Hajya Fatima Mohammed Goni: Heart of Gold, Mother of Millions!
Charity, the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. The world we’ve found ourselves in has blurred the lines of the conventional definitions we learnt in and around a formal setting. With people having denotative meanings and ulterior motives to doing things, a word like charity is a victim of this stereotype. The idea of the word has been seen as a cloak used by people to adulterate crimes and fleshen personal accounts. However, our cover personality is one of the few people who embody charity and rightly deserve the humanitarian title. DOWNTOWN’S Tilewa Kazeem caught up with Borno-born Hajya Fatima Mohammed Goni, a mother of millions who helps without consideration of borders, religion, or ethnicity.
Walk me through your daily routine.
After my morning prayers, the day is the day of the people and the youths. I don’t have my time aside from prayers, the rest is for the needy; including Saturdays and Sundays. If there’s business, I’m working. In the likelihood that there’s no work, I relax and spend time with family.
What does Goni mean? I assume it is a title of some sort?
Yes, you are correct. It means an Islamic scholar.
Let’s start from the beginning, your father was quite popular in Borno. He was a Sheikh and he did quite a lot for that community. What are some of the things you learnt from him?
Well, my father’s job was to educate. He had a school where children from around the community came to learn. For the duration of my father’s time on earth, you were never allowed to collect a single dime from those children and their parents. The school was completely free. There, he also taught them how to read and understand the Quran and Islam in its entirety. Aside from being an educator, he was also a tailor. He had apprenticeships and he taught people this trade so they too could provide for themselves and their families. He strongly believed in equipping yourself with a skill so combined with education, you’d be able to hold your own in society.
To quantify all I learnt from my father, you’d have to cancel your trip and go back to Lagos tomorrow because there’s a lot to tell. Whenever my father was eating and someone came in he’d say Ah! Thank God! I don’t know how to finish this food. My wife and children are overfeeding me. Please come and join me. Even when he was famished he would do the same thing. Now that habit has become a part of me and I do the same thing. Also, he was selfless. If he had one naira he’d share it till there’s nought left. He’d tell me that money is nothing. Build people, draw people closer in any way you can. I remember whenever soldiers and policemen were posted to my village in Borno. He’d house them all under his roof without regard for where they’re from and religion. At all times he’d tell me for no reason should I ever lie and follow the truth. Always say it as it is. He taught me the importance of praying five times daily. If you look at my eyes you’d see I’m sleep deprived. I spend more than three hours praying for our Nigeria every day. These are some constant reminders of who he was and what I learnt from him.
What was it like meeting the President of our great nation and how did you end up being the Chairperson of the Grassroots Mobilizers for Buhari and Osinbajo (GMB)
My father, as I rightly mentioned, was an Islamic scholar and was a huge fan of President Buhari. Back then he used to pray five times daily for the president just because of his personal adoration for him. As time went on, I began to appreciate who he was and what he did. I know there are a lot of questions about his capability, honesty, and patriotism towards Nigeria but like every Nigerian who has Nigeria running through his veins he has all and more needed to run Nigeria.
As someone who is true to the cause of helping people, I was chosen to head the team towards giving people who are willing to work, aspire and achieve, the opportunity to do so regardless of tribe, religion, or ethnicity. There are millions of youths in Nigeria with no roof over their head. Some have turned to armed robbery, petty theft, terrorism, and kidnapping because of lack of education and those who have studied to the highest level possible roam the streets jobless. Perhaps if they did they’d do more for their society and their families. For those reasons I am proud of the GMBO. As a campaign member, I want to fulfill the president and his vice’s promise of providing jobs for the youths, and Inshallah we have helped more than 100,000 youths across Nigeria.
What exactly is Grassroots Mobilizer for Buhari and Osinbajo?
It’s an organization that helps people who naturally don’t have the opportunity or privilege to do so. The word grassroots implies that society has deemed them disadvantaged, so we provide for them, sending them to school thereby putting them in positions where they can provide for themselves and their family. The Grassroots Mobilizer For Buhari and Osinbajo stems from my adoration and support of the president. It was registered in 2014 and became active in 2015.
