My mother, (Maa’mi) Hajia Abibatu Mogaji, has passed. But it is so obvious from the outpouring of emotions across Nigeria and beyond that Mama lives. God blessed her with 96 plus years on earth. But she was not great because of her longevity. For, it is not how long one lives but how well. But Mama used every minute of her sojourn on earth wisely and well. My mother lived a long, fruitful life that benefited all who were fortunate enough to come into contact with her. Everywhere she went and everything she touched, she left better than she found them. She added and never subtracted. She made and never destroyed.
Her light consistently shone and the darkness could never comprehend nor extinguish it. God gave women a tremendous creative force and that force lived in my mother until her last day.
But she is not only my mother. She is my Hero. To Africa, she is Mama Africa. Nigeria shared her with the world. I recall in 1988 when we had a delegation for the “Free Mandela” campaign in South Africa. She was there front and centre with Sam Nujoma, the first President of Namibia.
Most of you know her as the Iyaloja of Lagos or the President General of the Association of Nigerian Market Women and Men. She is more. She was Iya-Gbo-Gbo (Mother of All), Iya Oba of Lagos, Iya Oba of Ikirun and Iya Oba of many other towns too numerous to list. She received numerous citations, awards and recognition from mosques and churches across the land. As a validation of her depth of knowledge and stewardship, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria awarded her Honorary Doctorate Degree, (Honoris Causa).
She was a powerful, progressive public figure in her own right. When it was fashionable and accepted to ridicule and look down on market women and men, she was their staunch and proud advocate for they were and are an important part of our society, culture and economy. She stood by them as they stood by her. She was instrumental in shaping policies and practices to assure more Nigerians benefited from commerce and trade which in the former days were dominated by foreign hands. She helped mould and organized the people of the markets into a potent force for justice and social progress, not just for their own interests but for the good of the weak, poor and downcast.
She did not matriculate in the halls of some renowned university. She never had to. A student of the wisdom of our great traditional culture, she inherently knew things the universities taught. She also knew many important things such institutions can never teach. She was a philosopher, pragmatist and a captain who knew how to navigate our complex system but she did so not for selfish reasons or private gain. She did so for a higher purpose: To lead her constituency to a better place. My mother’s life demonstrated that character, integrity, loyalty, commitment and fidelity to lofty principles are the loftiest values in life. You always knew at every point in time what Mama stood for.
Some may say she was popular and respected because she was President General of Market Women’s Association. I say she was President General because she was popular, honest and respected. She never demanded or craved respect and honour. She earned it.
From the depth of my heart, I thank the teeming market men and women who closed the markets as an act intended to honour my mother on her passing. I am the only son who can apologize to the committed market men and women and those members of the public inconvenienced by the market closings. Their act of love and solidarity during this time of remembrance for my mother will not go unrewarded. That is the tradition for them to honour their hero.
For all the good she did as a public figure, what you witnessed was but a fraction of this remarkable woman. You see, I had the unique privilege and honour to be her son. As a mother is where she truly shined.
She did not just provide food, she nourished us. She did not just manage the house and help give us a roof over our heads, she gave us a loving home. She did not just instruct us on what to do, she took the time to teach and sculpt us and to let us drink from her deep reservoir of wisdom and experience. She set me on my path. Whenever times got tough, she held up a lantern that I may see my way forward and she encouraged me as only a loving mother can do for a son.
Without her guidance and tutelage, I could not have done what I have been able to accomplish.
Yes, my mother is gone for her soul has been taken to a better place. However, the spirit by which she lived and instructed others continues to live in the hearts of the people she touched. In her honour, I ask that we redouble our efforts to continue to improve Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Ondo and Nigeria so that they become what she dreamed they would be.
I shall miss you, Mother. I may not have always been the best and perfect son but you were always the best and perfect mother. God could certainly not have given me a better gift than such a wonderful soul as my mother. I only wish other people could know the special joy I felt in having a mother as special as you. In this tough world, the word “love” is not used enough. I am proud and honoured to say that you raised me with love and that I love you, Maa’mi. You are the best.
Bola Tinubu is a former Governor of Lagos. He wrote this tribute in honour of his mother, who died on June 15 at 96.