Monday, 23 January 2017

Why my Northern Dad allowed me to go to school—Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo +How her NGO, HIVAM is helping the poor in Northern Nigeria

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Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo, President, Hope Initiative for the Vulnerable & Marginalized (HOVAM)

Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo radiates love, joy and unlimited optimism. She is a different version of the average northern lady who is often conservative to a fault either due to subservience to the unwritten norms of religion or societal preference. This excellent woman who have walked in the corridors of power  for decades is an epitome of character and good manners. Hajiya Zuwaira is the President/Founder of  Hope Innitiative for the Vulnerable & Marginalized (HIVAM). You will never know how humble and connected Hajiya Zuwaira is until you have a hearty encounter with her.  Your Africa’s Number 1 Celebrity Encounter Blog, Asabeafrika had a chanced encounter with her recently in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria during a shot holiday from her Borno State, North Eastern Nigeria base. 
The encounter which came as a result of several proposals for an interview turned out to be a very interesting one as she told us the humble story of her life. The very pretty Hajiya Gambo took us through the story of her life as a student, journalist, columnist, business woman and NGO practitioner.  She told us the reason why she cares for vulnerable people in the society. Enjoy the excerpts

Who is Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'Dad allowed me to go to school because he was enlightened'

I am from Borno State. I did my secondary school education at the Federal Government Girl’s College Benin City. I have my first degree in Mass Communications from the Bayero University, Kano. And I got my master degree in Public Administration from the University of Calabar. I started my career as a features writer with the Daily Times of Nigeria from there I moved on as a columnist with our Midweek Magazine Pullout (In Daily Times)
The GDA meets Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo
I also ran a column called Life every Wednesday in the Daily Times. At one time, I was also the Deputy Editor of Poise Magazine, a publication of the Daily Times, before I was moved to become the Group Supplement editor of the Daily Times stable when Daily Times was really Daily Times. Well, in a nutshell that is a bit of my career. But, before I moved to Daily Times, I worked with the Federal University of Technology as an assistant editor in the Audio Visual department where I wrote for the in house news letter and I also supervised students in their audio-visual activities. But I am more or less a social activist. I am an NGO person.  I had to leave Daily Times at one point to concentrate on my children. They were very young then, I had to give them full attention.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo with Associates
So, I really got involved with NGOs like NAWOJ; The National Council of Women Societies, the Police Officer’s Wives Association (POWA) the Defense and Police Officer’s wives Association, the Better Life Programme for the African Rural Women and a lot of other non-governmental organizations. Since I left full time work, I realized that my association with non-governmental organizations became more of a full time activity, and I was getting passionate about issues concerning less privilege members of the society. And for one to succeed in touching the lives of the less privileged ones; you must have the capacity, you must have the means. And that is why I used my business venture Benazir which I named after the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to help disadvantaged people. She is a woman I am so passionate about; her belief in giving humanity a better goal was genuine. She was a go-getter and despite the challenges she faced as a lady politician, despite what happened to her own father, she still went ahead to succeed in politics and even lost her life in the end. And that is why I named my business BENAZIR after her. She is a rare heroin.

