Alhaja Rofiah Idowu Sanni, a niqabi, is unarguably the right person to lead FOMWAN for the next two years going by her antecedent and vast experience running into 36 years as one of the pioneers and one of the active officials of the Organisation founded in 1985. In this exclusive interview with Muslim News’ RASHEED ABUBAKAR, the educationist’s 35 years in the Oyo State Teaching Service Commission bared her mind on the formation of FOMWAN, successes and how she intends to run it with the help of Allah.
Emerging the new National Amirah of FOMWAN
I feel humble in the presence of Almighty Allah. I have been a member of the association since its inception. In fact, I was at the international conference where the idea of FOMWAN was conceived. During that year, I led a group of Muslim sisters from the Southwest to the International conference that took place in Kano between the 13th and 18th of April 1985. The Muslim Sisters Organisation (MSO) that organised the international conference invited delegates from all over Nigeria. People like Hajia Bilqees Yusuf of blessed memory, Mama Okunnu, Hajia Aisha Lemu of blessed memory, Alhaja Muslimat Kamaldeen, Alhaja Raliat Saani and so many elderly women of that time were at the conference.
Being a congregation of Muslim sisters from various parts of Nigeria, Hajia Aisha Lemu invited some of them to her hotel room immediately after the formal opening and she suggested that it will be better for us if all these organisations that came this year under different names come together under one umbrella where we will be able to speak with one voice on matters concerning Muslim women, children and the society. That was how the idea of FOMWAN came up. So, it feels great for me to be announced as the 10th National Amirah of our great Association and I am thankful for the opportunity given to me to serve and further contribute my quota to its all-round development.
Impact of FOMWAN since inception
FOMWAN has achieved greatness, no doubt about that. It has had positive great impacts on the lives of Muslim women, children, youth and the Muslim Ummah in general. When I say the Muslim Ummah in general, you know when a female is educated, empowered and in the right sense of things that have to do with her life, the whole society will be impacted positively. Whatever empowerment you give them – whether education or skills, their immediate family members will be the first to enjoy whatever comes out of it. In a situation whereby the Muslim woman understands what exactly is the essence of Islam, her role, responsibility in the home front, her husband will be at peace, the children will be properly trained and when this happens, it extends to the larger society. That is why FOMWAN is always saying we should take care of the Muslim woman because even the Prophet (SAW) said that when you educate a woman, you’ve educated the whole nation, but when you educate a man, you’ve educated a single soul.
36 years of experience at FOMWAN
Firstly, you know I told you I was at the conference where the idea came up. I was one of the people that chose the name ‘FOMWAN’. We were given a form to choose a name for our about-to-be-founded association. I was one of the people that chose FOMWAN. Secondly, I was a pioneer member of FOMWAN in my state, Oyo. I was the pioneer Da’wah Officer in my state for like almost 3 years. Then in 1993, I was elected as the Assistant National Da’wah Officer. Also in 1997, I was elected as the National Da’wah Officer. In 2001, I was elected as the National PRO. Four years after that, I was elected as an ex-officio.
Four years after that, I was re-elected as the National Da’wah officer for another 4 years. Four years after that, FOMWAN created a new office (Chairperson for Da’wah and Advocacy) and up till this moment, I am in charge. As part of my role as the National Da’wah officer, I was chosen to represent FOMWAN at the National Hajj Commission. I was chosen to represent Nigeria Muslim Women on Hajj issues in 2011. Also in 2012, I was chosen to represent FOMWAN on National Ulamah team on hajj and up till this moment I am in that position. Then after that, in relieving my position as the Chairperson of National Da’wah and Advocacy, I was chosen as the National Naibatul Amirah of FOMWAN four years ago and Alhamdulillahi, after a lot of interviews and a lot of tests, including computer based test, I was announced as the 10th National Amirah on Saturday 28th August 2021.
So, for almost 36 years of FOMWAN, I have been a part of the association, whether at the local government level, state level or National level and I have represented FOMWAN at various levels. I have travelled out of the country to Dakar to represent FOMWAN. I have been to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania for Islamic Fora and Alhamdulillahi in 2012, I represented FOMWAN at an international workshop on community development in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and by Allah’s grace I came home with a shield for FOMWAN when I was asked to lay out FOMWAN activities in Nigeria and before that day we were asked to present ourselves – a talk on ourselves and what we have been doing, Alhamdulillahi I came first as the best speaker of the event.
Plans for FOMWAN from grassroot to the National level
By Allah’s grace, one of the major cardinals of FOMWAN was the education of the Muslim woman as regards Islamic and conventional education. Initially, when FOMWAN started, majority of us could not read the Qur’an in Arabic. Even in those days, when we have any special prayer, we would invite students from nearby madrasah, but today, if we want to complete 100 Qur’an in a day, our members can do that, effortlessly. In those days, there was a time in Oyo state when the then Governor appointed all commissioners without any Muslim woman and we complained. He then asked us to go and bring our members that have PhD, we couldn’t find any Muslim sister throughout whole of Oyo state with a PhD, but today we can count as many Muslim sisters with PhD’s, even professors, these are due to the activities and advocacies of FOMWAN on the need for Muslim women to have education. We shall continue on this in shaa Allah.
