Home Special Report Rabi Umar Sodangi @ 60: Celebrating a life of selfless service

Rabi Umar Sodangi @ 60: Celebrating a life of selfless service

A certified management and leadership expert, mentor and development advocate, Hajia Rabi Umar Sodangi’s life radiates compassion, piety and indisputable integrity. On February 10, the former Acting Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency (NSRMEA), celebrated the age of 60. At a private dinner organised by her children in Kaduna State, she used the auspicious occasion to recount the journey of her life. BANKOLE SHAKIRUDEEN ADESHINA writes

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Alhaji and Hajiya Sodangi

AT a glance, Hajia Rabi Umar Sodangi’s physical outlook portrays a soft and fragile person.  But do not judge a book by its cover. Events and times have helped to reveal the enviable identity of this personality as a brave and tenacious woman.

Sodangi is an elite Muslim and Hausa-Fulani woman activist, reputed for honesty, patience and dedication to service as an officer of the state. An entrepreneur, counsellor and mentoring coach, Sodangi is also a wife, mother, grandmother, role model and a proud ambassador of northern women.

Born February 10, 1959 in Katsina State, this elegant woman has an impenetrable affinity with the poor and vulnerable youth, especially the young women of the north – investing in their education and economic emancipation.

Until her retirement from public service last month, Sodangi has proven her leadership mettle in many facets of her endeavours.

Loved, respected and highly feared, especially for her zero tolerance for dishonesty, the quiet activist has delved into many challenging engagements, including terrains that are presumed exclusively for only the macho men. And in all of these, she has come out triumphantly unscathed!

She would admit, in the course of this interview, that some of the aforementioned attributes, which she cultivated from her role models, were indeed responsible for the many significant wins in her life’s quests.

These wins, according to her, include her unprecedented achievements while atop the affairs of the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency as its CEO; her track records as the Ameerah/President of the Al-Manar Women Association (AMWA), a non-profit organisation founded by some elite northern women to help empower, rebuild, rehabilitate and reintegrate the victims of deadly violence in the North; as an award-winning Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Kaduna Chapter and later its Northwest Zonal Chairman, reviving many branches and superintending the elections of  Sokoto, Kano and Kaduna states, among others; and her life-long leadership and mentoring support to young men and women.

Sodangi’s role models are the Prophet Muhammad SAW; her father, who was a philanthropist; Dr (Mrs.) Sally Adukwu Bolukoko, former Member of the Presidential Advisory Council and President/Chairman-in-council, Nigerian Institute of Management; and Indra Nooyi, the former Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi.

FEELINGS @ 60

At the glorious age of 60, Sodangi’s life dreams have been fulfilled.

“I’m really happy and satisfied at this age, Alhamdulillah,” she said, adding that, ‘’at 60 years old, I am healthy, happy and comfortable. I have reached the highest point in my career as a civil servant.”

She however attributed her successes to her family, friends and colleagues for all the support she received during her career.

Sodangi is a certified trainee of Senior Executive Leadership and Management training on Disruptive Management and Good Leadership, a strategic growth administrative tool organized by the Alliance Manchester Business School, in conjunction with the Nigerian Institute of Management.

She holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA), 2005/2006 at the Bayero University; Higher National Diploma In Hotel Management from Kaduna Polytechnic between 1976 – 1981.

She had a Postgraduate Diploma In Management (PGDM) between 1997/1998 at the Bayero University; Diploma Certificate in Computer Science from the Federal College Of Education, Okene between 1999/2000; and a Postgraduate Diploma In  Education (PGDE), 2000/2001 at Kaduna Polytechnic.

She did her Senior Secondary School at Queen Amina College, Kaduna between 1972-1976 and was awarded as one of the best graduating students of her set.

LEADERSHIP RECORDS

Three years ago, when Sodangi was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Acting Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Steal Raw Materials Exploration Agency, some envious persons objected, shouting “nepotism.”

But after two and a half years into the assignment, Sodangi successfully sent many of her critics into a state of shock, thanks to her verifiable achievements, which surpassed all her predecessors’.

These milestones include “the successful execution of 22 Mineral Exploration Projects in various parts of the country; recovering of all the confiscated and abandoned equipment belonging to the Agency; acquisition of many heavy duty machines, project vehicles, laboratory and survey state of the art equipment; engaging the Mining Cadastre Office to cover all our areas of exploration; creation of the IT/GIS centre, including well equipped e-library.

“We also put up a temporary core shade to store all our core samples that were in the past being destroyed; and most importantly we had a harmonious and peaceful working atmosphere regardless of a few saboteurs,” she recalled.

According to Sodangi, “my leadership at National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency was fun and largely successful despite the challenges from the professionals who felt and fought that I should not be the CEO because I am not a geoscientist.

“I actually achieved a lot more than the geoscientists because of my managerial and leadership expertise. As a Director of Finance and Human Resources Management, I was coordinating and monitoring projects. That was why I had an edge over past CEOs because I had the technical experience as well as leadership skills,” she said.

