Hamzat Ummulkhair is a grassroots activist and co-founder of the Onyi-Bala Foundation; a non-profit organisation that is passionate about girl-child education, support for rural women and IDPs. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she discusses her passion and other issues.
What is your educational background and did you face any challenge as a girl-child from the North?
I’m an accountant, now pursuing an MBA. I didn’t face much challenges as my parents were educated and ensured I got the best education while growing up.
How did you become an activist?
My environment inspired me. Over time, you see how women and girls are being treated and violated without any form of protection or justice. This is now an everyday thing, where you hear or read about sexual harassment or domestic violence without justice being served.
What do you do as a grassroots activist?
As a young female grassroots activist, I spend most of my time working in rural communities, mobilising young women and holding focus group discussions around issues relating to education and livelihoods.
I also try to rally friends and close associate in getting items for displaced victims in the IDP camps here in Abuja.
Why grassroots women and girls?
Well, I consider myself a grassroots person as I have strong tie with my hometown and ensure strong communications even as my family moved to the city in the early 90’s.
The most vulnerable in our society today are women and girls, whose rights and equal opportunities are being violated due to cultural norms by the larger society.
No one can speak for or better than the most affected so it’s not wrong speaking and amplifying the voices of the grassroots women and girls who deserve access to equal opportunities and quality education.
How would you describe grassroots women and girls?
Grassroots women and girls have so much potentials yet the society would not allow them to air their opinion or contribute to community development activities. Boys get more attention and privileges.
In our society today, when we have crisis, women and girls are mostly affected. A typical instance is the insurgence in the North and the adverse effect of climate change, which has led to the loss of more women and children.
What are the specific rights you advocate?
Right to quality education for free and equal opportunity in the society.
Would you say government is doing enough to empower them, particularly in the area of education?
Our government and the international communities have done a lot around education in the grassroots but there is not much impact in terms of results due to high level of corruption.
Intervention Funds allocated for basic educations do not get to the communities and are not accounted for. We have very good policies but no one implements them and no one takes responsibilities.
How would you assess Nigeria’s education sector generally?
We need a total overhaul of our education system introducing technology that would make learning easier. We need to invest and get the private sector engaged while sharing best practices with the development society.
The world has since left us behind as our education sector is a complete mess, which is sad in this era of sustainable development.
There appears to be an increase in rural to urban migration, what would you say has led to this?
The absence of grassroots development as most interventions do not get to the communities it is meant for due to corruption. Also, we’re now faced with so many communal crises due to scarce resources aside the insurgency. As women, we are protective of our children and need to take them to safety.
You are Founder of Onyi-Bala Foundation, what inspired it?
Onyi-Bala Foundation is grassroots driven non-governmental social action organisation, founded in 2010, which seeks to empower women and the girl-child ensuring equal opportunities and access to quality education. We invest in our community members’ collective well-being, so that they can use their education and energy to transform themselves, their families and communities.
We support, develop and scale education programmes for women and girls, particularly those who are impoverished. We also advocate for policies and practices that reduce disparities and foster equity.
What is your take on claims that some NGO’s in Nigeria are set up for pecuniary gains?
Onyi-Bala Foundation was definitely not set up for pecuniary gains. Definitely not, our work speaks volumes for us and communities we work in always take ownership of our interventions.
Does proliferation of NGOs in Nigeria worry you?
Nigeria is a developing country with so many issues and social vices that needs specific interest or skills to deal with them ranging from human rights, shelter, girl-child education, environmental sustainability and climate change.
How long have you been advocating for women and girls right?
I’ve been doing this for 6 years now and we have directly empowered 1,000 women and 600 girls so far. Interestingly, these women and girls have also empowered and inspired me with their stories and everyday life.
How would you assess of the current administration?
The on-going campaign against corruption is exciting and historic. I think the government should also focus more on ensuring prosecution.
Although most of my expectations have not yet been met but I want to believe that before the end of this dispensation, history would be made and Nigeria would be greater than this.
The North has been immersed in insurgency, how do you feel about this?
It is disheartening but I’ll say, terrorism is a global challenge and we should see it as a Nigerian problem and tackle it as Nigerians united.
How do you joggle work and family?
I find it interesting and a big deal being Madam Hamzat as they call me.
You are an activist married to an activist, is this combination working?
It has been an amazing combination for us after dating for eight years and finally tied the nut in 2015. I get the most inspiration from my husband and we have always complimented each other.
My husband is my number one fan and hero. As much as he is very busy following The Money for the good of rural communities, he always finds time for me, my work and the family.
Where do you see yourself in near future?
I hope to be a lecturer in the nearest future trying to transfer all my work knowledge to the younger generation.
I also hope to have published so many books about my work in rural communities, showcasing the power of women and girl child in societal growth and development in Nigeria and the African continent to inspire more actions on equity, fairness and justice.
Do you have any regrets?
I wish I had met my husband much earlier. All the same, I think am contributing my little quota to the Nigerian project.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Mostly seeing movies with my husband.
What is your advice to Nigerians?
As patriotic Nigerians, we should always strive to do the right thing, no matter what, and as women and girls; no one can speak for you as much as you can stand up and speak for yourself with pride and confidence.