Hajiya Habiba Abubakar is not your run-of –the-mill woman. She has got financial clout and highly cerebral and connected to the powers that be.
She is endeared to many on account of her philanthropy. She is meek and gentle to a fault. In spite of these attributes, the beautiful and effervescent woman is fondly called Iron Lady by her peers and admirers, a soubriquet that was given to her due to her mean mien.
Hajiya Abubakar has a pragmatic approach to issues that has to do with mankind and this explains why she pursues her belief with rigour.Her philosophy to life is to give back to the society and has continued to do this with great passion.
In this interview conducted in the ambience of her Wuse 2, residence, she tells National WAVES publisher, Jimmy Enyeh, Special Project Executive, Patience Okolie and Photo Editor, Adeniyi Olude about her NGO, the foundation for the Elderly and Poor.
It is quite unprecedented to see an elite mingle with a beggar. What explains this?
I believe we are all equal before God. We came with nothing and will go with nothing. It is a privilege that I am blessed by God. I need to give back to the society. I am happy when I solve other people’s problem but I don’t like when some people capitalise on that to exploit me.
There is no big deal hanging out with a beggar. I love affecting the lives of the less privileged positively and I will continue to do that.
When I heard about your NGO, The Poor and Elderly, I had thought the brain behind it would be an elderly person but was taken aback when I saw a young and pretty lady. What motivated you into setting up the foundation?
I had nursed the ambition of setting up an NGO since I was a kid. I remember vividly, when I was 15, there was this girl who had a problem with her family and they rejected her. I had to take her to my family house. She was with me. I hid her in my room until my dad found her and inquired who she wanted to see. She told my dad that she came to see me. My dad sent for me and I was scared. He asked me who she was and I told him that she was abandoned by our neighbor and she has been in my room for seven days but to my consternation, my dad laughed and said it was a good thing that I have done, he said I should have told him and he would have given her a room instead of staying in my room. He was not bitter about it. He encouraged me that I should continue to assist people. That was how I started.
You studied Mass Communication in the University. What did you major in, Print, Public Relation or Broadcast?
You and I know that Mass Communication is a broad course. As you said earlier, we have print, broadcast and Public Relation. I majored in broadcast. I had wanted to practice. If I had practiced, I would have the crime beat but my business took the better part of me. I also studied Management in Stratford College, London. I did Information Technology from same school. I studied Mass Communication at the University of Science and Technology, Haryana, India.
I was fascinated by your move to make the Almajaris have a better life. Are you also educating them on the need to embrace education?
Yes, we do. We educate them on the need to acquire knowledge. Some in Quranic School, we implore them to combine the Quranic School with western education and we are on course as far as this is concerned. Some of them think the Quranic School is more important than education. We make them realize that education is equally important as Quranic School is.
It has not been easy. Some parents want us to sponsor their children only in Quranic School and we do just that. My idea of doing what I am doing is to make people happy and that is why I respect people’s opinion a lot. I do not go against any family who does not want their children to combine western education and Quranic School. It is a matter of choice and we should learn to respect other people’s opinion.
In advanced countries, the governments have a programme to take care of the elderly and poor but that is not the case with Nigeria. What advice do you have for our leaders as regards this?
You are right but even in these advance countries; government only takes care of few less privileged. Here in my country, Nigeria, I will like the government to assist the elderly and poor. They are part of our society. We should not be carried away with the fact that we are young. I am young and you are also young. We should look at the future. We shall definitely be old one day and will need care. So it will be nice if our government takes care of the less privileged. I am one of the die-hard supporter of care for the elderly and poor and I will continue to campaign for it.
Who are your role models?
I don’t have a role model. I do not want to look like anyone. Prophet Mohammed (SAW) is my role model. Whatever we are doing is in tandem with his teaching. It is there in the Quran. I want to say that I revere Prophet Mohammed. He has enumerated how I should assist the less privileged. He has told me that I can help anybody irrespective of his tribe, religion or colour.
You are a businesswoman and you have hand in different sectors. How do you combine running your business with your NGO?
I don’t have a problem with combining my business with my NGO, because I have aides who assist in the day to day running of my business. I combine running my business with my NGO without hiccups.
How is your typical day like?
My day is quite boring because I do not socialize, you hardly see me on streets of Abuja. On a serious note, I don’t really go out. Most of my time, I am at home. If I need anything, my aides can get it for me. I can stay at in the house for months without going to the market. My children are schooling abroad, so I do not have anyone to disturb me. I create time for my husband. I have an aide who works on my email and facebook. He shows me the email; I read through and tell him what to do. All my businesses are online. My day is stress free. I like relaxing with my retired husband.
Apart from property business, what are the other businesses that you do?
I have a Gaming Company, its online. I am into transport business. I hire out my trucks and tankers for people to use. I have about 10 trucks which I hire out for those who are into oil business.
Do you have a routine in maintaining your glowing skin?
No, I don’t have a routine. I use vaseline. It is not as if I am advertising vaseline but that is what I use. I am not a fashionista. I am allergic to anything that is perfume kin of. So I use Vaseline.
Your NGO is money gulping. How do you source for funds?
No, I don’t source for funds, if you visit my websites, it is clearly written there that we do not source for funds. It is non-profitable and we don’t solicit for funds to run the NGO.
How do you get fund to run the NGO?
