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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

My advice is that widows should re-marry - Hajia Bola Muse (Top Socialite/businesswoman)

Hajia Bola Muse

The story of Hajia Bola Muse can be likened to that of Joseph in the bible in that, young Bola identified with her humble beginning. She left her home in Atiba Oyo in Oyo State, to sojourn in Kano where her grandmother welcomed her. In Kano, God blessed and multiplied her business enterprise (Bomarah Group) and she brought in all her family to stay with her in Kano, where she flourished and extended her tentacles to other parts of the country. Hajia Bola Muse, in this interview, tells PAUL UKPABIO, her story of hard work and passion for family and country. But despite the blessings, she still craves for things she wishes she has, for the good of others.

If you were to describe yourself, what would you say?
I am a simple woman, who hails from a humble home, happily married, an Executive Director of a group of companies and a role model to the core.
We hear that you are one of the names to reckon with in the freight forwarding sector, tell us how did you start out as a business woman?
I head Bomarah Group; we have Bomarah Investment Ltd, a freight forwarding company that has existed since the past 20 years. It is something that I give glory to Almighty Allah for. It gave birth to the rest organisations within the group, that is, Boomarah Travels, Bomarah Farm, Bomarah Foundation and G Oil based in Cotonou. We have a head office in Kano, where I started from, a branch office in Apapa, another in Victoria Island, both in Lagos and in also in Abuja. Sometime ago, we had an office too in Port Harcourt and then a branch in Cotonou.
How do you cope with managing all these organisations?
People ask me that but I believe in task delegation and determination. I believe that I should tread in the area where others do not. To God be the glory, I am coping well. When you are in a situation like mine, you are forced to delegate duties and roles. A leader should have the quality of letting go in certain things. When you have the ability to do that, it will indeed make people working with you learn to cope well with their job. The work I do are the kinds that I cannot do alone. So I have to delegate. And that is one of the secrets of my success story. It is what is keeping me on. You have to learn to trust.
But freight forwarding at a time was known to be a male terrain, how did you break through to the top in a male-dominated business terrain?
It’s true, the business has been male-dominated, no doubt, but we are trying to change that by encouraging more women to come into the industry. I know that the women here are not many and that is because the nature of the work is very tedious. If you are not strong at heart, you won’t be able to do the job.

How did you get your breakthrough and how are you coping?
The important thing is that, we must not forget that when you are in business, the important thing to target is profit or loss. Whether you are a man or a woman in business, the important thing to you is the customer. At that point, you are not really much concerned about your colleagues in the business; you are more concerned about the customer. If the customer does not give you business, then you won’t be in the business with the men. Also the industry is broad. We are not dealing with our colleagues as much as we are dealing with the custom and the customer. So I concentrate on what matters, on the goal and purpose for my being there.
So where does the challenge come in between the women and the men in your sector of the economy?
(Laughs) The challenge can only come in at the association level where we meet as colleagues and as members of the same association. There at the association in Apapa chapter, I am an executive member and a member in Kano zone.
Generally speaking then, are the women faring well in the freight forwarding business?
The truth is that it is very challenging to be working at par with men in any industry, including ours here in Nigeria, and that is because of our culture. That is because we blacks, especially believe that men should play leading roles, while the women should be in the background. But what we are trying to say now is that we are living in a new world, and this shouldn’t be only in the freight forwarding sector alone, it is all over in the other sectors, you see more and more women coming up, excelling in their chosen professions. So I believe too that soon, Nigeria will have a female president from the way women are breaking through in all the sectors of the economy.
Already in some countries, women have already emerged president. Women have been relegated to the back because it has always been believed that it is a male-dominated sector. But we are trying to let them know that this sector should be for all of us, it should be for both gender. Even at our homes, you know that a home without a woman is somehow incomplete. So we are trying to involve women more and more in the leadership of the association. I thank God for our present association president, he has been doing a marvellous job and we are thankful to him because, he has been giving women more and more opportunities.
Are you comfortable with the role women are playing in the freight forwarding sector?
Yes Iam, but again, what worries me more in all these is the fact that we women are not many in this sector. It is because of this that we are trying to form a new association for women in the sector. We have been coming together to see how we can improve the lot of women. Women are not meant to stay permanently in the background; we are supposed to influence our society because we are part of the society.

