Zainab Gimba, the petrel in the hallowed chambers

Dr Zainab Gimba, a university don and three-time commissioner in Borno state, is not known to me in person; though we share the same surname, that’s where it ends. I have never seen her in person but I can always recognise her because I have seen a lot of her pictures.

One picture that has stuck to my memory was of her weary, fatigued and possibly famished countenance during her party’s (All Progressives Congress) primary election. She had contested to represent her constituency, Ngala, Bama and Kala Balge, in the House of Representatives. And as is normal with our politics, powerful stakeholders then had their preferred candidate. But the people stood by her. She and her supporters, including delegates, staged day and night vigils of sorts under inclement weather, harsh conditions and deprivations to withstand all the shenanigans of the powers that be until left with no option, they let go.

I took an interest in her struggle then. And like we try to side with the vulnerable and all the Davids fighting modern-day Goliaths, Neptune Prime championed her fight until her victory at the general polls. One other thing that gingered us was the fact that she was a woman. In a political space that is not theological and with all participants publicly acknowledging that women have equal rights as men, we saw no justification in them privately trying to cast her aside just for being a woman.

In the type of rotten system we run, if given the desired cooperation and support, women can contribute a lot in helping us sanitise it. One little digression here may suffice. 

After the last polls, election tribunals were set up to consider petitions at all levels arising from them. In Katsina state, a female judge in the governorship election tribunal was said to have reported and deposited with a security agency the sum of $193,700. Perhaps the full money was $200,000 but, along the line, $6,700 ‘disappeared’. Well, nobody has heard anything about it yet. Who gave it, who sent who, for what purpose and from which source did it come? But what you can be sure of is that that judge may never participate in election tribunals again.

Well, let us return to Hon. Zainab Gimba who sits in the Green Chamber of the National Assembly. After their inauguration, during proceedings, contributing on the floor and participating in committee works, her diligence, consistency and brilliance shone. That earned her more responsibilities. Because of the confidence they have in her, her Commonwealth colleagues elected her to be the chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, African Region, in August last year. One month later, she was elected vice-chairperson, Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians International.

Perhaps, the vast knowledge she had gathered is standing her in good stead. She did not stop at obtaining a first degree in Public Administration, nor was she contented with a Master’s in the same field. She went on to bag a PhD in Public Administration and Policy Analysis from the University of Abuja in 2008.

However, not far away from her mind are her people; those who stood by her and for their party through thick and thin. One of her aides confided in me that in the first month after the inauguration, Gimba started buying and warehousing items she knew her people, devastated by the scourge of Boko Haram, needed to revive their social and economic lives.  Acquiring mansions, plots of land or cruising in state of the art cars on the paved roads of Abuja were not her craving. Or gathering up assets in Dubai and other exotic lands as is the fad of some of her colleagues.

In one year, sacrificing most of her salary and allowances and living frugally like the university teacher she was, the lawmaker was able to gather up 118 assorted vehicles, 200 tricycles, 800 sewing machines, 400 grinding machines and 492 water pumps which she distributed to members of her constituency at an occasion recently. Then she doled out cash gifts of N1 million each to the families of two constituents who lost their lives and had large families, N500,000 and N400,000 to another two families of constituents who lost their lives and had smaller family sizes, as well as N100,000 each to another 72 families of late constituents to support themselves.

What is more telling is that she never on her own pencilled down the beneficiaries. What she did was to tell her constituents what she had for them after which they met, discussed and pointed out beneficiaries.

Gimba is not really only a worthy ambassador of the womenfolk or one out many from the geopolitical zone she came from, but a pride to the Northeast and worthy daughter of Borno who has brought honour to Kanem Borno.

You see, from the part of the country where she came from, many had been in the National Assembly before her, and many are there with her. Unfortunately, most of those representatives in most cases actually represented or represent only themselves, their families and very few lucky friends. Unmindful of the fact that the Northeast is the backwaters of the country and coming first from the rear in all indices of human existence, they do not complement their governors’ efforts like Gimba. This is one of the reasons why the governors tend to get overwhelmed with the citizens’ demands.

No wonder a proud and ecstatic Governor Babagana Zulum at the occasion said, “This is the largest intervention that any individual has ever distributed. I commend you, Gimba, for supporting members of your constituency. Bama and Kala-Balge are the worst hit by the insurgency; I commend you for the livelihood programme which will greatly help in rejuvenating their livelihood”.

He went on to reveal that “Dr Zainab Gimba has been doing a lot for her constituents and this singular act will go a long way at alleviating the sufferings of her displaced constituents. The government and people of Borno are very happy with her and we pray that Allah will continue to protect her.”

Prior to this, she had trained over 200 youths in various trade skills, secured jobs for 13 graduates, drilled 19 solar-powered boreholes as well as distributed assorted food items to the vulnerable and the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in her constituency.

Apart from her governor, well-meaning Nigerians have hailed her trailblazing gesture. While acknowledging her gesture as “the first of its kind in the history of the House of Representatives and the Senate,” the House of Reps, through Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu, its spokesman, said: “As leaders concerned with the wellbeing of our constituents, it is a burden we bear, that we must often stretch above and beyond the call of duty, applying our personal resources to compensate for gaps in government’s limited resources”.

The House also acknowledged that Gimba’s people, the people of Kala-Balge, remain one of the communities in Borno most affected by the crises of insecurity and ecological challenges, with entire communities cut off from the rest of the country for five to six months every year and forced to migrate to Cameroon due to flood disasters.

But then, the caveat: Hon. Kalu rounded off by saying that what Honourable Gimba did had nothing to do with the National Assembly as it was a personal matter sponsored from her own purse.

Of course, the House must come out with such defence for its members who put self before their people. These selfish members are those being recycled in government, and rather than empower their people as Gimba is doing, prefer to give them fish so that they return tomorrow to beg for more, rather than teach them how to fish.

The thing is, no amount of denial from the House will hoodwink the people from the truth – that there is money there. Gimba’s gesture is like the breeze that blew open the chicken’s anus. She did not have that money before going there and she is not a member of the executive arm that controls votes. Therefore, what she did must have come from her earnings as a lawmaker. And she is not even a principal officer. The highest office she holds in the Green Chamber is that of vice-chairman of the Sustainable Development Goals Committee.

The truth is that there are many who are richer than her and there are many who receive more than her there. The difference is in the scale of love one has for one’s people and the extent one can go to sacrifice for their well being.

Of course, Gimba has always been a passionate person who strives for excellence in whatever she does. Maybe that’s why the last government of Borno state made her commissioner for poverty alleviation and youth empowerment and reappointed her twice,  as commissioner for universal basic education board and, later, water resources.

Some people say even the most ardent revolutionary becomes weary with time because years cool the fire of passion and with it what was believed the light of truth. But this, we leave to time since we live in the moment. 

However, what we see now is a petrel in the National Assembly. Like the petrel – a small long-winged seabird that flies very far from land and whenever it returns to its nesting place, which it does over and over without changing location, it is to breed – Zainab Gimba, the 48-year-old beauty with brains and the brawn to serve, has become to her people a harbinger of regeneration, life, hope, sustenance and development.

You can reach Gimba via [email protected], 09029880064

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