By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
This week’s column is rather personal. And I apologize for that. I know readers expect to read my take on issues of national or global significance on this blog. That’s a fair expectation. But public commentators sometimes can’t help commenting on the personal and the private precisely because we are all inescapably entwined in intricate webs of personal interconnectedness that sometimes intrude into our public commentary.
Hajia Zainab Suleiman-Okino, my “sister from another mister,” about whom I’ve written on this page on at least two occasions, has been appointed commissioner of information in Kogi State. It’s the best news I’ve heard all year long. But I didn’t become aware of it until several days after the fact. And that’s because, for the past couple of days, I'd imposed on myself a moratorium on reading Nigerian news. I took the decision because I was simply wearied of dealing with all the emotional dislocation that perpetually reading worrisome news causes people who love their troubled country but are geographically distant from it.
When I learned of Hajia Zainab’s appointment as commissioner in Kogi State, it was like some soothing balm had been applied to my frayed nerves. The two occasions I wrote about her on this blog were depressing occasions. The first was when her life was in danger on account of her newspaper column. A group of texters and callers had threatened to kill her because they were discomfited by her critical commentaries in the Sun newspaper where she was Editor-at-Large. She received the threatening text messages and calls just days after she lost her son to brain tumor—and only few weeks after at least three journalists had been murdered at different times by “unknown gunmen.” I was so worried about her safety that I used my newspaper column and my blog to call national and global attention to the cowardly threats to her life.
“I have known Hajia Zainab for more than 11 years. She isn’t just a former colleague to me; she is also a family friend. I know about her triumphs and her falls, her joys and her sorrows, her struggles, her battles, her dreams. I know her to be an exceptionally kind-hearted woman, an exceedingly hardworking journalist, and an uncommonly caring and nurturant mother and wife…. She is one of the most harmless, tolerant, and obliging human beings you can ever wish to meet. And she’s still grieving the loss of her son. Fear of the assassin’s bullet is the last thing she should be worrying about now,” I wrote in my September 25, 2010 column.
The last time I wrote about her was on October 5, 2013 when her selfless and kindhearted husband died. I’m delighted to have the privilege to write about her in a celebratory mood today, although it’s bittersweet that her husband isn’t around to witness this moment.
I know of no one who is more deserving of their political appointment than Hajia Zainab. I don’t say this lightly. Nor do I say it because she is my “sister,” former colleague, and willing emotional prop in moments of need. I say it because I’m deeply familiar with the trajectory of her illustrious career and can speak to her strengths and the value she will bring to her new job.
She is a consummate journalist, a skilful reporter, an excellent editor, a patient mentor, a benevolent but firm leader of people, and a bridge builder in every sense of the phrase.
Having experienced every facet of the news media industry---from reporting, production, newsroom administration, editorship, to managing large numbers of people for nearly three decades— she is supremely prepared for her present assignment. You can’t get a better person to manage a ministry of information than her.
After her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History from Bayero University Kano in 1987, she started her career as a reporter with the defunct Today newspaper in Kaduna and rose to the position of Woman Editor before joining the intrepid and well-edited but now defunct Citizen magazine in Kaduna as a sub editor. When Weekly Trust came on board in 1998, she was the paper’s pioneer production editor. She later became the substantive editor of Weekly Trust and, subsequently, the Managing Editor/Deputy chairman of Media Trust Editorial Board.
After a successful career in Media Trust, she moved to Leadership newspaper as Managing Editor and later to the Sun as Editor-at-Large. From 2011 until her appointment, she was Executive Editor of Blueprint, a breezy, well-edited, up-and-coming daily newspaper in Abuja.
In the course of her demanding journalistic career, Hajia Zainab found time to pursue a Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, which she completed in 2002. This speaks to her passion for continual learning and relearning, which will surely stand her in good stead as she superintends the affairs of a ministry as complex and as challenging as the ministry of information.
Not being from Kogi State, I know nothing about Governor Idris Wada’s record, but if his well-advised appointment of Hajia Zainab as commissioner of information is any indication of his choices as a leader, he must be a thoughtful man. There are few women journalists in Nigeria that can rival Hajia Zainab’s journalistic credentials. There are even fewer still in northern Nigeria, and certainly in Kogi State, that come close to her. In a country where great women talents are pushed to the margins on account of shortsighted gender prejudice, this appointment is both judicious and admirable. In her, the people of Kogi State will find a perceptive administrator, a socially skilful hard worker, a passionate advocate for excellence, and a visionary.
However, while I celebrate her elevation, I’m also aware of the daunting challenges of public office in Nigeria. The culture of prebendalism and patronage that is so entrenched in our politics derails many political appointees. That’s why I tell all friends who make it to the high reaches of government in Nigeria that I’ll see them again after their tenure is over. I want to be one less problem they have to deal with.
Congratulations, Hajia! See you again after your tenure.