I realised that to influence the society, we as women must take part in the activities of leadership. That was why I joined the leadership of our association to contribute to its development. That way, our voices as women are heard.
Did your early life contribute to your general outlook about life and business?
My early life really influenced me; I come from a humble home. It was a home where I had to fend for myself. It was a home where I had to assist my parents financially. It was difficult before we could pay the school fees for the children in the family. I had to struggle for money, get it and help the family. That really groomed me and made me to be a dogged hard worker.
I started shouldering the responsibilities of my siblings at the age of 18. I finished secondary school at the age of 17. At that time, I told my mother who was a trader and my dad who was not financially strong, that I would start assisting. And they allowed me. That made me strong. Now I realise that I was being prepared from childhood for the kind of work that I am doing today. So at the age of 19, I had moved up a little, which was because I was a clerk at that age. My first salary as a clerk then was N400. With that, I saved N50, sent N200 to my mother, kept N50 for transportation to the office and N100 for the daily running of the house where I lived. My younger sister had come to live with me immediately after I started work. That was the situation and mindset that I grew up with.
How did you get involved in philanthropy?
When I became somewhat comfortable to an extent, I did not forget the hard way I had grown up. After a while, I had to set up Bomarah Foundation in 2012 to assist the needy and less-privileged. We have a scholarship for students; we pick them from primary schools and pay their school fees, clothe them and give them educational materials till the end of their secondary schools. Those who want to further their education, we try our best to the glory of God. We have helped quite a number of students like that, who went ahead, got education and are now doing well.
We extend the tentacle of scholarship and material assistance to the prisons too. Though some people may feel puzzled by that, but contrary to the opinion of some people who do not consider it necessary for us to focus on the prisons since they regard people there as mere criminals, we do not see it that way at all. As far as I am concerned, people in prison are those who are unfortunate to be there. Even then, not all those that are in there in the prison are criminals.
Why do you say that?
Today, we have converted ones among them who have made up their minds that they do not want to stay there in prisons as liabilities. Today, they attend school and we, through the foundation, are supporting them. We pay their fees and buy books for them. Schools have been established for them there too. Some started from the primary school level to the university level and we are proud to be identified with their development. I am also proud today that we have a young man who has graduated from the university right from the prison. So even in prison, there is life and life must continue.
You said you started out in Kano, were you living there at the time and who were you living with?
I grew up with my parents in Oyo State, our original home town. I finished secondary school in Oyo State. But I had a grandmother who was living in Kano. I saw that as an opportunity to leave Oyo for bigger challenges. So after my secondary school, I decided to head for Kano to join my grandmother. So I left for greener pasture in Kano State.
You are Yoruba but you speak Hausa and look more like you hail from the North.
(Laughs) Yes, that is because I grew up in the Northern part of Nigeria. And I stayed in Kano city. I loved and enjoyed the life in Kano the moment I got there. I found the place easy and the people warm. Since then, I fell in love with the place. So till today, I still have ties with Kano. I feel very relaxed each time I go there. At times, I spend two or three days in Lagos and the rest I spend in Kano. The place remains an eternal attraction to me. Sooner, I had to move all my family from Oyo to Kano, to live close to me. That is where I started my office.
You live in Kano and Lagos, tell us the difference between both places.
I feel more comfortable in Kano because you are less self-conscious there. As a matter of fact, nobody bothers about the other. You do not have to live your life to please another or be a slave to fashion like it is done in Lagos to impress others. Over there, you wear what you have so far it fits you and you are happy about it. In Lagos, people dress for others to approve. Sometimes they do not even dress for comfort but for the approval of others. That is what I call living in other people’s shadow. That is because you want to belong where you do not belong.
In Lagos people want to drive SUV not because they need it, but because their friend or neighbour uses that type of car. There is no sense of individuality, no sense of personality. But in Kano, it’s different. Nobody really cares about such hustling that concerns others. You live your own life. In Kano, nobody will mind you except you want them to mind you. Here in the southern part, people are running every other second as if life is pursuing them.
