With an illustrious pedigree, she was primed to dine with the high and mighty. Prodigious in thought and prolific in accomplishments, she exudes class in simplicity. International in exposure and astute in grassroots approach, she is a paragon of passion and patience. Aisha Waziri is the new Amazon in northern Nigeria’s politics. Expansive in outlook and devoted to dreams, she turns odds into opportunities. The daughter of a maverick politician, Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri – the founder of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), Aisha is following in her father’s footsteps, as she seeks to represent the people of Jere, Borno State, in the House of Representatives. She talks with Stanley Nkwazema about the battle of gender equality, the problems and politics of poverty
The face behind the mask
My name is Aisha Umar Waziri, a legal practitioner based in Abuja. I am married with three children. I am currently a partner of a law firm, Prodiverse and the proprietor of Centre for Children with Special Needs. I am also the founder of INARA Foundation which is a non-profit organisation that was set up to support vulnerable people and to assist with education and economic empowerment. More so, I am a co-founder of Revive Nigeria Group – a group of people that have come together as professionals interested in upgrading the quality of politics by encouraging professionals to go into politics.
Politics of female representation
Let me make it clear that Borno State is actually a progressive state. We have had a lot of women going into politics. We have had members in the House of Representatives before. But we have not had any female senator or governor. We are still at the level of the House of Representatives. In terms of acceptability of women, I don’t think we have a problem. I feel the time has come for people like us to go into politics because we are very involved with the people – very close to the grassroots. But limited in terms of our ability to influence decisions; because we are not in politics and that has seriously tied our hands as it were. There is so much that I want to do but because I am not in politics that makes it difficult.
Being part of Borno reconstruction, rehabilitation
Actually, the insurgency has seriously abated. Jere used to be unstable and people were not able to go about their daily business. But right now they have gone back to their farms and people are beginning to pick up the pieces and start their lives again. The state is already doing a lot of work in reconstruction and rehabilitation. We, the NGOs and the civil society need to get involved. We have been able to meet people and travel. We have flights now to Maiduguri. We are able to go in and out and meet the stakeholders.
I have all credentials to be a federal lawmaker
In terms of the House of Representatives, I know the basic qualification one must have is the Secondary School Certificate. I think I am more than qualified. I have first and master’s degrees in law. I was called to the Bar in 1988. I have practised for many years. I have worked in a commercial bank, FSB International. I have attended a lot of training programmes including INSEAD which is one of the top business schools in France. Just recently, I concluded a one-year programme in Oxford University on Global Business. So I am fresh out of one of the top schools in the world. In terms of qualifications, I think I have more than enough that is required.
Battle of the sexes in Borno
What has happened in the last few years is that there is this realisation that women are more likely to fulfil their promises. That is the feedback I got. Of course, when the time comes to vote you will see what happens. There is no doubt about the fact that people trust women more and there is no doubt about it. I have been told over and over again, and I think that they would not mind a woman at all provided that the woman has all the needed qualities. It is not enough to say just because you are a woman you take it for granted. You also have to campaign and you must have a very clear mandate of what you want to do and must have the character, personality to be very patient because you are dealing with many people – and kind because they have gone through so much, especially in Borno. Even without the insurgency, the quality of life is not the same. They are in abject poverty. They don’t have basic amenities and other things that are needed to make life worth living.
Problems and politics of poverty in North-east
It is not only the women I endear myself to. I am actually endearing myself to everybody. What happened actually was that I went with my NGO to start assisting and supporting people – the victims. While I was there, I got very close to people at the grassroots. This exposed me so much to their plight. People go into politics and make all sorts of promises and our people are very disillusioned. We have a very pathetic situation and the politicians have been very selfish – there is that feeling of distrust. Because I went in as an NGO working with the civil society, I became very close to them before politics. When I decided to go into politics, they knew me and the things I had done in Borno. I started with nutrition at a time – in 2012, at the height of the insurgency.
