March 11, 1943
Remembering the lioness: NGO Hannatu Chollom
One of the formidable women who cannot be easily forgotten when talking about women in politics and the struggle for Women Right and right of the down trodden in Plateau State, Middle Belt and northern Nigeria is Ngo Hannatu Chollom. This great politician passed on, on the 26th of September 2015 at the age of 72. Three years down the line, one is yet to find another woman politician in Plateau especially who is so fearless, forthright and generous. In her hay days, she had led of women and the down trodden in protests to ask for their rights. She was the voice of the voiceless. One of the struggles she led which ended on a positive note was for Plateau Women married to men from other states to still enjoy the same right and privileges as those married to the indigenes of the state. Despite these struggles, she was always meeting needs of the downtrodden whenever they knock on her door for assistance. It was therefore not a surprise that her house located at Rayfield just in front of the old Government House was always a Mecca of sorts whenever she was in town.
She had contested governorship seat under NRC and also contested the senatorial seat under the banner of SDP and NRC in the second Republic but all her attempts never yielded positive result; even though some believe she was rigged out by men chauvinism. Even after losing elections, she easily put the event behind her and continue with her struggle for the down trodden. Hannatu was not a politician that oils her political engine room only when politics was by the corner. She was for ever having listening ear for the women until sickness took its toll on her. Even at that, those close to her still maintained, she was still meeting those needs she knew about. Many believed Hannatu Chollom was too ripe for her time. If she had put all that energy and forthrightness in today’s politics when people are more politically aware, she would have moved mountains.
Despite her visibility in the political scene, Hannatu Chollom still had time for her kids. The mother of five, who died after battling with kidney related problem for about seven years, had children working around the globe; making names for themselves. Just as her last son George Ajibola explained, ‘we are five that are her biological children. At the time of her death, two were in Nigeria; based in Abuja and in Jos. Sam Abashe the eldest child was with United Nations, he was in Uganda then, there is Barrister, Ruth Bala, the second child, there is Guli Abashe who is based in Jos, myself (George Ajibola) working in U.S as strategy consultant . His younger sister was based in London as a fashion designer.
Speaking about her last days, George Ajibola said though he was not living in Nigeria, but during her last days, he was always talking with her. She was not well for about seven years but she fought the sickness to the end. That was a reflection of the woman she was. Most people would have allowed this thing to get to them. We thank God she was able to live that long. The fight we saw in her during her political days was the same attitude and fight exhibited during her sickness.’ I used to ask her “mama why are you still fighting on even as God has helped you to be able to touch so many peoples’ lives and you have accomplished a lot, why will you not give up? She would confined in me that so many times when she goes to the hospital, she would see so many people, much younger, more able bodied who had given up and fallen dead in front of her; but she would continue to fight on. She would ask that if she goes now, who will help these people. Even when she was sick, some people still relied on her for their sustenance. After she had passed on and I entered into the compound, some people came up to me to say, 'George, who do we go to now? We do not have anybody in this world to cry to about our problems’. I think that symbolizes everything. That made me very proud of her. During her sickness whenever I call her to ask her how she was feeling, she would always say she was fine, and feeling great. She would never say, 'I am down or that pain. I was so proud of her. I am not just saying this as her child but as an observer, knowing how she fought to the last moment. If you ask anybody about Hannatu Chollom, what they will first tell you was that she was a strong woman who was always in the struggle and she struggled till her last days on earth; Struggling against her illness and still fighting for people who do not have a voice.
Growing up as children, we were fortunate that we were sent to boarding school in England. When we came on holidays, we realized that by six o’ clock in the morning, we start off with prayers in the morning and by then our mother’s sitting room was already filled with visitors. As a child growing up, it was not a normal upbringing, in the sense that one is not on his mother's bosom when one wakes up and have that one- on- one discussions with her .We had to share her with other people and as you will expect from the ages between four and ten years at that time, it was difficult. But when I look back now, I feel proud because she was not just our mother but the mother to many. In this household, whether they were people from the neighbourhood or distance away that come in to say their wives was about to give birth, or someone in their family was sick whether she knew them or not, she would just give the key to the driver to take them to the hospital. She would not think whether they would make inside her Mercedes Benz dirty or not. The person could be bleeding; she would not mind she would give her best car for the person to be taken to the hospital. She would also pay the bills. People that cannot pay the school fees of their children did come to her and she would assist not minding where they were coming from. Day in day out
That was the kind of life she lived. Ideally a mother would want to devote 100 percent of her time on her children but own joy was in assisting to solve people's problems. We saw this growing up. In trying not to be selfish, she did her best when she was with us and gave us her everything. It was something all of us had to accept and when she died the outpour of love by well wishers showed that it was worthwhile.
When asked if she saw people truly showing her the same love during her illness or at the period she needed people most, Ajibola maintained that ,that was a difficult question to answer.’ Mama did not live a life of regret. The way she saw life was that we are all here for a reason and nothing is by accident. Yes, mama did a lot and it would have been good for her to have been given the platform to touch more lives; like if she became a senator, governor or minister etc. But at the same time, she had made the best of what she had. She taught us not to be bothered about what others did to us but about what we are able to do for others with the little we have. So whatever little she had, she made sure it went as far as possible. My mother never lived a life of regret. She vied for various offices but she was never bitter because she could not get them. She was not the type to say, okay my people since you have turned your back against me I would stop helping you. That was not her ways. At the time of her illness, I always look at the positive side of life. There were people that came around and showed their support to her. There were those that showed their support from day one, to the last moment. They became our brothers, mothers and sisters and saw us through the journey. We never focus on who did not come.
Many will have wished that Ngo Hannatu Chollom was immortalized due to her contribution to humanity and politics. But till date none of the promise made during her burial has been fulfilled.