Every human being always prays for long life and prosperity but in actual sense, only few live it. For one to have grown old, definitely such has won the favour of God. Not even in sub-Saharan African where life expectancy is pegged at 47 and only recently that Nigeria upped its life expectancy to 54. But among the very few that is enjoying this gift of life and divine favour is Haji Raliah AGF AbdulRazaq, fondly called Mama by her children, friends and associate. The multi-linguist, gender advocate and wife of the very first lawyer in northern Nigeria, Alhaji AGF AbdulRazaq, is full of praises!
At over at 85 years, the matriarch of the AbdulRasaq family still looks ageless in physical appearance . Amazingly, when Mama was speaking, a smart alec may want to ascertain the mental alertness of the Octogenarian. For sure, Mama definitely beats the listeners’ imaginations as she was alert all through.
“What can a man do without the favour of God, being alive, hale and hearty is nothing but except God wishes it,’’ she says.
Truly, mama is a mother for all, despite her coming from the northern part of Nigeria where women are least encouraged to tap to the fullest their God-given potentials.
Mama struggled through all the odds to stand tall among her peers to excel as a gender advocate, first woman councilor in Kwara State, first female sports promoter and the first woman to drive car in Northern Nigeria.
Hajia Raliah is also a foremost community leader, mobiliser and sponsor of several community-based associations known today as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
Mama was said to have helped to educate many people who have turned out to be leaders in their respective callings. A cursory look at the time when Mama was born indicates that she is one of the very negligible lucky northern women to have received quality education in her time.
These impeccable characters and many others informed the decision of one of Mama’s sons to draw Time Nigeria Magazine’s attention to the rare encounter with Hajia Raliah AGF AbdulRazaq.
At Aso Villa, where the devout Muslim woman is quietly residing, she is at heart a pan Nigerian who speaks Igbo flawlessly.
Trust reporters meeting such a rare gem and a woman of honour, we could not wait to put our question across without delay. Here is Time Nigeria’s encounter with Hajia Raliah AGF AbdulRazaq, the Octogenarian, who coined the name Surulere meaning (patience is rewarding) out of her personal experience to name the popular street called Surulere in Ilorin, Kwara State. Excerpts:
Mama, please could we start this way, it takes a good parent to raise an obedient child, what are the values and training tips you picked from your parents when you were young?
What I used to know about my parents and the way we were brought up, I can vividly remember that we were brought up in a community way. Back then in Aba, our house was known for Yoruba community especially people from Ilorin or Muslims. My parents welcomed everybody; we had a very big mosque. So the way our parents brought us up was a community, a family way and that is the way I am living my life too because, I don’t have any other upbringing other than community and family way. I cherished people around me, I love raising children as a result I don’t know how many children that have passed through my home. Some of them do come and greet me and they will introduce themselves. We were taken care of, our parents have precious time for us, so we were raised in both religious and community way as a result we cannot do otherwise.
Unlike nowadays, you find out that most women are working mothers, they have less time for their children. Yet, some mothers don’t care they leave their children in the care of house helps who can be careless sometimes. Things are not the way it was when we were young. I can say with the help of God our parents were very nice and gave us what I can call moral upbringing, we thank God for that.
You are known to be hospitable, is it part of what you picked up from your parents?
This is a good question! You want to listen to history and I will tell you, my grandfather was the herdsman that rared cows in the east, my mother could not hear from her father for a longtime and she started tracing her father, getting to Asaba, somebody told her that they saw somebody raring cow around Onitsha, at Onitsha she was told that her father had moved towards Owerri but couldn’t be found yet in Owerri, it was later discovered that my grandfather had settled in Aba. That was how my mother too settled with her father in Aba. My father became a credible trader.
