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Dr. Gazali Muhammad Appointed Technical Advisor to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria on Development Finance

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From our special correspondent in Abuja

In a significant move towards fortifying Nigeria’s economic strategies, Dr. Gazali Muhammad Abubakar has been appointed as the Technical Advisor to President Ahmad Tinubu of Nigeria on Development Finance. This announcement comes on the heels of his impactful tenure as the Executive Secretary/CEO of the National Agricultural Development Fund.

Dr. Muhammad, an alumnus of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), where he earned a B.Sc. in Economics, the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, where he bagged an M.Sc in Economics with distinction, further solidified his academic prowess with a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Bakhtalruda, Sudan. Notably, his interest in Islamic finance, coupled with a diverse array of professional qualifications, positions him as a thought leader in the realm of economic development.

Prior to this prestigious appointment, Dr. Gazali has held pivotal roles, including the position of Senior Special Advisor to the Managing Director of NIRSAL Micro Finance Bank. This experience reflects his commitment to navigating the intricate landscape of financial institutions, underscoring his ability to contribute significantly to the nation’s economic vision.

The expectations surrounding Dr. Gazali’s new role are nothing short of transformative for comprehensive national development. With a background steeped in agricultural development, he is anticipated to spearhead policies and initiatives that bolster national development, particularly focusing on sustainable growth strategies.

Dr. Gazali’s expertise in Islamic finance is expected to bring a fresh perspective to economic policies, potentially fostering financial inclusivity and ethical financial practices as integral components of Nigeria’s developmental agenda. No doubt, his strategic guidance is anticipated to extend beyond conventional economic measures, reaching grassroots levels and ensuring that development is inclusive and impactful across various sectors.

With this appointment  Dr Gazali emerges as a key player in shaping Nigeria’s economic landscape, and its impact is poised to extend beyond the corridors of power and the urban centers of Nigeria, reaching the grassroots level and becoming a driving force for national development. Through his strategic guidance, Nigeria looks forward to a renewed emphasis on financial inclusivity, creating opportunities for a broader spectrum of the population to actively participate in economic activities.

Furthermore, the fight against poverty in Nigeria is set to receive a boost under Dr. Gazali’s leadership. His comprehensive approach, honed through diverse experiences in the financial sector, is expected to drive initiatives that uplift marginalized communities and create sustainable solutions to alleviate poverty.

As Nigeria charts its course towards economic resilience and inclusivity, Dr. Gazali’s appointment signals a strategic move by the Federal Government of Nigeria to harness the expertise needed for comprehensive and impactful economic development. His tenure as Technical Advisor  is anticipated to leave an indelible mark on Nigeria’s pursuit of sustained growth, financial inclusivity, and poverty alleviation.


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SPECIAL REPORTS

To Nigerian Universities, a Message from America’s Campuses

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By Chidi Amuta

On many fronts, America is showcasing the many burdens and benefits of democracy. Most Washington politicians are united in their support for Israel. But out on the streets, many Americans are opposed to Israel’s raging genocidal onslaught on Gaza and other Palestinian enclaves.  While Congress had little trouble approving a further $20 billion in military aid to Israel, there is anger on the streets and mostly on university campuses. Opposition to the naked aggression against Palestinians has united the American streets and campuses against political Washington. A gale of anti-Semitic protests has recently endangered lives and interests associated with Israel. This has now been followed by a whirlwind of campus protests all over America and even beyond.

In American courts, Donald Trump has kept the judiciary busy with legal arguments which now sound more like staged one-man campaign talk shows. The court appearances for Trump’s multitude of criminal and civil transgressions have become opportunities for a rehash of his boring campaign messaging. In a sense, Trump and his advisers are testing the legal limits of liberal democracy. It is all about trying to justify the right of an authoritarian demagogue to impose his private ambition on America’s long established democratic institutions and traditions. Simply put, a political deviant and serial transgressor wants to return as president. Twice impeached, severally accused of infractions ranging from campaign fund malfeasance to dubious business records and dodgy book keeping, Mr. Trump insists on his entitlement to the throne.  Whichever way the legal outcomes go, a lot of issues in American democracy are likely to come under severe test with each verdict in Trump’s litany of court cases.