What then happens to this when the present Head of State and his vice leave office?
We did Buhari and Osinbajo in a big way and we counted victory; come 2023, I have another Grassroots Mobilizer for a Better Nigeria and Initiative. That’s the new group. Cumulatively all these groups; FATMOBU DIKWA FOUNDATION FOR THE NEEDY, Grassroots Mobilizer for Buhari and Osinbajo and the new group have over two million members registered and armed with their voter’s cards. You saw it, I took you to the library where I have the hard copies, and you saw this new group as well. It has well over 500,000 registered members also. So the Better Nigeria Initiative is continuous. We are inducting new members into our database which would take the number to over 2.5 million. By 2023 my target is to have 10 million members and I will get it. We are receiving forms from different states at the moment and inshallah I’d get it.
From a very young age, you’ve been exposed to helping people and putting a smile on people’s faces. You had no obligation to follow that path as you became older but you did. Tell me why?
I like this question. It’s my passion. Right from a little age, I’ve always had this compassion to help. When my late father sent me on errands and I happened to see someone in need of help I rendered it to them. I’d take them to the chemist to get medicine, food, or whatever. After that, I’d start crying, wondering how I would face my father and for that reason, everyone knew me. After that my father started sending my brothers. At the time all I wanted to do was just help in whatever way I could.
I’m what you’d call an educated illiterate. I had no formal education aside from quranic school but despite that, I didn’t let it hold me back so I fought and struggled to get to where I am today. My sister, Dr. Aisha Adamu, and I started FASH International and a lot of the profit generated from that is given back to the youths and the less privileged. My NGO, FATMOBU DIKWA FOUNDATION FOR THE NEEDY takes my time and resources and I submit to it wholeheartedly because it is my passion. It is why I was put on the earth.
For example, if I go to a village and I see that there’s no clean water I make provision for a borehole to be installed in that community and when I return to commission that borehole, I go with a branded vehicle of Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo informing them of who made that possible. Putting a smile on the faces of those villagers as well as the numerous less privileged people we’ve been able to help makes my heart dance for joy and I feel deeply fulfilled that in my little way I’m making a difference.
I understand you are nothing without your humanitarian work but I’d like to take a step out of that and venture deeper into a more personal side of Hajya Fatima Mohammed Goni.
Some information about my personal life is exclusive but I’ll tell you what I can.
I’ll take what I can get. So are you married?
No, I’m not married. I was, but we are separated.
I did some digging and I saw you’re a grandma, Congratulations! What is that like and how many children do you have?
Thank you. I have just one daughter and two grandchildren but I can say I have many children and grandchildren as well because everyone I’ve touched and impacted in their lives are my children. My brother’s children are my children as well but personally, I have just one child, Aisha, and two grandchildren Maruf and Adamu. I made sure that she got the best education.
She has a degree in Mass Communication from Malaysia and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the UK. Now she works under the Civil Service Commission. Inasmuch as she’s chosen her own part, she does her own fair share of humanitarian work. Working under the FATMOBU foundation, she provides for the needy from her own pocket as well. That way what I learnt from my father, she learns from me, and so on and so forth.
That’s wonderful, looks like the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. As a mother and a human being, what do you have to say to people who believe that a male child is more deserving of education as opposed to a female child?
Education is the key. Maybe if I went to school and was educated, I could toss my hat in the ring to become the president or the vice-president of the next election because as you can see everything a man can do a woman can do better. If you look at Paulen Talen, the Minister for Women Affairs in Nigeria, she’s good at what she does. At a time she was a female child. Would it have been fair to deprive her of education because of her gender considering all the good she’s done? She,as well as many other examples, prove that more women need to come out; and how would that happen? By equipping them with education. You can have all the determination to become successful but the lack of education already puts you at a disadvantage.
Genital mutilation. This is something that is still happening in Nigeria and during my research, I read that you and your foundation are cracking down on it in the north. What steps did you take to make this happen?
