Khadijah Abdullahi Iya is a woman of many parts: Activist, publisher, philanthropist, politician, no one can deny her quintessential personality. A rare combination of beauty and intelligence, she was the runningmate to the presidential candidate of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Fela Durotoye, and the current National Secretary of the party. In this interview with VICTOR OLUWASEGUN, she shares many interesting aspects of her life. Excerpts:
What was your growing up like?
Growing up in Lagos was, I think, one of my best periods. It was one that made me to think the way I am thinking right now; it prepared me for what I’m doing right now. And I think one of the reasons that I hate ethnocentrism and religious bigotry is because of the way I was brought up. I think God created life with a balance. My best friend was Chioma Onyewu. And later when she went, I had another good friend, Aderemi Adepegba. For my secondary, I started college in Igbosere, Kuramo, I did first year there where I met Aderemi Adepegba. She was another best friend that I had. So that gave me a balance that I’m in Nigeria; I didn’t use to think about titles or maybe colourations of any kind. All I used to think about was we’re human beings, that’s the first thing that I learned; we’re human beings. We may be different, it may be our ethnicity or religion or anything. It doesn’t mean that we are better than one another. We are all human beings and all these things that we’re making it look like something these days, I don’t think they matter. So, I think that was one of the biggest values I got from growing up in Lagos.
You are an editor of Searching Inwards; so, what’s Searching Inwards all about?
We are into humanitarian journalism and social welfare, and I think it is still part of the things I’ve mentioned. All we are talking about is that I looked at all the magazines, all the publications, and most of them are not concentrating on what I think. That’s my personal opinion. What I think we should be talking about; letting the conversations go out there. It started not as a magazine but as a column in Leadership newspaper. We keep complaining about social issues, cultural issues, political issues, and we don’t act upon them. So, Searching Inwards magazine was birthed in the spirit of acting. Yes. We decided that okay, lots of Nigerians don’t like reading that much. So, what creativity are we going to add to it? So, we designed an app in 2015 called “Docuzine” because it is a magazine that came with videos because it is a documentary magazine. So, everything that we do comes in documentary form and also, it’s in writing. So, we believe it’s a magazine that if you don’t want to read, it has text-to-speech, you just highlight it and it will speak to you; it will read out to you. So, those are the things we did. When I went to a business class in Ghana and China-European business school, they gave me an award because of the app that we created. They were very excited with what we created and they gave me an award for innovation.
So, you were trying to refocus people’s minds on issues?
Basically, what we were trying to do is to get into the consciousness of the typical Nigerian, to make you think differently, to reset your mind that things don’t have to be like this. We don’t have to fight one another. We don’t have to be at one anothers’ throats. Whenever you think that maybe the Igbo man is too greedy, there is some kind of greediness in you yourself; that is the ability to search inwards. So, if the Igbo man is too greedy, then what are you? What are you going to do about it? And what is it that you have that you think you can also stop doing? It is not enough to point fingers but where is the other half finger pointing to? So, those are the things that we talk about in the magazine when you look at it. There is also the human angle; it is also celebrating those who people don’t know about, people doing beautiful, incredible jobs at the background. I know that I am a background person, I used to be a background person. We felt that these people should be showcased instead of focusing only on the celebrities.
You are involved in a lot of things, including humanitarian activities. Kindly tell us about some of these activities?
Before Searching Inwards magazine, there was Beyond Mentors Community Care Initiative, which was birthed in 2007. I was working with a mortgage bank, and I felt that okay, why did I even go into banking at all? Why did I read law? I am not a passionate lawyer, right? So, I felt like, okay, if I made those mistakes, let me start doing something about it. And I started going to secondary schools, talking to them about career; talking to them about financial literacy. Financial literacy was even born out of somebody who saw me doing counselling, and he said: ‘Why don’t you add financial literacy to it?’ Because one of the biggest challenges we have in a particular section of the country is that they do not have financial literacy. You find a typical Nigerian guy from that section of the country having millions of naira under his box in the market; instead of taking it to the bank, he would leave it there. And once, God forbid, the market gets burnt, all the cash id gone; and then it affects us directly or indirectly. It affects the economy. So, what am I saying? All the work I’ve done is my attempt to take action about the things I write about, the things I’m passionate about. So, we were doing that. And then one time, SI magazine did a story on Child Sexual Abuse (in 2006), and then we saw the number, the rate of the epidemic on child sexual abuse. Now, we are not an NGO; we cannot do advocacy. So, we needed Beyond Mentors to take that up. So, we created an advocacy on that Beyond Mentors, called Women Community in Africa.