By far the more concerning  issue in the United States now is the series of pro-Palestinian protests and demonstrations now sweeping through the campuses of American universities. These are not just ordinary universities.  They are mostly Ivy League universities. From Colombia to Yale, from Harvard to New York University, UCLA, University of Southern California to University of Pennsylvania, and Emory University, large groups of students of diverse nationalities have trooped out daily to protest against Israel’s violation of the rights of the Palestinian people in its prolonged war on Gaza and other Palestinian enclaves.

So far, the protests have disrupted normal academic and other activities on the various campuses. The police has made numerous arrests of the protesters in a bid to restore normalcy. Some of the universities have opted for closure and discontinuation of academic activities to avoid the protests degenerating into violent encounters and disruptions.

The pro-Palestinian protests have multiple implications for America’s democratic culture. The right to freedom of association and expression remains inviolable. But the responsibility of the political leadership to pursue foreign and domestic policies in line with the national interest are sacrosanct. The students have a right to protest actions and policies of government that run counter to their convictions. Normal civility demands that such protests should not be violent or infringe on the rights of those who do not share these convictions to go about their business.

In the affected campuses, however, the groundswell of these protests have been so huge that no normal academic and social activities can proceed on these campuses. While police and law enforcement have a responsibility to maintain law and order and protect the rights of students who may not share the beliefs and convictions of the protesters or want to join the protests, the scope and spread of the protests indicate a clear political line on the part of the student population. While no one expects the protesters to have carry the day, it is also true that no responsible political establishment can ride rough shod on the feelings of such a large body of protesters.

Throughout American history, the university campuses have served as theatres for the expression of political views and beliefs that often run counter to the political temper of Washington. On the Vietnam war, on Civil rights, on Black Lives Matter, on police brutality and systemic racism and variety of other sensitive public issues, the University campuses in the United states have consistently indicated an independent line of thinking that often runs counter to the main current of official Washington. Through these protests and demonstrations, the university campuses have been able, over time , to pressure politicians in Washington to at least listen to contrary views. At critical moments, such protests have succeeded in getting the government to reconsider aspects of foreign and domestic policy.

Already, some key politicians from Washington have visited a number of protesting campuses to appeal for calm and press home their perspective. The students have however stood their grounds just as the pro-Israeli politicians have pressed their arguments. It is not likely that any argument will be strong enough to justify the long standing oppression of the Palestinians especially the blockage of their right to a free and independent homeland.

The present scene on America’s university campuses is reminiscent of happier days on Nigeria’s university campuses. There was a time from the immediate post independence days to the days of military rule when Nigerian university campuses served as the catalyst of social and political ideas for national unity and progress. For instance, It was Nigerian students at the University of Ibadan who staged massive protests to compel the newly independent Nigerian government against signing a defense pact with the departing British colonial government.

In the days of military dictatorship, Nigerian university students served as the remaining voice of democratic instincts. Students campaigned for the rights of common people, against authoritarian impositions and the habitual arbitrariness of military rule. Students protested against frequent petroleum price increases, against unlawful detentions of opposition figures. When in 1978 General Obasanjo’s education minister, Colonel Ahmadu Ali, tried to increase university tuition frees, in Nigerian universities, students rose in unison during the “Ali Must Go” demonstrations and pressed for his removal from office.

From the 1960s to early 1990s, the Nigerian university campus remained a litmus ground for testing public policies. Political and military leaders sought a certain degree of acceptability among university students and their lecturers. Understandably the Nigerian university campus also became the hotbed of radical ideas. During the ideological polarization of the Cold War era, our universities became a friendly terrain for radical progressive anti bourgeois ideas. This led to an understandable radicalization of student union politics and even the politics of organized unionism among academics. The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) became an arrowhead of radical student unionism. These were the origins of ASUU’s aggressive trade unionism which has largely survived to recent times.

There was consequently a certain unanimity of perspectives on national issues among students in campuses all over the country. From Ife to Nsukka, from University of Ibadan to Ahmadu Bello University, from Port Harcourt to Calabar and Ilorin, Nigerian students and academics were united in their perspectives on military rule, corruption, and the plight of the poor and the commonality of poverty among underprivileged Nigerians.