At any motor park in Aba, when you are noticed to be a Yorubaman, they will take you to our house, even in the middle of the night, they will come and knock at our door, that we have visitor. I will be the one to open the door, despite that we have the leader of Yoruba community but they won’t take visitors there, they will bring them to our house. In our house, there is always food to eat because we knew there will be visitors, so we do prepare for them. So, it is a value that was transferred from my grandparents. My parents were hospitable. It’s something I took from my parents. Like I said earlier, my parents are very accommodating, infact, to a fault. As a result of their generosity, if any Muslim or Yoruba came to Aba then, the next thing was to bring that person to our house, my mother, either she knows you or not, even in the middle of the night you will eat and you will be accommodated no matter what. Some traders from Ilorin that are going to Calabar, they always had stop over in Aba before proceeding to Calabar, that was how we became popular in Aba. My father can go to any length to assist you. As one of their children, you just have to emulate them.
For instance, during Ramadan, my father do invite Islamic preachers between eight and ten from Ilorin to come and preach in Aba for 30 days of Ramadan.Three days after Ramadan my parents will give them money to go back to Ilorin. That was normal annual routine for decades. Today, NASFAT Islamic organization is the organisation using our mosque for their weekly Asalat. That is why anywhere we are going, our parents do encourage us to go, they believed and prayed that goodness and mercy of God will continue to follow us, and so be it up till date. People do say that and I don’t really know if I am but all I know is I am happy seeing people around me, I am happy when others are happy too. If that is hospitality, I am happy.
One of the problems we are encountering as a society now is declining cultural value; at what point did you notice this?
No doubt, our society is in trouble, our home is no longer premised on cultural values again, family ties are broken by the day, the unique things that bind us a people in those days have fizzled away. Respect for elderly people, our unique languages, our dresses, all of these formed part of our culture. But nowadays, all that make us to be unique as a people are no longer there. Cultural value has been eroded in the society unlike what was obtainable in the past.
Today, modernization and trends have eroded the values that are entrenched in our society. It is cultural for the young to vacate his or her seat for an elderly one when the elderly is standing. But you find out that most young ones today lack home training. How can you even talk of home training when the parents spend less time with the children?
The unfortunate part is this, these children go to school and they converse in English language, when they get home, you also communicate with them in English language, instead of their mother tongue. Mother tongue is very important especially in training children. Parents have to wake up from their slumber to live up to their expectation in bringing up children in a more decent and cultural manner.
The girl child is deprived of education in some parts of the north, how was this trend in your time as a girl child growing up in the north?
It was not encouraged in our time. Immediately you’re 13 years old then you are ripe for marriage. Although, I am from Ilorin but my parents were based in Aba, I was schooling in Aba and that was where I met my husband, his own parents were based in Onitsha but he used to come to Aba, when he finished his own school, he won a scholarship to further his studies abroad and my mother then advised that I should follow him to London. She raised money and I left for London too, that was how I got educated too, I studied catering. It was in 1945 when we came back from London that we got married in Lagos and we settled down in Zaria. I did not start my very early life in Zaria.
We learnt that you have been a gender advocate during your prime years, what informed such decision then?
My intention that time was to give women the opportunity to participate in the scheme of things; I am a lover of sports, especially football. I was the first woman to play football in Ivory Coast and in Ilorin, I established the National Council for Women Society in Kwara State. As a result of my religious contribution as a woman in Lagos I was honoured with the title, Saidat-General of the Central Alasalatu of Nigeria.
Also at a time when NGO was yet to be part of our diction, as a community leader, I spear-headed several associations including National Council of Women Society in Ilorin. I was the Leader of Traders’ Association, Sewing Association, several cultural groups; I am a Matron of Were (Fuji) singing group and football teams in Ilorin Emirate back then. All these, I was doing to boost women’s morale, to ensure that women voices were heard and for them to partake in the scheme of things in terms of socio-political and economic development of Nigerian society.
Do you have any relationship with the likes of late Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Gambo Sawaba and other prominent women of that time?
