Cesnabmihilo Dorothy, and her younger sister, Beatrice [Nuhu] Yakubu, at Diko, Gurara LGA, Niger State; circa 1981.
By Amatesiro Dore
This is a story of a girl, an educated woman, allowed to dream and flourish. This is the story of an organization empowered to help, enabled to fight and dedicated to providing Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights information and services. This journey of eighteen years began in 1963, in Diko, Gurara Local Government Area, Niger State, Nigeria.
Chapter One: Begin with a Girl
In 1963, Nuhu Baraje, second generation northern-Nigerian literate, husband of Mrs Lami Zagbayinyaluwye, and father of three boys – Shem, Japheth and Graham – had a daughter, Dorothy Cesnabmihilo, his very first lady, named after his great-grandmother.
Dorothy’s Gbagyi name, Cesnabmihilo, was the choice of her grandfather – Ibrahim Baraje – who also provided the character traits of challenging the status quo and politely disagreeing with constituted authorities by infamously protecting the rights and dignity of his daughter irrespective of religious, cultural and societal norms.
Her education began at Diko, where her father taught at the local primary school, to Gumi in Sokoto State (then North-Western State) where he was later transferred, onward to Sokoto town where she completed her primary school education before attending Federal Government College, Maiduguri, where her love for French metamorphosed into her first professional calling.
Those were the days when a super-majority of northern girls dropped out of school to get married and the few females who remained in classes were geared towards teaching, secretarial studies, home economics and nursing. During Class Six of her primary school education in Sokoto, Dorothy had two female classmates: Medinatu and Anne. At home, her mother was very entrepreneurial; a woman who never sat down and expected her husband to do it all. Dorothy has no memory of her mother being idle or sitting with friends to gist; just memories of a woman moving from one income generating scheme to another.
However, her biggest influences were the three brothers who preceded her birth, boys of high ambition, intellect and drive; men with the household rights, privileges and opportunities that were traditionally and culturally made unavailable to women. Irrespective of gender, there’s a tendency to imitate older siblings, brothers with minimal household chores compared to her responsibilities as the first daughter. Yet there was parental encouragement of her seemingly masculine ambitions, her eloquence was nurtured towards a legal career but her love for French would disappoint her father’s expectations.
Dorothy’s love for languages is legendary. She learnt to speak, read and write Hausa, the social currency of the north, as a child, alongside her native Gbagyi which she can also speak, read and write. Her lessons in Arabic began and ended during the last classes of her primary education in Sokoto. Her first exposure to French was in Maiduguri during her Federal Government College education. At first, it was an arduous experience because her classmates had received primary school French lessons and sounded more fluent and experienced in the use of the language. She had to catch up and she did until she became the French girl of the school. By Form Three, she had become one of the best and socially influenced in terms of cleanliness, fashion and flair. It also provided her first international travel exposure…school sponsored trips to Cameroun and much later to France during her university days.
Under the tutelage of J.A Garrod, the English Principal of F.G.C Maiduguri, Dorothy had a secondary school education and upbringing devoid of ethnic and religious sentiments. At that time there were Muslim students who strolled into Christian fellowships whenever they felt like singing and clapping. The school environment nurtured a sense of national identity prevalent in Federal Government Colleges at that time. Nevertheless, as she developed into puberty and as her consciousness began to wake up, she took note of gender inequalities and male chauvinism, especially at home, within the confines of her loved ones and family. Like why was she secluded and segregated from her brothers after a certain age. Why were the boys allowed to laugh loud and play late into the night while she was expected to be quiet, away from their company or asleep at that same hour? Why do the boys go out to play, all the time, while she was stuck with her mother and the household chores? Why was her recreation time limited to the thirty minutes to one hour after dinner and under strict supervision? Why was she restricted from enjoying the company of male intelligence under the roof of her parental residence? Especially since the boys seemed to have a better education for life: the revelations from the radio, the wisdom of better literary works such as thrillers, crime and political books while she was expected to only like and read romance literature…there was an uncomfortable line drawn at home that differentiated the rights and privileges of every child according to their gender.
Still, it was some of the protective actions of her father that planted the seed of activism in her blood. During her schooling days in Maiduguri, there was a coach reserved for students in Minna, and her brothers and father would accompany her to the train station. Once, an angry commuter swore to prevent anyone from accessing the carriage if he doesn’t enter the coach reserved for students. Her father plucked the troublemaker from the mouth of the train and beat him up while her brothers passed her through the window of the congested carriage. To enjoy that kind of protection from harassment and abuse ingrained in her the belief that there will always be weaker people who will always need the protection and activism of the strong.
And as a result of the books (African literature such as Achebe and Kenneth Kaunda; European literature and philosophy) borrowed from the shelves of her brothers, her worldview expanded beyond the confines of her mother’s kitchen and her ambitions grew beyond the conservative feminine dreams of marriage and childbearing. She acquired so-called “masculine dreams” such as owning a house, a business and a car from the works of her mind and hands.
Testimonies of her charitable works began during her secondary school days. There was a girl from Paiko with a swollen leg and other symptoms of guinea worm, who many avoided, but Dorothy would carry the girl on her village-hardened back (thanks to her endless household chores) to and fro the school clinic and the General Hospital in Maiduguri until the girl could walk by herself. Another schoolmate of Dorothy recently recounted how she had come to school without some basic provisions (school uniform, bed sheet etc) under the allusion that they would be provided by the school administration. It was poor Dorothy who gave half of her provisions to the girl in need.
By the end of her secondary school education, her eldest brother (Dr. Shem Zagbayi Nuhu who obtained his Ph.D at twenty-seven, became a Commissioner of his home state at twenty-nine, and later served as Deputy-Governor and Senator) graduated alongside their father, Nuhu Baraje, from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
She was set on a path that she must follow.
Read Increse at a Glance: There was a Woman [Chapter II] here
Read Increse at a Glance: Destiny Begins [Chapter III] here
Read Increse at a Glance: Partners and Partakers of the Vision [Chapter IV] here
Read Increse at a Glance: A luta continua [Chapter V] here