As undergraduates then, we shared a common ideal of a better nation. We trooped out to protest unkind policies. We faced police truncheons and tear gas and even military jackboots and live bullets. We did not habour these silly divisions along ethnicity, religion and region. We did not despise the poor but fought for the smashing of the chains of poverty. We thought our youth and idealism was enough to transform the country into a happy place for all. For us then, the Nigerian revolution was an achievable and imminent possibility.  Our idealism contrasted with whatever ideas were fueling the policies of politicians and military leaders in Lagos and later Abuja. We held strong views on contemporary issues and most times embraced alternative truths to those of governments of the day.

We took a stand on most domestic and foreign policy issues that were burning central at different times. We took a stand on Southern Africa; on independence for Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola. We vehemently stood shoulder to shoulder with the Murtala and Obasanjo governments on Apartheid. We stood with the world on the Palestinian struggle and the heroic stance of the then Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) of Yasser Arafat.

Key politicians understood the crucial place of the campus as a vital platform for the galvanization and aggregation of ideas for national development. Key politicians therefore often chose to deliver the annual Convocation lectures of the various key universities as a way of generating novel ideas for the development of the nation. Such strategic lectures also served as means of bridging the distance between town and gown and as praxis in the struggle for a better society.

It would be recalled that at the height of the debate of how best to accommodate the military in future power arrangements, Nigeria’s first President Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe used the opportunity of the convocation lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to advocate the theory of Diarchy as a power sharing arrangement between civilian politicians and military leaders. Similarly, Chief Obafemi Awolowo used one of the convocation lectures at Ife to question the efficacy of fruitless probes of past governments as an anti corruption tool. Those were the glorious days of the Nigerian university campus. Then they were universities. There were scholars, patriotic students and as Achebe lamented, there was once a nation.

In today’s Nigeria, the campus is virtually dead either as a centre of national consciousness or an incubator of new ideas. The universities have died as cultural laboratories or as the breeding ground of a responsible national elite. The Nigerian university campus has died as a center of serious positive thinking or purposive national action for progress. In place of fiery nationalism and idealism, we now have a student unionism that apes and imitates the decadent culture of our nasty politics.

Contest for NANS leadership has become a sad replica of the politics of ‘stomach infrastructure’ and money bazaars. When elected into office, the leadership of our students unions want to drive huge SUVs like Abuja politicians. They appoint innumerable personal aides with nomenclatures borrowed from our wasteful national political culture and idiom. The broad mass of our students are now united by cultism, cyber crimes, bloody rituals and killer squads in a hunt for human body parts for ritual.

Our student population has degenerated into conclaves of cults, cyber crimes and a descent into the dark precincts of occultism, witchcraft and ritual. Places established to pursue enlightenment and modernism have now become covens of modern day witches and ritual murderers. At other times, the only language that flies around our campuses is that of quick mega cash fuelled by the hunger for designer clothing, outrageous automobiles and luxury mansions. Every undergraduate aspires to become an internet ‘influencer’, stage musician, and naked model or narcotics courier irrespective of the courses they are registered to study.

Among the academics themselves, we now have serial racketeering for contracts, a thriving trade of blackmail of ‘sex for marks’. Professors are now standing trial for openly blackmailing their female students into sexual rumps sometimes in open offices. The deployment of juju and cultism for promotions and appointments have replaced the previous dedication to merit, national good and the pursuit of academic excellence.

As America’s university campuses continue to witness a wave of protests of universal moral condemnation of America’s support for Israel’s systematic genocide in Palestine, we need to look again at what has killed the Nigerian university.  Three ugly forces have invaded our university campuses: dark money, bad politics and godless religion. To rescue our universities and redirect them back to being factors of national unity, progress and progressive development, we require a political leadership with the will to chase away and neutralize this trinity of negativity.

Dr. Amuta, a Nigerian journalist, intellectual and literary critic, was previously a senior lecturer in literature and communications at the universities of Ife and Port Harcourt.


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SPECIAL REPORTS

Forget State Police; Perhaps a National Guard Instead

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By Dr Chidi Amuta

Nigeria’s now perennial insecurity has been damaged by political laziness. Every two- penny politician has developed a habit of weaponizing insecurity as political language. In the process, very little effort or rigour is devoted to the reality of what we are dealing with. Even those who are paid to keep us safe tend to resort to simplistic solutions to what is clearly a complex problem. Everyone seems to be mimicking politicians, talking frequently about insecurity as if the problem will go away the more we talk about it.