No, I don’t have much to do with late Mrs. OIufunmilayo Kuti, I knew her, I heard about her but Hajia Gambo Sawaba was like a sister in Zaria, she refers to me as her Aunty. She was more interested in politics. I went to visit her when she was imprisoned because she was for NEPU instead of NPC. I did visit her very well, I will park in front of the prison yard when they were out to sweep or work, I did sit with her, I interacted with her. When she left prison she visited me at my house, including her sister. I had a very cordial relationship with the late Hajia Gambo Sawaba, may God forgive her shortcomings.
You were the first female councilor in Ilorin, why did you go into politics then?
In actual sense of it, my local government chose me then as their councilor. I want to believe that it was because of my active participation in the development of Ilorin. I could remember during that time, there was one village we went to in Asa and I found out that Guinea worm was ravaging the village, on getting back to Ilorin, I went to the Ministry of Health and reported the issue, the Ministry moved there and the villagers were treated.
Infact, the road leading to the village too was bad but to ensure that they were adequately represented, I got there and I ensured that the government repaired the road. I had to ask, if people living there do pay their taxes and I was told that they did pay their tax, I took it up and the road was repaired. I tried my best for the growth and development of Ilorin emirate.
At a time that opportunities for western education were extremely limited, in practical demonstration of my grave concern to create opportunities for the less privileged, I co-founded with my husband, what is known today as Government High School Ilorin (GHS) The school today has produced many distinguished patriots and leaders of this country and many other things that I cannot remember. We were doing it then to develop our community and for no gains.
In Ilorin, when we finished our house in where is today known and called Surulere, apart from a church it was only our house that was there, we moved in and we are staying there alone, it was a thick forest then and we were there alone. At a point, the police wanted to build a station at Emir’s palace area, the people living there before had to relocate to join us there.That was where the name Surulere coined by asking people to come and join us, that with patience we can live here happily and without fear. That was how some of them were encouraged, they came and built their own houses too; they too now took it from there and encouraged some other people to come to the place (Surulere) where patience is being rewarded. Till date, that was how the popular street call Surulere in Ilorin came about.
As a woman and leader, from your experience what is your assessment of the country?
In Nigeria today there is distrust amongst all of us, ethnic groupings, religious jingoism, favouritism and nepotism have taken over our national interest. National interest should come first before any other personal interest. It was not like this in the past, this is not Nigeria the founding fathers envisaged. We envisaged Nigeria where everybody will be stakeholders in her project, we envisaged Nigeria devoid of ethnicity, cultural and religions affinities. The mission then was ‘One Nigeria’ irrespective of your tribe, culture and religion. But today, things have fallen apart and the centre could no longer hold. We pray with this present government, we hope that Nigeria can still be better. The earlier we come together as one, the better and there will be an accelerated development and growth.
What is the motive behind the establishment of Raliah Islamic foundation in Ilorin?
The intention was to provide Islamic education for children given my belief as a Muslim to share what you have with less privileged ones. As a Muslim, I sponsor and promote Islam and Islamic scholarship, you can see this could be found in the mission and vision of Raliah Islamic Foundation in Ilorin. There is no any other motive other than to give back to the society from what God has given you too. Apart from that, I have a house that youth corpers are occupying for a very long time up till date, I don’t collect a penny, I ask them not to collect any money from them. All these we are doing are nothing but for God’s sake.
What is your advice for the next generation?
The advice I have for them is to be patient and persevere in all things they do. As citizens you have to respect the rules of the land and government, as a wife, you have to be obedient to your husband. As a child, you have to be obedient to your parents, as a student you have to be obedient to your teachers and any other person that should earn your respect.
Here I am today, I know what I passed through in life but with patience, perseverance and love for my matrimonial home, I am one of the thankful hearts today. As a human being life is not always a bed of roses, there are challenges that life present at some point, but how you are able to manage and endure will determine how strong you are and will determine how far you will go in life. So, they have to be patient because patience is rewarding.