Nigeria's Unsung Heroes (10). Feminism As a Prowess: The Profile of Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba


Paul Mamza

Both Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba had a wondrous common feature - the manhood muscles and the compassionate inertia of womanhood – that launched both into national consciousness.  When women were shy to identify with the carriage of confrontation against oppression and political indignation, the two had proved that what a man can do, a woman can do even better. Said Alhaji Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi, Former Governor of Kano State of  Hajiya Sawaba “most people identified NEPU with Mallam Aminu Kano but there were certain members (that) were greater than him in many respects.  Firstly, among the women you have Hajiya Gambo Sawaba.” For Margaret Ekpo she is nationally and internationally recognized as an Icon of Nigerian politics and a pioneer activist of women’s rights.  Their remarkable careers started with the initial quest for protection of women’s right, propagation of core values of justice, fairness and equity with some zeal of ensuring the advancement of the nation.  Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo was born in 1914 and by the late 1950s’ she was already deep into political activities of liberation.  Making strong alliances with women folks like Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Janet Mokelu and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, Ekpo became a living legend in political determination and social mobilization.  Joining the National Council Of Nigerian Citizens, formerly the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun’s (NCNC) led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, Ekpo had even then became a contending factor in Nigeria politics.  She was a Nigerian representative (Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference) in 1964, Nigeria representative (World Women’s International Domestic Federation Conference) in 1963, member of parliament government of Nigeria as from 1960 – 1966, women’s interest representative (Nigerian Constitutional Conference in 1960, a delegate at the Nigerian Constitutional Conference in 1959, 1957 and 1953, women’s interest representative (Eastern House Of Chiefs Nigeria), 1954 – 1958 and a member (Eastern House of Chiefs Nigeria), 1948 – 1966.

Hajiya Gambo Sawaba was born on February, 15 1933 to Chairman father and a Nupe mother.  Before writing this piece I  had transverse the family home of Hajiya Gambo located in Sabon Gari Zaria.  Gambo’s junior brother and only male of the Amartey family fondly called Baba Amartey was full of eulogies of my person.  He had taken me into insights, perceptions and challenges in the present prevailing circumstances, leading me into his personal libraries.  Baba Amartey who is a lawyer by profession ran the Baba Amartey and company, Barristers, Solicitors and Notary public firm in Zaria.  The first library he introduced me to was a heap of Law books and when he realized my mission, he had summon me to the second library where collection of literature on politics, biographies and documentaries were displayed.  Before he offered materials on his late sister, we were engaged at other biographies on Nigerian leaders like General Yakubu Gowon, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe’s My Odyssey, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Awo, Sir Ahmadu Bello’s My Life, Alhaji Shehu Shagari amongst others. “Our major problem in the North is lack of planning” he said, searching my eyelids in despairs.  “The tendencies Hajiya Gambo Sawaba spent her life fighting re-appeared in bold steps” he continued.  Baba Amartey is a personality that had the charm of recalling events. “ Paul” he offered “people like General Yakubu Danjuma were my classmates at a missionary school in Wusasa and my heart bleeds when I observed what you both Christians and Muslims in the North are doing to ourselves presently as if it is only in the North that  religion is being practiced, they are laughing at us”.  It was a touching experience, to initiate conversation with Baba Amartey

For Hajiya Gambo Sawaba, I met her twice during her life-time, in the early 1990s’ when the Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU) went on strike for better conditions during the IBB era, Hajiya Gambo came to one of our meetings at the Abdullahi Smith theatre in ABU Zaria to address us.  Speaking with coarse voice and disenchantments, she had advised us to call off the strike action, promising to leave the venue of meeting straight to Aso Rock to convince the President then on our plight.  Like a magic wand, the government acted promptly.  The second encounter I had with her was when she invited me to her fam ily home for some discussions on the political situations in the country and her views about the younger generations.  On the rivalry between the NEPU and NPC – led by Sir Ahmadu Bello, Hajiya Gambo once said “you see the Sardauna (Sir Ahmadu Bello) did not offend me at all.  But you see, those big fools who used him to steal, they were the ones who brought crisis to us in Nigeria.  Otherwise Sardauna was a nice man to me.  Honestly he is good.  He never liked what will disturb him but those big fools, idiots were fond of doing things without his knowledge, especially the Native Authority  Police and Alkali (Judges)”.

Here she was trying to narrate the popular Hausa saying that “Ba’a Mugun Sarki, Sai Mugun Ba Fade” simply put “A king can only be bad if his advisers are bad”.  She had rated Gowon, Murtala, Buhari and Babangida high and Obasanjo/Yar’Adua low for incurring debts.  When General Babangida regime’s witnessed some crises in 1987, she said “you don’t know that Babangida comes from the Northern minority, and to these political opportunists here, anybody who does not come from Sokoto, Kano, Bauchi or Borno does not qualify to lead the country.  They believe that this country is their personal property and once som eone else is at the head, they cause trouble for him” (New breed magazine, 10th April, 1989).  It was after Hajiya Gambo’s interview with Newbreed that we had our meeting and I had cause to openly disagree with her view that it was not actually the case accentuated.  “ I am from Borno and do not hold the view as charged in your interview, Hajiya” I said. “ I  strongly believe majority don’t, Borno State is one state that fights myopicism”, I cautioned emphatically.  The memory of Hajiya’s response is still fresh in my memories.  After Hajiya Gambo Sawaba’s death, I was later to capture the problem of Nigeria as it relates to politics to lack of perception and awareness amongst majority of Nigerians with tendencies of material worships and lack of fear o f God as the supporting symbols.  Definitely Sir Ahmadu Bello as a Premier of Northern Nigeria and leader of the NPC tried his best to abide by the mission of his party (NPC) as it relates to the North’s progress irrespective of rank, tribe or religion and the collective aspirations of the region’s progress within the context of national participation.  His was a leadership of value worship and fear of God.  It is these lost glories that pervaded not only the politics in the North but in Nigeria.  Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo and Hajjya Gambo Sawaba need to be extolled for exhibiting virtues that are not only rare amongst the womenfolk but also exemplary especially in the present Nigeria where injustice, inequity, inequality and recklessness reign.

-   Mamza a political columnist with the Leadership Newspapers writes from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

*   This is the last piece in the series of the Nigeria’s Unsung Heroes.