Hajia Lami Tumaka is bold, intelligent, good-natured, elegant and God-fearing. She recently celebrated her 60th birthday and retirement from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) as a Director after 22 eventful years. No doubt, Lami is endowed with huge positive attributes. At her elegantly furnished and scented Lagos apartment, she tells Charles Ajunwa and Ugo Aliogo about life at 60, her upbringing, family, career and more
How are you feeling at 60?
I feel great, blessed, wonderful and thankful. I will describe my life as a life of grace at 60.
Are there things you will be doing differently, going forward?
At present, I am not feeling any different. Maybe there could be things I will be doing down the line; but for now, everything is normal and I don’t see myself doing anything differently yet. I remember when I turned 50, I became emboldened. I became freer to speak out my mind. I was quite introspective, but bolder. If at 50 I felt like that, I think at 60, it will be a stronger manifestation of those values I have.
What are your values in life?
My values lie in the beauty, greatness, and blissfulness of things. Although I’m not a righteous person, I try to live by the rules of society. I value my family and friends. So I live within acceptable standards in the society.
What are some of your indelible high and low moments in the last 60 years?
I can compartmentalise my last 60 years into family, friends, and work. I taught English at Army Day Secondary School, Zaria, worked as a newscaster at NTA Minna, PR manager at Peugeot Automobiles Nigeria in Kaduna and finally NIMASA for the last 22 years.
All through my career, I came in contact with different people, who had various character traits that I had to learn how to handle. I was faced with many challenges and many opportunities too. There were highs and lows. Above everything, my passage at NIMASA was quite fulfilling.
When I joined NIMASA years back, it was mainly male-dominated. But as time went by, more women came into the fold. More women occupied positions of authority. For instance, we had seven female deputy directors including myself who held top management positions. So we broke down the barriers and the ceiling (laughter!).
We also had the men there and their contribution was quite encouraging. They encouraged us to break those barriers. However, one cannot take away corporate politics from any organisation and NIMASA was no exception. But to the glory of God, I was able to weather the storms.
I cannot speak about NIMASA without speaking about the board, executive management, and most importantly, the Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Dakuku Peterside. The CEO is an awesome personality. He is an urbane and brilliant personality. Due to his background in politics, he was able to carry a lot of people along. His understanding of politics helped him to steer the ship of the Agency very well.
Other CEOs played their part in driving the growth of the Agency. It might interest you to know that I worked under 13 Chief Executive Officers in different departments of the Agency including planning, research and shipping operations.
For the most part, I was head of public relations at different times under about five CEOs-Ferdinand Agu, Dr. Dosunmu, Temisan Omatseye, Patrick Akpobolokemi and of course Dr. Dakuku Peterside. We had a good working relationship. To be able to succeed, you need to be able to hone and sharpen your interpersonal skills. You need to be abreast of trends in the maritime industry and the public relations domain. You have to be a step ahead. I would say we did well.
How were you able to work with men, knowing their nature and disposition?
My male colleagues were urbane. I didn’t think of any of them as being chauvinistic. They realised that to succeed in life, it was not a function of whether you were male or female. It was a function of one’s level of competence and the value one had to offer. Competence is what puts one in good stead above one’s equals.
The women that succeeded in the agency did not consider their gender as success parameters. We worked together with our male colleagues towards the growth and success of the agency.
You have retired from the Agency, would you say you are retiring fulfilled?
Definitely, I feel fulfilled. Although I have retired, but I’m certainly not tired. Given more opportunities, I’m ready to serve my country in any capacity. But I can sit back, and look at where I’m coming from and how far I have come and be able to say that I did my best. This is not to say that I don’t have much more to give. I have much more to give if called upon and if given the opportunity and challenged to come forward which I will gladly do.
What are you going to be doing in retirement?
Retirement is giving me a treat at the moment. The blaze of glory that I have seen in retirement cannot be compared with my 22 years of active service. The industry came together to celebrate me. The journalists in the maritime industry organised a dinner for me in Lagos. Nothing like that has ever happened. There was dinner for me by friends and family at Abuja. So since my retirement, I have been experiencing a blaze of God’s glory, mercy, blessings and magnificence.
All I intend to do is put up my legs for the next three months. I am a communications person, public relations consultant, public speaker and maritime expert. I am certain I will find something else to do in these spaces.
What happens when one is retiring is fear of the unknown because one is used to a certain pattern of life. This pattern of life is regimented; Monday to Friday is dedicated to work. There are benefits and allowances attached because one is pursuing a particular line of career. But someday, those benefits and allowances are cut off. Then the individual goes through a panic phase. I went through my panic phase because I loved my career. I am at my best when I’m working because I love challenges. When you throw me a challenge, I accept it and conquer it. So I went through that fear of the unknown.
But my nature being what it is, I told myself that I must find something to do that will continue to put bread on my table. Since I advised myself about finding something to do, I have been good to go.
Where did you spend your formative years, what was it like growing up there?
I was born in Kaduna and schooled in Lagos. I had my primary education in Lagos, secondary education in Minna, Niger State and University education at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. But my formative years were in Lagos here, which is responsible for my cosmopolitan background.
