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

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 &
(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
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’

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

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
, 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
. At one time, I was also the Deputy Editor of Poise
, a publication of the Daily Times, before I was moved to
become the Group Supplement editor of the Daily Times stable when Daily
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.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

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
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
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
. 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 Marginalized

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
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.
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
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

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
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
. 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
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
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
, 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.
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
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 www.hopeinitiative.com or write her
through The President, Hope Initiative for the Vulnerable and
Marginalized—HIVAM c/o [email protected])


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here