‘I will sell my cows for you to become a pilot’: The incidence of Babar Mai Fura, Hausa women and IWD
His name was Sadik. Perhaps about 11 years old. He walked into my newly allocated office in the old Mass Communications building of Bayero University Kano (Nigeria) in 2013. I was startled. He was a tiny boy, deep dark skin, beautiful face with intense eyes and dolphin smile. He asked if I wanted to buy Fura (steamed millet balls blended in cow milk, often used as dessert, although could stand on its own as a nutritious meal). He did not look like any of the usual urchins who thronged the corridors of the building look for odd jobs – run errands, empty trash, sweep office when those officially charged – and paid – to do so did not. Intrigued, I ordered one. He disappeared and returned some twenty minutes later with the Fura in a transparent plastic bag. I paid him and that was that.
He returned the following day. When I declined to buy as I don’t feel like drinking the Fura, he insisted I should buy for other people. When I asked why, he simply retorted that I appear richer than other staff because first, I was a professor, and second my office was larger. I was amused by his evaluation of my finances based on my position. And true, my office was the largest for staff, but I was new bride in the Department – having been wedded to Mass Communication after an amicable transfer from the Department of Science and Technology (thus the ‘double’ professor tag) and all stops were pulled to make me welcome. Based on his logic of having a larger office, if not deeper pocket, I bought about ten and asked him to distribute to colleagues.
Sadik was to become a regular fixture in the corridor. Always after 2.00 p.m. One day he came with a blue checkered school uniform. Mentally, I thanked the boy who gave him the ‘hand me down’. The uniform was from Musa Iliyasu College, located along Gwarzo Road a few kilometers from New Campus of Bayero University Kano. This was a private and prestigious high school in Kano, attended by the children of the well-to-do.
I was told, however, that the uniform was his own, and that he was indeed a student at the famous prestigious college. Curious about the human aspect of this development, I decided to delve further. What I found was what I want to share with you regarding the world of Hausa women.
Sadik did not come from an elite home. He was from a large Fulani family living in a ruga (a Fulani cattle encampment) near Janguza army barracks in Kano – itself a few kilometers from Bayero University Kano new campus, along Gwarzo freeway. The unit was a father, three wives and eighteen children. Sadik was the eldest in his mother’s room. They were herders. Indeed, Sadik was born near Tamburawa along Zaria Road in Kano when the family was on the move in 2002. They camped near Janguza Barracks where they located their ‘hometree’.
The mother was the one selling the Fura at Bayero University Kano new campus that Sadiq marketed. She had a ‘stand’ near the Faculty of Engineering. She had a lot of customers, in all categories of the university community. After all, even professors love Fura. Her interaction with the university community enabled her to develop interest in education and she wanted to get Sadiq to attend a school and eventually a university. She did not want Sadik to follow the family herd. His father, however, wanted the child to join the family herding tradition. The mother then engaged one of her customers, a professor, to drive to the ruga and convince the father to allow the child to attend school, which he reluctantly agreed. The mother then took over the process of educating the child.
She enrolled him in a local private primary school inside the Janguza Barracks. After he finished, she inquired which was the best high school around, and Musa Iliyasu came highly recommended. She enrolled him there. An exclusive private school. Paid for from the proceeds of her Fura business. She bought a bike for Sadik to make it easy for him to attend the school, some five kilometers from their tent. His legs could barely reach the pedals, but he was enthusiastic about learning. After school, he would go to her Fura stand, park the bike and then trample all over the BUK mega building advertising his mother’s Fura (even boldly entering the Vice-Chancellor’s office to market the Fura), all the way till 6.00 p.m. when they close ‘office’.
I interacted with Sadik for three years. He was so curious, bold, confident and always lifting up books on my desk, trying to read them, asking endless questions, his eyes always darting and roving all other office. He was truly an inquisitive and intelligent child.
In 2016 I temporarily relocated my place of work to Abuja and that was the last I saw of Sadiq. I did not fully return to Bayero University till 2022. In the intervening period, I had wistfully thought of Sadik, and finally decided to find out what happened to him when I returned. It was a massive success story of doggedness by a traditional woman.
When Sadik finished Musa Iliyasu College, he told his mother he wanted to be a pilot. She asked him to find out how much it would cost. Off he went to Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, where he learned the fees could be as much as ₦7.5 million. He informed his mother who immediately asked him to continue the process of getting admitted. She would pay the entire sum – after all, with the large herd she had, she was already a millionaire. She earmarked the number of cows to sell to raise the pilot school fees. Sadik did the entrance exams, but did not scale the final test. So, he was not admitted.
He then applied BUK with his JAMB score of 201 for Computer Science, but did not meet the Post-UTME requirements for the program. Again, he faced rejection. It was his mother who initiated the process of getting him alternative university admission and was advised to take him to Al-Qalam University, a non-profit Islamic university in Katsina. He went there and inquired about the admission process and the fees. With his results, he was admitted. His mother sold two of her cows for ₦450,000 and gave him the money to pay for the school fees in Computer Science and his accommodation in Katsina. He enrolled and started his program.
When he relocated to Katsina, she sent him money every day. She eventually gave him ₦200,000 with which he started a Fura packaging business, employing his co-tenants in the house he was renting. Soon, he had established a small business employing other students. Eventually he vied for, and succeeded in becoming the Vice-President of the Computer Science Students Association of Al-Qalam branch.