God has blessed me through my property business; I am making so much money from it. What I do is to take a certain percentage of my profit and put it in my NGO. In my religion, which is Islam, it is called Zakat and in Christianity, it is called tithe. That is how I have been funding my NGO and I thank God for his mercy.
When did you set up the NGO?
I set up the Foundation for the Poor and Elderly in 2006
Can we know some of the people that your NGO has assisted?
My NGO has touched so many people’s lives like students that we pay school fees for at home and abroad. Jim Iyke’s mother is a beneficiary, the elderly, the less privileged. Too numerous to mention.
Are you contemplating going into politics?
No, not all, although we are all political animals, you are one and I am one. We are not just being active. I am particularly contended being a businesswoman. I have been contributing my quota to the uplift of the less privileged in spite of not being active in politics. I also assist other people who are less privileged. I remember an Assistant Director who lives in Kubwa who said he has to pick passengers to and fro his office just to make upn for his fuel money. I thought he was joking when he said this. I investigated and found out that it was true. I had to assist in my own little way. Some people are struggling to make ends meet and I also contribute my quota to assist them. We posted a riddle on our website and when you answer the question correctly. You win. It is an avenue to support people. Most of these people I do not know. I only assist them. I get all sorts of request to assist on my facebook page and I investigate. If I find out is true. I assist. Some people sent me a request to sponsor . when I started I was naïve and gullible. I never cross checked from the school. I was sending mney for school fees until one day, a student from Bayero University, Kano. Who had been expelled because he failed examination approached me to pay his school fees; I asked my staff to investigate. We found out that he has been expelled because he could not pass his examinations. He was actually in the school in 2010 but was later expelled and he goes about with the same admission letter to extort money from innocent people.
I sent him an email that is unfortunate that he could that in spite of being a Kano State indigene; he is from the same state with me. I was thinking that the Igbos to my website to dupe me not until I saw a brother who hails from the same state with me trying to dupe me. There were others who told me fake stories to extort money from me. I think I have learnt my lessons. There was one lady who is based in Abuja who told me her mother was bedridden and needed a wheelchair. I found out that her mother was not sick and she was just trying to extort N150,000 from me, I realized that I must investigate properly before sending money to anyone.
As a businesswoman who is into property , what do think can be done to checkmate the skyrocketing cost of property in Abuja in particular and Nigeria in general?
I think the government is trying to as regards reducing the cost of property, for instance, government gave land to some property developer like me to develop and sell same at reasonable price. I think that is one thing that government has done that I like. Even though there are lots of hiccups. If you get the title, to get approval is another thing. If you don’t give money, you will not get approval on time. I tried to get an approval by allowing the due process to take its course. I stayed for a year and six months before I got the approval. When I needed another approval for another house, I went there personally and got an approval for an eight storey building in eight days. Another aspect we have to look at is that government gives out land to speculators who do not have money to build. When government is giving this kind of land, it should give an ultimatum and that is if you don’t build it at a specific time, the land could be revoked. But it is good for government to give the land to those who have the finance and can build at the stipulated time and sell to the public at reasonable price.
What are the challenges that have confronted the running of your NGO?
Definitely, there are challenges and we have been able to itemize them and look for a way to surmount them. I told you about how some people tried to dupe me just because I am nice and ready to assist. I have also told you how I have set up machinery to checkmate that.
Most of your peers cal you by the soubriquet “Iron Lady” What informs this?
I am a tough person; people I do business with will tell you that I don’t allow people to cheat me. I am down to earth. I like to call a spade a spade. May be that explains why they gave me that nick name. if you remember my problem with Jim Iyke. He came here and sat exactly where you are sitting and requested for assistance. My husband was sitting down here and his sister was also here. He requested that I invest in his clothing line. I gave him N16million and when it was time to pay back, he declined. I had to involve the police and he was locked up for three days. We went to court and he agreed to pay N200,000 per month. He could not pay N200,0000. He sent me an email and text message that he cannot pay N200,000 per month. He said he will pay N50,000 per month but I refused. As you grow you meet challenges. I don’t invest in Nigerians businesses anymore. I cannot deal with a particular tribe because I think they are dubious.
To be specific, what tribe?
Igbo, of course. Jim Iyke is Igbo. He walked into my living roomand requested I assist him. Thereafter, he tried to dupe me. He was thinking that I will not challenge him but I have to show hm that I am not that kind of woman. He was thinking that because I am married. I will not want scandal. I am not the kind of woman that you can dupe. That is why all my friends and school mates call me Iron Lady
What actually happened between you and Jim Iyke?
He said he was setting up a clothing line in Abuja and requested that I invest. I did and he refused to pay back. He closed down the boutique because he was not selling and could not pay rent. We are in court and the court said he should pay in instalments.He defaulted, we are back in court.
What is your favourite colour?
I love red colour
What are your likes and dislikes?
I hate people who lie, those who are not truthful. I am honest, so I like honest people. Three days ago, I posted on my website that who do you think is a chronic lair between two other people and Prof. Jega who said Buhari did not have a single vote in the South East. I found it disheartening that General Buhari did not have a single vote in the whole of South East. People commented saying it is Jega. That it is feasible not to have a single vote in the South East at the 2011 presidential election. I am straightforward and truthful.
How do you relax?
I love music. I listen to music to relax. I also love dancing.