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16 Jul Written by 

Hadiza Bala Usman: Her Father’s Daughter

The initiator of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in Abuja draws inspiration from her parents and the potential for a united Nigeria, writes Chika Oduah 

She’s the mother of two young boys, a wife to an economic analyst, and they all live together in a delightful home tucked away in one of Maitaima’s quiet, tree-lined streets near Ministers’ Hill. She works in her home office surrounded by a massive bookshelf with books organized into categories likes “development” and “autobiographies.” Rachel, the cook, manages the family’s meals. Juma, the nanny, watches the boys and the driver tends to the luxury cars parked out front. 

Everything in her life seemed relatively fine, routine and normal, until Boko Haram kidnapped almost 300 female students in Chibok in April.

Hadiza Bala Usman’s comfortable life was jolted.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Hadiza says. “I couldn’t sit back in my world to say it doesn’t affect me.” That’s when she contacted her older friend, the renowned barrister Mrs. Maryam Uwais, and together, they decided to start a chain of emails to mobilize others, mainly women, to get on the streets to pressurise the government to bring the girls back. She says she was shocked about how nothing had been done, weeks after the abduction and about how Abuja residents seemed to carry on with life as usual.

What began as a collection of emails has evolved into a street campaign taken around the world, empowered with a heavy social media presence – #BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted more than two million times. 

Hadiza says she chose red to embody the campaign, describing the colour as a sign for “alarm, danger, a warning.”

“This was just me randomly concerned, gathering other people,” she says.

But a closer look at Hadiza’s life reveals her concern is not as “random” as one may imagine. Hadiza’s concern reflects a larger perspective shared by many who call themselves active citizens, thinkers and activists. Born in Zaria in 1976 and raised on the campus of the supposedly left-winged Ahmadu Bello University with her three sisters and three brothers, Hadiza is the daughter of the late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, who was a passionate and respected lecturer of history at the university. She grew up surrounded by intellectuals and her father was especially inspiring.

“I grew up listening to my father challenging the government and questioning the status quo,” she remarks.

She remembers when her father was fired when she was about twelve years old. She says the government had become concerned about his public views. Her father took the case to court and he eventually got his job back.

The Emir of Kano is Hadiza’s grandmother’s brother and the Emir of Katsina is related to her father. Despite his royal lineage, Hadiza’s father regularly confronted realities that he disagreed with – poverty, corruption and weak leadership.

It’s these sorts of experiences, with an outspoken father and strong-willed mother and her life in Zaria, that defined Hadiza’s scope as a Nigerian. She says what is happening today, with terrorists rampaging uncontrollably in northeastern Nigeria and the government’s failure to return any of the abducted students, “exposes the intellectual deficit of the leadership in this country.”

And the activism runs through the family. Two of her sisters—a pharmacist and the other, an accountant—have joined #BringBackOurGirls. Her mother also marched to the National Assembly, participated in the night vigil and attended two of the sit-ins.

 “I would not be doing what I am doing without her,” Hadiza says of her mother, a prudent woman who Hadiza says maintained the family home with grace.

But the activism comes at a price. Hadiza says she is being followed by strange cars throughout the day and her phones – along with some of the other women of #BringBackOurGirls – are tapped.

“There is a lag time in my conversations on the phone and I see my text messages being directed to strange numbers.” But she says she is not intimidated.

Nor is she intimidated by the President’s disapproval of #BringBackOurGirls campaigners telling the government what to do. She disapproves of the President’s recommendation for Nigerians to direct their protests to Boko Haram and not to the government.

“When a thief comes to your house to steal something, you’re telling me I can’t go to the police, but I should go to the thief to get back what was stolen from me?” she asks incredulously.

She’s not alone in her questions. #BringBackOurGirls has gone viral. She believes it’s an ample opportunity for Nigerians to collectively rise for a single cause and with Hadiza and the other campaign organizers, Nigerians have united, irrespective of age, creed and ethnicity.

“Maybe the abduction of the Chibok girls is the beginning of an end,” Hadiza says. “We stand united.”

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