National insecurity as we have come to know it has grown in dimension and scope over the last twelve years or so. When factions of jihadist terrorists invade local governments in parts of Borno or Yobe state, we are dealing with threats to Nigeria’s sovereignty by an adversary that may indeed be ‘external’ with inputs from ignorant local zealots. They take and hold territory, convert citizens into dissidents and collect taxes and levies  and in the process extract loyalties that ordinarily belong to a sovereign authority. This level of national insecurity belongs in the realm of external aggression by a concerted foreign adversary. It does not matter whether it recruits and arms our citizens to do its bidding or draws inspiration from an external multinational ideology such as fanatical Islamist fundamentalism. We must call it its real name and design and deploy containment instruments and strategies that befit an external aggression.

With the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in parts of the North East, Nigeria can be said to have been involved in a counter insurgency war for the better part of the past twelve years. In the process, Boko Haram has sometimes been degraded, reinforced, splintered or been acquired by ISWAP and other franchises  born and bred in the Middle East and nurtured in the turbulent Sahel. Have we been winning or losing that war? Yes and no. We have at least retaken most of the local governments that the terrorists  initially acquired as part of an evil caliphate in the hot days of  Al Qaida and ISIS. But the fact that twelve years after the inauguration of Boko Haram, factions of this movement are still taking huge numbers of hostages and razing buildings is an indictment of whatever effort we have exerted so far.

In the immediate neighboring precincts of the insurgency war- Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara- hybrid forms of insurgent insecurity have taken shape. Banditry, quantum abductions and kidnapping for ransom are now recognized forms of national insecurity. Initially, these hybrid forms acted as retail arms of the larger jihadist insurgency. They used to  supply them with hostages, sha ransoms and collected revenue and hide under their ideological umbrella for greater political relevance. Over time, however, the bandits and other downstream criminal gangs have come unto their own. They mostly now operate as independent criminal enterprises with a purely commercial purpose. This form of insecurity has graduated into a criminal enterprise. They carry out daring raids, collect huge ransoms which is reinvested in more arms for further raids. The industry grows.

In this form, agents of insecurity have sometimes reached for recognition by state governments and agencies of  national security. Some local bandit squads have in the recent past reached understandings with individual state governments and even posed for photo opportunities with them after these meetings. Implicit in such unholy alliances is a certain illicit power sharing arrangement. Under these arrangements, embattled state governments are known to have ceded parts of their territory to bandit squads, allowing them  to collect revenue from locals and to wield authority over some local governments literally unchallenged.

This form of national insecurity is inherently dangerous because it cedes parts of the national sovereign space and authority to non -state actors and in the process accords them space and scope to disturb the peace, make lots of money and whittle down the capacity of security agencies to exercise total control over  the national sovereign space. More dangerously, illicit non -state actors partake of national resources to make the nation even more  ungovernable while also compromising segments and aspects of national  security structures and personnel.

The atmosphere of insecurity created by the proliferation and free reign of bandit squads and roving armed cartels has led to a spread in the supply of small to medium scale arms. Retail editions of trouble makers like armed robbers, small time kidnappers and urban cults have found an atmosphere of general insecurity that is both lucrative and in vogue. An industry of sorts has been born. Herdsmen that were originally engaged in herding and the livestock trade have since found kidnapping, armed robbery and abductions more lucrative than escorting scraggy herds around the nation.

We cannot fail to add to this picture the thriving political industry and its inherent criminal offshoots. Political thugs, licensed state militias and all manner of private armies have in the last twenty four years of democracy  come into being. Political supremacy in most parts of the country has come with the help of armed thugs generously supplied with weapons, narcotics and other dangerous substances. In post election periods, these political agents of violence tend to find work for their hands anduse for their weapons in sundry criminal undertakings. In an atmosphere where employment is scarce and easy money quickly runs dry, the political industry has perhaps inadvertently been fueling the atmosphere of national insecurity  which the same politicians return to convert into campaign issues in the next election cycle.

