Pauline Tallen is the Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development. She blazed the trail to become the first female Deputy Governor in Northern Nigeria when she was appointed the Deputy Governor of Plateau State in 2007. Her political career started in 1976 at age 17 when she was the clerical officer at Shendam local government council, then later ministry of local government affairs. She turned 61 few days ago and was celebrated with well wishes from president Buhari and many Nigerians. She continued active politics In 2011 when she joined Labour Party (Nigeria), then contested in the gubernatorial election of the state. By 1994, she was made a councillor in Plateau State. She was made commissioner in the state by the military government between 1994 and 1999.
In 1999, she was appointed Minister of State for Science and Technology, becoming the first woman to be appointed as a minister in that capacity by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
She is a successful woman not only in politics but her life has recorded many successes and she has a good marriage to show for it. The woman who has a passion for lading women is married to John Tallen, who was a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party and together they have 5 children. In this interview with the Arise Team. She reveals a lot about her life.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was the former Deputy Governor of Plateau State, former Minister of State for Science and Technology, and presently I am the Chairman of The National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and Women Affairs minister.
What was it like growing up in Northern Nigeria as a girl child?
Growing up in Northern Nigeria was different for me and other Northern girls because I was privileged to be raised by my late dad who was a teacher, and he knew the importance of a girlchild education. He went all out to give equal opportunities with all his children, and not just his children, but also his adopted children. Our home was for all, he brought up so many children, and in the evening, he will reach out to homes where parents do not want to send their children to school, once he identifies that a child has prospects, he will adopt, and whatever he says about that child will happen. Amongst his children, he had former
governors; late Governor of Nasarawa State was one of his adopted students. Likewise, everything he said about me when I was a child happened. He was my best friend, I loved him so much, and he died five years ago at the age of 102. Lagosians call us Northerners and Hausa, but we are not. We from Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kaduna are from the North-Central zone or the Middle-Belt. We hold the heart of Nigeria because we are in the centre. As you know, the heart controls the whole body, we are the one that God uses to keep Nigeria one. We have more Christians in the North-Central zone, we speak Hausa, but we are not Hausa. We have our local dialect, and we are proud of it. It has been quite fulfilling, the opportunity God has given me to compete with the male folk right from childhood up until this level.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey into politics?
I was a born leader. Politics is inbuilt in me right from my childhood. My dad noticed it, and said I was going to be a great leader. I was a tomboy, I loved the girl-child, and I fought to protect them such that nobody could tamper with them. However, I really related more with the male folk because I love to compete with them. I am a grassroots politician and I am particularly drawn to the physically challenged.
Since you entered into politics, has the field changed for women? If so, how?
Well, not too much, it is sad that Nigerian women have not been given their rightful place in the scheme of things as far as politics is concerned. We have so many gifted and talented women who if given the opportunity can do ten times better than the men, but for the hostile landscape of politics, most women stay away. You cannot play politics without money, it is an expensive venture, but I tell people every politics is local, and it is from the grassroots. I started my political career as a Councilor. I served twice as a Councilor, and I was the first woman in Plateau and Nasarawa to pick a form, and contest for the Chairmanship of the Local Government under the SDP in 1993. I did not come out on my own, because of my selfless service to my community; the community leaders, youths, women, and my peers put pressure on my husband to allow me contest for it.
I was called to serve as a Councilor under former President Babangida regime. Late Maryam Babaginda left a mark on the sands of history because she was the First Lady that reached out to the rural women and left an indelible mark on their lives. She galvanized us and gave us a sense of purpose, belonging, and groomed us and prepared us for leadership. It was a calling to serve my people, and I was doing it before late Maryam Babangida came into the office. All the guidelines she sent for the criteria for women in leadership at the grassroots, I was already doing it naturally. The Chairman called me and asked me if I had met the First Lady before and I said ‘no’, and unanimously the council chose me as the right person to lead. We were invited for the first conference to launch the ‘Better Life for Rural Women’. Late Maryam Babaginda is one woman that must be remembered because she touched lives, and gave us the platform to lead. She made women participation in politics mandatory. She made the Presidency approve and direct all the 774 Local Government to appoint one woman as a Councilor. Due to our outstanding performance, when the council was dissolved, I was the only one in Plateau and Nasarawa that was reappointed the second time.
