Sokoto — Prof Aisha Madawaki Isa, OFR, is the first female professor in the old Sokoto state, now comprising Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states, the seat of the Caliphate, seem by many as the epicentre of conservatism. Not in her widest dreams did she ever see herself furthering her education beyond the secondary school. But the professor of Educational Psychology at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, cleared all the hurdles and today is a delegate to the on-going National Conference. She previously served several federal government committees, and was also a member of the Presidential Technical Committee on Housing and Urban development during ex- President Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The widely travelled educationist also served as Commissioner for Women Affairs under the Attahiru Bafarawa administration. She speaks on a wide range of issues including the state of education, especially that of the girl-child, women rights and Nigeria’s political future, among others. Excerpts:
How were you able to surmount all the the challenges to become a professor, especially in a society that gives little priority to the education of the girl-child?
Professor Aisha Isa: You see, it’s from the background, I come from an enlightened family, my father was educated and my mother also, so the whole issue of western education was not really an issue that was debated. My father was in full support of it and the whole family too. I am not the first child in the family. I am the fourth, and all my seniors (elder siblings) went to school. In the family of Madawaki Isa, males and females were given the opportunity to pursue education, both western and Islamic.
You are the first woman from the old Sokoto State to become a professor, how did you achieve this?
I would say it was destined by the creator, Almighty Allah, that I would be a professor. I can tell you that it was not something I planned. After my secondary education, I was not even nursing the idea of furthering my education. I will tell you one funny story; a friend of mine, a classmate, was given admission forms (into the university) and you will be surprised, we grouped and abused her. We tore the papers and we said ‘look at you, where are you going after secondary education, no further education.’Surprsingly, I am now the first from Sokoto State to attain this (professorship). It was not something that was planned by me, it was planned by my creator, but I have the determination to really excel in whatever area I find myself.
Like I said earlier, I am fortunate to have come from an enlightened family. My father had been a public servant before he passed away. For him, education came first before any other thing. I was enrolled in the primary school at the age of five and I did not rest till the time I got my Ph.D and eventually became a professor. Wherever you see me, I put in my best to see that I really perform and I think it is a contributing factor and the same challenge that you said that women in this part of the county are seen as not acquiring western education. So, to say illiterate in their own perspective; and so its gives me that motivating force to say is it true that Hausa woman cannot perform, let me see, and I see it as a challenge.
WT: How did you take your nomination as a delegate to the National Conference?
The state sees it as necessary to embark on the conference, because there is this believe that it is at this particular forum that things would be discussed and issues would be addressed squarely and honestly so that we all know where Nigeria is heading to. We pray that whatever is going to be discussed there, will be to the advantage of Nigeria. I will thank the governor for nominating me and the people of the state for accepting my nomination. I see it as a challenge, it’s not just Aisha, it’s the state, it’s the women and it’s the senatorial district that I will be representing, I see it as a challenge to me and I know with God on my side, I will succeed.
Do you believe this conference is necessary to thrash out most of the burning issues in the country?
I am optimistic. I don’t believe in any venture that would not yield any benefit for the people. Whatever you have and whatever you see, it has its own advantages and these advantages and to me this particular conference is not an exception.
How do you think the conference would enhance the well-being of women folk?
We have quite a number of women there as delegates from women organisations, from the states. I was happy that it was really mandatory for states to send women delegates. I know we have women who would be ready; of course, I am one of them; who would really pursue the course of women in the area of violence against women, in the area of security, in the area of governance, in the area of leadership and so many other issues that affect women.
What about local government autonomy?
Yes, on local government autonomy, initially, I was thinking majority of our people are in support of local government autonomy, but surprisingly just about three days ago when we had the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) meeting, there was a traditional ruler, the Lamido of Adamawa. What he was really saying is that their stand is to maintain the status quo; and he gave convincing reasons why they should maintain the joint account. When they maintain the joint account, the issue of financial autonomy is not there. I am sure maybe, we are going to go like that.
On the devolution of powers among the tiers of government, what aspect do you think should be given to the state and which ones for the Federal Government?