How were you able to blend your northern background with a rich southern heritage?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'My education in both northern and southern parts of Nigeria gave me the benefit of having a better world view of Nigeria'
 Actually what happened was that admission into unity schools of those days, was purely on merit and when we had our common entrance examination at the time, I was among the first four in the entire north east who made good grade when my admission letter came, I had quite a number of entries. First of all, I got Federal Government Girls College Owerri, then Federal Government Girls College, Benin City. But I will only say to you that destiny took me to Benin City. My father had a lot of people coming to him saying to him, ‘why are you taking this girl to the south?’,because i was so young then. I wasn’t even ten years old. But he said ‘well, there is no problem, that in Islam, the Quran says you can go as far as China to seek knowledge’. My dad was a very enlightened individual. He encouraged me and that was how I found myself in Benin City and I have no regret because since it was a federal school, we had people from different parts of Nigeria and even from the neighboring countries. And that has influenced my outlook and approach to life.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'Dad told critics that even though i am a girl child, i needed to get education for a living'
My approach to life is universal; I don’t care where you come from. I don’t care about your religious affiliations. I see you first and foremost as a human being and that really, really contributed to shaping my thought, giving me the opportunity to interact freely with anybody. That has also helped me in even bringing up my own children.
Was your dad polygamist?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'Despite his many women, Dad was a diplomat who bounded every one with love and unity'
Yes my father was a polygamist but believes you, me, we never knew who was whose mother. And in addition to his own biological children, he had so many children from indigent homes. So, we grew up as one. It was totally different from what we see nowadays. To me, polygamy that time had nothing like step brother or sister and up till today, I am very, very close to my brothers because I happen to be the only girl child (biologically) but I have sisters from relations whom my father brought up.
 You mean you didn’t have step sisters?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'As his only child, dad was not  afraid to risk me for learning'
 No, no, no. Biologically, I was the only daughter my father had but I have brothers and up till today, we don’t care whose mother gave birth to whom.
 In your time, most northern fathers will never allow their girl child to attend modern schools as they believe that the girl child will always end up as another man’s property. I remember I spoke to Hajia Hadiza Maitama Sule in Kano and she reiterated this point to me. She even told us that her dad, a literati just didn’t see why his girl child should be given western education. So, why was your own case different?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo....'Dad sent me to school out of self enlightenment'
 Well, I think my father was a different human being entirely. He was a down to earth person. He was the supervisor then in charge of the Ginnery (Cotton Field) In those days cotton was the mainstream business in the north east. So he was exposed, he interacted with a lot of people and believe you me, he never really care weather you were a boy or a girl. He made sure we all went to school, even when I was taken to the south, he said ‘no, no, no, it doesn’t matter’, that I should go, that God is every where. In fact my father was and he is still my role model.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika...'My dad Shehu Yamta was a man of the People'
 What is his name?
 Late Shehu Yamta
So, how were you able to combine the social norms of Borno, Benin and Kano in a style?.

