Aisha Madawaki Isah, born in 1951 in Gusau, the present Zamfara state capital, is a former Commissioner of Women Affairs and Social Development in Sokoto state. She is currently a professor at the Usman Fodio University and also a delegate to the ongoing National Conference representing Sokoto state. In this interview with UMARU MARADUN, she applauds the improving state of girl-child education in Nigeria and urges for more to be done in improving girl-child education in the North
Tell us about your educational background.
I started my primary school education in 1966 at Sarkin Kudu Primary School, Gusau and from there proceeded to Government Girls Secondary School, Kotarkoshi. After my secondary education, without any break, I went to the College of Education, Sokoto, now Shehu Shagari College of Education, for my NCE programme.
Upon completing my NCE programme I enrolled for my first degree, BA Ed. After, I was given automatic employment at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, where I worked at the Department of Education, teaching educational psychology. I spent a year, then I was given approval by college governing board to go for my master’s degree programme at Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto.
I finished my master’s programme and returned to the College of Education, Sokoto, to continue with the teaching work. Later, however, I transferred my services to the Bauchi State Ministry of Education.
My husband was transferred to Bauchi state, so I enrolled at the Bayero University, Kano, for my Ph.d programme and later went to the UK for my post-doctoral programme, which was sponsored by the British Council.
It was in 1996, when I was doing my Phd programme that I got appointment to the Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto.
Meanwhile, when I returned from the United Kingdom, after few months I was called upon by the Bafarawa Administration to serve as Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development. After four years, I went back to the university to continue with my primary assignment.
During the second term of the administration I was also appointed as the chairperson of Sokoto State Teachers Service Board. Also, within the period I had some adhoc committees, such as member of the Presidential Technical Committee on Housing and Urban Development during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
What influenced your educational pursuit?
My parents are enlightened and educated, so in my family right from the first to the last child, we are all exposed to this issue of western life and Islamic education. My father had said if it means spending his last penny he would educate my siblings and I on both western and Islamic education, and he really did keet his promise before he died. So I have all the encouragement from my late father to my husband, friends, brothers and sisters.
How would you describe girl-child education in Nigeria?
Well, I have said it, it is really encouraging, if you go to our universities now, both state and federal universities, colleges of education and other tertiary institutions, the enrollment of women is really encouraging. They are really going further now.
What inspired your participation in NGO?
You know it was as a result of my participation with non-governmental organisations (NGO) in the state, that actually brought me out and that was how I even got the recognition of some of the international agencies. That was how government and some international agencies got to know about me and really involved me in their activities.
I was a consultant to UNICEF at a point, to USAID and other international agencies and that was how even the state government got to know me, and got convinced of my ability to really deliver and I was invited to really participate in running the state affairs. I was part and parcel of the formation of some of the NGOs and also a member of for instance, the Federation of Muslim Women
Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN), of which I was a founding member.
Myself and a friend did initiate the NAPWAP which is a health NGO particularly concerned with issues of HIV/AIDS in the state.
Furthermore, I did some consultancy for Family Health International, (FHI) which really got me occupied with a lot of NGO activities and I can say I am glad that I do NGO work.
How did you manage to set up the NGO?
The whole issue of HIV/AIDS was new and it was myself and one Hajara who started creating awareness about it then. We achieved that by going round schools, prison yards and some ministries, to do advocacy and sensitisation exercises and later, we embarked on some training programmes and thereby got some funding from some organisations to work more.
As a result of those activities, I was invited by FHI to go to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for training, as well as some conferences on that, sponsored by the FHI.
From there we continued that same exercises of HIV/AIDS, and I was again asked to consult and look at the issue of people living with HIV/AIDS in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states and I did and we submitted the result. On the basis of our findings, so many other strategies were adopted to really address the issue of HIV/AIDS in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states.
How would you describe women’s political participation?
This is really long overdue, and I think time has come for women to really get up and participate fully in politics not only in politics but all spheres of life. The only thing is, we should, and must be guided by our religious status and once you have that in mind, you would go places, and also be comfortable, wherever you find yourself. So the issue of relegating women to the background is a thing of the past, women are now fully aware that we are human beings, God created us. So, even in the teachings of our religion, there are areas where men are superior to women, there are areas where men and women are equated. So women have qualities to reckon with.
