By Dooyum Ingye

Aisha Yesufu endeared herself to Nigerians when she joined others to demand for the disbandment of the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). During the #EndSARS protest, she was tear gassed, and harassed by the police for leading the protest in Abuja. This is not the first time Aisha Yesufu will be harassed at a protest in Nigeria. Since her childhood, Aisha Yesufu has always being exceptional and resilient.

Born in the Northern part of Nigeria, a deeply conservative society where the status of women is slightly better than domesticated slaves, Aisha was already speaking against inequity. She was quoted as saying;
“Even though my parents or adults were angry at me for speaking up especially when it does not favour them; when they had that need to have someone that was unbiased to look at issues, they would call me.”
“I have the gift to look at issues from both sides even when I am involved and when I am not. I am able to tell people, “okay look at it like this”. My mother would always say, ‘nobody wins in your court’, but in that same court when they want the issues to be told plainly, they would come.”

Despite the hardship she faced while growing up, her firmness and courage didn’t wean. She never shied away from engaging people, her father inclusive. Sometimes, her mother would use her eyes to warn her. She took after her father; himself, defiant to established authorities in his days. Later in life, 1991 precisely, when Aisha wanted to enroll into the Nigeria Defense Academy, she was rejected on account of her gender. She felt very bitter about it, and unleashed her literal fury on the school authority.

Meanwhile, at home, she became a laughing stock because she refused to marry at a young age. She insisted that she wanted to acquire western education. According to her,
‘I come from a very poor background. Back when I was in secondary school, I would go to classes without breakfast and when I closed and went home, I never expected lunch. I was born and raised in Kano State. Where I grew up in Kano State can be compared to a ghetto, in fact, some people call it the Ajegunle of Kano where you have a lot of drug users, street children, alumajiris, and using drugs was very normal over there. If you were not into drugs in that area, you were seen as an odd person. By the time I was 11 years old, I did not have any female friends because all of them had been married off but I wanted to be educated and leave the ghetto. I really focused on my education and people really insulted me because of that.’

At the three universities she attended namely, Uthman Dan Fodio University Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and Bayero University Kano, because of her outspokenness, her friends avoided moving with her at the administrative block for fear of been associated with her. She is quoted as saying “I knew those times that they could drive me away from school but I always thought, ‘on the issue, I am going to follow it through’.

It is this mindset that later brought her into limelight as the ‘Warrior of the Bring Back Our Girls Protests’ which, according to Njideka Agbo, attracted the attention of former first lady of the United States, Michell Obama; Hillary Clinton; had its hashtag #BringBackOurGirls tweeted more than 2 million times; inspired a spark of protests in US, UK, South Africa, Jamaica and Switzerland; represented in Marvel’s Black Panther; spoken on by Wyclef Jean, Chris Brown, and disseminated by the international and national press. At some point, she became a target of attack because of her outspokenness. Aisha is not the sort of activist that fears to point fingers neither is she the type of activist that depends on politicians for food. This explains why she is hated by those who are pro government.

Given this circumstance, she once said, ‘“Of course, there is always that fear that if you speak out, you will be killed… but death is death and it would come when it would come.”
“The worst thing anyone can do to me is to kill me. I’m going to die anyway, so it’s really not the worst thing because it is going to happen anyway. It’s another kind of death too if I am not able to express myself.”
Few weeks ago, Aisha’s name made rounds on all media platforms for her heroic display during the #EndSARS protest. Aisha’s ruggedness in the on-going protest serves as a driving fuel to Nigerian youths, who have risen, to stand together with the woman, whose voice and posture defies the brutality of security agents. It is true that she represents all shades of bravery and courage. The role she is playing will be told to generations unborn.

Also, it is important to note, at a time when other men sit in their comfort zones, Aisha Yesufu, left her business and children to protest police brutality against the youth and called for the disbandment of the Police armed squad, SARS, that is known for killings, torture, extortion, etc. Umar Nasko captures the occasion succinctly ‘the Police in its usual manner of unnecessary show of force even in civil matters, fired canisters of tear gas and life ammunitions that saw protesters scampering for safety. Aisha Yesufu was covered in the thick tear gas fog, her clenched fist held up, her hijab on, and a bag dangling from her right shoulder across her torso towards her left leg, emerging from that confusion is a heroine, a woman, a mother and a patriot. Aisha left her position at the back to the front to defend and take bullet for the other protesters.

Finally, Aisha Yesufu has one more oppressor to fight- Islam. As a feminist, she ought to know that Islam opposes the ideas she espouses, and fights for. This is why, some Muslims have come out to criticize her. The hijab she covers is a symbol of suppression and oppression. She must free her mind from a belief system that sanctions the killing of non-believers, child marriage, slavery, refusal of western education, etc. Islam, as it’s practiced today, will limit the extent and quality of her activism.

What a heroine!

(c) Dooyum Ingye 2020