I had a wonderful childhood growing up with my siblings. The day I was born; my father said a diamond had been born. He thought the best that can happen to him in his life had been born. We are six in the family and to the glory of God, all of us are alive. So my life has been blessed.
Can you say you were born with a silver spoon?
Definitely not. I was not born with a silver spoon neither was I born with a wooden spoon. I was born into a family with a lot of love and happiness. My parents were not poor; though we did not have so much affluence such as the Dangotes and Adenugas of this world. But we were very comfortable.
How did your background shape your life?
When you’re born into a family of love, you grow up being positive about life. The first thing you will observe about me is my positivity. I have a positive attitude towards life. I never allow anything to weigh me down at work or at home. I always look at the sunny side of life. When my persecutors see me, they think about how to bring me down because they don’t understand why I’m always happy.
Talking about your childhood, what were those pranks that you played growing up?
Growing up, I was a very naughty child. Being naughty was the reason why I didn’t continue secondary education in Lagos. Then my father ensured I was taken back to the North. I was taken to a secondary school, run by Catholic Priests. During that period, the best schools in Nigeria were owned by the Catholic Church. My father said I needed to be taken to the Catholic school so I could be tamed.
Who influenced you most between your dad and mum? What were the lessons you learnt from them growing up?
Unfortunately, I lost my dad at the very tender age of 12, in 1972. We were so close that I remembered vividly the love and pride that my dad had for all his children, not just me. After his death, my poor mum was left to fend for six children. She did not have any formal education. But she was a smart and brilliant woman. She went into business (buying and selling) to educate us. My mum is one of the strongest women I know. She was a strong, determined woman. She was young when my dad died, she successfully trained us.
Today, I am happy to say we are all graduates. My siblings are very successful. They are married with their children all thanks to the tenacity of our mother. She was a strong woman and my siblings all got that lifestyle from her. My mum was a good woman. When you see the love and closeness between my siblings and I, you will realise how strong my mum was.
What was the best gift you remember receiving as a child?
I was born in Kaduna, but I remember we lived in Sokoto and coincidentally in Lagos. My father was a police officer and he travelled a lot. I remember my dad travelled to Zaire Republic, which is the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. On his return, he bought us so many beautiful clothes. We dressed nicely; I think that is one thing that has stuck in my brain.
How old were you when you got married and how did it happen?
I graduated at the age of 19. I had met my husband, then a Major in the Nigerian Army. I was going out with him in final year in the University. When I went for my NYSC, we had gotten married and that was at the age of 20. At 21, I had my first child (a boy). But he died. My husband died several years ago as a Major-General. He was actually the GOC, Third Armoured Division, Plateau State, when he died.
What attracted you to your husband?
He was a good looking man. He was very handsome. He was very brilliant. One of my weaknesses is that I’m easily attracted to brilliant individuals, especially men. In addition, tall, lanky and handsome men. He was very principled. He was known in the Nigerian army for his intelligence, integrity and principle.
What were the most difficult things that ever happened to you in life and how did you overcome it?
I guess some of the difficult situations I faced in my life were losing my husband, my mother and my child at birth. Those were very challenging situations, but as a Muslim, you know that life is from God Almighty. We are from Him, unto Him we will return. You don’t have control over your own life, let alone someone else’s life. If you believe that you are guided by that, it helps you come to terms with the tragedy of losing a loved one.
What do you consider the biggest mistake you have ever made in life?
I don’t have any mistakes because my religion teaches me not to have regrets.
What is your biggest fear in life?
My biggest fear in life is an illness; being ill and not able to move on with my life. I pray day and night against any kind of illness for myself, family and friends.
Are there still things you desire in life?
As a human being, no matter what you have, you want more. It is not that you are greedy, but it is human nature. It is natural to improve yourself and move beyond where you are presently. You want to be better at every stage of your life. You crave for better things for improvement in your life. My desire in life may not be one particular thing, but a state of mind. It could be a prayer for peace of mind, now that I have retired.
What are the lessons that life has taught you?
One of my greatest weaknesses is that I trust people easily. I have a clean heart, so I feel everybody has a clean heart like me. So when I meet you, I think you are like me. But I have learnt in life not to judge a book by its cover. Having said that, I am always willing to give people a second chance. Don’t allow a bad experience with one person permeate your life. Don’t allow a bad experience to change who you are.
How did schooling in Catholic School affect your upbringing?
It affected my upbringing positively. As I said, I am a tolerant person. I’m not concerned about your religious background. For me, religion is a thing of the mind. I don’t care whether you’re a Muslim or Christian, but it is who you are, that I care about. Going to that school made me more tolerant of all religions. Many of my very best friends have been Christians.
At 60, you look so young and flashy. What is the secret?
The grace of God in my life has helped me thus far. If I tell you this is what I do, I will be attributing it to myself. It is the grace of God that is permeating my life. I also exercise. Until lately, I used to eat like a diabetic patient but I am not diabetic. My life is one of moderation. There is no excess of anything in my life. I try to do things in moderation.
How do you relax?
Just among friends, and family members. I watch movies, and I love dancing. I love Nigerian movies. When we watch foreign movies, one would not know the background and the scenery that was used. But in Nigerian movies, one is familiar with some of the actors and actresses, so there is the connection. There are times they will use locations known to one. Also, watching our movies helps to encourage the industry.