ALHAJA (DR.) ABIBATU MOGAJI
HER LIFE AND TIMES
Alhaja (Dr.) Abibatu Mogaji (MFR), an eminent Nigerian, who rose from the humble background of petty trading to become the President-General, Association of Market Women and Men in Nigeria, was born on October 23, 1916, into the family of Late Pa Gbadamosi and Alhaja Saadatu Mogaji. Her ancestral home was at Ita Agarawu, around the present day Central Mosque, Lagos. Abibat’s birth coincided with the era when Lagos was witnessing socio-political agitation occasioned by colonial government’s introduction of water rate. The water rate issue was first introduced into Lagos in 1908, when the colonial government decided to provide potable water for the people of Lagos, who were also expected to pay for it. The water rate generated such controversy in Lagos that the colonial government decided to shelve it. In 1916 however, the water rate was re-introduced into Lagos and that year coincided with her birth. It was a period when Lagosians decided to challenge what they considered colonial exploitation.
To some extent, it could be said that Alhaja Mogaji’s activism was partly influenced by the circumstances that surrounded her birth. Her parents were well to do by the standard of the time. Her father, Pa Gbadamosi was a produce merchant who had an expansive farmland at Agidingbi area in Ikeja, Lagos. Her mother, from the popular Kotun family of Isale Eko, Lagos, was also a successful trader. Given her background, Abibat had all the appurtenances of a comfortable family.
As she grew older, she began to learn the rudiments of being a member of a Muslim family. Both parents were staunch Muslim faithful and so the children were made to learn about Islam right from their early ages.
Her parents were so passionate about observing the five pillars of Islam and the children were expected to be at mosque at all times for prayers. There was no compromise in this regard unless you were ill.
Alhaja Abibat Mogaji did not benefit from Western education. Her inability to have access to Western education was predicated on the circumstances of the time. Western education, at that time, was given little or no attention, especially by the traditional elite to which her parents belonged. Apart from the fact that it was considered new to the African society, Western education at Mama Mogaji’s infancy was beset by many problems. To many Muslim families, enrolling their children in the Western and missionary-run schools was not only inimical to their religion, but many children also faced the risk of conversion into Christianity in these schools.
Many parents were also reluctant to allow their female children access to Western education for fear of losing them to white men who may take them abroad. Yet, to some parents, Western education for women was considered a waste of time as well as resources since those girls would get married only for their husbands to reap the fruit of the parents’ labour. For these and many other reasons, even though she was eager to enroll into western elementary school, she later opted for Islamic education.
Meanwhile, her interest in Islamic education was based on the belief that those who excelled in elementary class could be sent to Cairo, Egypt or Saudi Arabia for further studies. Those two countries, according to her, were considered as a kind of heaven. With the mindset of going to these countries, Alhaja Mogaji persuaded her father to send her to an Islamic school. She also sought her mother’s support when she discovered that her father was not so committed to her request.
Finally, the man was convinced and the young Abibat was enrolled into the Ore-Ofero Koranic School at Ibomo Street, Ita Agarawu. Under the tutelage of a scholar known as Oloruko Alfaa she learnt to read and memorise the Quran. She was also educated on morality by the teachers who spared no student that fl outed the strict moral code.
The kind of Islamic education of Alhaja Mogaji’s era was such that offenders were not spared from being flogged whenever they erred. She however graduated at an early age from the Quranic School.
Apart from receiving Islamic education, Alhaja Mogaji once asserted she received informal education from her father, Late Gbadamosi and her maternal first cousin, late Ashogbon.
Through her cousin, she learnt about the life and times of Madam Tinubu and Eshugbayi Eleko’s controversial case that lasted for several years between the second and third decades of the 20th’ century. Her father also explained the Eleko’s episode to her, pointing out the roles played by individuals such as Herbert Macaulay, Buraimoh Ekun Giwa, Abibu Oki, Bakare Misihun and many others.
She was also informed about the role llu committee played in ensuring the re-instatement of Eshugbayi. Members of the committee were said to have sold their properties to prosecute the Eleko’s case and also cater for the king’s upkeep during the period of his dethronement.