That’s another organisation?
Yes. What we planned to do at that time; we wanted to do a summit in 2017. We wanted it to be big because we were scared at the astronomical figures about child sexual abuse. We said, how do we get the legislators to do something? How do we sensitise the community, our society and all that? So, we felt that we do a large summit in my head. It will go a long way. So, we planned to bring Oprah. Yes, I went to the United States. I went to the UN Office in New York. I submitted an invite, submitted one to Whoopie Goldberg because I was trying to get to Oprah and Michelle Obama. But then finally, when we were getting a headway, they now asked us how do they get endorsement for us here? When one of the people that we sent the invite to got back to us; how do they get endorsements from the government here? They needed protection. So, we went to one of the aides of the then Senate President. She said what is the price? Because he had to be part of the summit, blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to go into details and the whole thing was now about them. It was not about the issue that we were looking at. It now became about Oprah that was coming. And that got to me. Now, at the end of the day, we were not able to establish any endorsement, so we could not continue the process of bringing them. It was heartbreaking. But I shook up myself. We were in the process of creating women community in Africa. There’s a colleague of mine called Dr. Beedie; she came in from England. She left her family and she’s been working with us since 2017 with Beyond Mentors Community Care. So, she became my co-founder for Women Community in Africa. And then she said, why don’t we just do this thing ourselves and let the awareness go out? So, last year, in October, we had a conference and it was awesome.
Do you have other agencies within or without, that you partner with?
We partner with NGOs like Life Builders’ Initiatives. They’re the ones that created Schools Without Walls in Abuja, IDP camps in Kushingoro and in Wase. They have schools there; so we partner with them because there’s a product for Beyond Mentors called “rags to riches”; it is a club. So, we took that club to those places.
Some people have described you as simplicity personified. How do you feel about that kind of description?
I’m just being me. You know, it’s everybody’s perception. Some see me differently. Some people see me as one big dragon with big horns and a very long tail. So, I don’t think that I am different from anybody. I think that’s just being me. I just love to be genuine.
Some people see you as their role model; so, you give people hope and encourage them and all that. Who’s your role model?
My role model? Number one is the person I was named after. I was named after Khadija, the first wife of Prophet Muhammed (SAW). I read her story; she was a very humble, simple lady. Very wealthy woman who packed all the things that she had and handed them to her husband. And the husband was running her business. The second person I was named after; she is my dad’s sister. She was a businesswoman; my aunt, I was named after her. She was a very strict lady with values. She had lots of high standards. She’s one of my role models and then my mom, she’s also my role model because of the kind of the way she treats people; she snatches my friends. All the friends that I have now are like her children. They call her more than they call me. I also learn from other people; everybody is my teacher.
How did you get to become the vice presidential candidate to ANN? How did you get connected? I mean with Fela Durotoye?
They found me. Like I told you, I was lying down on my bed after the day’s work. I was going to bed and my friend, Tawa, from Lagos, we went to Law School together. She called me one night like around 10:30pm to 11pm and she said: ‘Khadijah, one Fela Durotoye wants you to deputise him. I started laughing, that are you crazy? Are you crazy? Are you serious? I said: ‘Tawa, I will call you back’. That was when I went to meet my husband; he was standing, when he heard what I had to say, he sat down. He was like, ‘Okay, I’m coming’. Then he went downstairs and came back and that was when he put the question to me: ‘Is it you that they called? Have you thought about it? Have you really thought about it? Maybe it’s the work that you have been doing, and God wants you to serve on a larger scale. And I was like: ‘Vice president? Are you really listening to me? Vice president? I was freaking out. And it took me about three weeks to allow it to settle in my being. It took me throughout the election to start breathing again. So, I think it was a valuable experience. It helped me to fight those demons that were in my head, those demons kept limiting me, that I cannot be more than I can be. I used to think less of myself. So, that experience helped me to fight those demons that were always putting those thoughts in my head. But this journey helped me and Fela Durotoye was one of the people that helped me. He was such a nice gentleman; he and the chairman of our party. They all encouraged me.
