Atiku Abubakar, the Turaki Adamawa, is serene.">
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The atmosphere in and around the premises of the home of the second citizen, the Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, the Turaki Adamawa, is serene.
The atmosphere in and around the premises of the home of the second citizen, the Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, the Turaki Adamawa, is serene.
The serenity is profound and almost tangible. As you enter into the sprawling compound situated on the fringes of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, opposite (even though widely separated from each other) the Supreme Court complex, the reality dawns on you that this is an enclave of power , where the Turaki holds court.
But the business of the day is not with Atiku Abubakar himself but rather with the woman who has held the Turaki of Adamawa spellbound since they got married over three decades ago with her humility, good character and seeming unfading beauty. And as an aide leads the way to the office for the business, I was ushered into a princely enclosure where Hajia (Dr.) Titilayo Amina Atiku Abubakar, 55, grandmother and wife of the Vice President attends to official business ranging from the activities of her pet project- Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF). Enjoy this encounter with Hajia (Dr.) Titilayo Amina Atiku Abubakar, who is today being conferred with the honorary Doctor of Science (Social Work) by the University of Calabar.
Congratulations on the conferment of the honorary Doctor of Science (Social Works) on you by the University of Calabar. What does this honour mean to you? How do you feel being honoured by the University of Calabar?
You see for somebody to be honoured by some people, the people must have seen something in that person. But to be frank with you, I do not know what this university has seen in me; but I will say to you that I feel humbled and honoured to be given this award- (Doctor of Science in Social Work). You know that University of Calabar is an old generation university and it is possible this is an appreciation of the work I am doing in trying to restore the human dignity back into the society. Perhaps, they are impressed with my modest contributions. This kind of recognition will certainly spur me to do more of those things that I know how best to do.
Beyond this honorary award, are there plans by you towards the acquisition of the academic doctorate as some recipients do?
In the first place, I never asked this university for this honorary doctorate because it is a place I have never even visited. I have never been to Calabar.
I have been going round the States, trying to sensitize the youths and the women there, but, I have never been to Calabar. So, even when I got the letter, it came to me as a surprise that University of Calabar, being one of the old generation universities in Nigeria wrote to me to inform me that it has considered me worthy of this honour. As for the academic doctorate award, you will agree with me that learning is a continuous process and going to school enhances that process. It is of interest to me to further my education and learning is exciting and continuous as there is no end to it. You do not know it all. I will confirm to you that it is my ambition to pursue my postgraduate studies in Public Administration to the height, which many people have attained in life. My graduate study was not in Public Administration; my initial line was Catering; but by the grace of God, I will get to the height of my postgraduate studies in Public Administration.
Looking at the position you occupy, for the past six years, you have run the home front of the second citizen from the fringes (the residence and office of the Vice President) of the Presidential Villa. How has it been? How have you been able to cope with the pressure of people coming for motherly advice and assistance?
To me, it is just like a normal life because I am a very hardworking person. Even before we came to the Presidency, I was a lecturer in Kaduna Polytechnic for ten years. I have always combined my teaching job with my household chores or responsibilities. I love taking care of my family. So, to me, I do not see any difference in what I am doing now compared to what I was doing before.
You come across as a very humble person. How did you imbibe the culture of humility? Has it anything to do with your upbringing or your nature?
I cannot speak for myself. It is people who see me that will judge me. So, the people are the judges. But I will say to you that that is my nature; that was how God created me; it is not about pretensions. If I pretend, for how long will I pretend to be humble if I am not naturally humble?
Did your upbringing help to prepare you for this experience?
Yes. I am from a very humble background and very disciplined background too. I have a Christian background and my parents were very disciplined. I believe the totality of these helped in molding my character, commitment and dedication to duty.
Could you tell us more about your upbringing?
I was born in Lagos to the Albert family. We are from Ilesa, but they (the family) settled in Lagos. My primary and secondary education was in Catholic schools; after my secondary education, I got married and it was in my husbandís house I went to Kaduna Polytechnic and I started having my own family.
How did you meet your husband?
You know, my husband, as a young Customs man, was then serving at Idi-Iroko, but we met in Lagos; and, he proposed to me and it was very difficult because my parents never wanted me to marry a northerner. We really had it tough. But with persuasion, they succumbed and we got married.
What was the attraction? Was it love at first sight?