 When my father died, I moved to Kano where my senior brother who is a police officer took up the responsibility of caring for me. In those days, we had a good culture as regards this extended family thing. I had lots of uncles and aunties, so you could spend your holidays with anyone of them. I had an interesting and very rich upbringing from Maiduguri, Kano and Benin. I was able to grasp a bit of every social tradition. It was a good thing that one had that privilege.
 You are a Muslim, isn’t it?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'My living in the barrack made me more humane to people's cause'
 Yes I am a Muslim but you wont believe it, I did Bible Knowledge for my WAEC and in those days they insisted that my dad must support me to study Bible knowledge. Our Islamic Studies teacher then in Federal Government Girls College, Benin City was a Pakistani lady and she was teaching us Islamic Studies not because she was trained to be an Islamic teacher but I think because she was a Muslim. And we understood the Bible Knowledge teacher better.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo with a Female Lawyer Friend
And I had a B2 in Bible Knowledge. I had a very excellent result in Bible Knowledge and it is only now I am beginning to forget all the quotes if not …. My father said I should go ahead and read Bible Knowledge that although, he brought me up as a Muslim child that I am not a Muslim for being one but because I know the value of Islam. So my dad really, really made an impact in my life.
 How did you fully went into NGO?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo gives the GDA a recent report of her NGO, HIVAM's activities in Northern Nigeria especially Borno State
 My association with non governmental organizations exposed me to relating and interacting with a lot of women. Women of substance; women who take decisions in Nigeria. I mean great women who make things happen behind the scene. And again, I have always loved doing business; even in the university, I used to sell ear rings and other  items of women convenience. I had always been business conscious. I used to travel to Cotonou to bring in little-little wares for sale. I will move them in the booth of my car, my sitting room, everywhere; there was always something to pick and wear. So I said very well, this might probably be my niche. And I was doing small, small jobs and what have you. But my greatest passion lies in helping ordinary people which I realized with my foundation, Hope Initiative for the Vulnerable and MarginalizedHIVAM.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'My greatest passion lies in helping vulnerable people'
You also use your business Benazir as a fulcrum of charity, why?
Benazir is actually into real estate even though i don’t make noise about that. But people know me more as a trader because as you can see, in my shop, there is nothing you can’t get, from clothing, shoes and bags, kitchen utensils, in fact that is my core area in business. I travel and bring in all kinds of kitchen utensils. I even sell beds. It is more or less an outlet. I do a lot of consultancy for non-governmental organizations as well because I have worked like I told you with some great women who have compassion for the poor. I have served as secretary to many organizations. I have served as secretary to many of their NGOs.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo with her friends
I have been to so many international conferences which exposed me to so many things about building a great society that is not vulnerable to poverty and mystery. I have been to Beijing in China and many other great places. NGO is what I enjoy doing with passion. Helping people is a way of life that is bigger than a religion. There is nothing that can be compared to it. I love helping the marginalized and vulnerable in the society.  
 Between Journalism, humanitarian activities and business, which one do you fancy most?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo
 I think the humanitarian aspect takes more of me. Journalism is something I took interest in during my secondary school days because I used to represent Bendel State in the state debate and literary Association. In fact at a time, my self with another colleague won the State Trophy for Bendel State. So, that was what exposed me to broadcasting. I entered Print Journalism just by coincidence. But I have always wanted to go into electronic broadcasting and even in the university, that is what I read and I had a Second Class Upper. In fact, I was the best graduating student in Mass Communication in 1984 from the Bayero University in Kano. So, I had always had passion for journalism but along the line, as I started attending all this humanitarian activities, I got new orientation helping people to get out of their own predicaments. And my life in the barrack kind of exposed me to how you can reach out to people that are not as privileged as you. So, some how, I developed a passion for humanity and to add value to my passion, my relationships with great women like Dr. Mrs Maryam Babangida, Dr. Mrs Maryam Abacha, Justice Fati Abubakar, Mrs Oghohi, Hajia Dr. Bola Shagaya, I mean wives of former leaders and even present ones, have aided my reasoning in the area of helping the less privileged citizens of the society. I worked with them on their pet projects and I have soon realized that there are many ways you can touch the lives of people that are not necessarily your relations. But my barrack experience more than any other thing influenced my passion for helping people because I grew up partly in a police barrack where my brother worked as a police officer and I have lived most of my life in the same barrack because of my marriage to a police officer.
The GDA meets Hajiya Gambo at a social event in Northern Nigeria
That is why people see me more in those areas. But actually my association with the Better Life Programme have also exposed me to challenges of women’s lives in the rural areas of Nigeria which up till now, I am still so much concerned about. I try as much as I can, no matter how little to share either in terms of knowledge or material offerings to aid the lives of these rural women. With my NGO, HIVAM, we are presently helping the government of my state, Borno to solve some problems among people in my area. I thank God for His mercies to HIVAM.
Do you intend going into politics?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'Yes, i am ripe for people but the best service is helping vulnerable people'
 I won’t say yes or no because every human being is a political animal and sometimes you join politics not because you want to but due to circumstances; some circumstances can make you go into political leadership. At some point in time, people could come around and say we think you can contribute better and with my background and experience, I know the problem of the less privileged ones, I know the problem of the people in the rural area. I am very, very much at home in any part of the country. I am not from Niger State but I am very much appreciated there. Here in the  Federal Capital Territory, we have literacy centers in some of these communities and in even in my village in Borno. So I think it is a matter of time. If the conditions are good and welcoming but above all, let’s leave it to God to decide.
 Are you looking at the federal house, senatorial or gubernatorial representation?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo with a police officer during a social outing in Niger State