On her own, the young Abibat witnessed many political crises in the colonial Lagos. Her parents, on many occasions, took her out to watch some demonstrations organized by market women against colonial masters. She considered her experience of those days as fun, listening to these agitators singing series of rebellious songs. Through these series of demonstrations, she gradually developed interest in activism, a role she later played. Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji got married to Late Papa Salami Agbaje Ishola and was blessed with eight biological children. She however lost all, including Mrs. Abiodun Kasunmu, who was the proprietress of Modupe Memorial School, Magodo GRA Ikeja, Lagos.
As a pupil at the Ore-Ofero Koranic School, Abibatu Mogaji took advantage of the free periods, which was usually between the morning and afternoon sessions and the lecture free days of Thursday and Friday to help her mother in her commercial activities. Through this, she gradually developed interest in buying and selling. Her first venture into the commercial world began by selling bean cake (Akara). Mama Abibatu was a well known hawker of Akara on many Lagos streets from Isale-Eko to Obalende.
She later graduated into small scale trading and eventually became a major trader, dealing in Sierra-Leonean mats.
She gradually became very prosperous and her business boomed so much so that she travelled far and wide in the West African sub-region for trading. Later, Abibat Mogaji established trade relations with many European merchants and she was appointed a distributor of some major European products. According to one of her close associates, the European products she traded in included fabrics.
Having successfully established herself as a popular merchant, she became the toast of many social clubs.
She however settled for the Egbe Mesho, a social club that was popular in Lagos since the early 20th century.
Membership of social clubs in 20th century Lagos was one of the yardsticks through which the indigenes’ success was measured. Such clubs as Kila, Mesho, Logba, Egbe Gbobaniyi and others featured prominently in the socioeconomic and political development of Lagos.
Occasions such as Eid-il-Fitri, Eid-il-Kabir, and the Christmas and Easter periods were used by members of these various clubs to showcase the latest garments in vogue. These various clubs also tried to outwit one another by organising dancing parties round the city and on such occasions, merry-making at either chairman’s/patron’s house or at a conspicuous place in the city to showcase the comfort of their members. Alhaja Abibatu’s Mesho Club was noted for its popularity in this respect. The club had two groups – Mesho Kekere, made up of the unmarried youth and Mesho Agbalagba that comprised the married members.
The seed of Alhaja Abibatu’s political life was sown through her membership of the market association in Lagos Island. The association was then under the leadership of Late Madam Alimotu Pelewura of Okepopo. This woman was noted for her ability to mobilise people, especially market women in the fight for their common goal. Through Madam Pelewura, Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji learnt all the intrigues of a fi rebrand market leader and she soon realized the need to imbibe all those sterling qualities that distinguished Alimotu Pelewura as a seemingly recalcitrant leader of market women associations whose activities were considered to be a thorn in the flesh of the colonial government.
Madam Pelewura’s doggedness and relentlessness was well recognised by the traditional ruler of Lagos, Oba Falolu (1933-49), who compensated her with a honorary chieftaincy title. Having studied Pelewura’s leadership style, it was not surprising that when the woman had to retire, the mantle of leadership passed on to Alhaja Abibatu and she continued to be active not only in the market women association where she later became President-General, but also in the political landscape of Nigeria.
Because of her political activism, Alhaja Abibatu had to answer the clarion call of prominent politicians of the pre-independence era to join hands in rescuing the Nigerian state from the jaws of the colonial conquistadors. Also, Alhaja Abibatu supported women of like minds to establish the National Women Council that paraded prominent and educated Nigerian women such as Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Mrs Tejumade Alakija, Mrs. Margaret Ekpo and Lady Oyinkan Abayomi.
Apart from the National Women Council, Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji made contributions in mobilizing grassroots support for the NNDP. The party was established by Herbert Macaulay and others in 1923 to contest the Lagos legislative seat which it won in that year. She later developed interest in the Nigerian Youth Movement founded in 1937 by H.O. Davies, Ernest Ikoli and other prominent Nigerians. When the Egbe Omo Oduduwa was formed by Obafemi Awolowo (who until 1944 was the Secretary of Nigerian Youth Movement), and other prominent Yoruba sons, Mama Mogaji pitched her tent with the nascent ‘pan-Yoruba Movement until the transformation of the party into Action Group in 1950. According to her, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa provided the platform on which she and other leaders of the market women association could realize their political ambition of wrestling power from the colonial masters. Soon, Mama Mogaji was recognised as a pivot of the women and grassroots mobiliser for the party. She was given a prominent role in the national campaign train of the Action Group, mobilising women from other regions for the party.
