My secondary education at Queens College Yaba Lagos ended on a high note in 1984. I was to proceed to the United Kingdom. My mum and Uncle Ashiru had gone to inspect suitable schools for me.
A career in Medicine has been discussed on and off through my days but it was never binding or firm. Although one of the options my mum and uncle came back with was an admission offer to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland secured by the Late Maj General Adefope. I kept that letter for many years.
My father, however, had a last-minute change of heart after a conversation with Late General Shehu Musa Yaradua. He decided going abroad was not the best option. Instead, I should proceed to school in Sokoto and learn more about my culture. At that age any trip or change is an adventure, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed. I just refocused and went off to Sokoto.
My WAEC grades were excellent and I decided I wanted to be an accountant like my uncle Jaf. I did well in Mathematics because he taught me many simple and basic principles which I stuck to and used all throughout my school years.
When my Uncle Jaf completed his stint as a young employee of Coopers and Lybrand, he went abroad for his chartered accountancy exams. My maths mentor was replaced by my colourful lesson teacher, Mr. Ajaikaiye. I am told he has my name amongst others he tutored on his CV till date and he updates it regularly as my own status changes. Thus I have graduated from medical doctor to consultant doctor to First Lady of Kebbi state, God bless him.
In Sokoto, I was placed under the care of two uncles, Mainasara and Ashiru. They were as different as chalk and cheese and fought like cat and dogs. One of the many arguments they had was about my career. I didn’t get involved but when Uncle Mainasara gave me the special pre-degree forms to fill out, I put down Economics as my preferred degree of study.
The University of Sokoto was still young and didn’t offer accountancy. I felt I could fulfill my love of mathematics and be faithful to my Uncle Jaf by studying Economics. That was after all how his own career path was charted. However my Uncle Mainasara, a Vet Doctor himself wanted me to study medicine. Uncle Ashiru, on the other hand, supported my choice and in the end I filled out Economics.
An appointment was fixed by Uncle Mainasara to submit my application and paperwork. The Vice-chancellor was a classmate of my father from the great Barewa College Zaria. Barewa college produced the best brains of Northern Nigeria and for many years it was unmatched. Sadly, this is no longer the case.
On a fateful day, Uncle Mainasara suggested we stop and say hello to the VC. It was my first visit to the university of Sokoto and I was quite excited and impressed. In his office, the VC looked at my results and compared to my filled out forms. With a straight face he said to me you cannot study Economics, you have more than the requirements to study medicine. Moreover, you are a woman and we do not have enough medical doctors in Northern Nigeria. Uncle Mainasara broke out in a smile that said, “God has caught you”.
It was only then I realized I had been set up and Uncle Ashiru my ardent supporter was nowhere to be found. The VC took his pen, struck out my beloved Economics and wrote by first choice: MBBS. He then pulled a sheet of paper and wrote my name on it. Still straight faced he said thank you and good bye. I was escorted out by a still smiling Uncle Mainasara with my fate was sealed. I do not recall being gloomy and that is how my professional life begun.
I finished my medical degree in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and proceeded to the U.K. where I spent 9 years and specialized in Peadiatrics. Any doctor that has been through residency in the U.K. knows how tough life can be. Shuttling from hospital to hospital in different towns, ungodly shifts, silent discrimination, few loved ones around, cold winters and cold sandwiches etc etc. One morning, towards the end of my 8th year, around 6am as I was going to catch my train to work, my father arrived in London from the USA with his close friend Adamu Augie.
Uncle Adamu looked at me and said “Zainab, you have to go home now, this is not life, It’s enough” A few months later I packed my bags and came home for good.
Yesterday morning, on the 15th of November 2016, still reeling from the loss of Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, I got a message informing me that the VC who made that life choice for me albeit with the obvious connivance of my Uncle, Prof Mahdi Adamu Ngaski had passed away. Today, Uncles Jaf, Mainasara, Adamu Augie and my father Umaru Aliyu Shinkafi are no longer with us. I pray that Allah SWA grants each of these wonderful men an exalted place in paradise, Amen.
Each has left a mark on my life. Some of the marks are immediately obvious. However as the years go by and I look back in retrospect, I learn anew various lessons from incidents such as the one related above. I also find that the take home lessons changes as I grow older.
I allowed my elders to make vital life decisions, and it has turned out to be for the best. God has his way of eventually getting us where He wants. Not going abroad was okay in the end. When I did go abroad, and the time to come back became clear, it took the push of a ‘father’.
In today’s world of increasing calls for gender equity and feminism, it is fine to allow men make decisions without being a lesser ‘woman’. Most of the vital decisions in my life were made by men of substance as those mentioned. I do not feel less of a woman or worse off. I feel privileged and blessed to have had them in my life and wish I could have their guidance all over again.
I hope you can find your own lessons from your own personal life stories and have the magnitude of heart to accept the alterations that come with these lessons as you pass through life.
By Dr Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu
Paediatric Consultant and Wife of Kebbi State Governor