It was not love at first sight. He did not just see me and said he wanted to marry me. He had been watching me and he saw, like you said my humility and quietness, and he fell in love with me. But I told him I had to pursue my education, that I just finished my school certificate examination. He promised that even if I am in his house, that he was going to do all these things for me. He promised my parents and he actually fulfilled his promise.
What would you consider the most defining moment of your life?
What I consider to be so critical in my life is when I wanted to get married to my husband, because it was a real tug of war. My family never wanted me to marry him. There was nobody in Lagos that did not know that I wanted to marry this handsome Fulani man because my mother was going from house to house, appealing to people, telling them to come and talk to me that I should not marry this man, that if I married this man, I was going to lose my identity and that the man was an Hausa man and not from Kano that they used to hear about. He (Atiku) is not from Kaduna, but they said he is from Gongola (old Gongola). She said she understood that Gongola was not even on the map of Nigeria, that I was going to get lost. So, my mother never liked it at all that this man is a Muslim; this man is an Hausa man. There were too many fights in the house. She never wanted me at all to marry him. But after persuasion, I never fought with her, she gave in. But she was really angry. But after so much persuasion and my husband kept sending people to her that he was going to take good care of me, that all those education she was talking about, plus my late sisterís education too that he would take care of that. At long last, my mother succumbed and we went to the Registry where we were wedded and we did the Native law and customs marriage.
Could you take stock of your achievements at WOTCLEF?
Let me start by telling you that WOTCLEF was founded by me precisely in October 1999. Before I founded this organization, I love children. You know that I lectured in Kaduna Polytechnic. I interacted with so many girls. I saw so many girls in the classrooms. I was interested in their welfare because anybody that was absent in class, I was used to asking after her whereabouts and, the answer I used to get then was that they were travelling to Rome. Peopleís perception is, Rome is a Christian country where people went to perform pilgrimage. So, as a lecturer myself, I went to further my education in Rome and I was there between 1986 and 1987. It was while I was there in Rome that I saw so many girls on the streets of Rome and I started asking questions.
Before that, at the Airport, it was very difficult, but I did not know why those people were doing that. They were segregating the green passports from other passports; and, the green passports would be the last ones to be checked. That I experienced at the airport. So, it was when I got inside that I saw so many black girls, not only Nigerians, on the streets of Rome. So, I was wondering what these girls must have come to do on the streets in Rome. It was there I started getting the answer, that there were some women in the society who called themselves madams, that they brought those children to Rome to work. And, I asked what sort of work?
They said prostitution. Do you call that work, I had asked? So, when I asked further, I started getting the answers that these children worked for their madams and they did not even live on the proceeds of their prostitution. So, as a wife and mother, I thought to myself that this was humiliation, and I said to myself that one day, if I am in a position to do so, I would try to restore the dignity of womanhood. So, that covenant that I made with my God, you know there is power in the tongue, I never forgot it. So, in 1999 when my husband was sworn in as Vice President, I said I must actualize the dream, the covenant I had with God and that actually made me to set up this organization in 1999 precisely October; and, when I called the meeting of the conference of the organization, many good-spirited Nigerians were there and at the end of the day, when many mothers were interviewed, they said they had never heard of the word- trafficking- that it was the first time they would hear it.
The moment we heard that workshop in October 1999, I received a letter from the United Nations, inviting me to go to Palermo because there was a transnational conference that was to take place in Palermo and trafficking was one of the agenda issues of the conference including money-laundering and so on. So, I was invited. The moment we had this conference, they started repatriating these children back into the country. When the children started arriving, I had to give them succour. When they arrived, they had to take them to Lagos and they were left with the Police. I used to write the Police to ask for a handful of them.
I would bring them here to Abuja, call good-spirited people, to counsel them. You know they were not my property, at the end of the day, and then they would take them back. But I was used to telling the girls that my doors were open to them twenty-four hours, that now they are the property of the Police, that at their own free time, because the Police only keep them for two weeks, after which they would release them to go home, whether to the traffickers to recycle them or maybe to their parents.
Is there no form of rehabilitation programme for them?
They just keep them for two weeks. But I promised them that I would rehabilitate them if they come to me and so many of these girls have come back after having gone. I had counselled over 5,000 girls, giving them succour, skills, micro-credits. Where we have the rehabilitation centre is at Wuse, Zone 2 in Abuja. In the centre, we have children; we have skill acquisition centre and then the administrative block. We put the children in school which we call opportunity school. We have them in primary, secondary, and even tertiary institutions. I have children in all of these categories. Single-handed, we went to Gabon and brought children.