 No, I don’t think I have made up my mind on what to do but I would like to be a part of whatever positive change that will bring succor to the generality of Nigerian populace at whatever level. You don’t need to even occupy a political position before you touch lives. As I am right now, I run couple of NGOs and I also partner with other people to bless humanity. So, you can change lives at any level. It is an inborn passion that could be done at any level. It is something I inherited from my father. Because I know when we were growing up, my father never locked his gate. Those days, there were no robbers anywhere. So anybody that was coming from distant places or neighboring villages that had nowhere to stay, they always ended up staying in our house. And the women were always cooking. So if you come to our house then, in fact some people call it transit camp, because if you come even at a very short notice, or no notice, we try to accommodate you. And that is how I have been running my life. I have a lot of children that are not my not my biological children. So, it is a calling which you will never do without.
 What do you dislike in people?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo (L) with friends
Lies. Oh my God, I hate dishonesty. That is why a lot of people would say, ‘Mrs. Gambo is impatient’. I can stand by you no matter what you have done. But I like people to accept their mistakes. Some of these lies come from one’s inability to accept blame for what he or she has done. The more you tell lies, the more complicated your matter becomes. So I believe we are all human beings and we can never be complete. The Hausa people will say ‘nobody is completely made’. There is something missing in each and every one of us. So I believe if you have done something wrong you should be bold enough to own up. You should be able to tell me. And that is what I keep telling my children, if you do something wrong please let me know. Don’t tell lies because I am very, very sensitive. I will rather get angry with you and forget about it than for me to discover that you have been misleading me all along.
What do you appreciate in people.
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo....A woman of the people
 I think it is just the opposite of lies. I appreciate people that are honest. I appreciate people that are contented. Yes, because most of our problems come as a result of when you are not contented with what God has given to you and you look at other people with envy. But, if you are contented in life, it is a great virtue. I could appreciate something but that does not mean I would be envious of the person that owns that thing. Instead, I will say ‘oh this house is beautiful, oh this car is beautiful’, but that is it. It ends there. And if I have a motor cycle and you have a jeep, I am contented with that motor cycle because there is something that I have that you don’t have. I am somebody that if I see somebody and I see that person is satisfied with whatever God has given him or her,  I really respect such a person because it is a gift from God to be contented with what you have. And when people see you, they will be wondering, ‘ah, ah this person is always happy, this person always seems to have no any problem in this world’. There is nothing, it is just that you appreciate what God has done in your life and then you see that it keeps on multiplying. And people begin to wonder, what is the miracle?, this individual is always happy, ah, ah anywhere you go, you see her, left, right and center. It is nothing o. It is contentment. And people are comfortable with you when you are contented because they don’t see you as a threat. They see you more as somebody that ‘if you give her, she takes, if you don’t give her no wahala’. So that is my own guiding principle. And no matter what situation I find myself, no matter how hard the obstacle, I have a very strong faith. My faith in God is something I can’t quantify. It is only me and my God. I am just passionate about Him.
Even as a Muslim?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'My biggest weapon is faith in God'
 Yes. It is excellent. It is awesome. My Faith in Him is my strongest weapon. You know I keep on telling my Christian friends; I said ‘ah if to say I day go church I for don day give una testimony about my life’. Because sometimes; you see that you are down and out. But God is so merciful. And it is your belief in Him that works, no matter what, no matter the challenges and obstacle that comes your way, remain faithful to your God Because whatever God does not do to you, my brother, no individual can do it to you. Sometimes I wake up in the day; I don’t have a dime, before evening, you see God will do it. And God will not bring a problem to you that the solution is not by the corner. And the devil will be whispering to you saying, ‘see, that prayer you have been doing... You are a sinner etc’. it is a lie. Wahalai talai, there is no where devil will ever triumph over God. You may have a temporary set back, you may face challenges but if your faith in your God is strong, no matter what goes up; it will definitely come down. That is my simple philosophy of God.
How do you start your day?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'I love any News Channel that can feed me on happenings around the world'
 (Laughs) of course we wake up as Muslims early in the day to pray. Thereafter I scroll through the television to get in tune with what is going on around the world. I am a news person. I don’t joke with news, no matter how boring.
 What is your favorite Television channel?
I watch news channels both local and foreign. I don’t think I am particular with one channel I just scroll through and that makes me have a handful of story ideas.
What about your hobby?
 I am a voracious reader. I read anything great especially autobiographies. I love to read about people. That is why a woman like Benazir Bhutto means a lot to me. I have read the autobiographies of great people like Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, Maryam Babangida e.t.c all these great people, Maryam Abacha, Fati Abdulsalami, all these are wonderful women and great patriots. Their lives really inspired me.
 Among all the autobiographies you read, which one made most influence on you?
 Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography. That is where I saw commitments, where I saw sufferings, and despite all, it did not stop her from getting to where she aimed for. And that is why nothing, nothing, no matter how big could pose a challenge to my life. I don’t get scared. The more challenges I get, the stronger I become. There is no obstacle that I have ever encountered that I come out worst than. No. I always come out stronger.
  You look young and alluring, what is the secret of your beauty?
Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo to Asabeafrika....'The secret of my beautiful looks is contentment'
 I think it is contentment. I am a very contented person, nothing gives me sleepless night. Anything that gives me stress I put aside. I pray to God and sleep on it. That is why people keep on wondering what the secret is? God.
You are already a grand mother, what other thing are you still asking from God?
 Long life and the grace and opportunity to serve humanity, especially the under privileged ones.
Gbenga Dan Asabe presents a copy of the book; NIGERIA:BEYOND DIVORCE by ex-Minister of Science & Technology, General Sam Momah (CFR) to Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo
Do you have a message for Governors’ wives and women in political leadership?
That sometimes when they get to that position, they forget where they are coming from. That is the mistake some of them make. Not only women. It is general with people. They forget that, that ladder which they used in climbing up will still be there when they are coming down. So, don’t ignore the challenges of the people because at one time, you were at the bottom of the ladder, God in his infinite mercy has lifted you up. You shouldn’t forget that. Always look down and remember people you left at the bottom of that ladder, because no matter how long it takes, you will still come back and meet them because there is no condition that is permanent in life.
(Hajiya Zuwaira Gambo can be reached through or write her through The President, Hope Initiative for the Vulnerable and Marginalized—HIVAM c/o

Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog


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