There was serious hunger and malnutrition. That was the first intervention to go and feed the people and also clothe them because they had been displaced. In 2015 the issue of education came up when I started getting involved with public schools, getting resources, supplies like books and computers to help them get the needed training. Now I have moved to the area of economic empowerment because of the level of unemployment. Now we are working on the anchor borrower programme to get farmers access to the market and inputs for their farms. We have registered 1,000 farmers and we are going to use 1,000 hectares of land to access this facility at the Central Bank of Nigeria. We have established the INARA Foundation. We have partnerships with many organisations that work with us because we are on the ground and in touch with the grassroots.
Gunning for the House of Representatives
I think people are extremely anxious about who they will vote for because of countless disappointments and disillusionment. I found out that people at the grassroots understand politics very well. You can tell that they have had a lot of experiences as well. People come and tell them stories and leave – never to come back again. I found them very engaging. They ask questions like if you do get this seat, what you plan to do. They are quite discerning.
Politics without bitterness
You know that because of my exposure, I have been very fortunate. My father, the late Waziri Ibrahim, is the reason I am using the slogan of politics without bitterness. My father believed in girl-child education. He believed that women could do more and always encouraged us to fulfil our dreams. I never felt restrained or limited because I am a woman. It was actually a plus as far as my father was concerned. He had a lot of girls and treated us the same as the boys. I am well-travelled. I went to Queens College, Lagos for secondary school and had that exposure of being outside the North. Subsequently, I went to the UK and did my A Levels; then my law degree. All that time Western education and lifestyle opened your mind. My working with FSB International Bank also helped shape my thinking. I was always thinking ahead because that is what you do when you have a business. At the end of it all, the only place left I had not touched was the grassroots. I ended up going to the grassroots as a humanitarian worker. The moment I got there, I realised that was my calling. I felt that it was divine that I had all the exposure and education. I have a responsibility to go down to the grassroots and impart all the knowledge – to hold their hands and lift them out of their plight and bring them to a level that is acceptable. It is not a choice. I feel this is what I should do.
Love, motherhood and politics
To prepare your kids, they learn by example. So when they see a hard-working mother, they also adopt that hard-work mentality. For me, I don’t have any problem with stay-at-home mothers. It is always a positive thing for them to have a hard-working mother, especially being a northerner where people around me chose to stay at home. I think a working mother in this age is necessary. We need to go out of that mindset that the woman should stay at home and the husband should work. We (she and her hubby) support each other. I support him to work and he supports me too. To be honest, I don’t think it has ever been an issue because when we met his mother was a very hard-working woman. I know they say that it is what you see that you follow. He saw a very hard-working mother and so it is what he expects. It is not new to him that his wife is also working.
Playing politics of the future
I think that the awareness and the issue of stomach infrastructure bother me so much. I think that the short-term gain of what you have is sacrificed for the long-term prosperity. I really think that Nigerians should think about the long term when they are taking a decision on who to vote for. I would urge them not to think about short-term benefits but look to the future. A lack of planning has got us into a lot of trouble and I think we have to be disciplined. We have to plan and stick to that plan.
Women in politics and 35 per cent affirmative
I think that it has become very obvious to Nigerians that women have emotional intelligence and they are more likely to have empathy. Emotional intelligence and empathy are the most important criteria in leadership. This is the new type of leadership and it has to do with times. At a time like this, we need leaders with emotional intelligence. Indeed, this is something the women possess naturally. That to me is important for more women going into politics or elective offices. I don’t even think that 35 per cent is enough. I think we should aim for 50 per cent. But if we get 35, it is far too low. We are in a time of crisis in this country. At times like this, we want to uplift people. We really need women who have the kind of characteristics in a period of crisis.
If finally elected
First and foremost, I think the National Assembly should focus more on their actual role. The rate at which they make laws now is so poor that we waste a lot of resources. I have an issue with the amount of funds that are channelled into the National Assembly. To me, it is just putting money into a black hole and we are not seeing the results. The first thing that I would do is that I will challenge and champion transparency. I really think that we need to be transparent about the value for money. I am not seeing tangible results from the National Assembly.