During the 1956 visit of Queen Elizabeth to Nigeria, Mama’s pre-eminent role as a leader was recognized as she was one of the privileged few to embrace the queen.
Her leadership role continued even after independence and after the fall of the First Republic in January 1966. With the military regime’s dismantling of regional governments, Alhaja Mogaji teamed up with prominent Lagosians that called for the creation of Lagos State. This came to fruition in May 1967, when Lagos State was one of the 12 states created by the Yakubu Gowon’s administration.
Since then, she had pitched her tent with successive regimes that had governed the state. In the Second Republic, she was a prominent UPN member who mobilized the women folks for the party. According to an honourable member of the then state house of assembly, Alhaja Mogaji came to create for herself an offi ce at Alausa and the Jakande’s administration duly recognized her. At that time, she had already emerged Iyaloja of Lagos. After the collapse of the Second Republic, Mama Mogaji continued to play a prominent role on the political landscape both at national and state levels. She was well recognised by the Babangida’s administration to the extent that she was recognised as both a troubleshooter and social mobiliser for the regime. It was under the same Babangida that she was pronounced and anointed President and Iyaloja-General, Association of Market Women and Men in Nigeria, at the commissioning of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos by the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida. The Third
Mainland Bridge was actually named after Babangida as “Ibrahim Babangida Boulevard” but that name did not stick particularly because of the June 12 saga which followed the opening of the bridge. Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji’s role in the subsequent military regimes after Babangida was however limited in view of the fact that she was opposed to the annulment of June 12, 1993 elections won by Moshood Abiola. At the burial of Kudirat Abiola in 1996 following her assassination by people believed to be agents of the ruling junta, Mama Mogaji bore her mind and told government representatives on the occasion that the government had infl icted a serious wound on the Yoruba race.
Following the demise of General Sani Abacha in 1998, Alhaja Mogaji embraced the transition to political programme of the Abdulsalam Abubakar’s administration that eventually ushered in the present democratic dispensation. She pitched her tent with the Tinubu’s administration rendering unflinching support to the man many considered as her political son.
In 2009, when the Lagos State government desired an effective and efficiently administered market system to sustain its commercial growth, bridge the elite-market women divide and bring about an appreciable sustainable development to the state, a capable and tested hand was found in Abibatu Mogaji to chair the Lagos State Market Board. It is on record that under her able and strict leadership, Thursday of every week was made compulsory sanitation day for market women and men. This is aside, the daily advocacy campaign of her administration to enlighten the market folks on government policies like census, voting, immunisation and other economically beneficial programmes of the government. While she also ensured that the rights of the market people were not trampled upon and at the same time the traders were not in conflict with the rules of the state.
Like any other accomplished personality, Alhaja Mogaji’s invaluable contributions to the socio-political development of Nigeria had been fully recognised. She won several awards and honours for her immense contributions to the society. Mama, as most politicians referred to her, bagged more than 70 Awards/titles and honours. She was honoured as Iya Loja of Lagos State by the Late Oba Adeyinka Oyekan II. She was honoured as Yeye Oba of Ikirun land, Yeye Oba of Kweme Kingdom, Badagry, Yeye Oba of Osolu Kingdom, Yeye Oba of Lagos and Iya Adinni of Yaya Abatan Central Mosque, Ifako-Ijaiye, amongst others. Apart from such organisations as the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) which honoured her in 1991, other organizations that bestowed her with honours include: the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Youth Organisation and Law Ladies Forum, University of Lagos (UNILAG), the United Tailors Association, the United Muslim Council of Nigeria, (Alaga – Adinni), Umunede Wives and Daughters Association, Delta State, (Matron); Satellite Comrade (Grand Matron); The Islanders Socialist Movement (Matron); Patriotic Youths of Nigeria (Matron); Police/Public Relations Committee – Elere Division (Honorary Matron); Honorary Doctorate Degree from the Ahmadu Bello University during its recent 50th anniversary and a Honorary Doctorate Degree, LASU. Because of her humanitarian services, she was bestowed the matron-ship of many organisations like the Nigeria Red Cross, Nigeria Youth Organisation, National Union of Lagos Students, Nigerian Society for the Handicapped, and Egbe Omo Eko. She also received national award of the Member of Federal Republic (MFR) for her contributions to national development.
