interviewBy Ruth Choji
Hon. Halima Hassan Tukur represented Yauri/Shanga/Ngaski Federal Constituency of Kebbi State in the current House of Reps until the courts upturned her election recently. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the former lawmaker who now runs a drugs rehabilitation centre called "Chance For You," urges parents and society to confront drug abuse head-on. She also makes a case for concession of one seat per senatorial zone to women.
Women from the North were rejoicing when you were elected into the House of Representatives. But before the euphoria lasted, you were unhorsed. What happened?
They were happy because I was the only woman from the North/West zone from Sokoto Caliphate in 2007 and in 2011, I re-contested and won again. I don't want us to dwell on it because the case is in court.
But with what happened to you, are you comfortable with the percentage of women in parliament?
No, I think it is not enough; there should have been more. If it means having the men concede, or each senatorial zone producing at least a woman, it will be better for our political and economic development.
Nigerian women are still complaining of not giving enough opportunity to contribute to nation building, what are the major barriers?
I believe that if women in Nigeria will be given more opportunity, they will overshadow the men; unfortunately they are denied the chance. Most men will use their power and connection to push women out. Our major barrier is lack of strong legal backing that will give women the powers to be voted in or appointed to key positions.
If there was any legal framework that gives women power, more women would have taken their place in key positions. I also want to thank this government for bringing more women into the system and it is gladdening to see that they are holding key positions. If successive administrations had done what the present administration is doing, Nigerian women would have gone far.
How can you compare the Nigerian woman in power with their counterparts in other countries?
We cannot compare ourselves with other countries because our culture and tradition might not be the same. Our level of development and awareness is also not the same. I think we are still evolving as a nation and even as women. We cannot compare ourselves with countries like Germany and the rest, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Now we have 13% of women in appointive position, by God grace, it will get to the stage where we will have 50%.
But you think a woman can emerge president in Nigeria anytime soon?
A woman to become president? It can happen by God will and grace. Some few years ago, who would have thought that a woman can emerge as the chief justice of Nigeria? So the journey has started and if God said it is time for a woman to emerge president, nobody can stop her.
Most people believe that northern women are seen but not heard. If this is true, how were you able to break through the barrier and become a member of parliament?
My late father was a politician, a former senator and former deputy chairman of north/west zone. So I developed interest in what he was doing. I was always working with him so that when he died, people naturally encouraged me to come out and continue the good works my father was doing.
Are you comfortable with the level of girl-child education in the north?
I believe the situation has improved drastically because there is so much awareness now and enough sensitization.
Drugs abuse and addiction are becoming a problem among the Nigerian youths, and you run a rehabilitation center. How did it become a pandemic in the society?
As mothers, we are not happy with the high level of drug abuse amongst our youths and the use and abuse of cough syrup call benelin, valium, marijuana, solution and cocaine. My pain is that, the issue is being swept under the carpet. Most parents stand to hide this affected people from the society instead of exposing them so that the situation can be solved and the affected child rehabilitated.
What these kids don't know is that, Indian hemp affects their central nervous system and makes them become insane. This affects their sense and they start misbehaving. We as mothers must wake up and really start looking deeply at what our children are doing. The average Nigerian parents don't know what their children do in school; they don't know the kind of friends they keep or their life style. It is disheartening to see that most of our children and n in this generation are drug addicts.
But who is to be blamed for this - the health sector, government or parents?
I think we should start with the parent because these days, parents are found of dumpling their children on teachers until the holiday time. Even during the break, you find some being force to do extra lessons so that they won't be at home and disturb the parents. This idea of allowing the child to have his way because he or she is 18years old is not our idea as Africans. We are family oriented and we always take care of our own no matter the age.
Almost every housed in Nigeria now have or more drugs addict. So we should not be pretending, it will not help...
But do you think education has anything to do with this?
Education has got nothing to do with it. I blame this trend on upbringing. The only way I blame school is that, they don't give enough time to the pupils. Most time it is when the child has gotten bad that they just sent him home. By then it is too late. Teachers must monitor students under them carefully because that is where they are free to indulge in their fantasy and most of them have been destroyed.
What have you done on a personal level to help some of these kids addicted to drugs?
We have a rehabilitation center called "chance for you" here in Gwarinpa when such drug addicts are brought for rehabilitation. We do urine testing when they bring them in which will tell us the kind of substance they take. We accommodate them for 3months in which time; we detoxify their system through sweating. We also counsel them.
What would you say were the challenges you have faced?
Our major challenge is that, parents don't want to come out and tell the world the truth. Most people that have such kinds in the r homes tend to hide them for shame and stigmatization. I don't believe it is a stigma because almost every family has one. These addicts cannot help them once they are hooked on these drugs, they need the help of parent and love ones.
Are you working in collaboration with other organization or with the ministry if health?
No, but what we are trying to do is to see if we can partner with organizations like NAFDAC because everything is drug related. We want to see if the law that bans buying drugs over the counter can be enforced. The DG is so passionate about the issue of drugs addiction among the youths, but I think the ban on Benelin has not been effective; more drastic action has to be taken, especially on the seller of such drugs to children.
This battle should not be left for NAFDAC alone because the children don't belong to NAFDAC alone. We must all join hands and fight the menace of drugs abuse among our youths else we will wake up someday without any person to take over from us that is how bad the situation is. If we don't tackle it now, it will affect us as a nation.
As we are talking now, our children schooling abroad are being deported daily for drug-related offences. Go to foreign prisons and see. Most of the youth there are Nigerian, locked away for drug related offences. Most of the cases we are handling now in our center are children deported for drugs addiction.