You know so many issues would come up. You know, it is like the survival of the fittest. The Federal Government would try as much as possible to if not add to its present responsibilities. The states would as much as possible try to hold on to what they have. The local governments would also try to have a kind of autonomy so that they would be out of the control of the state governments. It would really be a kind of debate. It has its benefits, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages in the sense that once local governments are given the autonomy, the issue of having so many projects is there. Some people are looking at it the other way, if local governments are given the fund, some don’t have the focus to really sit down and do things that are viable to their people. So the issue of mismanagement will be there. I think that is why there is joint account, so that at least the financing of the local government would be under the control of the stategovernment.
What’s your view on the state of women education in the country?
Things are changing. Initially, you go to the rural areas, you hardly see reasonable number of females in the class. Now go to the local government areas, go to our primary schools, go to our secondary schools, even tertiary institutions, we have many now after first degree, they go for second degree, third degree. Things are really changing and the old perspective of saying educating a female child is of no use, I think people are beginning to know that it is even more important to educate the female-child than the male-child because by the time you educate a male-child, you are just educating one person but by the time you pass the skills to the female-child, you are passing the skills to many generations.
So you are you okay with the way the education of the girl-child is being handled now?
I am impressed, but more still needs to be done.
In what areas?
In all aspects. Be it in school, in offices, anywhere we need to improve on female representation. Things are improving for the better, but not as we want it to be. Now, if you start to compare the standard of education in Nigeria vis-à-vis the standard of education in developed nations, we will be wasting our time, wasting our time in the sense that they did not get there in a day; they started from where we started, they were like us before, they graduated to the position they are in now. The same thing would happen to Nigeria, the only thing and the irony of it all is what we are saying is quite different from our action. We have lots of political talks, but we fail to really address the real issues, that’s one.
Two, we tend to also place our priorities wrongly; so we have misplaced priorities, where we need to pay attention,where we need to invest, where we need to put in our efforts and everything, is not really where our attentionsis. If you look at education, at the university level, there is very little we can do, we cannot perform any miracles, because we have gotten students from secondary school, already matured minds, and what we need to do is start moulding a child from tender age to the relevant stage you want him to attain in life because whether we agree or not, early experiences of a child affect his later development. Go to our primary schools and see what is happening and you expect them to perform at secondary school level and you want them to perform or play any miracle at tertiary institution and to worsen the situation, the issue of paper qualification that we are emphasising, it is not compulsory that we must all have first degree, it is not compulsory that we all have Master’s Degree, it is not compulsory that we must all have Ph.Ds, we all have our individual talents.
If you were made Education Minister today, what would be the first thing you would do?
The issue of lower-level education, the issue of mid-level education and tertiary education.When you talk of education at all these levels, the issue of student -teacher come in and administrators, those that are manning the institutions now, it will take us years for us to correct the mistakes that were made several years ago.
The typical example, you know is the lower level, the primary education is rotten, things would be done to correct them but if you want immediate intervention, it is for us to look at the first level of our secondary education, the JSS (Junior Secondary School). JSS1 for example, if you have students coming from primary level and they lack the basic skills of reading and writing, they may not perform wonders at later stages, so what we need to do is to capture them at that stage, forget about other subjects, when students can read and write, other things would come.
As a wife and a mother, how do you effectively juggle work and family?
Isa: It depends on how coordinated you are and the ability to plan your programmes. I am married and I have six children, four of whom have graduated from various universities; the last of the boys is currently on his NYSC and my last daughter is studying Medicine at Arazi School of Medical and Technology Science in Sudan. I don’t believe that because you are married you cannot also pursue other things. You can comfortably combine the two. My husband has been very supportive, just like my father. He has been giving me the desired support in my career.
What about marriage and education for young girls?
I married after my National Certificate in Education (NCE). There is nowhere in the Holy Qur’an where it is written that once a girl is married, then, she cannot further her education. So, it all depends on the support of the parents and her husband to allow the girl-child to further her education.