Fatimah Mohammed Habib is a humanitarian, girl-child advocate and the founder of Advocacy for Human Value Foundation (AHVF). In this interview by KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she speaks about her passion for humanitarianism and her work in marginalised and conflict-prone communities.
Was there anything about your childhood or the community you grew up in that inspired your passion for humanitarian work?
Yes, my family. Right from childhood, my family prepared me for the challenges that life has to offer. My family has abundant love for people, irrespective of who they are and where they came from. This, more than anything has taught me to love, respect and help people. Growing under the supervision of a caring and loving family has increased my social values, interaction with others and overall well-being. I am the first born amongst my five other siblings.
You are a feminist, a gender advocate, and a Muslim woman from Borno State where patriarchy and Islamic conservationism are pronounced. How do you navigate these socio-cultural and religious challenges in your line of work?
According to the United Nations, “Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just a goal in itself, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, peace and security.” I am not a feminist but strongly believe that women and girls should be provided with all the rights the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad SAW have already stipulated for us in terms of education and other opportunities so long as one would not deviate from the path of one’s religion even though some societies are clearly trying hard to step on them notwithstanding the Islamic implication.
You are the founder of Advocacy for Human Value Foundation (AHVF). Tell us about it and how long you have been running it?
Advocacy for Human Value Foundation is known for impacting the lives of people in marginalised communities and conflict-prone societies by providing assistance such as funding and enrolling children in schools, feeding the needy during the Holy month of Ramadan, providing clean water, paying hospital bills for the less privileged, advocating on gender-based violence related issues such as menstrual hygiene management and child sexual exploitation.
The organisation has been operating for about 5 years now, and we are in about 12 states in Nigeria and currently expanding to Ghana and the republics of Cameroon and Niger. We run the organisation with the funding we get from people mostly and sometimes we use our personal money to run other projects that need immediate interventions.
What recent work did your foundation undertake and how the targeted people/communities benefited from it.
Recently, we worked on menstrual hygiene management advocacy. In the course of the advocacy, school children between the ages of puberty were introduced to menstrual hygiene and sanitary pads were distributed so as to help them fight infections and stop them from using dirty rags.
We also worked on well drilling to provide thousands of those living in the community access to clean water in some parts of Maiduguri and Jere local government areas of Borno State.
You once posited that “Girl-child education is a tool that can change the world.” Tell us about your work on girls’ education and how such work is changing narratives in local communities.
Yes we did and we have been doing it. My organisation has been trying as much as possible to sponsor girls-education and also empower them to gain some skills they can depend on after school. Even, recently, we tactfully disengaged some girls from hawking and enrolled them in schools in Kogi and Bauchi states knowing fully well that they have the passion to study. We all have collective responsibility in changing the narrative that ‘girls should not have access to education’. To God be the glory, we are steadily achieving that goal.
I suppose you are aware of the Chibok schoolgirls’ adoption and the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Did you advocate or participate in the campaign?
Yes I did. In fact, I was actively involved from the beginning of the campaign. my current work spurred into existence as a result of how my people were suffering from the clutches of insurgency that engulfed our region and how badly the impact has affected their way of reasoning and livelihood.
How would you rank the governor of Borno State in terms of girls’ rights and women’s empowerment?
If I say that my governor, the Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum is the best governor in the whole of the 195 countries of the world, is to say the least, an understatement. As you obviously know, he is not only keen on girls’ rights, child education and youth empowerment, but a household name in Nigeria and West Africa due to his burning and genuine desire to emancipate, liberate and provide succour to the teeming populace of his state scattered all over the country and the shores of Lake Chad region as a result of insurgency. Actually, as can be attested to, he has been performing so marvellously that I am recommending other state governors to emulate him. He is unassumingly real in all ramifications.
He is also poised and sensitive to the sensitivities of his people so much that today in Nigeria wherever you visit and people get to know you are from Borno State, your head is held high as he has brought fame and pride to the people of Borno State. Do not forget that in not too distant past, during the heydays of Boko Haram, Borno State was used to be addressed as Kandahar and Baghdaza but that narrative has effectively and squarely metamorphosed into peace and love, courtesy of the pragmatic leadership provided by the governor.
Borno State is one of the major states under the siege of terrorism. If you were the president of Nigeria, how would you return peace and development in that state?
Realistically and politically speaking, being from a socio-cultural and religiously guarded society, as a woman, I have never thought or envisaged myself as the president of Nigeria; so returning peace and development via my handiwork in that capacity is unthinkable. However, as a student of politics, I am of the modest belief and conviction that when the governor, who is ideally the chief security officer of his state, is given the leverage to provide guide and leadership with the support and active involvement of our traditional rulers, the security challenge and other social vices would be nipped in the bud.
Whether it is palatable or unpalatable, the involvement of locals and host communities in the administration of their own security is strategic and key to safety and security of Nigeria as a country.
How do you source for funds for your humanitarian work?
We have development partners and sponsors, and sometimes we do seek for donations from social media. Initially, we used to face the challenge of funding which is hardly sorted because you always need funds to carry out projects, running the organisation while struggling with school. But Alhamdulillah, we were able to overcome some of the challenges and here we are waxing stronger.
Apart from humanitarian work, what other job/business do you do?
I am a jack of all trades. I love to do many things for fun, but I am never good with business so I went to a culinary school, because I hate doing nothing, and became a private chef. I am currently studying French in a Language School and wish to do many other legitimate things that would give me platform for self-development and growth.
Recently, during your father’s last birthday, you wrote highly of him. Tell us one thing he did for you as a child, and one thing he did for you as a woman that you would always remember him for.
He has always been my guardian angel. He taught me how to read and build up my confidence because I used to be a very shy baby while growing up. While in school, whenever I had any argument with my classmates pertaining anything studies, I would just take my phone and call my father because I trust that, modestly speaking, no one is ever as intelligent and versatile as he is. For instance, sometimes my friends would be discussing on a topic where my dad is a master and very good at, through the phone he would just address the thorny areas and everybody would be happy afterwards.
In fact, some of my colleagues even named me as a daughter to Aristotle. So funny, but cute.
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