On medical line, I was one of the advocates championing campaign for Muslim women to study Medicine. We kept up with the campaign that if you have female children, let at least one of them go for Medicine or Nursing, so that Muslim women will not be suffering when we go to hospitals for medical attention. I also led by example by ensuring that out of my two female children, one of them is a medical doctor and ditto to many of our members’ children. Alhamdulillah, today, in my house, apart from my first daughter, my first daughter-in-law is also medical doctor.
So, we took a very aggressive campaign on the education of our children. When FOMWAN came on board, many of the things many of us did not know, it was through FOMWAN that we were able to understand that for you to make it in life and in the hereafter, you must be educated. We did the campaign in such a way that everybody will realise that our education should be double edged. Let them have both Islamic and conventional knowledge. These are some of the things we would continue to advocate at all levels as we begin the new dispensation, in shaa Allah.
I am an educationist. I taught in Oyo state for 35 good years. I taught in the classroom for more than 14 years, served as vice principal for 5 years and as a principal for 16 good years, before I retired in 2020.
Alhamdulillah, I had a very good background, because my parents understood the essence of giving education to children, even though I am from Ilorin where, in those days, parents usually would not want their female children to go to school. Despite all those things, my parents found it necessary for me to go to school and at the same time, I attended Arabic classes in my house because my uncle had facilities at home.
Basically, Allah has made me religious since my childhood and blessed me with the ability to understand some principles of Islam. As early as primary 4, I had a group of young girls of my age with whom I usually studied. We taught ourselves beneficial things, which was one of the reasons I attended St. Clare’s Anglican Girls’ Grammar School Offa.
When I was in form 2 or 3, I was part of the Executives. I was made a Treasurer, but when I was in Form 5, I was made the President of Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria. That same year, I held two important posts in the school. I was also the President of the Ilorin Students Union. As a President in a boarding school, with a population of over 2000 students, you can imagine how popular I was.
When I graduated, I got admission to the Kwara State College of Technology. That same year, I was made the Treasurer of MSSN. Later, people like Bro. Oloyede (JAMB Registrar) discovered me. He was then the President of MSSN (Kwara State Area Unit). I was introduced to the whole MSSN as the leader of the Muslim choir group. You know, those days, singing was the order of the day and I was made to lead the Kwara singing group. I was able to wax a record for Kwara which eventually brought me to the limelight in MSSN. By the time Bro. Oloyede left office after his tenure, Bro. Badmus (of Unilorin) was elected as the Amir. Before then, there was nothing like Amirah in the MSSN. I was later chosen as the first Amirah of Kwara State Area Unit. During that period, the present-day Kogi State was part of Kwara State.
When our school was moved from Ilorin to Ajaokuta, then under the Kwara State before the creation of Kogi, we were the first set of students in the steel complex and I was the only female in the whole school. So, Bro. Badmus was heading Ilorin and the Niger part of Kwara, while I was serving as the Amirah in the whole of the Kogi and Kaba area. This was around 1982/83 and that also brought me to another limelight in Islam.
After graduation, I did my NYSC in Oyo State. I was part of the Muslim Corpers’ Association of Nigeria (MCAN), Oyo Chapter. That was the period I got married to Alhaji Kunle Sanni (the incumbent President of Oyo Muslim Community Chairman) in 1984, before starting work in 1985. Anywhere I am posted to, MSSN there became my first baby and where there was none, we created one. Interestingly, we started the Muslim Teachers’ Association in Oyo State. When I became a principal, we started the Muslim Principals’ Forum.
I was elected unopposed as the PTA Chairman of Command day Secondary school, Adekunle Fajuyi Cantonment, Odogbo, Ibadan between 1999 and 2013, after which I was asked to continue for the third term which I declined. A letter of commendation was given to me and my executive by the GOC for excellence and diligence. Apart from this, I have received awards from various organizations on services to Islam, humanity and community development to mention but a few.
This is how I have been leading my life until I retired as a Principal at Isabatudeen Girls’ Grammar School, Ibadan. There are two schools in the same compound now. I pioneered one – the school 2, where I spent 11 years and through it, the senior school came up. The old Isabatudeen was where I had my retirement, after heading it for 5 years. That added up my Principalship tenure to 16 good years by Allah’s grace (between 2004 and 2020)
So, I think it is because of the love and my dedication to FOMWAN activities that made me not mark WASSCE and NECO before my retirement. This is because, most of the time, the marking of these exams usually come during the FOMWAN national conferences. “How much would they give me that will make me not attend the national conference?” I always asked myself, because when you attend the National Conference, as the Da’wah officer, it’s all about Da’wah. Right from where we take off to the venue of the programme, we’ll continue to admonish our sisters and most of them will come back to appreciate us in the future for our spiritual guidance and prayers. That’s one of the major reasons so many women will want to come for our programmes.
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