FATI LAMI ABUBAKAR…A UNIQUE FIRST LADY

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

Honour and Dignity Personified: The Life and Principles of Hon. Justice Fati Lami Abubakar; 2007; Maimuna Aminu Abubakar; Spectrum Books, Ibadan.

The office of the First Lady has over the years become enshrined in the consciousness of Nigerians but not in the constitution. Some Nigerian occupants have either abused or dignified it. Since it not the brief of this review to discuss the impact of First Ladyship in the political history of this country, I will rather confine myself to review this 172-paged biography on one of the ‘unique’ First Ladies of Nigeria.

I concur with Maimuna Aminu Abubakar, the author of Honour and Dignity Personified: The Life and Principles of Hon. Justice Fati Lami Abubakar that this work celebrates “the glorious harvest of a lifetime of hard work and selflessness … (of) a lady who has won societal approvals and praises in her own right”. The fact of being the spouse of a Head of State does not necessarily translate that one has innumerable qualities. If that is so, I do not think that Senator Hilary Clinton will be currently sweating it out to merit the nomination of her party. Her First Lady credentials would have sufficed to automatically make her the first female president of the United States.

Justice Fati Abubakar shares in the fame of her husband, General Abdussalami Abubakar, who ended military rule in Nigeria by voluntarily handing over power to a civilian president. As the saying goes, behind every successful man…. However, Mrs Abubakar is also a success story in her own right. She is the first female lawyer, Solicitor General and Attorney General of Niger State respectively. Mrs Fati Abubakar is currently a judge of the High Court of Niger State.

Honour and Dignity Personified has seven chapters and two appendixes. Chapter one traces the genealogy of the former First Lady. A second child of the late Waziri of Minna, Alhaji Umaru Audu and Hajiya Nana Asma’u, Justice Abubakar was born in Minna Niger State. The author did a good job in capturing the cultural shock the little Fati encountered as a student of Our Lady’s High School, Kaduna. This was illustrated in her testimony on her first day in school: “it was in the evening that we reached the school. A white woman dressed in white, all over received me… After I dressed up, I was taken to join the others in the school hall. I had never been to any hall that big before, the place was very big for me and there were white people everywhere, it was a prayer session. The children were all standing, clapping and singing ‘Hail Mary’. I wondered where I was. By the time I went back to the hostel, I lay on my bed and began to cry….”

From college, she gained admission to study Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife; graduating with an LL. B in 1975. She got married to General A. Abubakar and they had their second baby while she was in the Lagos Law School. Justice Abubakar therefore stands out as a woman who pursued a career and at the same time raised a family. What better way to describe a lady who retained the orthodox role of feminity as: “a working mother who has skilfully blended the demands of a family with the responsibilities of her profession and office.”

The second chapter dwells on Mrs Abubakar understanding of marriage as a divine institution; a world view that has its roots in her faith as a Muslim. This stands in sharp contrast to the pervading Western culture that sees marriage as a contract between two people, producing anomalies like divorce, gay unions, cohabitation and the like. The author also gives an insight into the professional odyssey of General Abdussalami Abubakar, the relationship between Justice Fati and her in-laws’, as well as the Fati’s life in the barracks.

“One of the problem a working woman faces at one time or the other is how to use her time in such a manner that her work schedule does not interfere with her home life.” This introduction to chapter three, summaries what Justice Fati Abubakar sees as the major challenge facing a working mother. The author was able to portray this by analysing Mrs Abubakar professional life as a judge, mother and First Lady. This chapter also shows the values that Mrs F. Abubakar lays on the upbringing of children. As a mother of six, Justice Abubakar believes that: “the mother is the children’s first teacher and a source of comfort.” The subsequent chapter gave a resume of Justice Fati’s professional life.

What makes Justice Fati Abubakar a unique First Lady? The answer was given in chapter five, which narrates the inside story of the rise to power of General Abubakar and his wife. She stands out according to the Liberian Orbit (May 28, 2001), as “an erudite African female lawyer that had become First Lady of the most influential countries in the international system, and did not fold her professional career into succulent retirement.” Chapter six discusses her pet project: Women Right Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA). WRAPA – unlike others by her predecessors – not only blossomed while she had already left office but was not elevated to a quasi government agency. On the contrary, WRAPA worked and still works as a non governmental organisation with far reaching impact.

Chapter seven reviews the convocation lecture delivered by Justice Fati at OAU in 2005. She was also awarded a Doctor of Laws (LLD) Honoris Causa, being the first alumnus to be so honoured. It is gratifying to note that this honour came after her husband had retired as the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. I hope other political office holders emulate her and realise that what counts is the appreciation that comes after quitting office. The two appendixes that cap up the book are speeches she delivered at different fora.

Honour and Dignity Personified: The Life and Principles of Hon. Justice Fati Lami Abubakar is a biography that extols the virtues of this daughter of Minna and Nigeria, who has placed her marks on the sands of time. This book is quite unlike other biographies that end up nauseating the reader because of their penchant to praise their hero or heroine to the point of absurdity. I must give credit to Maimuna Aminu Abubakar for her modest approach in outlining the life of Her Excellency, Hon. Justice Fati Lami Abubakar. The author has shown that one can still state facts without flattery. .

First Published in The Guardian on Monday, March 17,2008

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