Only those who are very close to me will know my mother, the one from Maiduguri. Yes, I have a mum from the Northeast of Nigeria and her name is Hajiya Halita Aliyu. Mama, as I fondly referred to her was an amazing woman in many ways.
According to my sister, “She had the biggest heart of gold ever and was ever so caring and generous. She had the most forgiving heart and was a people person. She was brave and bold. She shattered ceilings and broke boundaries/limits. She was a disruptor/game changer and amazing all round. She was a no-nonsense person and an iron lady.”
She was my backbone in the early 2000’s as I ventured into the world of telecoms, holding my hand every step of the way, breaking down doors for me without hesitation.
Even the story of how I was so lucky to have yet another wonderful woman I would proudly call mum is one that is based on her desire for excellence. I must tell it to give a proper perspective of how awesome Mama truly was.
My biological mum had worked at NITEL and Mama was a younger high-flying personnel manager in the same organisation.
She had found my mum arriving very late at work one day and had told her off. My mum was very upset and even cried that day and when I picked her up, she told me about their encounter. Anyway, it was shortly before I relocated to the UK in 1993. It was therefore a surprise after I returned 3 years later for my sisters wedding when my mum came and dragged me to say hi to her boss at the wedding reception. I was stunned that these two people who I left in Nigeria had become the best of friends. Anyway, mum explained that she had come to apologise to her after she discovered that the only reason my mum had arrived late was because she had to stop to check on my dad who was in hospital, critically ill. My mum is actually a stickler for time keeping. They became sisters, both women striving for perfection.
Mama was known as a disciplinarian. She saw work as an opportunity to achieve and always told me that as her son anything I did had to be to the best of my ability.
When I mentioned to Mum that in the early 2000’s, I would want to return to Nigeria and play in the telecoms sector, she said with absolute confidence: you must go and see Hajiya in Nigeria. She will put you through.
Mama did more than put me through. She told me, “any door you need to knock on, just let me know. I will call anybody for you. The worst that will happen is that they will say no.” 😀
She did not only knock on doors, she tore them down for me and very effortlessly too. Anyone that knew I was Mama’s son bent over backwards to help me. They would see me in the building and immediately ask what I wanted and they would tell me sit down and send a member of staff to start and complete the task. I was treated like royalty.
I remember when I heard that there were cell sites being built across the country. An uncle in MTEL had whispered to me but said I would need back up. I felt that I was close enough to the person in charge and went to ask him. He confirmed that it was true but said that only the most powerful people from the presidency could get it, immediately, I dropped Mama’s name. She was not from the presidency, but the guy sat up. He said which hajiya? So he said, please get her to call me. I called mama and said, “I have used your name to lie in Mtel ooo.” She laughed and said, “come to the office (her private office as she was retired).” When I got there she called him and the rest is history.
I am proud to say that our cell sites were the best across the country. That is how much effort we put in to ensure we delivered to perfection. The engineers often said they took other contractors to our sites to show them exactly what they expected. When someone stakes their reputation for you so easily, you must take it as a duty to make sure you do not tarnish their goodwill.
When I had issues getting paid by MTEL after executing a contract and was left helpless, she called on the CFO to help make sure that they were able to sort it out. When the people in charge were treating me unkindly and not wanting to pay me, she told them, “I know you are paying other people. If you do not pay WITL, I will place an embargo on all payments.” It worked like magic. I was rescued from the clutches of destruction. This was perhaps the most difficult year of my existence. It changed and destroyed my life in so many ways. If not for Mama, I would never have survived, I tell you the truth.
When my friend, Uju Akukwe, wanted a female speaker for TedX Jabi, again I reached out to my Mama and once again she waved her magic wand and recommended a wonderful speaker, —her best friend, Hajiya Salamatu Suleiman, an ambassador par excellence. Uju and I went to see Hajiya Salamatu and she received us warmly as if she had known us for ever. She accepted to speak at the event without hesitation, but unfortunately was unable to attend at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances. But we forged a lasting relationship with her nevertheless.