Awareness. That’s how we did it. Educating people and teaching them how such a barbaric act is setting Nigeria back centuries. At the end of the day, they are reacting as a result of what they’ve been accustomed to and what has been passed down from generation to generation. In making them aware that it does more harm than good, we were able to reset their mindsets. Also, with prayer anything is possible.
If you could place a number on the amount of lives you impacted and touched, what would that number be?
Honestly, not countable. I showed you my records room and you saw the foundation’s catalog with thick binders of people enrolled under the foundation. From Abia all the way to FCT.
Let me tell you a story. There’s this boy I usually buy roasted corn from along the road. One day I asked him, “don’t you want to go to school? You’re roaming around here running after buses”. He said his dad is late and he’s the one providing for his family. I asked him what level he stopped his education and he said secondary level. I asked him a follow-up question “If you get the opportunity to go to the university will you go?” He said “yes”. Then I said, “Toh! Go and gain admission and I’ll sponsor you”. He got admission in Nasarawa, finished and he got his degree. He served his NYSC here in my company and right now I’m trying to get him a job.
One day in my office we were talking and I asked him where he was from. He said he was born in Kaduna but he is Yoruba. Up until that day I had never asked him any question of the sort I just helped him. This is a story that I hold dear and I keep remembering every time. All I saw was a committed Nigerian who wanted more and I was used as a vessel to take him from that to a graduate. This is just one of the numerous stories; going to hospitals to clear patients’ bills from my own pocket. My secretary initially started out teaching me English and I learnt because of business.
As someone who has devoted her life to helping people, what are some of these restraints you’ve faced?
The major constraint is financial backing from those who have more than I do. In my capacity, I offer as much help as I can to those who need it. Nigeria is big and I can’t do everything. If I could I would but I can’t but I’d like to call out those who have the funds like Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Alhaji Abdul Samaad to name a few to help the cause. If I’m able to do my part for society despite my limited resources, imagine what they can do with the embarrassment of riches at their disposal.
So I am calling and appealing to them to trust a good cause by entrusting this foundation to reach and touch more lives. The FATMOBU DIKWA FOUNDATION FOR THE NEEDY has representation in all 774 local governments and with this, whatever comes in to us will reach those who need it twice as fast. I don’t mind going all the way to Sambisa to deliver to the disadvantaged but I don’t have those resources. The government can’t do it all, they need those who have as well to chip in and assist. I remember there was a lack of PVCs for the last election, in my office I wrote a letter appealing to INEC for the deadline to be pushed forward for people to get theirs. Through perseverance, awareness, tears, and jingles, the deadline date was pushed back and over 2.5 million voters’ cards were recorded. If a similar situation arises again and we have sufficient financial backing we’d do more.
We are all Nigerians before anything else so the conversation of religion or tribe isn’t one we ought to be having. Rather, the discussion of how to move Nigeria forward is one we should be having.
What are some of the foundation’s biggest achievements?
So many things. My children (the disadvantaged) have had their stories rewritten because we gave them a second chance at life. Over 1000 youths are working in different ministries. I have 16 youths working for this state’s(Abuja)revenue commission. I didn’t put my daughter there. I told her to go and work for herself and I fought to put youths that went to school and got a degree. When they gave me their CV, they didn’t expect a job that pays N400,000 a month. With that, they can help their families and for every one person that helps another person in need, I get rewarded by Allah. So even if I haven’t profited from this foundation I’ve achieved great things and that’s worth more to me than a thousand plaques on the wall. In working for President Buhari I’m striving day in day out to complete his mission and each day I get closer to that goal I can rest my head and sleep like a baby because my conscience is clear.
Come 2023, I’m praying for a good and credible presidential candidate who has Nigeria at heart so I’ll rally behind that person and all Grassroots followers will do so as well.
You said something about praying for a worthy candidate for the presidency. Have you considered giving it a shot? Is it something you’ve considered?
I’ve never been interested in the daily running of a country. Even if it’s a role as far down as a counselor, I’ve never thought about it.