The fierce competition for political vantage placement has also led to the growth of ethnic, regional and other separatist movements. They generally start out by shouting for recognition and relevance in a national space that deliberately ignores extant disquiet. When no one seems to be listening, the rhetoric of separatist agitators assumes an incendiary tone. Soon enough, the more determined ones set up armed militias since the authorities tend to listen more when their monopoly of violence is challenged by an equally fierce contender for power and political space. Armed separatist movements have in the last ten years therefore added their voice and muscle to the spread of violence as a means of political expression in the country. IPOB, ESN and the various Niger Delta militias belong in this sphere.

This is the effective backdrop to the current situation in which governments at nearly every level seem to have been held to ransom by all these forms of insecurity all over the country. The sheer expanse of the insecurity landscape is more vast than the entire security asset base of the country can deal with. Therefore, bandits and all sorts of criminals are fairly certain that the security agencies cannot easily interrupt their operations let alone effectively trail or arrest them.

There is no lack of response from government. Endless meetings have taken place between politicians and service chiefs. The two chambers of the National Assembly have met severally with the service chief. State governors have met repeatedly with the president with the matter of insecurity topping the agenda of every meeting. The Federal government has gone to considerable length to acquire weapons of war  from all corners of the globe to combat what has become a systemic insecurity. It has become systemic because it has become self- regenerating, having become an economic sub sector which requires  self sustainability to drive itself as a series of economic activities.

Last month, however, an emergency meeting of the president and state governors was prompted by an increase in incidents of insecurity in and around the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The most consequential decision of that meeting was a decision to begin the implementation of the long canvassed introduction of State Police as a silver bullet to end insecurity in the country.

One of the strongest arguments advanced by advocates of a State Police system is local knowledge and proximity to the community origins of criminality around the country. This argument is not new. Nor are we just being introduced to perspectives about  how to solve insecurity in the country.

Given the picture of the multi dimensional nature of our insecurity,  no single item agenda can deal with the problem. State Police is fraught with many weaknesses. It is likely to be commandeered by ambitious state governors into private political weapons. The operatives could become terror squads who use their new found power and uniforms to torment innocent people. State Police can further divide the country,  terrorize the people they are supposed to protect and reduce the effectiveness of the existing national police force.  Misuse of the powers of the State Police can further divide the country. After all, before the civil war, we had regional police formations. They became part of the divisive forces that had to be neutralized to reunify the country in 1970.

It is undeniable that one of the benefits of over four decades of military rule and the civil war is the emergence of a unified police and military command. That benefit cannot be wiped away by the present anxiety over insecurity. Nothing has so far happened in our national security situation that invalidates or overrides the advantages of national integration in matters of police or military command and national security control. On the contrary, what our situation requires is a serious interrogation of the overall internal security situation in the country to determine why the existing structure has not quite served us well enough.

We are under policed. The police has been overwhelmed for years in terms of personnel and equipment. Equipment and recruitment in the police has not matched our population growth and the rate of sophistication of the criminal enterprise. Similarly, the military has in the post civil war era found itself in roles that have degraded its operational capability and professional advancement. The involvement of the military and entire gamut of national security apparatus in internal security has militated against real professional development of the various services.  Our military is today involved in civil security operations in all of our 36 states and Abuja.

As indicated earlier, the profile of our internal security challenges presents a complex picture that may not have fully dawned on the present state. At the end of the civil war, the enemy was either  an external aggressor or internal criminals. The civil populace wanted to be at peace after the trauma of war. While a war -tested military was adequate for the former role, the police was more than adequate for the latter task of keeping the peace.  The military is defined in its role. Its rules of engagement are self -defining: defend or be conquered. The police is a civil force with rules of engagement circumscribed by democracy and the civil rights of free citizens.

Towards the end of the Babangida regime, a different internal security picture began to emerge. A different type of civil unrest became more manifest. Inter communal  violence began to feature among groups that had coexisted for years. Between the Jukun and their neighbours, in the Zango Kataf area of Southern Kaduna, in parts of the Niger Delta etc. Sections of the country began to witness problems of ethno national integration. Even within the newly created states, issues of inter communal co -existence began to show up. There was a perception then than the task of nation building was largely uncompleted and still needed to be fine -tuned. A different type of trouble maker was emerging. Armed militants intent on challenging the federal might were in the horizon.