When embassies know that we restore the dignity of all these children that were scattered all over the place on account of trafficking, they write to me and we would go there and bring these children back. The ones we brought back are now with us. When they came, they could not even speak English. They were speaking Pidgin English and French. But many of them now have picked up and some of them have even started secondary school; they are with us in the rehabilitation centre. We have been traveling far and wide. I have travelled to over 28 states of the federation with my team. I do not just send them to go and talk WOTCLEF.
We are all involved in the sensitization campaign. When we go to these states, we talk to the younger ones, the primary school children; they gather them together in a very big school where we talk to them and they would tell their peer groups who were not there what we have told them because we want to catch them young. We talk WOTCLEF to them and even to the ones in secondary schools and by the time we want to leave, we inaugurate what is known as the WOTCLEF Brigade. In the tertiary institutions, we have what is known as WOTCLEF Vanguard. After we have talked to all these schools, you have to talk to the parents, to guardians; so, we have a big hall where all these people are gathered together for sensitization talks, consequent upon which we set up WOTCLEF Clubs and WOTCLEF Partners among them.
On the way to Gwagwalada, Abuja, we have acquired a plot of land of about three hectares that WOTCLEF plans to build a rehabilitation centre. By the time the centre is completed, it is going to accommodate over a thousand of these trafficked victims. But since we have started this awareness campaign, people are getting aware and enlightened. You see, some people have been going to deceive parents, promising them that they were going to train their children, that they were going to give them better jobs, but because we have started this sensitization campaign, I will say that this is reducing. People keep asking that by the time we build this rehabilitation centre, this trade is no more lucrative because WOTCLEF has made it to be so. We have so many prostitutes out there. We have so many street children out there and WOTCLEF will never stop helping these under-privileged ones in the society. For some time now, we have been running a drama series on television, called Izozo.
But because of some constraints, the series has been rested in the interim. It has been a little bit difficult because we have been asking for sponsorship, as it is not easy to have these series on T.V. every week Tuesday. We are still looking for sponsorship from people and organizations so that we can carry on with weekly telecast of the Izozo drama series. Besides, WOTCLEF has given birth to an agency called NAPTIP (National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffick in Persons and Other Related Matters). I took my private bill, which was the first private bill to the National Assembly. When I went to Palermo, I saw that the Palermo Treaty was signed and when I came home, I thought of what to do. I went to African leaders to talk to them because we are all one because of the porous nature of our borders, to involve these African leaders against human trafficking. So all the African Heads were gathered and I termed it the Pan-African Conference. It was a very big conference with over 2,000 participants from all over the world not just African alone. So we had this conference and it was very successful.
Then, at the end of the day, I thought of what to do, that we couldnít just be here, talking and talking; that something has to be done. I mobilized my people and we formed a committee and the First Lady of Rivers was the Chairman of that Committee, which consisted of the Customs, Police, Immigrations, the Civil Society Groups and so many other people, lawyers as well as staff members of some ministries. When the Bill was drafted, it was taken to the National Assembly in 2001 during the time of the Senate Presidency of Senator Pius Anyim Pius. I was there in the National Assembly to defend the Bill. It passed through the law making stages and the National Assembly passed the bill which received Presidential assent in 2003 and the bill which became a law gave birth to NAPTIP. The office is there; they investigate and prosecute the traffick offenders. In that same 2003, the United Nations (UN) gave us a Consultative Status, which means that if there is any issue relating to human trafficking that is to be talked about in the UN, WOTCLEF is always regarded as the umbrella or the big sister that has brought this trafficking thing to the front burner. So, they always invite me to come and give a talk. We were there for the Beijing+5, Beijing+10, Plaermo. I was there and any other meeting or conference that relates to trafficking, I am always there on invitation to give a talk.
What is happening to the WOTCLEF Rehabilitation Centre at Giri, near Gwagwalada? Is the project still on?
Yes, the project is still on. You would notice that we have not built it. It still boils down to the constraints I have talked about earlier. Fund has been our main constraint, but it is still on. By Godís grace, that place is going to be built, because it is my baby; it is my dream and that dream has to be actualized.
What is the estimated cost of building the place?
