How Mama Taraba Made History In Nigeria

Sen. Aisha Alhassan, Mister of Women Affairs and Governor-Elect of Taraba State
Editor’s note: Kofoworola Ayodeji analyzed the political strength of Senator Aisha Alhassan dubbed Mama Taraba by the Nigerian people. He traveled to her past to show how she has been laying the foundation for the history she has just made as she became the first elected female governor in the Nigerian history. Will she write her name in gold as the minister of women affairs or governor of Taraba State? Check it out.

A new Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has recently formed his cabinet; his ministerial team is equally balanced with 15 women and 15 men. When asked to explain the reason for his action, Trudeau stated: “Because it’s 2015.” So, one is tempted to ask the Nigerian politicians: “When will it be 2015 in Nigeria?”

It would be impossible for Nigerians to ignore the remarkable day of Saturday, November 7, 2015. That day reminded all of us — I mean all Nigerians irrespective of region or political affiliation — that if we do not give up on our dreams as individuals and as a people, we can definitely achieve them. We just need to be focused and tenacious. First, such was Muhammadu Buhari. After three consecutive failures to become the Nigerian president, he finally succeeded. Moreover, on that day, for the first time in the history of our dearest nation, Senator Aisha Alhassan became the first elected female state governor.

I was at a wedding ceremony that Saturday, when a friend called to inform me of the latest breaking news — the then governor of Taraba state, Darius Ishaku of the PDP, was sacked by the Election Petition Tribunal and replaced by Aisha Alhassan of the APC having scored the highest number of valid votes in the April 11 general elections. I was held spellbound; I am one of those Nigerians who followed the elections with hopes that the country would have the first female governor in its entire history. Well, the hopes came true. It was jubilation galore all the way. But then, why is there so much noise about this woman?

A string of many “firsts”
On Wednesday, November 11, Mama Taraba was sworn in as the minister of women affairs. All things being equal, if Darius Ishaku fails to upturn her tribunal victory in the Court of Appeal or perhaps the Supreme Court, she will be the first minister of the republic to become a governor in succession having spent only a few weeks or months in office (depending on the length of her legal battle). A peep into Ishaku’s past also reveals that she has a long history of many “firsts”: she was the first undergraduate to become the vice president and later the acting president of the Student Union Government of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; the first female chief magistrate in the Federal Capital Territory; the first female deputy chief registrar and director litigation of the High Court of the FCT.

Moreover, Ishaku was also the first female attorney general of Taraba state; the first female secretary of the FCT Judicial Service Commission; and the first chief registrar of the High Court of the FCT. I have also learnt that she started her leadership career at as early as 18. No doubt, she is a heavyweight in all ramifications.

She has brought change
The appearance of the powerful Mama Taraba on the political stage, which has been dominated by men for decades, indicates that it will no longer be a usual business; there is a paradigm shift. I am eager to see Nigeria’s “First Man” (husband of the governor) unveiled. Will he be allowed to attend the First Ladies’ meetings and bring forward a number of developmental projects, or will he be sidelined? We have no answers yet. I know that by breaking the jinx the story of the Nigerian new minister of women affairs would inspire many women to slug it out with men politically; that is good for our democracy, after all. Gone are the days when women used to be backbenchers in the country’s affairs. This is 2015; things have to be done differently.

Whether or not Mama Taraba’s advent, against all odds, signals the beginning of the end for the men dominance in the Nigerian politics, the fact is that she has changed the political landscape of the African largest economy.

Could this be a renewed hope for the Nigerian women?
Concerning the participation of women in the Nigerian politics I am aware of two schools of thought. One postulates that women have “bad track record” in Nigeria, while the other believes leadership has nothing to do with gender; it is rather based on one’s personality. The alleged corruption offences committed by Patricia Foluke Etteh, the first female speaker of the House of Representatives; Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former petroleum minister; and the former minister of finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, are considered the notable cases of how women abuse power. However, will the appearance of Senator Alhassan shame the proponents of the first school of thought? Fingers are crossed.

Generally speaking, there seem to be marginalization of women within the political space. Only six of the newly appointed 36 ministers, or 16,7%, are female. Unless women move out of their shell, get more united and demand for power, the status quo might be preserved for a long time. Although the feat of Mama Taraba gives some hope, work — the real work — has to be done by the womenfolk to build on the foundation that has been laid. In 2019 I expect to see the formidable female gubernatorial aspirants in about 50% of the 30 or so states, where elections will be held. That is a real change!

Mama Taraba, legacy beckons!
Ella Grasso, the first woman democratically elected as the governor of Connecticut, managed her state excellently in a typical macho-like manner. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the revolutionary woman of her time, was a thorn in the flesh of the colonial masters. Dora Akunyili fought the enemies of the standard drugs to a standstill as the NAFDAC boss. One thing connects them all: they are all legends with great legacies.

Whether as a minister or a governor, the woman that is worth seven men, Aisha Alhassan, has the uncommon opportunity to write her name in gold in the Nigerian history. Will she? I hope so.

 Kofoworola Ayodeji for
Kofoworola Ayodeji is a Nigerian writer and transformational speaker passionately involved in nation-building.

The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

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  1. Okonjo-Iweala is a shining icon of excellence, a true exemplary female leader. She is a woman of honour that is why she keeps receiving international awards

  2. I disagree when people say because of one bad egg the who eggs in a crate is bad. Diezanni might have abused power and so other women must have done same, but Okonjo Iweala stood out. It is so obvious because we can see it in the appointment, she got after the previous administration.

  3. The former finance minister, and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, should be left alone to have a well deserved rest after serving this country. To me this a partisan to know that she is always mentioned in a negative light despite her good works.


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