The new forms of violent self -assertion were more than the police could deal with but a little less ferocious than what a full military engagement was required to deal with.  The necessity was therefore for an intermediate force; something not as tame and civil as the police and also not as ferocious and terminal as the military. Thus was born the idea of the National Guard. Unfortunately, this idea came too late in Babangida’s troubled political transition programme. Opposition to the possibility of a Babangida self- perpetuation ploy also became part of the opposition to the idea of a National Guard. For the political class, no good or disinterested idea could come from the beleaguered military administration. Both were thrown away  with the same birth water.

Here we are once again with an insecurity challenge that literally re-writes the challenge that was envisioned by the authors of the National Guard over 30 years ago.  The idea of the National Guard was to have a uniform national organization but with substantial state government control on deployment. It should be a mid intensity force that is civil enough to realize that the criminals and trouble makers in each state are first and foremost Nigerians with full civic rights. It however needs to be taken more seriously than the police at the local government office who separates domestic fights and settles quarrels among siblings.

The National Guard should be under the ultimate control of the president as commander in chief without whose endorsement no state governor has the power to deploy the National Guard. But the National Guard needs to be composed of state contingents who are familiar with the local terrain.

In the United States, the National Guard is an offshoot of the army. It is made up of army reservists who are called up for specific tours of duty for specific lengths of time annually. In times of national emergency above the call of the police but less intense than requiring the military, the army can advise the president to call in the National Guard. The desirable Nigerian National Guard should be a variant of this format.

On no account must we establish and equip a separate state police force and place it under the control of our emergent crop of imperial governors. That would be an invitation to quick anarchy.

Dr. Amuta, a Nigerian journalist, intellectual and literary critic, was previously a senior lecturer in literature and communications at the universities of Ife and Port Harcourt.


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Remembering Maryam Ibrahim Babangida: A Legacy of Grace, Philanthropy, and Leadership

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Reflecting on the life of Maryam Ibrahim Babangida, the former First Lady of Nigeria, whose impact transcended the political sphere. Her commitment to social causes, dedication to women’s empowerment, and unwavering support for her husband, Ibrahim Babangida, left an indelible mark on the nation. Baba Yunus Muhammad remembers a remarkable woman whose legacy continues to inspire positive change. 

In the tapestry of Nigeria’s history, certain individuals emerge as beacons of inspiration and catalysts for change. Maryam Ibrahim Babangida, often fondly remembered as the “Nigerian First Lady with a Difference,” occupies a significant place in the hearts of many Nigerians. Her life was marked by grace, charisma, and an unwavering commitment to social causes.

As we reflect on her legacy, we delve into the various facets of Maryam Ibrahim Babangida’s life, exploring her role as a trailblazer, philanthropist, and advocate for women’s rights.

Born on November 1, 1948, in Asaba, in the now Delta State of Nigeria, Maryam Ibrahim Babangida, was destined for greatness from an early age. Her innate grace and elegance became evident as she grew into a young woman. Her poise and charisma were not only visible in her public appearances but also in her private life.

As the wife of General Ibrahim Babangida, President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces from 1985 to 1993, Maryam carried herself with dignity and became a symbol of sophistication, through her immense qualities of care and compassion for, commitment and sensitivity to, the situation of the less privileged in society. She was widely praised for her single-minded determination to bring the plight of rural women, often neglected in the urban domination of national issues, to the forefront of public concern.

Similarly, her vigorous campaigns on behalf of the disabled, and against the use of drugs among Nigeria’s younger generation, became a testimony that the position of First Lady could be transformed from one of comfort, vanity and complacency to a platform for active participation in nation-building. Maryam was unrivalled as the first to venture beyond the traditional role of patron of charities and women’s organizations, into the more challenging field of active campaigns and advocacy on behalf of society’s less fortunate.

When Maryam Babangida became Nigeria’s eighth First Lady on August 27, 1985, probably, only a few had any inkling that she would be revolutionizing the institution of the First Ladyship to unfold its enormous potential for public good. After eight years of her tenure, she did just that, to the pleasant surprise of Nigerians and with a charm and grace that was exclusively hers.

Surely, and steadily, she applied the gentle strokes of a peaceful, persuasive advocate to that sector of society which she aptly described as “the domestic side of the polity”. Her most ingenious master stroke was the Better Life for Rural Women Program, which, by any stretch of the imagination, was a quiet revolution that redefined the entire spectrum of life for Nigerian women and those who dwelled in the rural areas.