The estimate is put at about N1 billion. By the time it is built, it will consist of the Acquisition Skills Centre, hostels for the boys and girls, church, mosque, clinic, staff quarters, sporting facilities, etc. We have not started the construction at all since Mr. President did the foundation laying.
What next after the 2004 "Battle of Hope" concert?
Yes, there was a very big conference after the "Battle of Hope" concert that was held tagged "The Women Are Coming". It was an international women conference in Abuja which was very big and very successful. It was a global convergence that I cannot easily be forgotten. It ran for almost a week.
What was the objective of the conference?
It was to bring women together so that we could talk about issues that concerned women, to place women on the platform. We do not want to fight the men, but we have to fight for our rights. At the end of the day, the conference adopted a communique that we tagged, "The Abuja Accord" that was even presented to Mr. President. It was the Federal Capital Territory Minister that was there to receive it on behalf of Mr. President. Even my husband, the Vice President, was there for the opening ceremony. Now the "Battle of Hope" concert was staged in January 2004. People living with HIV and AIDS were being discriminated against and stigmatized, but we are their friends; so, we want to show them that it is not the fault of many of them that they have this HIV infection.
We know this can be contracted through blood transfusion, sharing of needles or syringes, cutting of nails with blades or any other un-sterilized sharp objects, etc. We want to tell the world that they are partners with WOTCLEF. The "Battle of Hope" was essentially to kick HIV and AIDS out of Nigeria and at the same time, it was two-in-one. I invited artistes from abroad, especially the women artistes and women boxers to show to our girls that it is not only prostitution alone that they go to do out there, that there are some other useful things that they can do out there. That was why we brought the women artistes and boxers for our Nigerian girls to see and learn from.
There are report of waywardness on the campuses of universities, polytechnics and other tertiary institutions. Is there any specific thing that your office is doing to help combat this worrisome wave?
Yes, we have been sensitizing; we have been going round; we have so many (WOTCLEF) Vanguards in the universities and even the youth corps members. Among the corps members we have the CDS (Community Development Service) group; during orientation programmes, I always go to camps to talk to them; not all the camps, but I have been to a few camps like Kogi, Yola and Kubwa, Abuja, to sensitize them, to create awareness, to tell them about the ills of all these scourges we are talking about.
We also collaborate with the British High Commission. They give us some funds because they are in love with what we are doing; they give us some money for our IEC materials to support the NYSC/CDS group; Commercial sex workers, if I may put it this way, since we started this fight, if you go to zone 4 here in Abuja, you do not see many of them; their numbers have drastically reduced, because even the Police would not leave them. They are always on their necks driving them. Now with the HIV pandemic, the trade is no longer as lucrative as it used to be. So many people are opting out of this "prostitution business".
Against the backdrop of Mr. Presidentís anti-corruption crusade, how have you been able to combat corruption at the WOTCLEF level?
We now have a very competent, very reliable Coordinator at WOTCLEF and we have both internal and external auditors and transparency is our watchword. And, because we are transparent, people and organizations, like UNICEF, ILO, UNADC, UNFPA, etc., are ready. They are all our partners, because of our transparency; our books are open to all these people and they are very ready to work with us.
Can you forecast the future of WOTCLEF ten or fifteen years from now because the common trend has been for such laudable initiative or programme to die once the initiator is out of office?
WOTCLEF is going to outlive me. WOTCLEF has a very strong Board of Trustees in place. It is a dream that has come true. Women trafficking is a very lucrative business next on the line to arms and money laundering. It can be rated number three. But since I started this fight, it has reduced, because God has His hands in it; and, God wants this (trafficking) to come to a stop. It is not here in Nigeria alone that I am preaching WOTCLEF. I have been to many nations. Last week, I was in Ghana. I went to talk to the mothers and the youths. I have been to many countries talking WOTCLEF. So, it is not going to die a natural death. The permanent site for the building of the Rehabilitation Centre is going to be built by Godís grace.
What is your daily schedule like as wife of the Vice President, and mother? Do you have time for yourself?
I have time for myself. I even go to the gym everyday. I cook my husbandís meals. I am always in the kitchen. Before I came here to talk to you, I was in the kitchen this morning and I have sent his food to the office. I go to the gym every other day. I was in the gym yesterday and tomorrow is my day. I told you I was used to doing all these things before I came here. So, they have been part and parcel of me.
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