Hadiza Isma El-Rufai is the wife of Kaduna state Governor, Nasir el-Rufai. She is an architect and creative writer, golfer, wife and mother. She is also the co-ordinator of the Yasmin el-Rufai Foundation, a non-Governmental non-profit and non-political Organisation which she set up in memory of her late daughter that died in 2011. She had a chat with HAWWAH GAMBO in her office in Kaduna.
Who is Hadiza Isma El-Rufai?
My name is Hadiza Isma; which is my father’s name, El-Rufai is my husband’s name. But I always bear my father’s name in acknowledgement to the fact that he is the one who enrolled me in school and had me educated to be what I am today.
I am an architect by profession, the 5th of 9 children born to Mohammed Musa Isma and Amina Iya Isma in Kano in 1960. I attended St. Loius Primary and Secondary School and later Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, where I studied architecture.
If I were born in this generation, I definitely would have been a writer but because then; the normal thing for every student was to study a science or engineering course. So, I studied architecture and
So, what was your childhood like?
I had a happy childhood. My father was a civil servant then, we lacked for nothing even though we were not rich. You know civil servants then, were just civil servants, not rich unlike what obtains today.
We lived in a good house in Government Reserved Area (GRA), we had three square meals a day and we went to good schools, which our Parents didn’t even have to pay anything for, but we were not rich.
So yes, I would say I had a good childhood.
Have you ever practiced your profession?
I did in the past, but not anymore.
How were you able to balance work and motherhood then?
It is not easy, just as it is not for any woman. But in the early days of my practice, during my youth service I worked with the Department of Architecture of Kaduna Polytechnic.
So, it was not that stressful and I was able to juggle them all because lecturing gives you some kind of flexibility. I had my lecture hours and when the students are on holiday there is a lot of free time. Of course, there are the busy times and tough days during exams and grading. But then, it was fairly easy for me.
So, how did you transition from being an architect to a creative writer?
I have always loved to read from when I was much younger, and I had always had this fantasy in my head that one day I will write a novel and many people will read it.
Then I went into architecture and you know as you grow older; you lose some of the ambitions you had while you were much younger.
Maybe if I had been born in these times rather than those old times, I would definitely have been a writer. But in those days, children are always encouraged to read professional courses like medicine and engineering because people want their children to be able to make a good living. I can tell you that not too many writers make a living from writing.
Forget what you hear about JK Rowlings, she is just like one out of a million writers. So really, if you want to make money, writing is not for you.
In 2008, I started writing and realised that I needed to learn the craft. So, I went to the UK and obtained a Masters in the Art of Creative Writing and I am glad I did.
Do you have any published work?
My first book is coming out in about two weeks. It is going to be unveiled at the Ake Arts festival in Abeokuta. The book is called ‘An Abundance of Scorpions” and it is set in Northern Nigeria.
You are a member of the Board of Safari Books, what do you think of the literary creative writing industry in northern Nigeria?
I think we should encourage more people to write because a lot of the stories that have been written about Nigeria are not about the North.
So, what most people know about Nigeria is from the perspective of the southern part. The North is a huge part of Nigeria and we have stories to tell, and no one can tell our stories better.
I think we should encourage people to write because people need to hear our stories from us. So, I will encourage those who have the interest to write to start by putting pen to paper and they will be surprised at what they can achieve.
Do you see a bright future for the industry in the North?
Actually, I do because from the time I started the Yasmin el-Rufai Foundation, I have realised that there are many young people in the North, both male and female, that want to express themselves and are creative but have never had the opportunity.
That is one of the things we are doing at the Yasmin el-Rufai Foundation; we want to encourage more people to really be in touch with their creative side.
We have had a lot of workshops and you will be surprised at what comes out from the young people that attend these workshops. It is truly amazing.
How did the Foundation come about?
I named the Foundation after my late Daughter Yasmin, who died in 2011, because these are the kind of things she was interested in.
So, I thought there was no better way to keep her memory alive.
I started it in 2013 in Abuja and is basically into two things; promoting the art of creative writing tailored for the young between the ages of 9-19; and then a literacy class.
You see, we have a high rate of illiteracy in the North especially amongst women. So, we target young women who dropped out of school either to get married or due to poverty; we aim to enhance their literacy skills because that is the only sure way to empower them.
There is so much knowledge out there, knowledge is free on the internet. But if you cannot read and write English you cannot access this information much less benefit from it.
How would you assess the outcome of workshops and trainings organised by the Foundation so far?
For our women literacy class; we published a magazine called The Voices magazine. And for the creative writing class, we did a compilation of the creative pieces produced by the participating teenagers called ‘Petals and Granite’ which was very encouraging because whenever a writer sees his work published, it serves as a motivation to do more.
You are an accomplished woman, who are your role models?
Well, first of all is my mother. She is a strong woman, who even though did not have much education, raised us up to become what we are today.
I lost my Father at the age of 16 and the youngest child of the family was just 4 years old then. She was a very enterprising woman, and did lots of businesses to see all of us through to the university. She is my number one role model and mentor.
Of course, we have other strong women in the North like Hajia Gambo Sawaba, who indulged in the struggles of politics long time ago like. Knowing it couldn’t have been easy for them at that time, I just keep imagining what they went through then as northern women trying to enter the world of men which I know was a herculean task.
What are your hobbies?
I like reading, I love to read. I write because these days I can say that I am more of a writer than an architect. And I play golf. I am a member of the Women Golfers’ Club and when I was in Abuja, our women section was very vibrant and we had a lot of members.
But here in Kaduna, even though we are not so many, we have quite a number of members as well. I have not played in about two months because I have been travelling a lot, but I hope to resume as soon as possible.
Coming from a conservative Hausa society, that does not encourage the participation of women in certain activities like sports; what influenced your love for sports?
Yes, but I think it is time we change that. I know that we should respect and promote our culture; but I also believe that it is not every aspect of the culture that is positive.
So, we should look at our culture and whatever is good, we retain and discard the ones that are not good. There is nothing wrong with doing that, and if we can also look at other cultures and borrow part of it that are good; there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is very good for women to be active; there are many ways that you can do it.
If you are a woman that cares about hijabs, you can play sports with your hijab on and do what you need to do. And I am sure that there are places that are exclusive for women only; like an all ladies swimming pool as it is not every woman that would like to swim in the presence of other men.
Is the women section of the Kaduna Golf Club open to more members?
Oh yes, of course; we are trying to encourage more women to get involved. It is part of the reasons I want to be more active with the club.
The Kaduna Golf Club is one of the oldest Golf clubs in the country. It has been in existence since the 1920s, so you see, it is an old club. And I think that if I; as the wife of the governor should show more interest in the club it can ginger more women to join the club.
So, aside the fact that I love playing the game, I also want to be able to go there more often so as to encourage more women to join the club.