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Islamic Hausa Tradition And Western Education Can Co-exist — Tangaza

Mrs Jamilah TangazaThere was an amiable aura around her and it was easy to see she is humble. This was later confirmed, when she hinted that her late father inculcated in all his children the virtue of respecting people. Her first exclamation was ‘Ha at last!’ and she began to apologise profusely for a failed previous meeting. With the air of someone in firm control of her actions, she ushered The Guardian into her official schedule and personal life. Moving with so much elegance and grace, she intermittently punched keys on her laptop, while the chat lasted. For someone that holds the ace to all the information pertaining to lands and all other natural endowments in the Federal Capital of Nigeria, Mrs. Jamilah Tangaza cannot but be constantly abreast of happenings around her. 

The Amazon of the Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS) was born into a polygamous family in Kano some 45 years ago. With a father that believed strongly in both the Islamic tenets and Western education, and a quiet, but firm Fulani mother at the background, young Jamilah was grounded in both Islamic and Western education.

Today, she is the Executive Director of AGIS. Married at the age of 15 and with her first daughter arriving almost immediately afterwards, Jamilah with her husband’s approval proceeded to enrol for her WAEC and GCE simultaneously. Her young husband, a graduate and secondary school teacher, encouraged Jamilah to fly as high as her wings would carry her.

Listening to her story, one is tempted to conclude that she was lucky and had it all. But can one really survive on an empty plate of hope? But with self-denial and sheer determination, she took her ‘A’ levels and got admitted to Bayero University Kano, where she earned her first degree.

Some people still believe that a woman is less intelligent, less competent and less skilful in carrying out certain tasks. But this is an office environment; I do not need brutal force to carry out my assignment. What I need basically is competence. I need computer literacy and sound education, which in my view, I have acquired from some of the world’s most renowned academic institutions. I am qualified and can adapt and fit into anywhere and deliver on my mandate in the most professional manner

She then travelled to England, where she was engaged by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) world service in London in the early 90s. While there, she bagged a Masters degree of Science (MSc) at the London School of Economics and Political Science in management, organisation and governance, specialising in the management of government agencies.

She had a research fellowship at the Oxford University, and is also Fellow of Reuter institute. She did a few courses in different places including the prestigious Harvard University.

Her appointment as the Executive Director of AGIS didn’t just happen like that. With her requisite knowledge of systems management, it was only a matter of time before an impressed Senator Bala Mohammed, former FCT minister became aware of her.

He was convinced she was destined to manage land issues in Abuja, especially with all the racketeering going on then. And so in 2012, he invited her back to Nigeria to get involved in the administration of the FCT.

“I was initially appointed as his senior special assistant on information management system,” she explains. “But after about a year on the job, I was deployed to the AGIS as the Executive Director.

There have been a lot of misconceptions about my job. Without sounding patronising, I think I need to enlighten the public on the kind of job I do here. Director AGIS is not the same thing as director of Lands. The history is that when Mallam Nasir el-Rufai was the FCT minister, he launched AGIS in 2004. Then, all powers were concentrated in the hands of the general manager of AGIS.

But when another minister came in the person of Dr. Aliyu Umar Madibo, he separated the tasks and created two separate departments: AGIS and the Directorate of Land administration. So now, there are two directors in this building. “The director of Lands is the one solely responsible for the allocations, revocations, deeds and all such related tasks.

As the director of AGIS, I have to ensure that the premises are secured for good working condition. I have to ensure that the computer systems and the entire infrastructure upon which land administrative system is based, is looked after and managed well.

So, essentially, I am the one that is managing the computer systems, with the aim of ensuring efficiency, transparency and all issues that will ensure better service to the public.”

As everyone that matters desires plots of land in Abuja, the job of the Executive Director of AGIS is definitely not a tea party.

This, coupled with the bias on the part of society, where specific jobs have been assigned to women, Tangaza says some men had been disappointed upon discovering that she is the one in charge of AGIS; and not just a woman, but also a Muslim from the core north, where women are most times seen and not heard.

“Mine is perceived to be a hot seat because there is a lot of demands, what with people coming to ask for land,” she says. “But I usually tell them the truth, which is that I don’t dispense lands. I am not the FCT Minister.

Land allocation is definitely not in the schedule of AGIS director. It falls to the lot of director of Lands and it has always been like that.

“I have actually heard someone saying that all these technical departments should not be headed by a woman. That statement shocked me.

He actually said it without the realisation that I am the director of AGIS and he is a very senior official. Talking about a prejudiced society, the truth is that unfortunately; there still exists lots of bias when it comes to gender. Some people still believe that a woman is less intelligent, less competent and less skilful in carrying out certain tasks.

But this is an office environment; I do not need brutal force to carry out my assignment. What I need basically is competence. I need computer literacy and sound education, which in my view, I have acquired from some of the world’s most renowned academic institutions.

