By Austin Edoho; Lagos
Arriving at Alhaja’s residence, one cannot help but marvel at the simplicity of the house. It had nothing whatsoever to attract someone to go in. The whole place looked abandoned, but not dirty. Some windows had caved in, the roof would not be able to maintain its position if there should be some strong wind. Entering into her office, one meets almost the same picture. There was a plastic table and some old straight-backed chairs that have seen better days. The whole scene smelled of austerity. It was in this office that we waited for Alhaja who had gone inside the room to rest. When she came out some ten minutes later, she politely apologized for keeping us waiting, explaining that she was on fast, alongside other Muslims, and consequently was a little bit tired. But Alhaja in no way looked tired. This woman with an impressive stature seemed to radiate boundless inner strength and energy. She towered above most women and men, and her presence alone commanded recognition and respect. After exchanging pleasantries, we launched into a session of interview where she shared her story with us. Read on.
VOC News: May we know you madam?
Alhaja: My name is Alhaja Biodun Audu Salami from Edo State. I am a widow, and a mother of five
VOC News: Can you tell us the name of your organization, and what your activities are?
Alhaja: My organization is called Progressive Widows Forum, an organization I set up to enable me cater for other widows like myself.
VOC News: What prompted you into setting up the organization?
Alhaja: When I lost my husband in 2007, I had a harrowing experience. I suffered a lot in the hands of my In-laws who were ready to go to any length to confiscate everything my husband left me. It was after this experience that it occurred to me that if my in-laws can do this to me, an educated woman whose husband was not poor, how much more other women who were not so enlightened, and whose husbands left them with nothing? I realized that my passion in this area gradually developed. Initially I used the rent I collect to buy food items, clothes, and also gave money to maybe three or four widows, until more people started coming. The number kept increasing. That was when I knew I had to put a structure in place. As we speak, I currently have 273 widows under me,100 less-privileged women who are not widows, and about 50 aged women.
VOC News: For how long as your organization been in existence?
Alhaja: Like I said earlier, I have been helping widows ever since my husband died, but the organization was formed four years ago. It has been duly registered with the CAC, although I’m yet to get my certificate.
VOC News: What has been your experience so far?
Alhaja: I have singlehandedly been running this organization for years now. Taking care of this number of women is not an easy task. You can see how unkempt my house and my office looks. It’s because I use the rent I collect to take care of them, and I am fulfilled doing it. I have the names and phone numbers of all the women, and I can summon them to gather at a moment’s notice. I am appealing to well-meaning Nigerians and our good governor and his deputy to help me assist this widows. Most of these women are jobless, and I want to help them acquire skills, and also empower them so they could be self-reliant. Furthermore, some of them are homeless. They do come and stay in my place for about six months before moving away. I need to get cheap accommodation for them. I really need help for them
VOC News: Are the widows all Muslims?
Alhaja: NO! There are many Christians among them. I do not ask, neither do I care if they are Christians or Muslims. I don’t discriminate because we serve one God, even though the mode of worship may be different.
VOC News: Alhaja, what do you have to say to people who run NGO’s?
Alhaja: They should be faithful. Yes, people who run NGO’s should be truthful and faithful. When something is given to you for those you represent, deliver it to them accordingly. Do not try to enrich yourself through another man’s misfortune. You do not know what tomorrow holds
VOC News: Thank you madam for your time.
Alhaja: The pleasure was all mine.
Alhaja Salami can be contacted directly through her line-08025358908