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#HERStory – Episode 2: The Unrelenting Scholar

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

What Did She Do?

Finished Her University Education Against Her Family’s Will

The Unrelenting Scholar (TUS): I grew up in northern Nigeria in a family of 7… 5 boys and 2 girls. My Dad was a farmer and my mum a housewife. Growing up in the north was very different from the life I live now. It was like we lived in a box, cut out from the rest of the world. We spent most of our childhood in between my father’s farm and staying at home with mother. I never even knew what school or education was. None of us went to school. We did not even understand English. I was 7 years old when I first encountered the concept of education. I was at my friend Halima’s house when Halima’s mum asked me to join her in doing her ‘homework’. Halima was a family friend with wealthier parents. I joined her to do her homework that day and found her speaking this strange language and scribbling some things on a paper. I was lost. Halima was confused too. She did not understand how I did not know what she was talking about. She told Aunty Aminat, Aunty smiled. The next day, Aunty Aminat picked me up from home and told my parents she was enrolling me in school. My parents were clueless so they did not mind. As long as I was home in time to help Mama in the kitchen, all was well. Going to school for the first time was mind-blowing. I was whisked into this world of new concepts and endless possibilities. Learning English was not even difficult at all. I picked it up quickly. Started learning about so many new things – science, maths, history. The exposure was so exciting. I started in Basic 1 and had to put in the extra effort. Soon enough, I caught up with my peers and was in the same class with Halima. After primary and secondary education, Halima moved abroad to go to the university. Mama and Papa were happy I had been educated, (only because it increased my bride price), but they had made it clear that there was no further education after secondary school. My suitor was ready to marry me and that was the future they had for me.

How Did She Do it?

She Ran Away

The Unrelenting Scholar (TUS): Things had started getting really heated between me and my parents after I told them that I wanted to chase my university education. The day Halima left the village to travel abroad to school, I went home depressed and disappointed as I looked at what would be my future. Stuck in this village, married to this Alhaji, raising babies and doing house chores for the rest of my life? No. What about all the new theories and discoveries in Chemistry and Biology? All I had worked hard to learn? All my exams? Gone to waste? No. I wanted to become a doctor. Halima and I shared this dream. That night, I decided I was going to run away. I started saving some money out of the sales I made from Papa’s farm produce. A week to my arranged wedding, I woke earlier than everyone at home, boarded the first bus to Lagos and ran away to the unknown to chase my dream of continuing my University education. I was 19 at the time. It was the bravest thing I have ever done till date. I am 36 now. Of course, the dream did not go exactly as planned. When I got to Lagos, I was homeless for 3 months. I slept in parks and empty abandoned buildings. I managed to get a job as a Sales girl at a local store owned by Madam Jubril. She was a saint. She took me in as her own, gave me a room to stay in her boy’s quarter (of course, I doubled as the sales girl and house maid in return), but Madam Jubril never maltreated me. After 2 years of working for her and saving, I finally got the courage to tell her I wanted to leave her and chase my university education. She surprised me when she paid for all my exams and made my university education her pet project. I got admitted to the University of Lagos after my second trial. No, I did not get admitted to study Medicine, but Pharmacy was a good substitute. In the end, I got my dream of being educated. Today, I’m working in one of the best hospitals in the coutry, I also have my own Pharmacy, (I may not be a medical doctor, but it sure feels good to save lives in my own way). I’m married to a really kind, successful businessman and we have two lovely daughters who do not understand the luxury of having easy access to education unlike what girls like me faced – daughters who I will protect from ever understanding this luxury.

The Moment That Tried Her

My First 2 Years After Running Away

The Unrelenting Scholar (TUS): Those two years were hell for me. They honestly broke my person. I cried every night. I felt like I made the wrong decision. I had no one to help me out. I was a roadside beggar. I wanted to go back home several times but I did not have the money or the means. I had lost contact with my family. I wondered what I was thinking. That I was just going to get to Lagos and go to school without stress? The money I had was not even enough to pay for my pre-matriculation examinations. I was extremely depressed. I was lucky I was never raped or used for rituals. When I hear the unfortunate stories of girls who had been in my same situation, I realize how blessed I was. I could have just stayed back in Katsina, married the Alhaji and had a more comfortable life. It was all worth it though. If not for anything, but for my two daughters who now have a better life than they would have had in Katsina. I am grateful for those two years though. They shaped the strong woman I have become today.

Her Eureka Moment?

Looking at My Future and Not Liking What It Looked Like

The Unrelenting Scholar (TUS): The day Halima left, I felt like I was being left behind, like I was going to just fade away in the village. That felt so unsettling and I immediately had this burning passion to run away from that future. I did not care how, I just wanted to move. I think that was the moment that changed the direction of my life. Looking into my future in Katsina and realizing that it was not going to make me happy. I am very grateful for Halima and her family. I ran into her in the U.S. during one of my family vacations. She is a medical doctor with two daughters as well. It is funny how life can turn out once you imagine your future and take a leap into the make that future happen.

What She Learnt

The Unrelenting Scholar (TUS):

  • Education is truly a very powerful weapon for young girls. It is the one thing that can change a girl’s path in life and make her future even brighter. I cannot imagine the woman I would have been if I never found education.

  • Taking a leap of faith is never a bad idea. As long as you know exactly why you are taking the leap, what you seek to achieve, and you remain passionate and consistent in chasing that dream

  • No dream comes easy. You must be ready and willing to make the sacrifices you have to make to bring your dreams to reality. Even if it means running away.


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