By Osa Amadi
It has been almost three decades since the late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola died. In this interview, one of her children, Alhaji Jamiu Abiola, a prolific author who wrote “The Stolen Presidency” shares his plans to use a new NGO to further immortalise his mother, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola:
What is the name of this new foundation you have always been talking about, and what are its objectives?
It is called the Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation. Its core objective is to promote peace through ideals my mother adopted while growing up in Sabon Gari Zaria.
To promote peace is a noble goal, but do you think it is broad enough? What about youth empowerment and capacity building?
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My sister Hafsat has an NGO known as the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, and it is already involved in the areas you just mentioned even though its focus is on women.
My own focus is on peace. As you can see, what we need the most in Nigeria today is peace. Without peace there will be nothing. No development and eventually no democracy.
Have you been to Sabon Gari in Zaria before?
Yes, I went there on a few occasions. The last time was not long ago and despite the recent wave of kidnappings, Zaria has not lost its ancient charm.
I am glad that it was partly what inspired me to form this NGO.
What exactly do you mean by “partly what inspired me to form the NGO”?
I am not going overboard when I say that Zaria is one of a kind. It reminds me of Maiduguri in the early 2000s before the Boko Haram crisis. Zaria is a home of peace.
Could there be other features that make Zaria special?
If you go there with no prior predisposition you will arrive at the conclusion that it is indeed one of a kind. It is like the melting pot phenomenon of the US: The concept of immigrants coming to North America to collectively strive for the whole country to thrive.
In Zaria, this is what the various ethnic groups have come to do, especially in its Sabon Gari local government.
Just like in New York where Jews and Italians have their separate niches, Yoruba and Igbos engage freely in their respective businesses and are doing a great job. Indigenes too are excellent farmers.
In Sabon Gari Zaria, the Yorubas are into providing services like catering and car repairs while the Igbos have taken up trading as their main source of income. It is hard to tell the difference between these ethnic groups and indigenes.
Is that the only reason you chose the name ‘Sabon Gari’ for the foundation?
The term ‘Sabon Gari’ also has a historic significance even prior to Nigeria’s independence. There are now Sabon Garis everywhere. Even in the south.
Could you shed more light on the history of Sabon Gari as a concept?
Back in the days if you were a Southerner coming to some parts of the North, a Sabon gari would be your first point of call. It is there you will start finding your proper footing in society in terms of housing and a source of income. Most people living in the Sabon Garis then were southerners.
But with time this changed. Northerners too became more comfortable with their southern counterparts and the Sabon Garis gradually transformed into a melting pot of mixed Nigerians. This is the model this foundation wants to promote: a country connected by bonds stronger than its divisive elements
In what ways did your mother’s childhood in Sabon Gari influence her future disposition in life?
After growing up in such a community she was practically incapable of discriminating. That must have been why she never had friends from any single part of the country.
These are the factors that contributed to her success in business and campaign for my father’s victory.
Was she directly involved in your father’s presidential campaign?
Among his wives, my father selected her to handle the northern part of his campaign’s female wing. She was able to convey his message to the grassroots effectively because language was no longer a barrier. But Nigeria is now so polarized and this makes me wonder if that was the case then.
Did she ever wish she grew up in the South as a result of antagonisms she must have faced in the North?
No. She never complained. She had lots of friends. Her childhood was a happy one.
What did she tell you about her parents?
They were wonderful people. I met them; so, I knew this without needing to hear it from her. They believed in her and gave her lots of responsibilities and that is how parents should be. She would open my grandmother’s shop and wait for her to come before going to school.
She never spoke of facing discrimination. I think those might have been the happiest years of her life.
She died for a democratic Nigeria that is now plagued by death and bloodshed. Do you honestly think that her sacrifice was worth it?
If things continue on this path the answer to your question would be no and that would be unbearable to me and my siblings. That is partly why I formed the Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari Peace Foundation. Sitting idle has never been an option, and it will never be.
This foundation has a solid technical committee made up of experts in conflict resolution. These people have been long engaged in various institutions where they teach this subject-matter. With the help of our donors and partners we can make a major difference and we will by the grace of God.