How did you become the National Secretary of the ANN?
The same way. Now, after the election and all that, I went to do my yearly soul searching; I usually travel out of the country. This time I went to Ummrah and some other places and I came back. The day I came back, they summoned me to the head office, the ANN head office. I was sitting down and the next thing they were nominating me for the National Secretary job, something I did not plan; there was somebody occupying that position. They said they just needed me there and at the end of the day, I left. And even when I left, they had a vote, they voted and they still nominated me. So, this particular role, I felt that I do not have any right to say no, because like you talked about role modelling. I’ve already become a role model to some girls. I have been telling them to take personal responsibility and also explore the opportunity of leadership. If I keep running away from positions, what am I telling them?
Now, what dictates your dressing?
Comfortability and decency. I have to be comfortable. Everything I have to do is intentional about the role modelling figure that I have become. There are young ones looking up to you. Ever since the election, my number of mentees have increased. It is a lot of pressure but it’s welcome since I love to mentor, I think motherhood comes with mentoring. Everything is all fused into one. So, I cannot dress differently from the kind of being that I want. I know who I am. I know what I represent. And my dressing has to be in line with that person that I am.
What is your philosophy of life?
I have a lot of philosophies and one of them is doing unto others what you want to be done to you? I laughed last month when my last born was talking to others saying: ‘Okay, continue, do unto others, what you did to me will be done unto you.’ I just saw myself echoing in her. It is the golden rule. What you think that you don’t want others to do to you, don’t do it to other people.
So, what motivates you? What’s your passion?
Service; I think that service is my motivation. People think that just praying five times daily is what is about worship. I think worship is deeper than that. My motivation is service; every day I wake up, I’m thinking of the larger part of what I’m going to do for the day, which is service. Coming in here, sitting down with my creative team, talking to them about what and how you can send our messages, impact on people’s lives. All those things motivate me to get up in the morning, and the money is the smallest, tiniest part of it all. I cannot say we don’t need money. We need money because money makes it all sustainable; the demand and supply, the kind of thing needed, all is about money. You need money to let this chain of service work. So, it is the tiniest part of the motivation for us to get enough money to let the work continue for it to be sustainable. I think the biggest thing in life is for you to sow seeds that germinate and people take those seeds that germinate to become a tree or a fruit that people continue to eat long after you have left the stage of this lifetime.
You’ve been defined as an activist and also a politician, which of these two do you prefer?
Activist. Activism is what determines my personality. Activist in the fact that I frown at a lot of things that happen to us and what the government is not doing enough about. Let me use one singular thing that annoys me: the VAPP Act, Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. They have related ones. Most of it are implementable in Abuja. This is a law that affects every human in this country and even beyond this country. Why is it not implementable in other states? Why are they not looking at those things? So, as a politician, you are a vehicle that transports this activism up there. Because if you don’t have a platform, you don’t have the power to ensure that these things that you are passionate about, you are talking about, are done. You are just like a barking dog. So, that’s why I wouldn’t discard politics. And I know that is how God is somehow pushing me into politics for me to be able to deliver on those things that He has inspired inside of me that He has pushed me to do, that He has created inside of me. Making me the kind of being He wants me to be. So, He knows that the only vehicle that can achieve this kind of things He has put inside of me is through politics.
You are from Kaduna?
I am a Nigerian born in Kaduna.
What do you think should be done boost girl-child education in the north?