I am qualified and can adapt and fit into anywhere and deliver on my mandate in the most professional manner.  “I believe strongly that for you to have good sense of coordination, organisation and service delivery, you need to have women, if not at the top, but you need to have women in some key management and strategic positions because they have the natural ability to organise and coordinate things in a very effective and efficient manner.”

She became excited, when the discussion shifted to her family, cutting the picture of a fulfilled married woman, who would always choose her immediate family, if given an option. Jamilah insists she has been lucky indeed, as she has enjoyed her husband’s full support all along.

“It’s very difficult, although I must say it is a lot easier now that I am back in Nigeria than when I was in the UK. In my previous job as a journalist, we used to have night shifts and I remembered that with two little children then, I used to worry a lot. I would fret over who to be with them, pick them up from school and all that because it was either my husband or I. And when the two of us had to work, it was even more challenging then.

“Also, we were in an environment I didn’t consider home; no neighbour, aunt or relatives I could fall back on for help. You are basically on your own; so it was a lot more difficult then. And the good thing is that I am the only one in Nigeria now, my family is still in London.

So, I put a lot of time and energy in my work. I go back home late and just sleep. It is basically a cycle. My son came to Nigeria last year to do his NYSC after his Masters degree and he is heading back to London. My daughter is a qualified geo-physicist and works with an oil company in London.

“There has not been a day my husband and me clashed over work because he wants me to work. Even while in England, there were times each of us would be at home at different times because we were working shifts and all that.

After working in a place like England for 21 years as a family, you get to accept the fact that you need to make sacrifices based on the objectives you have set for yourselves. I think that was what made my husband and I to be able to weather the storms. I am very grateful to him and for the fact that we are here today laughing about it and the children are all grown up.

Things are definitely less stressful than they were some 15 years ago.” Jamilah is of the view that one can acquire both the Islamic and Western education without any conflict. She advises Northern parents to allow their gild acquire Western education, as it would better their lots among their peers.   “I need my people from northern Nigeria to understand that times are changing.

The main message I want to deliver is that the two cultures, which seem to always be in conflict, can actually co-exist. What I am saying is that the Islamic Hausa tradition and the English Western tradition can comfortably sit together without any conflict. I know this because I have gone through it. I did not stop getting education until I found myself in some of the most renowned institutions of the world.

I sit here today and it all sounds very easy, but it was not easy in the least, it was tough and demanding.  “Sometimes people disrespect you and you get condescending attitudes from people just because you chose to be educated.

However, I believe the perception and attitude are changing, compared to how it was some 30 years ago, when I was growing up as a teenager.

Then, people would say, ‘oh she won’t be respectful of marriage,’ ‘she is going to school and mixing with men.’

But today, things are different. What I have gone through is demonstrative of the fact that a woman can go to school, maintain her dignity and honour, as well as acquire the Western education, which will equip and give her the skill to compete in the world market.

Mrs Jamilah Tangaza1“So, basically what I am saying to our men in the North is that they should allow their daughters go to school. The only thing they need do is to teach these children the traditional values and culture.

The children should be well-grounded and then left to their intuitions because today’s young people have the ability to make analysis. Because of the modern age and all that goes with it, they are able to make projections and understand that it is good to be educated.

“But aside this, Western education helps you maintain your identity because that way, you have a lot of self-respect and people will get to know you and treat you for who you are, for what you have upstairs rather than patronise you. I think that is my message.”

I need my people from northern Nigeria to understand that times are changing. The main message I want to deliver is that the two cultures, which seem to always be in conflict, can actually co-exist. What I am saying is that the Islamic Hausa tradition and the English Western tradition can comfortably sit together without any conflict. I know this because I have gone through it. I did not stop getting education until I found myself in some of the most renowned institutions of the world. I sit here today and it all sounds very easy, but it was not easy in the least, it was tough and demanding 

Most Nigerian men, especially from the North would not allow their new bride step out of the house, but it seems Mr. Tangaza is a special breed. Would his wife, therefore, attribute her success to him for allowing her return to school after marriage?   “I wouldn’t necessarily attribute my success him only because he was also young then and basically grew up in my neighbourhood.

In fact, he was almost brought up in my father’s care because he is a son to my father’s friend. If you are familiar with Northern Nigeria, you’ll know that most of our marriages are like that.

My husband and I were under my father’s care and so the force behind us was my late father, as he was the one that provided all the things I needed to go to school, money and all.

Then, my husband was a secondary school teacher, who just finished his Youth Service. Being a young teacher, it would have been quite difficult for him to singlehandedly sponsor me the way my father did. But great kudos must be given to my husband because if he hadn’t agreed, I would not have been able to go back to school. It was definitely his permission and understanding that enabled me go out there to achieve and I am grateful to God for where I am today”.

With the trio of a father, who believed so much in Western education and strong Islamic values alongside a mother, who though in the background was very firm and a husband that allowed her spread her wings and fly, Jamilah’s job as the Executive Director of AGIS is the least contribution she could make to Nigeria. And for her, who put aside every comfort and scaled all the hurdles, the sky is her starting point indeed.

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