Sadik became a dedicated student with consistently high CGPA which could eventually lead to either a good second upper or a first in Computer Science. He was eventually elected the President of the Computer Science Students of his university chapter. One day, the officers of the Association came to Kano on a function during a school break and decided to see his house, especially after he told them he lived in a ruga. They were astonished to discover he was telling the truth – their respect for his modesty raised higher.
In January 2023, I was in my office at the Faculty of Communication BUK when someone walked in. I was bent on my laptop but did notice the guest removing his shoes and coming and standing in front of my desk, waiting for pause in my typing.
I looked up at a tall well-built young man. I immediately knew it was Sadik. At 21 years, everything about him has changed, of course, but not his dolphin smile. He told me he learnt I was asking of him and decided to come and greet me. I was so happy to see him and it was he who related to me what I have written so far. I immediately connected him to Sunusi Ahmad Baffa Dawakin Tofa, Chairman, Kano State chapter of the Fulfulde Development Association of Nigeria (FULDAN) of which I was a patron. They promised to come together and see how Sadik could be part of community mobilization awareness and role model, especially for youth. Sadiq owes his success so far to his mother.
Sadik’s mother was not an educated entitled, privileged woman. She did not go to school. Her class was the hard knock of life. As a young girl she missed going to school with lunchboxes and rucksacks festooned with stickers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Spiderman, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four. She did not attend a privileged landscaped school, with paintings of Micky Mouse and Donald Duck on their walls. She had no driver to chauffer her to school in an airconditioned SUV. No TV to return to after school hours in a nice airconditioned living room. No iPads to play with. No Netflix to relax her hard stressful day. No extra lesson teacher (Uncle John, or Auntie Funmi) to ensure she passed those horrible subjects such as Mathematics.
Her contemporaries who lived such life finished successfully from their expensive private schools (of course, no private school would allow mass failure, especially from children of the privileged), had gatekeepers to ensure they got admission into juiciest disciplines in the university of their choice. If at all in Nigeria – otherwise it would be off to Ukraine (before it became too hot), some obscure countries in Eastern Europe, India, Cyprus, UK or preferably, Malaysia.
When such contemporaries return, they had cushy jobs waiting for them and a relatively easy path to the top. Eventually, they are celebrated as women of substance – given awards (which they don’t need) and celebrated in academic papers and opinion pieces as role models of female achievement and doggedness in a patriarchal society. I don’t mind their high profile visibility. I just believe the accolades are wrongly placed or at the very least, the Point of View (POV) should sweep around.
My female heroes? Those I will be celebrating today, being the 2023 International Women’s Day? Let’s start with Sadik’s mother. And hundreds of others like her. I am sure you know one or two in your locality. They are women, often widowed, left alone, with little or no inheritance, and who with the little they have, were able provide much appreciated services in their communities and keep a tight hold on their families. They don’t engage in endless and fruitless debates about gender identity or reproductive rights; nor about women representation in political representation and their share of hegemony. Rhetoric. Talking loud and saying nothing. As my main Man sung, “Like a dull knife / Just ain’t cutting / Just talking loud / Then saying nothing”. (James Brown, 1970).
Mainly restauranteurs, these local women build people and impact their communities. With their business – restaurant (ƙosai, koko, tuwo, ɗanwake, wake da shinkafa, alkubus, gurasa, ƙashin rago, etc.), public transport (Keke NAPEP, buses, Acaba/Okada, Ƙurƙura), estate (properties, rental apartments, plots of land) – they are the role models who should be celebrated. They don’t feel entitled and are privileged in the peace of mind they have and the mentoring they do in their communities. They have no PAs, SAs, fierce dogs at the gates of their solar-powered villas and mansions, no frowning ‘maigad’ to intimidate and scare away panhandlers.
They have no SUVs as the cost of one could serve as capital for a whole year for their business. They don’t even have cars, despite some owning a transport business or so. They do not take their holidays in London or Dubai – they have no time for holidays as they are busy serving their communities. They marry off their daughters, not in grand style with furniture imported from IKEA in China, but with furniture from local makers – thus contributing to local economies.
So, what should be the concerns for women on the International Women’s Day? For me, with a focus on Muslim Hausa women living in traditional communities, how about integrating them into the modern sector digital economy? Instead of empty rhetoric about gender representation, why don’t we focus on enabling them acquire skills such as mobile phone repairs and POS services – at the comfort and safety of their homes? Many women now are engaged with mobile phones and online trading and payments. Muslim Hausa women feel unsafe in approaching service centers where clusters of men provide these services. Empowering them to be skilled digital knowledge in the lungu and saƙo (alleyways) of our communities works better than hot air rhetoric, and genuinely can make a difference.
On this day, I therefore award accolades to Sadik’s mother, Hajiya Mai Ƙashin Rago Fagge (with a whole street named after her), and countless others that I am sure Jaafar Jaafar knows more. They are truly women of substance.
Today, being the International Women’s Day, please locate any in your community, go right up to her and appreciate her. Celebrate her, her achievements and her silent but visible impact in the community as the REAL woman of substance.
And here is Sadik.