MOHAMMED: Living For A Good Name, Truth
When she was a little girl, Maryam Shehu Mohammed, daughter of the then Chief Justice of Kaduna State and later Supreme Court Justice, chose to be friendly with an odd stranger. Every day, she would save her lunch and then sneak out of the family house to give it to a mentally ill woman, who usually sat in front of Lugard Hall in the late 80’s. She would wait till food was served at home and it was time for the Islamiyya lesson in the late afternoon. On the way, and unknown to her siblings, she would tiptoe to the mad woman’s place, drop the food and watch with satisfaction from a distance, as her beneficiary pick the parcel of food to eat.
This continued until one day, when her mother, Hajiya Iya caught her in the act of stuffing food into her bag. Upon enquiry, she had learned of little Maryam’s noble mission and so, rather than rebuke her; she encouraged her daughter to continue the act of kindness, after cautioning her to be careful.
“I got this spirit of charity from my parents. As far back as I can remember, our family house at Dendo Road in Kaduna State was always filled with relatives and kinsmen my parents treated, as their own children,” she recalls.
Currently, a Ph.D. scholar at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where she is reading Law, the last child of eight children had her primary and secondary education at the Sacred Heart Primary School, Kaduna and Federal Government Girls College, Bakori, Katsina State. She’s a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow, a public management track. She attended Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland and is also a 2015 Associate Fellow of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative. Her privileged background and educational qualifications notwithstanding, Maryam’s passion for the less privileged is still unwavering.
Her educational background as a Law officer at a government property development company in Abuja did not stop her from becoming the coordinator of the Charity to Cheers Foundation (C2C). The Foundation made of 40 professionals of “like-minds” has its main focus on health. It recently sponsored a free cataract surgery for 100 indigent people in Bauchi and Gombe States.
“We were able to touch 50 lives in Bauchi State and another 50 in Gombe State. We have a strategic medical partner in the person of Dr. Farouk Garba, who is also a Mandela Washington Fellow. We went to the Morgan State University in the United States of America together. He is currently an intern with C2C. He single-handedly conducted 40 of the 50 cataract surgeries in Bauchi State and left the remaining 10 for the Resident Doctors.
“C2C is a charity set up by a group of young professionals, who have taken it upon themselves to fund the association, as well as facilitate access to healthcare regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or religion for the less privileged.
“The first indigent that brought us together was Auwal, who I met on the streets of Abuja, begging in the traffic around the THISDAY dome. He had an obvious case of severe elephantiasis. I stopped and engaged him on his condition and he told me he needed to raise funds for treatment at a hospital in Kano State. He explained that he would stop begging on the streets as soon as he was able to raise the amount needed for his medical treatment.
“The money needed was N300, 000, but we were able to raise over N700, 000 in seven days through blackberry messenger and other social media platforms. Through Amina, who is one of us and her contacts, we were able to raise most of the money. The first donation was N150, 000. Amina’s brother in Kano State waited for Auwal to come to Kano so he could take him to the scheduled hospital, but the elephantiasis patient never showed up.
“After a while, we understood that Auwal never wanted to get treated but preferred to go, according to him, to the Synagogue Church in Lagos for prayers. At the end of the day, the money donated was still dormant in my account and in my name. So, I had to start locating the donors to return their monies but almost all of them refused to collect back the money, insisting we re-channel it to another under-privileged person with the health challenge.”
Eventually, Maryam and her associates had to give the money to F’uad a cancer patient in Maiduguri, who wanted to go to India for treatment. After this episode, they decided to stay together to intervene in more humanitarian work with the focus on healthcare and scholarships.
“So, every month I got numerous bank account alerts on donations from members and after one year, we decided to formalise and register the group as a charity under Corporate Affairs Commission Act,” she explains.
Full of smiles, she describes her only son, eight-year-old Usman as a gift from God and one who gives her life a balance. In an emotion-laden voice, she went down memory lane in remembrance of her late father, former Supreme Court Justice Shehu Mohammed, who died in 1993 and who, according to her, was an epitome of integrity.
“Till date, whenever my father’s name is mentioned, people speak of him as a man of principles. I was a bit of a tomboy as a child. Growing up was fun. My dad would have related well with my passion for the less privileged had he been alive because we always had a full house of relatives that lived with us and he happily nurtured all of us on integrity and honesty.
“He was a disciplinarian and a man who totally believed in justice, equity and sincerity. My favourite time with him was when he would put me through my homework because I guess he knew I preferred climbing trees.
“I recently re-watched a send-forth video of him and it was like he was talking live to me again. He kept saying, ‘never forget where you are coming from. Leave a good name so that whenever people remember you, they would do so with smiles on their faces because you were good to them. And if they are not smiling, they should be able to remember you scolded them because you told them the truth. Be honest, be truthful,” she says.
Maryam readily admits that combining her position, as a Law officer at a government property development company in Abuja and coordinating a charity group is hard work. She, however, explains that the task is made easier because she spends her spare time and leave period to handle the foundation. And with the aid of newer information technology and social media, she is able to run it smoothly.
The fact that the organisation is being run by other intelligent and resourceful people is also an advantage.
“The Charity group is full of brilliant, engaging people such as Usman Bawa, who was a former member of the House of Representative in the National Assembly. Another member is Hadiza Osori, whose organisational ability is outstanding. Then there is Amina, her public relations is notable. All other members also have their individual strength,” she says.
In 2014, out of 50, 000 applicants from Africa, Maryam was one of the 500 candidates that emerged successful in a very competitive selection process for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellowship. The platform not only provided an opportunity to travel to the United States, but it also expanded her horizon on leadership principles. There, she met strategic people in leadership, including President Barrack Obama.
Of the experience she says: “Like they say, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’ The Fellowship helped me in aligning my vision to be better than I was. I also learned to expect more of myself because as human beings, we have such great potentials but we don’t sometimes realise it unless we are placed on that platform, where you can have a worldview and see things from a very realistic and practical perspective.
“Before the Fellowship, I wanted the Charity to be just a little quiet. But after the programme, I realised that people believe more in me and really wanted to work with me. After I returned, I qualified as a 2015 Nigeria Leadership Initiative Associate, which focuses on potentials of the average Nigerian. Coincidentally, the networking and contacts at the YALI fellowship (Dr. Farouk Garba) and the Leadership Initiative enabled C2C link with the telecommunication group, Etisalat for the eye surgeries through Mohammed Sule.”
Maryam’s Foundation also offers scholarships to some orphans, who are in two categories. These include the 16 financially challenged children in Kaduna, whose school fees have been paid annually for the past three years.
“The second set of the scholarship beneficiaries are some identified children living with their grandmothers and whom we have been sponsoring for three years,” she states.
With more financial ability, Maryam is optimistic that the group would be able to achieve its goal to assist Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) victims, as well as address the reproductive health of women and girls suffering from this social problem. Reports have shown that about one million females are affected in Nigeria.