Najatu Muhammad, a fiery activist and politician, rejected the appointment from the Muhammadu Buhari administration to chair the governing council of Federal University Dutse in Jigawa State.
She wrote in the rejection letter: “It’s however, unfortunate that I was not consulted before the announcement in the media”. The failure to inform her that she was being considered for appointment and announcing it, epitomises the shambolic nature of the Buhari administration.
Although she said she couldn’t accept the appointment for “personal reasons” that were not revealed, she claimed that she would “remain an ardent supporter of President Buhari in his effort in charting a new course for this country”.
Muhammad is a friend of the president’s wife Aisha and has been a Buhari supporter going back to the early 2000s when the president was the leader of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and was director of Buhari’s presidential campaign in 2003. She would later join the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and run and lose for the Kano Central senate seat in 2011. Her fiery speech in support of the ACN presidential candidate Nuhu Ribadu in the 2011 (s)election, in which she mocked then president Goodluck Jonathan saying it was “good luck for him and bad luck for Nigeria”, went viral and brought her into the national limelight.
Muhammad seemed destined for a life in politics. As a student of sociology at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in the early 1980s, she was married to Bala Muhammad, then political adviser to Abubakar Rimi of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and governor of Kano State. Rimi’s mentor and PRP leader Aminu Kano was a “progressive”, who from the 1950s had challenged the political dominance of Fulani oligarchs in Kano and beyond.
By the 1980s, most of those oligarchs, including Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano, were in alliance with the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and trying to undermine Rimi in Kano State. The power struggle between the governor and the emir in 1981 resulted in Rimi issuing a query to Bayero in what was seen as an attempt by former to curb the powers of the latter. What happened next were scenes that have been sadly witnessed at frequent intervals in northern Nigeria.
Rimi was painted as “anti-Islam”, and rioting “almajiris” (street urchins) went on a rampage across Kano. Bala Muhammad, Rimi’s political adviser and Najatu’s husband was targeted and lynched by the mob.
About a year later, Naja, as she was known then, ran for president of the ABU Students Union. It appeared an uphill task at the time. A woman had never been president. While ABU was a hotbed of student radicalism with a very diverse student population, northern Nigeria was still very socially conservative. Rumours also claimed that she was an establishment candidate, was too close to Vice Chancellor Ango Abdullahi, and that her campaign was being secretly funded by the NPN. She was also up against a very popular student radical, Emmanuel “E Black” Ochugboju.
But Muhammad upset the odds and won by a landslide, thanks to a well-funded campaign that involved rallies each night in front of Amina Hall, the female halls of residence. Each rally involved a sound system blasting music, Guinness on a tap from huge containers for supporters, and Naja dancing in front of the speakers with a tight T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination. The opposition couldn’t match that.
She would later feature prominently in organisations like the Save Nigeria Group and campaigned for then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan to take over running the country, as the constitution required, when President Umaru Yar’Adua was seriously ill in 2010.