalism has revealed dark secrets involving high level corruption in both the private and public sectors.He covers high profile events for corporate organizations and individuals. Moses George is the Editor-in Chief of National Mail, a general interest magazine that circulates across Nigeria. He is also the Editor of News Mail, an online publication that features people, events and issues. George can be reached on 234 080 6672 2600 or at nationalmailonline @yahoo.com

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