One title “Mama” never waited to receive was her supposed turbanning as the Iya Adini of Nigeria by the Muslim Association of Nigeria (MAN) on Saturday, June 22, 2013, exactly a week after her death.
It could be said that Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji was a woman of many parts. Born of a modestly comfortable family, she learnt so much about life right from her infancy. She also learnt about Islam which was her only formal education.
She was inspired in trade and activism through the activities of her mentor and co-traveller in the Market Women Association activism, Alhaja Alimotu Pelewura. Through her activism, Alhaja Abibatu became a strong voice in Nigeria’s socio-political landscape. She joined forces with many political heavy weights in the country in the fight for social justice, protection of human rights, equality and development. Amongst other efforts, Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji could be referred to as one of the few individuals who have helped to shape the socio-economic and political growth and development of modern Nigeria.
While her footprints thus remain on the sand of the nation’s political and economic struggle, her chapter was however closed on that calm Saturday evening, June 15, 2013 when sympathisers stormed her Ikeja, Lagos residence, hoping to dispel or confirm the authenticity of the statement of the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Lateef Ibirogba, that Iya Mogaji won’t be reachable for commercial or political consultations anymore. Alas, they heard it was real, the frontline leader of Lagos State Market Women Association, who dedicated a larger part of her adult life to protecting the rights of market men and women, mobilising them for greatness and innovation, and giving every market person a brand to associate with has ceased to be part of them.
During her last minutes, she was quoted to have said she had forgiven all that offended her while she also presented an apology to whosoever she might have offended in the course of the struggle. However, she lamented the loss of her eight children and she immediately smiled and breathed her last.
Eulogies however trailed her demise. Reacting to her death, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, described Mogaji as a committed nationalist, who gave all for the unity, progress and development of thenation.
Tambuwal said as family members, friends and associates mourn Alhaja Abibat, they should be comforted by the knowledge that the renowned market leader lived a life full of many indelible achievements and notable contributions to development of Lagos State in particular and Nigeria in general.
Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN) described it as a great national and personal loss the passage of the pioneer Iyaloja /President General of the Market Women and Men, Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji.
Fashola said that Alhaja Mogaji, was a forthright defender of the people and their right to economic empowerment.
This peculiar trait is evident in the personality of her illustrious son and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a leader with the love of the people at heart.”
According to him, Mogaji was a frontliner in the commercial development of Lagos State, particularly Lagos Island, which was formerly dominated by the Lebanese and Greek merchants.
Governor of the state of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola described the death of Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji as a loss of a mother in a million. Aregbesola said the death of the Tinubu matriarch would leave a big vacuum both in politics and commercial sector of not only Lagos State but Nigeria at large.
On his own part, Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, described her death as a great and monumental loss to the nation’s commerce and economy. The governor said Mogaji was a pillar of support for many people as she served as an oak of succour to the less-privileged.
Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, depicted that her death is a great loss to Nigeria. Amosun, in a statement condoled with the children of the deceased, especially Tinubu, Lagos State Government, people of Lagos State and the entire market women and men across the country. He added that Mogaji led a fulfi lled life and her footprints are endured on the sands of time.
Also, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Chairman, Lagos State, Chief Henry Ajomale described Mogaji’s death as a great loss, saying that she had contributed immensely to the development of markets in Nigeria and that her departure should be celebrated.
Also, the party’s Publicity Secretary, Joe Igbokwe simply said: “Mama Tinubu, the great mother of our leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu lived an eventful and glorious life, a life full of activities, full of fun, full of challenges, full of gains. May her soul rest in peace.”
Till her death, he said Mogaji was the Chairman, Lagos State Market Development Board, a body established by the Lagos State Government to supervise the activities and development of markets in the state.
Also, the state Peoples Democratic Party was not left out, they came up with a statement that acknowledged the greatness of the demised. In a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Gani Taofik, the PDP described the deceased as a dogged fighter for justice.
And indeed, she was a dogged fighter till she breath her last.