After our tenure, there was a coup, and the ban on politics was lifted; my community called me because of my outstanding performance as a Councilor twice that I was qualified to contest for Chairmanship. When you touch lives and reach out, and people believe in you, they will give you all the necessary support. I am not too happy with the number of women in politics because women are not encouraged to take their rightful place. It is unfortunate, the men are so greedy, and they feel it is their birthright. Women are by nature mothers, nurturing, and caring. They do not believe in bullying, and they cannot stand the thuggery in politics. They keep playing out women in politics until the government makes a deliberate policy for women to contest against themselves nothing will change.
Most of the African countries give certain slots to women to contest amongst themselves, but when the positions are open to men and women, the women stay off. It is sad, and that is why we are not moving forward. Nigeria cannot move forward until the woman takes her rightful place.
What lessons can other women draw from your experience as a high profile Christian politician?
Humility, absolute dependence on God, and faith in God. A true leader must be humble; when you are humble, God will uplift you. When you visit the rural areas, humble yourself, dress simple, interact with them, when you identify with them and share in their joys and sorrows, they will also be there for you. Nigerian people are easy to manage if only you know the simple things to do. Love can change so many things.
Once you show love, it is reciprocated. Women should go down to the local level and identify with them, touch their lives, identify the needs of the community. Another successful story of my political life is my school. I am the first woman in Plateau state to set up the first modern nursery and primary school, thirty-six years ago. All my children attended my school and when I began to rise in my political career I turned it to a community school, and the children in the community attend it free while I pay for the running of the school. I refused to close down the school because the greatest asset you can give your community is education.
I thank God Arise Women is doing a lot in education. When you give a community education, you have given them life. My students are all over and are gainfully employed as engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. That contribution to my community spread my popularity like wildfire. I was in university when I identified the need and set up the school. The only female science and technology school in Plateau is situated in my Local Government. In the 60/70’sscience, and mathematics teachers were all expatriates, they were Indians, Filipinos, or British.
When they come to Jos, they are posted to Girls Science School or the hospital. When they do not get a good school for their children to attend, they withdraw and go back to Jos, so, immediately I graduated in 1982, I set up the school. Again, my husband encouraged me and gave me the necessary resources to set it up. Education is capital intensive.
What do you consider the biggest threat(s) to women and children in Northern Nigeria?
Education is the biggest threat. We are very backward in the area of education, and we need to catch up. We must break the barrier of allowing our girls to marry at an early age of 11 years and end up having Vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). It is very sad and heartbreaking. When you have an educated mother, she will ensure that her children are well brought up and educated, and break the cycle of poverty.
What is your aspiration for women?
I aspire that women should never give up in politics, leadership, and struggle to take their rightful place in Nigeria.
How did you feel when you became the first female Deputy Governor in Northern Nigeria in 2007?
I give God all the glory because I had the full support of my husband. You can only succeed in politics when you have the blessing of your husband. This is because politics is seen as a dirty game, and you must be a loose woman to be in politics, but this is not true. If you respect yourself, the men would respect you. After God, my success story lies in my husband and parents. My husband believed in me, he trusted me; he groomed me and gave me his full support. This is why about 2 years ago when President Buhari appointed me as an Ambassador when my husband was very sick, I sacrificed not to go on the Ambassadorial appointment to stay and payback to take care of him.
Since 2001, Plateau state has been in crisis, what is the role of the church and women in ending this crisis?
When there is injustice, and people are robbed of their victory, you cannot talk about peace. The ingredients for peace are Fairness and Justice. Unless we are fair, we will always face a crisis. There is a research I conducted a few years ago and discovered that on the Plateau in every house there is a Hausa woman who is a Birom. They migrated into Plateau and gave birth to 3 generations of their children there. They see the Plateau as their roots that is why they are fighting to be recognised. Wherever you are born should be your state. The Hausa woman is married into the Plateau and as such, she is a Birom that wants to be recognised with her roots. If politics is dirty, and Christians shy away from it, who is going to sanitize the space. Nevertheless, we thank God; the church is rising up to correct the ills. The church is playing its part to end the crisis.
–TAYO FAJORIN OYEDIJI