The only thing is to give women the opportunity to do that, we lack this and, also the Nigerian factor of picking people in some areas based on interest is really what is killing the situation. If we go by merit we have so many intelligent and determined women who are focused and can deliver any time.
What is your take on girl-child education in northern Nigeria?
Although the situation has improved and is improving, I am not really impressed, because you have more of talking than action as people tend to talk too much but little is done. You hear so many things about girl-child education, but if you go round actually what people are saying, this is not exactly what is happening. Like I said, there is improvement but we need to do more than what we are doing.
What is expected doesn’t stop at just enrollment. We may have very high enrollment figures but in the area of monitoring and supervision, you find so many things falling apart.
For instance, if you enroll a hundred girls this year, by the time you get to the second year, if there is no proper monitoring, you hardly get fifty girls.So what are we saying? What we need is not high enrollment figure but high retention figure, high completion figure and after completion, what next?
It is not just exposing the girl child to acquire the basic education, but what happens afterwards. Give her skills that would enable her to empower herself, not just acquiring the knowledge. Let the knowledge be there and the knowledge not just the theoretical aspect but let’s have the practical aspect.
We would be able to add something that would add value to their lives, so we need to have serious programmes that would really empower women in Nigeria, most especially in the north.
In addition, going by the free education policy, the only problem is that, how free is the free, when you find little charges?
In Sokoto state, for example, there is free education, at least basic education, that I am sure of and if it is free, what we need to do is just to be committed to think of how to transfer the child to that place where he or she will be given basic education.
I don’t believe parents lack the financial power to take their girl-child to the school and I don’t believe it is the religion that stops them as was believed initially.
We have been hearing our elders, our imams and malams preaching the gospel of truth, saying that it is not the religion of Islam that discourages participation of women in the pursuit of knowledge, because it is categorically stated that acquisition of knowledge is mandatory to every male and female child, so it is not religious, it is not, it is not Islam. If your religion has given you power, opportunity, and the go-ahead to seek knowledge where ever you can get it, then what is limiting you? The only problem is attitudinal and that we have to address and change.
Do you think there are good moral standards in Nigerian universities
When you talk of having morals in this part of the country, I score 100%. Go to my university, for example, we have code of dressing at the Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto, we also have mentors, level advisers, dedicated teachers, and it is the most peaceful university in Nigeria, and you know when there is peace you get everything. So long as this part of the country is concerned and to be very specific the Usmanu Danfodio University, I doubt much, if really parents are exercising any fear in sending their children to the university, because we have good role models and we have seen so many research work being conducted where you find that it is not really education that will make one to go out of the way to be spoilt, rather, the whole issue of training, whole issue of home bringing is paramount.
How do you manage work and the homefront?
Well, there are so many challenges, both internal and outside your home. As a wife and mother there are internal challenges and many other issues to contend with; you go to the external places it is the same thing.
The work place you have your colleagues there, you have the students there. So, there are so many issues that when you look at the challenges some will weigh you down while others will improve and develop you, and that is good.
There are obstacles that are not surmountable, there are also obstacles that are surmountable. So I believe that challenges are good in somebody’s life because challenges build somebody.
How would you advise fellow women and parents generally?
First and formost, I am an advocate of girl-child education because I have seen the benefits, and I have been a role model to many young girls.
I will call on the women in the state, the region and country in general to really be focused, to be determined to achieve the best in any condition and environment they found themselves.
For parents generally, I will urge them to treat all their children equally because all human beings are equal before the Creator. There is no inferior or superior sex, we all have our weaknesses and we all have our strengths. And if you look at it critically I am happy that when you go out and begin to talk with people you would begin to hear women are more affectionate, compassionate, more understanding, they are more intelligent and parents are now beginning to appreciate their female children more than even the male children and that is good.
I will use this opportunity to call on the parents to please look at the female children as they are looking after their male children, let them educate female children as they are educating male children, and they shouldn’t have the impression that females have lower intelligence level, because in some areas girls are even more intelligent than boys, and research has proved that. I will call on parents to really take the girl-child issues more serious, I will call on the government to also address the issue of girl-child education more seriously and I will call on the opinion leaders and the policy makers to really come up with policies that would really favour girl-child education. I pray that God Almighty Allah will widen the scope, open up our eyes, give us more knowledge, and more focus, more determination to see that the girl-child is really educated.