By Funmi Ajumobi
Tombra Mohammed, Senatorial candidate of the Young Progressives Party, YPP, for Bayelsa West Senatorial District, in the 2023 General Election. She tells WO why the Senatorial District requires a paradigm shift andwhy she is best positioned to effect it.
Growing up in the village
“My mom died when I was eight years old and I found myself going to live in the village with aunties and uncles because we were young. Then, my aunt’s husband had multiple wives and he built small cottages for each of them. There was a painter who always came to paint for them So, I started doing the white washing for him before he paints. That was how I learnt the skills of initial whitewashing.
“My father did not differentiate between his male and female children. He was a Police officer. We were always doing things by ourselves in the house even when we were living in government quarters.
So when I went back to live with my father, we were painting our house by ourselves. I was always very fast, when I finished painting my portion, I would then help my siblings to paint their portions.
A young officer’s wife
“I married early but one of the conditions my daddy gave my husband was to make sure I went to the university, which my husband adhered to strictly. He had to start teaching me, to make up the required credit. Luckily for me, Lagos State University was very close to my house when we came back to Lagos after my marriage.
Though not interested then in academics, my husband had to teach me to make sure I passed the pre-degree, the rest is history.”
Tombra became industrious when her husband was away in Liberia as part of the ECOMOG Peacekeeping Mission there, turning to the Naval Wives Association where members were trained on how to be ladies and to save money.
“We would go to the market as a group, buy things in bulk and then share among ourselves.”
University education was difficult for her as she had a son whom she had to care for all alone.
“ I had started doing buying and selling because I’m a good marketer.
I also began to use my painting skills and I started going from house to house within the barracks. I could paint for my friends for free and my house was the billboard. You can’t come to my house and see the wall stained. I was always changing the design of my house. Later, I started marketing outside the barracks; offices, private homes, etc. I could go to a house, paint all through the night and clean the house. I could tell clients to give me 24 hours or 48 hours to transform their house. I combined this with caring for my children too. For a long time, I didn’t have an apprentice until I started handling painting jobs in offices. I was always faster than them anyway.”
Tombra never lost her painting skills, saying something that is in you will always be part of you.
“I stopped when I was 40. This is because I was reacting because of the influx of homemade paints. I started having asthmatic attacks and I had to stop. I then went into marketing where I brought in so many people around my area then in Apapa. In less than three months, I bought a car.
“I left it when my husband was going on a course in the USA and we were going to be there for one year. I left it with someone at home but it was abused.
While I was in USA, I saw how one can literally design a house. I came back to Nigeria with different designs and I’m so confident that most of the houses that were stenciled and deigned came from me. I came home designing schools, offices. Friends used to laugh at me for being a painter but they stopped when they saw I sent my first child abroad to school.
My focus has always been women even when I was into multilevel marketing, telling them if they could take it seriously, they could earn with it, and so many women were involved even from my church and community. As far back then, I was making up to N1 million a month and was able to support the family as I was also still doing my painting besides.
“Because I was so good at my job of designing homes, I started taking contracts to transform government offices and I did more than what was being given to me to do. That is why I find it shocking that contracts are given and people are not executing the jobs because there is no contract in Nigeria that you don’t have 15% minimum gain. I still can’t reconcile this, why people are failing to execute even now that there are over-inflated contracts where people get over 100% gain.
For me, I was given 48 hours to execute, which I did.” Getting into politics
“I should have been a politician a long time ago, but because I was married to a military personnel, it was a bit challenging because you cannot be partisan as a military officer and I don’t want it to affect my husband’s career. I had to hold on to my career for my husband to grow to the level he had attained. That is part of what women go through. You want to be the best wife, the best mother, till you end up not doing your own career. I thank God for my husband, he is supporting me, knowing that I have the ability to do what I have made up my mind d to do.”
If elected, Tombra Mohammed hopes for a mindset change in her constituents, saying all they talk about is politics.
