Hajia Hadiza Isma El-Rufai, an architect and the First Lady of Kaduna State is as forthright as her husband, the governor of the state, Nasir el-Rufai. True to her reputation, she looked at the assemblage of female journalism practitioners, who gathered for the African Women in the Media Conference, held at the University of Ibadan and said that time had come for women to lead the campaign to change the narrative about women by reversing the growing perception of women being their own worst enemies.
The founder of Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation, said that the tendency of women themselves frequently repeat the wrong statement that women are their own enemies should stop and never roll off the tongues of women, again. The architect who writes poetry and short stories, published her first novel, An Abundance of Scorpions, in November 2017. She is currently working on her second book. Shares insights on her work, her passion for writing in this interview.
How did your journey into serious writing come about?
This is my first book (showing a copy). It started 2008, when I had a lot of time on my hands. I started reading novels again and then graduated to writing. So I went back to school to study and I found more interest in writing than designing buildings.
Did you at any time take a course in writing?
Yes. I have a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Architecture (1983) and in 1992, I got a Master of Business Administration degree (MBA) from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I also got a Masters of Arts degree in Creative Writing in 2012 from Bath Spa University, United Kingdom. I worked as a lecturer at the Department of Architecture in Kaduna Polytechnic, and a few more years at the then National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, before working in private practice.
As a woman married to a politician, how do you cope?
I cope as best as I can. You know my husband is also very busy so he’s not always around. So, I face my own passion too.
How did you feel when your husband said he wanted to contest for the governorship?
I didn’t like it because I am a very private person and you know how politics can be in Nigeria. The expectation is that you don’t have privacy anymore, which is the most important thing in my life. But that was what he wanted to do and I had to support him.
How does he feel about your writing?
My husband has always been supportive. I’m happy with what I’m doing.
As a writer, how would you encourage women out there?
We have to start that process when they are really young. When girls are young they are more impressionable. As writers, in our content, we have to write strong characters into our scripts.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
Life can be difficult sometimes. The best part of our lives are when we are really young. That’s why it is painful when young children are molested or maltreated. It pains me when I see things like child molestation, because I know the best time is when they are young. When they grow older you realize that life is not a bed of roses.
Talking about child molestation how can that be curbed in our society?
The best thing is to make sure that whenever the person is caught, he is prosecuted and sent to jail. Unfortunately in our society, if a child is molested the parents themselves would not want the matter to be revealed; they want to cover it up, and other people would come and beg on behalf of the man. Unless we stop that attitude we will never see an end to the problem of child molestation.
Does your simplicity in any way have anything to do with your background?
I guess it is just the way I am.
Then who influenced your growing up, was it your dad or mum?
Unfortunately, I lost my dad when I was 16 years. Even before he died I was still closer to my mum. After his death she was a single parent to seven of us.
What is your advice to young ladies aspiring to become achievers?
You have to be focused, have a goal, keep your eyes on the goal because whatever you are trying to do, there would always be distractions. I find out that if you really want to do something good, sometimes, you have to fight for it.
What brought about your foundation?
I lost my daughter in 2011. My daughter, Yasmin, died of an epileptic seizure in her flat in London in November 2011.
People might wonder why in my quest to keep her memory alive I would involve myself in the promotion of creative writing. I chose to do that for a number of reasons: Yasmin was an avid reader and an excellent amateur literary critic. Creative writing enabled me become close to my daughter in the last year of her life; and to discover what a wonderful, selfless and beautiful person she was. I was studying for a Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing at the Bath Spa University in the UK while she was rounding off her Masters’ degree at the London School of Economics, and pursuing her Law conversion at the Bureau of Public Procurements.
I do not find it easy to communicate my emotions. Creative writing gave me a medium through which I was able to convey to my daughter how much I loved and appreciated her. That was what brought about the foundation. I wanted to do something in her memory, and I came up with Yasmin Foundation to immortalize her.
The foundation focuses on creative writing and women interest. We encourage creative writers, painters, visual artists and poets. The foundation focuses on two programmes: creative writing programme, which aims to awaken and nurture children’s talent in creative writing, and women literacy programme, which gives young women the opportunity of improving their life prospects by enhancing their literary skills.
Was it because you are a First Lady that you decided to start the NGO?
I started the foundation in 2013. That was long before my husband became governor. I was residing in Abuja then and governorship of Kaduna was not in the picture.
In all these, how do you spend your day?
My day is always full of activities from when I wake up in the morning. I try to do some writing and some domestic things as well.
What does style mean to you?
I don’t think I’m a fashionable person. I like to dress simple. But I love makeup.
What is your advice to women generally?
This is about time we, the women, must stop saying that women are the worst enemies of women. I don’t think we are any worse of our own enemy than the men are to themselves. I think that narrative has explained. We are tired of hearing that.
We should now focus on the positive. I know a lot of women that are positive role models and mentors to other women and I personally love to support other women and to mentor other women to reach their full potentials.