That is one of the things we do in Beyond Mentors Community Care Initiatives. When we started, we were going into communities in Kaduna and here in Abuja, to talk to maybe these title holders in the villages in the grassroots; talking to them about why these children should be off the streets from selling things and getting them into school. I think that one of the best things you can add to any human being is education. And education doesn’t have to be through the four walls of the classroom. It comes in different forms. We always limit education to the four walls of the classroom; it is beyond that. Some people who went through the four walls of the classroom are still not educated in Nigeria; the way they behave is disheartening and it gets to me and I’m like, what is this? So, giving a girl-child education is like giving the entirety of humanity education, because the girl-child has a special venture that’s been put inside of her; the special gift that God has given her. I’m not also discarding or disregarding the male child because one day, all these things that we’re talking about the girl child, one uneducated male child will destroy all the values that you have put inside the girl child. So, there’s a need to also educate the male child. So, a girl child, like everybody knows, is a person that whatever you give to her, she brings it out in a better form. And she’s the one that has the platform that God has given to her, a divine platform, all power to educate more people. This is what I tell my younger ones- my brothers, my mentees; I tell them that when you stop a woman from working, you have deprived her of the essential of the being that she is. So, I’m saying that giving a girl child education is beyond what you can see, it is bigger than what anybody can imagine.
The 35% affirmation didn’t sail through in the last Constitution amendment. Some other countries have it in their constitution and they practise it. It has affected the country, especially in the National Assembly. Do you think that the committees on women affair and women in Parliament in the National Assembly, both chambers, should do more for it to come to pass?
I think they should find effective solutions or maybe creative solutions to ensure that there are more women in governance. These are the things I said I’m going to talk about. I think that’s why Nigerians and I think all over the world, we have that problem of gender diversity and I don’t think that it has anything to do with maybe female representatives or women. The society is structured into masculinity. The society is structured in such a way that everything is masculine in nature. Look at the corporate world, and corporate governance, all the things, the skills they need, they are highly competitive. All those things that they need you to do are very masculine. So, I think they structure the society to be like that, like a fast-paced world, that they believe that a woman cannot meet up with it. So, these are the reasons and we the women are allowed to believe in that fable and we allow it. This is why the Women Ministry or women action groups are not doing enough to push that agenda. Because they too somehow have been programmed in their minds that we’re supposed to be subtle. We’re supposed to be women, and yes, I agree. I love feminism. I love my girly girly thing; you can see the walls of my office is purple. But then, the structure of the whole governance cycle and corporate governance, and all those things need to be restructured to accommodate people who are not competitive, but who are so creative enough to contribute to the growth of the community and society. There should be some kind of give and take; there should be some kind of balance for us because if we do not change our mindset about understanding why this 35% female gender diversity is important, we will not be able to move ahead and the programing is not only in men or women. It has to be collective programming, the reset of the mind.
I’m sure so many people have told you in the past that you are beautiful. So, how do you ward off male advances?
Thank you. I guess when you talk to me, you know your limits. I had those kinds of problems. After the election, I think my profile rose and I think more men are scared to even ever talk to me about it anymore. Those kinds of thing or advances have reduced like 75 percent. Now, they’re now seeing more of what is inside of me. And I think that a lot of people keep thinking that they have to do some things for you to get ahead. And so many times, people are saying that you’re always talking, you’re not getting sponsors or support and that I know what to do. And I’m like, what am I supposed to do? So, in other words, I understand those tiny undertones but I don’t give them weight. I am grateful to God Almighty that He has given me a good husband, a perfect father to my children. And I think the love of my life is God Almighty. So, whatever I do to my husband is derived from the love I have for him. It is not about me being special. There are temptations; life is like that. But what keeps and helps me is the ultimate love and connection I have with God. If you say you love somebody, you need to run away from disobeying him. I would not tell you that I am perfect. Sometimes, these things happen and you are confused and I don’t know what to do. But somehow, God always helps me out. And now I do not even have those kinds of issues anymore because everybody already understands what I stand for. You don’t leave room for men. Once the conversation starts and sometimes it does start, when it starts and then you remind them of why you are there and you change the conversation to the main focus.