“No other jobs available,” she lamented. “It’s shocking. When I was growing up in the village, women will go to fish, come back and sell the fish or the farm produce to feed the family. That is what we do in the riverine area, but when suddenly politics came into the picture, you suddenly see people rich overnight, where women are taken out to lodge in an hotel, come back with a lot of money after holding meetings. Everybody started abandoning fishing. It has been like that for many years. People no longer focus on what they can earn from the system. When they know that the country is benefiting from our state, youths are now being used to agitate. You now have a state whereby it is either you are agitating as a youth or you as a woman is joining politics so that you can earn. Instead of translating this fishing and farming into a big thing, we are still using fishing and farming just to feed the family.”
South-South environmental degradation
“There was a village I went to where there was water hyacinth covering an entire river and there was no road to pass. A functional government should have known that yearly, those waterways will be covered by water hyacinth and should always work ahead. There was no way for people to go to their farm. We went with a speed boat which was supposed to take us 10 to 15minutes. One hour, we were still struggling. How is it possible to count these people as part of the state when they cannot come out and nobody is going in them?
What I will do is to bring these things to light. These things are doable but the political will is just not there. They use these people for election, give them money but after election, they don’t go back there.”
The people are now so fed up that they want candidates to do something for them before election, I had to tell them that they have a choice between some people they have known for years and they are not happy with, and myself. They should try me and vote me out if I don’t change the scenario they were used to.
They deserve better and it’s better to keep trying others instead of remaining in the same situation. Can you imagine that in a state like Bayelsa, some students still sit on the floor? It is unheard-of. You can Imagine the level of poverty and hopelessness going on in those villages.
I didn’t have an apprentice until when I started handling painting jobs in offices
Yenagoa is supposed to be a state capital but it’s a village to some states capitals we have in Nigeria. Imagine what the villages are like.
Service to the people
Tombra adds: “I am at a point in my life that the basic things I need in life, God has already given me. So it can’t be competing with what I want to do for my people.It is just purely service to my people. If it is based on what they are telling me, I have already won the election but the question will now be, if they see money which I don’t have to throw around, will they still vote for me like the promises they have made? That is the challenge. Young Progressives Party is not among the popular ones”.
According to Mrs Mohammed, in the time of flood, a prepared state should not be taken by surprise. She adds that by now, there should be settlements that are elevated high enough such that during the flood season, you mobilize the vulnerables; women, elderly, children and take them to the place and cater for them while the flood subsides, adding that It’s usually a period of 4 weeks.
“There is basically no excuse for an oil producing state that is on low land, knowing flood comes on a yearly basis: it’s not acceptable.
I’m not a gubernatorial candidate but I can speak on behalf of my people because if people were actually speaking, everything must not always be agitation, we would have moved faster and better than this. Every ward headquarters can have holding areas or build the schools to serve dual purpose. You can build town halls having at the back of your mind that during floods, you can use them for such purposes. I know that no matter what, I tend to set examples. I might not be able able to do all the villages but whatever we are bringing in to Bayelsa, has to be something that can withstand the test of time because it has been done in other countries. Bayelsa can not be any different “.
“Everybody knows me, that I’m a serious person. Even in the Navy, they know me, I don’t have time for unseriousness. I already told God, if I’m not going to be useful, he should not allow me to go there and if it’s his plan, he should make it easy for me. I don’t need to go and stress myself and be killing myself .
Some even asked me why I’m not losing weight. I told them, I can’t because I don’t have any ambition. I know that whatever money I spent cannot give me sleepless nights because people enter business with money and it crashes, they won’t because of that kill themselves”.
To the women
To all women aspiring to hold a political office, Tombra said, “give it a trail. Believe in yourself. As a woman, dont wait for anyone to come and sponsor you. States are not different from each other. Politicians are the same everywhere. Just believe in yourself and have the love for the people”.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.