“Ya Allah na ba ka zuciya naaa… Ya Allah na ba ka rayuwa naaa…” Jeremiah Gyang’s sweet song sailed from her father’s small radio into her soul.
Zainab sat, as she did most mornings, frying the groundnuts she would sell. She was only nine but she swore she would escape the poverty in this village. Few years later, her parents sent her from rural Zamfara to live with their kinsman in urban Lagos.
Uncle Hassan had wanted her to concentrate on hawking Agege-bread. But she managed to finish secondary school, especially by fulfilling his paedophiliac sexual fantasies. Afterwards, her family wanted her to marry and settle down in the neighbouring village. Zainab rebelled. She still had dreams; dreams of being a graduate, dreams of being empowered.
“I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly. I’ll do what it takes till I touch the sky… Take a chance. Make a change. And breakawaaay…” Kelly Clarkson’s lyrics stirred her spirit.
And so she ran away from home to the off-campus house of an old girl. This notorious girl was now an undergraduate of Unilag. Zainab joined her in part-time prostitution. On one of their many “Abuja runs”, she was introduced to Sayid Qasir, a foreigner connected to an Arab royal family. He fell in love with her. Yes, he hated her dirty job. Yet he understood her motivation. He knew he had the power to turn her life in a new direction.
“Oruka ti d’owo na. Di ololufe re mu. K’o s’eni to le ya yin titi lai… Titi lai lai lai…” Sunny Neji performed at their traditional wedding in her village a few months later. Zainab couldn’t stop the tears of joy flowing down her cheeks.
Soon after, she relocated to Saudi Arabia with her bridegroom. They had an adorable boy and visited Nigeria every year. Eighteen long years later, Zainab held a doctorate from King Saud University while excelling in her business ventures. Her parents had long died, her beloved husband too, but her childhood passion for more power resurrected. Returning home, Zainab joined the ruling party. Supporting it with her enormous wealth and circulating amongst the state’s crème de la crème. She was indeed a natural politician. In fact, her male counterparts were intimidated by Zainab’s rising profile in Zamfara, all within seven years. Everyone now called her “Mama Mecca”. And none was surprised when she declared interest in the gubernatorial race.
Before she could run for the primaries or main elections however, the party’s cabal insisted she must take “the oath of kpakpankolo”. With a cock’s feather between his lips, the witch doctor poured a semen-like substance into a calabash, sprinkled corn flour into it, dripped blood from Zainab’s pierced thumb, then stirred it all with a single broom stick. As she sat under his umbrella that day, swallowing the concoction, she thought she felt some strength leave her body.
“Mama Mecca go win oooh! Make una vote our Mamaaa! Na she be number oneee…” Alhaja Zainab Illah-Qasir’s campaign jingles ruled the airwaves.
On the day of her swearing-in months later, Mama Mecca was soaring on cloud nine until she sighted someone amongst the cheering crowd. The little girl stood there wailing; it seemed her tray of groundnuts had been knocked off her head. Zainab suddenly rushed down the stage, squatted and drew the crying child into her arms. The cabal was stunned. The crowd watched on, speechless. Right there and then, the new governor silently swore that her people’s tears, their sweat, their dreams would be her new concoction.