In this photograph with me is Hajia Maryam Uwais, a lawyer, a wife, a mother and an activist.
In Yoruba when a man is tough , unbending and courageous we refer to him as ‘okunrin meta’, that is , three men in one. Maryam is three men, and three women in one. She is a tough cookie with the agility and steely resolve of three men and the compassion and tender love of three women.
Hajia , as most of us , her colleagues call her, took her job as if her life depended on it.
Here is a woman who needed not to have worked ; who could have lived a good life as housewife tending to the needs of her husband and children.
If she is not on the road , she is managing a meeting, doing a presentation or banging away at her computer , crunching figures and imagining what next she could do to feed street urchins , cloth them and get them to go to school. A Mother Theresa in her own little way.
Maryam’s commitment to the poor and the under privileged is legendary . Never before seen such a privileged and yet restless woman before.
Above all she is fearless and incorruptible.
I remember traveling with her to Zamfara on one occasion and tragedy nearly befell us. Coming back late in the evening in an helicopter, a windstorm forced us to land in the middle of no where. To compound our problem the pilot announced we were low on fuel. It was getting dark and our helicopter had no capacity to fly at night . I looked at her face trying to sense if she was scared, ‘Alhaji’ she said, referring to me as she smiled wryly not giving off any emotion . At least not one I could read.
Thankfully that day we were able to take off before it was too dark and landed at Sokoto airport to take a flight back to Abuja thereafter.
I remember another night , when she chattered a cab and drove all night from a for northern state because she could not get a flight and had to meet up an important engagement the following morning. Her husband, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria , we learnt , was not happy with her for taking such a risk in the face of the activities of bandits and kidnappers on that route.
Such is the courage and grit of Maryam , a well heeled lawyer who was born with a golden spoon and married into affluence.
She was the nemesis of politicians as Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Program ( SIP ).
An alter ego of the Vice President , Prof Yemi Osinbajo who appointed her to that position and who with her designed the program that scared both opposition and influential members of the party in government because of its popularity with the people.
They wanted her to turn the project to a bazaar but she resolutely refused. She was uncompromising and no one could convince her to do otherwise.
On one occasion I had to follow her to a Senate Committee meeting to defend her resolve. When a female Senator chose to embarrass and harass her I took over the fight and it brought an abrupt end to the sittings of the Committee.
All efforts by politicians and some staffers to make her act against her conscience was vigorously resisted.
When I advised her to be diplomatic in the way and manner she let the political big wigs know she was not there to do their bidding she vehemently disagreed with me. She was not lacking in giving them a piece of her tongue.
She is a woman made of steel with the passion to reduce poverty in the land and give a lease of life to the mass of the people.
For her and Osinbajo’s commitment and unrelenting pursuit of this program conspirators high and low went into high gear scheming trying to bend or break her.
When they could not , the powerful ones seized the program from her and dashed it to someone else who was willing to do more than their bidding .
In a recent posting on a WhatsApp platform she was unapologetic about her stance: “ For those who approached me for contracts (you know yourselves), I hope I can be forgiven, in hindsight. Money will always finish…but a good name lasts forever. I am sure we are all agreed that we had a collective responsibility to ensure our principal’s stint in government; the narrative, his objectives & his vision are not blurred or tainted by incidents of vested interests, no matter how small. That was the overriding interest. I can only say alhamdulillah.”
Hajia was shoved aside as often happen with good people in Nigeria. The rest is history . What a big loss to poor Nigerians.