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People Think I’m Stingy When I Go To Market —Gombe Commissioner
Fatima Binta Bello is the Gombe State Commissioner for Women Affairs. In this chat with Tunde Ayanda in Gombe recently, she revealed her past, growing up in the barracks, her tough background, how she came into politics, her dreams, among other issues. Excerpts:
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I am the second child from a family of five children. My dad, who is late now, was a soldier. I was born in the barracks after the civil war in 1971, though I won’t say life was easy based on our growing up years. But I must give my dad the credit for making us who we are today because he gave us education.
What’s your educational background?
I am not a graduate yet, but I started my primary school where I was born at Ibusa, Delta State, before we later relocated to Gombe where I had my secondary school education. I have a diploma in Public Administration and I am presently in my final year at the University of Maiduguri where I’m also studying Public Administration.
Can you remember one of your most memorable childhood experiences?
You know I came from Filia, which is a very remote area in Gombe. I could remember that when I was young, all the girls of my age did not have the opportunity to go to school, so they all saw me as a different being. This was because I always came back home to demonstrate what I had learnt in school and what I didn’t realise as a privilege is what I’m reaping from now. My childhood gave me the mind to decide that whatever I became in life, I would strive and make sure that I support my people to have education and we thank the governor who has been building schools and recruiting teachers in order to promote education in our state.
You grew up in the barracks, the impression people have is that barrack children are tough and rascally, what makes you different?
Didn’t I look tough? Yes, I was an original version of a barrack girl, but the impression was wrong. People tend to regard us as crazy and bad but I will tell you that throughout my youthful days, I never misbehaved. I came from a home where we undergo both family and religious trainings and in my family, there was no way we would finish eating without going back to our parents to kneel down and thank them for the food.
I have two of my brothers in the Army and they are well-behaved, I thought maybe they would change but they didn’t. Although, I couldn’t give an account of my dad’s behaviour because I was young when we lived in the barracks, but still, I never saw him misbehave.
I think a child’s attitude depends on parental guidance, we have a lot of succesful people who were either barrack boys or girls and I think we stand the chance of making it in life based on the thorough discipline instilled in us when we were growing up. At a time, I even thought it wasn’t my mother that gave birth to me because she was very tough on me, it was when I grew up that I realised what she did was to prepare me well for a journey into womanhood which I have every reason to thank her for.
How did you get into politics?
I was a civil servant for like 16 years, though I started as a class teacher in my local government before I changed my career to come into the administrative line. I worked for sometime with the Ministry of Works and Housing before I was discovered by Governor Goje, who introduced me into politics by making me the first woman deputy chairman of my local government in Shangom in 2006 where I served for 15 months before he later made me a commissioner after the 2007 elections.
When I started, politics was strange but with time, I was able to get my bearing and since then, I have been enjoying my duties and contribution to the administration of the state.
How have you been coping as a politician for the past six years now?
I am not the only woman in Gombe State politics and a lot of people can testify to it that our governor is a gender-friendly person and this makes it a lot easier for us. Our governor was the first to nominate a woman as a minister and here in Gombe, we have women commissioners, we have women in the National Assembly, as special advisers, assistants. We are many and we are encouraged by the governor’s decision to bring us on board and make us believe that we can surpass men’s achievements in politics.
We Northern women always come out on election days to cast our votes, but its not fair enough that we have been forgotten in the society, but I wish to thank Governor Goje for the chance he gave us because now, more women have been encouraged to come into politics. I don’t have any problem as far as my ministry is concerned because my duties are mostly limited to women and children and I discharge my duties with happiness because long before I became a politician, I’ve always been trying to assist women and children.
What are the challenges of your office?
The challenges are minimal because they are what I have been doing before I became a politician. The normal things like going to the hospitals to see and cater for the sick, taking care of widows and orphans, delivering lectures on HIV and letting the people know the reason we should care for them the more, these are minor things and I always wish that if I ever have the opportunity to become a commissioner again, I would love to serve at the Ministry of Women Affairs, because I so much enjoy doing my work there.
Has there been anything your position as a commissioner deprived you of?
No, I’m still myself, I still cook, wash and do other domestic chores and keep in touch with my old friends. I normally go to the market in Gombe and people do think its because I’m stingy that I come to the market, it’s not that I don’t have reliable people I can send but this is what I’m used to and what I enjoyed doing before I became a politician.
What’s your normal day like?
I wake up at 5.00 a.m. to say my prayers and after then, listen to news on VOA and BBC, I also watch AM Express on NTA. I go to the office or hospitals to visit our sick people, I also attend to women who come for different forms of assistance, I have over 40 assistants which I personally pay their salaries because I believe we can’t leave everything for the government to do. I have been able to acheive this because I was into business before I came into politics and the business I still do and it is from what I get that I pay my assistants’ salary, which is the same as what they pay level 6 in the civil service.
How do you relax?
I relax by watching CNN, Aljazeera and Mnet, I also browse the internet to send and reply my mails.
You dress very simple, is there a point you are proving with this?
I’m a simple human being and I love traditional attires which I always buy from Gombe or Maiduguri.
Tell us about your family?
I am single, I divorced some years ago before I became a Commissioner. I have a son, Usman Mustapha, he is nine years old and very soon, I wil be getting married again.
The government you are serving with is winding up its tenure, do you have any other plan?
I want to represent my people in the federal constituency, Insh’Allah.