Aisha Yesufu who recounted how she was told she won’t last in marriage, tweeted;
I was told I won’t last in husband’s house bc I had a big mouth and hated housework. When he proposed I told him I hated housework and was always sick. The big mouth he knew of. The first day, he said maybe he would come visiting and I told him I don’t do maybes #20thweddinganniversary.
On an interview Aisha Yesufu had with Guardian, she disclosed how she became an activist. Here are excerpts from the interview;
In the north, women are supposed to be seen and not heard. What’s your background in activism?
First of all, I am not from the North. A lot of people always make the mistake of thinking I am from the North, though I was born and brought up in Kano. I am from Agbede in Edo State. I am an Edo woman and married to an Auchi man. Some people say a woman should not be heard, especially a Muslim woman. But over time in history, there have been exceptional women, who stood out in the Muslim world and did a lot of things. We have people like Aisha, one of the prophet’s wives (peace be upon him), who would stand for justice and would not tolerate any form of injustice. She was very outspoken, very intelligent and very knowledgeable. There was a time she went to war against a particular caliphate that was involved in some issues she felt wasn’t right.
Relegating women to the background is not about Islam. It’s about the culture of those involved. The woman has many places in Islam. Yes, there are some things she cannot do, but overall, her right has been given to her and she has a lot she can do. She has a right to property, she can inherit, she can be inherited from and there is child support in case of divorce. But these are things people don’t do again, they forgot and tie things to Islam. Being a Muslim woman doesn’t mean one cannot have one’s voice out there.
My background in activism started in 1992, when I started a matriculation course in medicine at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I can’t really remember what happened, but we had a demonstration and I was part of it. The school was shut down, I went back home and my mother was like, ‘Hope you were not part of the demonstration?’ Of course my answer was ‘No.’
I was involved in other protests, which led to incessant closure of school and I lost years. I got transferred to BUK, but by that time, my mates were in part four, while I was still in part two. So, I ended up a microbiologist. I grew up extremely poor. I would go to school in the morning without breakfast and come back not expecting lunch. I grew up in a ghetto, where education was not valued. All my girlfriends were married by age 11, so I got ridiculed and talked about, because people could not understand why I was struggling to go to school. But I knew early in life that it is only education that can break the shackles of poverty.
By the time I got married at the age of 24, my friends were already grandmothers, so I was in my own world. If one is poor in this country, one is faceless and voiceless. I had a friend who said the greatest sin in Nigeria is to be poor. I have always wanted to be financially independent. I have never worked for anybody in my life. I started my business in 2000, when I was going to Dubai to buy and sell here. Later, I sold chicken feeds, went into real estate. As a teenager, I hated this country. I hated our leaders, because I felt they were not there for me, when I needed them. Some government policies in the 80s crashed my father’s business. I didn’t even have textbooks in secondary school. I was begging people to lend me, it was that bad.
By the time I turned 40, I concluded that I was part of the problems in this country, because I have been keeping quiet all this while. There are people who are currently where I used to be and no one is speaking for them, just as no one spoke for me then. So, I told my husband I needed to do something. This was in December 12, 2013. I am passionate about financial independence and girl child education. As we were contemplating how to go about my passion, the Chibok girls’ case happened. First it was Buni Yadi, where boys were killed in their hostels. I saw the protest on the television and I was like, ‘Oh, if I had known, I would have been there.’ I did not know, because I wasn’t very present on social media then. So, Chibok happened and the march started, I was there. For me, that was how we began the advocacy. My activism started a long time ago, but there was a time I needed a break to raise my children, because I was a stay-at-home mum at a point. I was with my children 24/7.
I wanted a platform, where I can say the truth without minding anything. We live in a country where you can be threatened in any way for saying the truth. So, you can imagine if your life is dependent on something. I have never depended on government for anything and I never will. I have never done contract with government, I have never worked in anybody’s office. I think I have only written one application all my life. Back then, I loved to lecture and I wrote to the University and they replied that I could only get the job on a contract basis because I am not from that state. That infuriated me and I was like, ‘I am a Nigerian and I have lived in the North all my life, I was born there.’ You can see the predicament I face every day; people would abuse me, as if I am a Northerner and the North people themselves would not give me job because am a South-South woman.
So, I needed a neutral platform. The only thing remaining is to threaten me that my life is in danger, and in any case, all lives in Nigeria are in danger. How many people are dying daily on our roads, through insurgency and in our hospitals? Do we have any cancer hospital in this country? People are dying of the disease on a daily basis, but when the big men are sick, they run abroad for treatment. It’s annoying; we all must be equal. No Nigerian should be more equal than the other. So, in a way, we are all in danger. A young man just died of liver cancer. His friends were trying to raise money for his treatment and before they could get enough money, he was dead. That was what prompted the video I posted.
The greatest disservice we are doing to our children in this country now is lack of education; only the rich can give education to their children. So, what happens to the poor? It was better in our days. At least the children of the rich and the poor could still meet in primary and secondary schools and at most universities. And so back then, the children of the rich had the consciousness that some people are poor, hence they could relate with them and understand what they were going through.
But now, the children of the rich are in their own schools up till the university, while the poor are in theirs. So, there is no meeting point. We are raising children who will only meet as adults and no one is thinking about the consequences. My daughter was shocked to know that some Nigerians don’t have international passport. I don’t blame her, she couldn’t relate to people not having international passports. So, I had to tell her, ‘look, majority of Nigerians don’t have because not everyone travels like you do.’ And she said, ‘but everybody I know has one.’ She could not comprehend how real it is for someone not to travel out. She is privileged to be my daughter. But how about her mates, whose parents cannot afford two meals a day?
So, my fear now is that we are going to have a generation of citizens, who never met as children. They are only going to meet as adults on different sides of the divide, and who knows on which platform they would meet? Maybe one as a highway robber and the other cruising in his SUV. You can imagine that scenario, so I am scared.