Why is that?
My passion is to help people. Humanitarian work is my lane, anything else I’m not interested in. I have tons of awards and I didn’t pay one naira for them. My work behind the scenes was appreciated and these awards were given to me in honour of my work. I want to be associated with board positions that really matter and are actually making a difference in the lives of people. I’ve spent over 600 million naira of my own money giving back and I am content with that but to buy a ticket to become a counselor I’m not interested. At the end of the day, I’m capable of doing more than a number of ministers in office today. A position that allows me to give back to Nigeria is what I want, not one that would personally enrich my pockets.
My children always tell me not to say I didn’t go to school because I’ve achieved more than what a lot of these high and mighty graduates have. I’ve given back to the people that need help. They are proud of me likewise I’m proud of myself. The Vice-president, Speaker of the house, and a ton of governors know what mama is capable of and the role I played but I can’t go grovelling on my knees to be rewarded as a board member. If they deem it fit to reward me with a position on a board that allows me to give back then no problem and if not, almighty Allah has and will continue to reward me in his own way.
Taking a detour from humanitarian talk I’d like to ask what is your favorite food?
My favorite food is Tuwo and Miyan Kuka, made locally but internationally, I like prawns as well.
When were you born?
The 25th of February 1970
Wow, Happy belated birthday then Hajya. You turned 50 last year. How did you celebrate your golden jubilee?
Since I’ve been born I’ve never celebrated any of my birthdays or even cut a cake. Usually, during my birthday we gather, pray and eat. However, for my 50th my Nigerian children surprised me. That day I said my prayers from 12am to 2am, and when the cock crowed in the morning I went out. While I was out my appointees and my Nigerian children had bought cakes and gifts. They decorated the office beautifully and tricked me back to the office with a potential donation. When I heard that, I rushed down to the office. Immediately I opened the door and everyone shouted “Happy Birthday Mummy!” I was shocked and happy I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was a memorable birthday and the first birthday I’ve celebrated.
For my 51st birthday, I forgot the day. Something happened to someone close to me and I honestly forgot but on Facebook people celebrated, reposting my pictures and all sorts. Later in the day, I received gifts and a few people celebrated with me.
During the recent EndSars protest, did you do anything to show support?
The EndSars protest started in good faith but somewhere along the line, it deteriorated into a political tussle. I’m glad none of my members were involved in those series of events. It was a problem that affected Nigeria and all we could do at that time was pray.
Somewhere in our discussion, you mentioned you were a businesswoman. What are some of those businesses you dabbling in?
Before the restrictions on import and export, I dealt in Persian rugs and carpets but now I deal in real estate.
And of all the countries you’ve traveled to, what country would you say is your favorite?
One of them is Saudi Arabia because it’s a holy land. As a Muslim anyone who has a problem runs to that place. The second is Switzerland. If you have a problem locating somewhere there are information desks around the city to help you locate where you want to go. It is very quiet and peaceful. Somewhere like New York is busy like Lagos but in Switzerland, everyone minds their business.
How many languages do you speak?
Little English, Hausa, and a little Arabic as well. My own language is Kanuri and I speak a bit Yoruba.
With the population of Nigeria exceeding 210 million people, it must take a humanitarian superhero to reach the far corners of Nigeria. As someone who has done a ton already and isn’t too far from that title, has there ever been a time where you wished you could do more but you couldn’t?
Umm… In April 2014, I visited Chibok shortly after they had kidnapped the school girls. We sympathized and wept with the parents whose children were taken. And on our way flying over Maiduguri, I saw something and it touched me. While we were going, we were given two hours. Who passed the order, we had no clue but we were given two hours to fly to Chibok and back. Helicopters shuffled across the sky like a war zone and flying in one of those helicopters, I could see people working in farms going about their day-to-day routine. I sat there perplexed and said to myself if I as an individual can survey what was going on from a chopper, what’s stopping the trained men from doing so?
When I returned home, the whole thing kept me up. I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was to pray to Allah to support those parents in their time of need and hurt.