When I heard she had passed away, I saw all the awesome comments in the NITEL/MTEL facebook group. Even in retirement she dedicated herself to helping the retirees recover their pensions and get the families of those who had died get what was due to them from the Nigerian government.
When you consider she passed on at just 66, you would then imagine how old she would have been 30 years ago when she was already personel manager. At that young age, she had implemented some very innovative welfare policies at NITEL: a minimum wage of N18,000 for staff, air conditioned staff buses for NITEL staff, a dependents ID card system so that children of staff could also use facilities, a housing, and car loan scheme, a health insurance scheme where staff could use private hospitals, discounted phone calls for staff etc.
Then she retired and again started a telecoms business and while there she was appointed to the board of NITEL. The board was dissolved 3 times. Hajiya Halita Aliyu was reappointed 3 times. She eventually became the 1st female Chairperson of MTEL, the mobile arm of NITEL. Her appointment saw MTEL move from around just over 100,000 to over a million lines in a 3-6 month period. An unimaginable feat. The change at the organisation was apparent. People were no longer hanging around the premises doing nothing. In fact loitering was forbidden. MTEL became a business once again.
Mama was a genius. Her background was HR. But she knew about telecom switches, construction, politics, life, etc. She once told me, “Son, always work from the top.” Another time she said, “Never outshine the master”. When she saw the puzzled look on my face, she asked— you have not read The 48 LAWS OF POWER? I said no. She said, haaa! Sola, you must read. You travel a lot, so buy books and read on flights. I remember one flight to Lagos that we were both on, after we checked in, I left my seat to go and look for my Mama. There she was at the back of the plane reading a book. I remember when she was appointed as Chairperson of MTEL. She called me to say— I need to see you today. I did not have to call her or line up to wait to see her. Nobody had to. She looked for me…small me. When I arrived at her office she made sure she introduced me to the whole MTEL team, many who already knew me. I remember she was reading a book— How to Adapt to an Unexpected Promotion, or something of the sort. She was a real ‘boys scout’. It is therefore no surprise when she birthed Tarbiyah book store.
On the flight to Abuja from London I said, Mama, please come and seat with me in premium economy because she was in economy class, she refused and said, don’t waste your money, we will be in Abuja soon. She continued reading her book and I sat with her chatting for a while. I was always amazed by her humility. She was so unassuming and very practical. She could have easily afforded a business or first class seat, but here she was in the back of a plane, happily reading her book. It was a humbling moment indeed.
I remember the last time I saw her, we had met at my other sister, Fati’s house and were going to lunch at her place. I said, “Mama where is your car?” She said, “Don’t you know I’m a poor pensioner, I cant afford to maintain a car. My car does not have tyres. No money to buy 😀.” She was beyond practical. But I tell you, it was not about money. She just did not care about material stuff.
When we went to her beautiful home which I was visiting for the first time since she moved. She told me how she spent all her time supervising the construction. How she made her own interlocking stones and bricks right there so she could control the quality. She was good at anything she did. The house was perfectly finished as if it was built by Julius Berger. The landscape and garden beautiful and done to perfection. Once she had a vision, she implemented with precision.
Awesome Mother and Grandmother
Mama loved family. She lived for her children and was always so supportive. She loved the grandkids even more. Always asking them questions and playing games with them. Teasing and laughing all the time. She lived for them. They I know, will miss her the most.
I just want to thank her for her love and support over the years. She was my mother and I had absolutely no doubt about it. She was always ready to stand in the gap even when my biological mum was still alive. She took my progress very seriously and always reminded me that anything I needed was done.
I will always remember her for good and it is my wish and hope that the love and bond we shared will be continued and strengthened with the awesome children and grandchildren she left behind.
O Allah! forgive her, have mercy upon her, give her peace and absolve her. Receive her with honour and make her grave spacious; wash her with water, snow and hail. Cleanse her from faults as Thou wouldst cleanse a white garment from impurity.
Requite her with an abode more excellent than her abode. Admit her to the Garden, and protect her from the torment of the grave and the torment of the Fire.
Her son – Babasola Kuti