Munirat Suleiman Tanimu is the chief executive officer of Glam Hall Event Centre. She is also the founder, Green Heart Impact Foundation in addition to being a business woman and politician. In this chat with ENE OSANG, she discusses her experience as a young Muslim female politician, and her thoughts about politics, religion and others.
You are young, what inspired you to venture into politics?
My dad is a politician and my mum a lawyer; growing up, I saw my dad contest for different offices ranging from gubernatorial, House of Representatives and so on. l have been watching and learning from him and knew I could do this, but when I told him I wanted to join politics he was mad and said to me “you can’t do that.”
In the north, women are afraid to pursue their dreams, they are afraid to stand out firm to pursue what is their right. But I had to because we cannot all continue to restrict ourselves to that. My dad is an All Progressives Party (APC) stakeholder while I am a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member. Back then in 2015, he contested for the House of Representatives seat while I contested for the House of Assembly and this became an issue in the family. I love and respect my dad, but what I did was to tell him the truth that it’s our time because if we don’t tell them this they won’t allow us to have the opportunity for leadership positions. When he saw my seriousness he started telling me ‘You are a woman, they will just finish your money, you don’t know these people’ and all of that, but I said let me also get that experience to know if it is something I can do or not, and that is why I ran again in 2019 and my victory was amazing: it was lovely.
At what age did you join politics to have got to this level, considering the nature of Nigerian politics?
I joined politics since 2012, and in 2014-15, I ran for my House of Assembly – Lere East constituency in Kaduna state. I was 30 when I ran for the House of Assembly in 2015; I also ran for same position in 2019.
What are your experiences as a young northern female candidate during elections?
I am the second female contender ever in my constituency and the youngest if I may say. It’s not been easy, I contested with no fewer than six men and the first time in 2015, I came second because at that time, I contested with the majority leader of my constituency.
This time around in 2019, I won but unfortunately my opponent’s name was sent to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner. I took the case to court, but at the end of the day I decided to withdraw it and let go. But as we speak I am not stepping back, I am working harder to fix what the problem is and get ready for 2023.
What were the problems?
It’s quite hard for women in the north to be actively involved in politics. In my constituency people loved me. I had so many supporters and people rooting for me, but the problem was the fact that our stakeholders – the state’s political leaders in that constituency, said all sorts of things using religion to change the minds of my supporters.
They were manipulating ideas saying a Muslim woman can’t lead and is not supposed to rule and all manner of things and that affected me. I am not discouraged, I am still working hard to come up with programmes and other projects that will help educate the people that leadership is about capability and not about religion or gender.
Does your religion forbid females from seeking leadership positions?
I am a Muslim and this is a major problem we are facing today, but I know in my religion, those days of the prophets, a woman has ruled and if it was not condemned then why are we condemning in my own time?
There is just a bit of confusion around it and if we want to talk about religion it is a different case entirely and I wouldn’t want to be an extremist. So, I don’t want to go so deep in that matter, but I know that it is allowed as long as you are going to protect your dignity.
There are things I am forbidden to do as a woman and I know all those things. All I am trying to do is to help my people bring that change that they need because I know what the people, women particularly are facing. So, if I can break that glass ceiling it will be better for all; if a man can do it, a woman can even do much better.
There are many things that people of my constituency need and they want a change from bad roads, schools, hospitals, but particularly they need education. If my mandate wasn’t taken I would have focused more on education, particularly girl-child education, and that is why I have an NGO that is eradicating poverty and enrolling the girl-child in school.
You said your mandate was stolen; can you verify this allegation?
This was done in front of me, the delegates were there , we saw the results; in fact, so many people protested because they clearly saw the results that I won, but because they don’t want a woman, also because of their selfish interest they pushed the truth aside and had their way.
What do you think is the implication of such politics?
I think the major problem is the political parties; we don’t have professionals running these parties, if you go down to the local level you see illiterates as party chairmen and other key positions too. It is high time we got professionals running these parties, I believe if we do this things will work a lot better.
It is said women don’t support one another; did you experience this during the elections?
Honestly, in my constituency in particular women love me, but if we are talking about women of same class, of course, you know there is competition. But that is not my problem because this has been there from way back. I know where I am going to and by the grace of God I will get there and also groom other younger women and support them to achieve their ambitions.
Many female candidates complained about money politics, how did you get the funds for your campaigns and all?
I started business at the age of 19, and I think I am a very successful business woman today. I generate money from my businesses because I have about five businesses. I am into transportation, I have a poultry farm and I also have an event centre in Abuja. I usually have a budget for my campaigns and once I exhausted that amount I don’t go further because I don’t have a political godfather like everybody thinks. I believe that godfathers only come in when you have your party’s ticket and they believe you can win and can see your potentials they will come for you. So, I don’t have a political godfather all I did was from my hard earned money, but I believe when my time comes I will be there.
Can a young woman without your kind of privileges and support succeed in politics in Nigeria?
Like I said, my dad was not in support of my political ambition from the beginning and I should have been scared because we are from the same constituency and all the supporters were people who had worked with m dad but I wasn’t scared of that.
I also ran with the majority leader of my state who was from the same constituency was not an easy thing, but believe me there is always a first time for everything. If you start a business you must have that first time experience. If you get married you will have the first time experience before you learn to take care and manage your home; so, there is always a first time.
What are your plans going forward?
I am a PDP card-carrying member and I think the country is under political confusion at the moment and I am not in a rush to defect to any other party.
Rather, I want to see how far this government can go with all the promises and as well how they can correct all mistakes they have made before I can know how to restrategise.
What are your expectations from the incoming government?
Honestly, I think the government is slow; they have made so many promises and have not fulfilled any, but this is their next four years and I believe they have heard the people’s cries. I believe they are ready to bring that change they promised. This is President Buhari’s last tenure, I pray and hope this would be for the betterment of the nation.
What would you advise young women who desire to join politics?
Honestly, the society and whole Muslim background there is so much going on and a lot of women are afraid of what the society would say, but I think if you really want something you go for it with or without what the society or people will say.
No matter what you do, whether as a teacher or a doctor, etc, people will always talk. So, the best thing is to pursue your dreams, forget the criticisms as long as you have support of your parents and you know the rules of your religion and abide by them you are good to go.
I don’t think there is any barrier stopping me from becoming whatever I want to be; the worst they can say is no man will marry you, but I can go to Yoruba or Igbo land and get a Muslim husband and marry. So, there are so many things you can actually do that can help you. So, I don’t listen to negative comments I only listen to positive comments things that would motivate and inspire me.
I organise programmes for women and I always tell them if you keep tying yourself down because you want to get married and have kids, you may just grow old without achieving anything in life.