Under this program, the vast majority of rural women and, indeed men, voluntarily mobilized themselves into functional co-operatives to pursue the benefits of communal joint-effort and self-help. Practically, every field of human endeavor in agriculture, craft and art was covered by the co-operatives; and with easier access to soft loans and grants as well as the goodwill of the First Lady, they increasingly acquired simple new technologies – gari friers, corn and rice mills, cassava graters, fish smoking devices, etc – and building, training and leisure facilities such as communal health centers, women resource centers and day-care centers to improve their lot.

The entire countryside was awash in a new awareness as a result of the Better Life Program. From Nigeria, she championed women issues vigorously and reached out to the First Ladies of other African countries to emphasize the effective role they can play in improving the lives of their people.

Maryam’s influence extended beyond the traditional role of a First Lady. She was a trailblazer, redefining the expectations placed on women in Nigerian society. Her commitment to education, health, and social welfare marked a departure from conventional roles, establishing her as a transformative figure in the nation’s history.

That the Better Life Programme for Rural Women made significant contributions to improving the lives of women in rural Nigeria is an understatement. It empowered women through education, skills training, and access to resources, leading to increased food production, improved healthcare, and enhanced economic opportunities. The program remains a notable example of Maryam Babangida’s commitment to social development and women’s empowerment in Nigeria.

Maryam recognized the pivotal role education could play in empowering individuals and communities. Her passion for education manifested in various initiatives aimed at improving access to quality education across Nigeria. Her efforts in championing the cause of education also led to the establishment of the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult, and Non-Formal Education. Maryam’s vision went beyond conventional schooling, emphasizing the importance of literacy and skills development for all, irrespective of age or background.

Maryam Babangida’s philanthropic endeavors extended to the realm of healthcare. The creation of the “Pet Project” marked a turning point in the healthcare landscape of Nigeria. Through this initiative, she advocated for improved maternal and child healthcare, pushing for policies that addressed the unique health challenges faced by women and children.

The “Breast Cancer Awareness” campaign, a flagship project of the Pet Project, brought attention to a critical health issue affecting women. Maryam’s efforts to destigmatize discussions around breast cancer and promote early detection played a pivotal role in raising awareness and saving lives. Her commitment to healthcare left an indelible mark, laying the foundation for future initiatives focused on improving the well-being of Nigerians.

Maryam Ibrahim Babangida was a fervent advocate for the rights and empowerment of women. She believed that empowering women was key to unlocking the full potential of society. Her initiatives sought to address the unique challenges faced by women, from education and healthcare to economic opportunitie s. She recognized that empowering women was not just a moral imperative but a strategic investment in the nation’s future.

Her advocacy also extended to issues such as gender fairness and domestic violence. By speaking out on these issues, Maryam Ibrahim Babangida contributed to changing societal norms and fostering an environment where women could thrive.

Maryam Babangida was renowned for her impeccable fashion sense and style. She became an icon, not only in Nigeria but also globally, for her elegant and sophisticated fashion choices. Her distinctive outfits not only displayed her impeccable taste but also promoted Nigerian fashion designers, contributing significantly to the growth of the fashion industry.

Maryam Babangida was also known for her commitment to the institution of marriage and her loyalty and dedication to her husband, Ibrahim Babangida. Their marriage was a prominent aspect of their public life in Nigeria. A friend who once accompanied this writer on a visit to the General describes the late former first lady thus, “I remember her very well: tall, serene serving her husband and his friends at table all by herself, as though she had no housemaids! That, to me, was clearly a sign of unadulterated love for her husband, honor, humility and respect for tradition”.

It was indeed, remarkable that Maryam Babangida still found time besides her challenging domestic and public responsibilities, first, as a housewife and secondly, as First Lady of the most populous and complex country in Africa to cultivate her literary appetites. In September 1988, she made her debut in the hallowed world of authors with The Home Front, a candid profile of the life of army officers’ wives. The book, the first by any First Lady before her, was acclaimed by critics and the public alike as a work of exemplary sensitivity.

Her second book: Nigeria’s First Ladies – Life in the State House, published in 1990 was a historical tribute to previous Nigerian First Ladies whose valuable roles as the stabilizing force behind the nation’s most powerful citizen had hitherto been ignored by writers and historians alike.