Do you still find time to go to Kano?
Yes, I do. My mother is still there, my family is there and so also is my business.
Did you marry a man from Kano?
No, I didn’t. I married a Yoruba man.
Where did you meet?
We met in Lagos and got married. However, I had an earlier marriage. I was once a widow. I met my first husband in Kano. But he wasn’t a Hausa man.
Losing your first husband must have broken your heart; can you share that period with us?
It did break my heart because my husband was not just a husband to me. He was a father, a friend and everything to me. You know when you marry at a youthful age, it is very much likely that you married for love because, that is the age and period when people fall deeply in love. So to wake up one day and find out that my partner was no longer there for me, was much a heart break.
What kind of a person was he?
The truth is that I am reaping the fruit of my husbands’ labour today. I got the knowledge of being in the freight forwarding business from my late husband. He made me. He was different. He trusted me; he was always there for me. He gave me free hand in the business. He was different. I remember that then, when I finished at school, I was always at the office with him. Today, all that training he gave me has helped me.
If you missed him that much, it must have been difficult for you to re-marry.
Yes, it was, but you see, I am a Muslim and I was a young woman when it happened. I lost my husband when I was 25 years old and he was 36 and we had two kids. His family believed that I was still too young to remain that way. That was because I refused to get married again and continued like that for between three and four years. I didn’t have any relationship. I couldn’t because I loved him. However, they believed that as a Muslim, that a woman ought to have somebody as a husband, so that people will respect her and she will keep her dignity. Moreover I am Yoruba, my culture allows remarriage, and our culture accepts that a woman is more dignifying when she has a man of her own.
From your experience, do you advise widows to remarry?
I do advise widows to remarry, especially if they are young. My mother today is a widow. She lost her husband 13 years ago, she is now 63. I have been urging her to remarry and she has refused. Honestly, I need someone to be with her and be talking to her and keep her company because a woman shouldn’t be alone or continue to be alone for the rest of her life just because she lost her husband. She actually lost her husband when she was in her early 50s and since then she has refused to remarry.
Some widows say they do not want to remarry because they want to be married to their children. But you cannot marry your children because your children have their lives to live too, and they will move ahead sooner or later. You need to have somebody of your own, somebody that you can share things with.
You also have a heart for sports, what took you to sports?
It was my younger brother. I derived my passion from him. And I ended up loving sports, especially football, though I do not play it. We eventually established a football academy. The Lagos State government has with time also partnered with us in sponsoring and hosting the under-14 boys football competition and the under-16 girls football competition every year under the Bomarah Academy, where we also have students.
When you want to relax, what do you do?
I love movies, so I watch lots of them, especially Nigerian movies. I watch foreign movies too.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion means a lot to me because that is the pride of a woman.
Tell us about your style?
Any fashion item that is good to wear is good to go with me. However, it must not be too elaborate or too flashy. I love wearing white colours. It gives dignity to a woman. And I love being moderate with what I wear and decently too.
What accessories can you not do without?
That will be my earrings. They dignifies a lady. I love gold too. I love wearing neck lace. I love shoes.
What inspires you?
I am usually inspired by honesty. Usually I cannot help but be attracted to honest people. It is unfortunate that such a beautiful quality is rare now. When also I see people that have the heart of gold, I get inspired.
Do you travel? If yes, can you share some of your travel memories with us?
I have travelled to a lot of places because my first passion is to travel. I love exposure because it teaches and educates. I have travelled to half of the world. I have been to countries that some people don’t even know about. The place that I long to go to is Malibu and I am hoping that soon I will be there. I also love to travel as a family. My husband sometimes goes with us when we travel.
What do you wish you had?
I wish I have more personal resources to use to take care of the needy. There is still so much to be done.
And what does success mean to you?
Success to me means caring for the needy. It means sharing what you have. It means working hard to have enough to share.

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