Maryam Babangida successfully established a glamorous persona, and by and large, the “Maryam Phenomenon” became a celebrity and an icon of beauty, fashion and style in Nigeria and beyond. Writing about the opening of the seven-day Better Life Fair in 1990, one journalist remarked that “she was like a Roman empress on a throne, regal and resplendent in a stone-studded flowing outfit that defied description.” Women responded to her as a role model, and her appeal lasted long after her husband left office in 1993 till her last day on earth.

For her relentless services to humanity Maryam received several awards, prominent among them was the prestigious Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger in London on 19th September, 1991.

LIFE AFTER 1993

One would have thought that her passion for empowering the underprivileged and the rural woman would have waned when her husband left office in 1993, but rather, Maryam Babangida remained steadfast, and continued to be involved in various social and philanthropic activities in Nigeria. As a woman of influence in a patriarchal society, Maryam became a role model for women across Nigeria. She used her platform to advocate for gender fairness, encouraging women to pursue their dreams and aspirations. Maryam’s Islamic beliefs reinforced her commitment to children’s issues, empowering women, and advocating for their well-being and empowerment. In addition to all these preoccupations she had her pet educational project in Minna, El Amin International School and other cottage businesses to worry about.

Probably, not known to many Nigerians, throughout her post-First Lady years Maryam Babangida was also engaged in a quiet Islamic proselytization work within rural communities in Niger State and beyond, spreading the principles of Islam and promoting its teachings. This aspect of her work reflected her deep commitment to her faith and her desire to share its positive impact with others. In the rural communities, Maryam recognized the importance of providing spiritual guidance and support to individuals who may have limited access to religious resources. She believed that embracing Islam could bring about positive change in people’s lives and communities, and she actively sought to create opportunities for this transformation.

Maryam’s quiet proselytization work involved organizing Islamic awareness campaigns, hosting religious gatherings, and supporting the construction of mosques and schools in rural areas. By doing so, she created spaces where individuals could come together, learn about Islam, and deepen their understanding of the religion’s principles. Through these initiatives, Maryam aimed to empower individuals to live their lives in accordance with Islamic values. She believed that by embracing Islam, individuals would find solace, guidance, and a sense of purpose.

Maryam created a holistic impact on the lives of those she reached through the integration of her quiet proselytization work into her overall philanthropic efforts. It is however, important to note that her proselytization work was done with respect for the diversity of beliefs within the communities she served. She approached her work with inclusivity, recognizing and respecting people’s individual choices. Her intention was to offer guidance and support rather than impose her beliefs on others.

Until her death on the 27th of December, 2009, Maryam was known for her unwavering support for widows. She recognized the challenges faced by widows, who often struggle with financial stability, social isolation, and emotional distress. She diligently worked to address these issues and provide assistance to widows in need. Her support for widows encompassed various initiatives, including the establishment of programs that provided financial aid, skills training, and emotional counseling. Maryam’s support for widows helped restored dignity to their lives, gave them a sense of hope, enabling them to become self-sufficient and active contributors to society.

Her journey on earth, shaped by her faith in Islam, exemplifies the power of compassion, education, and empowerment. From her philanthropic initiatives to her advocacy for women’s rights, Maryam’s contributions have left an indelible mark on Nigerian society and would, certainly, inspire generations to come. Her generosity positively impacted countless lives, uplifting the less privileged and providing them with essential resources and opportunities. She exemplified the true essence of leadership, using her position to drive positive change and uplift the lives of those in need. Her memory serves as a reminder of the transformative potential of a life dedicated to service and the influence of Islam in shaping one’s character.

As we remember Maryam Ibrahim Babangida, we honor her remarkable legacy. Her grace, elegance, and tireless efforts to empower women, improve education and healthcare, and uplift society will forever be etched in our hearts. May her legacy continue to inspire us to create a better world, one filled with compassion, empathy, and impactful change.

“O Allah, forgive Hajiya Maryam Babangida, have mercy upon her, overlook her faults, and admit her into the spacious gardens of Your Paradise. Make her grave a place of rest and comfort from the gardens of Paradise. O Allah, purify her from sins and transgressions as a white garment is cleansed from impurities. Grant her a place among the people of Paradise and reunite us with her in the highest level of Paradise. Amen.”

Baba Yunus Muhammad is the President, Africa Islamic Economic Foundation, Ghana.


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