Having joined the agency in 2003 as a Level 14 officer, the dedicated officer steadfastly grew through the ranks to become a Director in 2010.

Her integrity personae attracted other management positions alongside her official portfolio as the head of a directorate. This includes Secretary for top management meetings, Board Secretary, Reform Implementation Committee Secretary etc.

“So, I was always with the top management staff and that gave me a lot of exposure and experience in sxploration,” she said, recalling that, for instance, “as a Director of Finance and Human Resources Management, I was also coordinating and monitoring projects.

“And I had the passion to change certain things, like the issue of failed projects and seizure of Agency equipment by clients. I wanted the Agency to have all necessary equipment and to be functional. I wanted the Agency to have a robust IT/GIS centre like the one I saw at a Mineral exploration company in India.  And I did achieve all my goals.”

AT NIGERIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT

It was also on record that Sondagi’s ascension into the leadership position of the Nigerian Institute of Management was largely characterised by success stories.

For instance, as Chairman of the Kaduna Branch of NIM, records show how she singlehandedly revived and transformed a hitherto comatose branch into a vibrant, competitive, profitable and award-wining one, thereby inspiring many Northern professionals to take advantage of the professional training programme.

Owing to this track record, she would later be elected Chairperson of the Northwest Zone of the institution.

Sodangi recalled that, “for instance, before my ascension, NIM Kaduna Branch’s bank account was dormant for many years until I became the chairman.  The office used to be in a shanty area but we moved it to Ali Akilu road (an uptown area).

“Many chapters in the North West were not active, I reactivated them and conducted elections in Katsina, Kano and Sokoto. We also had annual NIM summits consecutively for the period I was NW Zonal Chair,” she said.

AT AL-MANAR GROUP

Like her verifiable track records at NSRMEA and NIM, Sodangi’s leadership tenure as the Ameerah/President of the Alm-Manaar Women Association (AMWA) has also been explored as another channel to impact lives and deliver credible leadership.

Founded 13 years ago, AMWA’s sole objective is to turn the tide in favour of every poor and vulnerable Hausa woman and girl child.

And in administering this objective, the organisation’s president explained that since its existence, the group has directly rescued, economically rehabilitated and reintegrated as many as 15,000 lives touched by insurgency, abject poverty and or victims/sufferers of HIV/AIDS, through its various restoration and rebuilding initiatives.

This figure is besides the 1,500/2000 beneficiaries that have been attending the group’s Annual Ramadan Lectures for three years, during which scholars engage teeming youths on moral rectitude and other socio-contemporary issues such as parenting/child upbringing, character formation, marriage counselling, conflict resolution, financial management at home, business in Islam, benefits of fasting, roles of spouses in the family, among others.

Her words: “Almanar Women Association is an NGO, registered with CAC in 2010 and also registered as a multipurpose cooperative in Kaduna state since 2006. Since inception, AMWA has played a major role in the transformation of women, girls and OVCs from a life of destitution and degradation to dignity and self-reliance.

“We realised that women empowerment is critical to the achievement of MDGs 1 to 6. When women are empowered, they take care of themselves and their children in terms of feeding, education, healthcare as well as moral development.

“We have so far economically rehabilitated more than 15,000 people through our various initiatives such as skills acquisition, grants for petty trading, various types of counselling such psycho social, health,  marriage, peaceful coexistence as well as seminars and workshops on moral issues and entrepreneurship.

“We have four centres in Kaduna, ie AMWA HOUSE at Kwaru, Rigasa community centre, Rafin guza and Kabalan doki.  These are areas where you find mostly the less privileged. We are also planning, insha Allah, to build a Women Development Centre.” 

GROWING UP

Growing up for her in Katsina State, alongside 11 of her siblings and cousins, was quite memorable, given the luxury and the larger than life reputation of her family.

Sodangi and her siblings were however not spared parental discipline. They grew up on in an atmosphere of zero tolerance for indiscipline and waywardness of whatever kind.  Today, those yesteryears’ children have grown to achieve great successes, with some becoming medical doctors, legal practitioners, engineers, accountants among others.

Her siblings are Nasiru Abdullahi, an accountant; Binta Mu’utasin Ibrahim, an economist; Muratala Abdullahi, Agric Engr; Abduljalil and Fatima, both medical doctors; Rahanatu, a Chemical engineer; Mukhtar, Sadiq and Maryam, all lawyers; Dalhatu, a graduate of English Language, and Farouk, the youngest who is a student.

Sodangi said: “growing up was full of fun. I am the first born in my family. We (my two siblings and a cousin) were with our paternal grandparents in Katsina during our primary school days. We stayed in Unguwan Alkali. It’s a community that produced all the judges in Katsina and we are all related.

“So I grew up with many cousins, uncles and aunties.  We went to school together, we played together and there was always an uncle or aunt to scold you when you do something wrong.  So there was discipline,” she recalled.

As a child, Sodangi’s dream was to study Medicine at the Ahmadu Bello University and become a Medical Doctor.

But her dream of becoming a Medical Doctor was truncated by a prevalent cultural practise called early marriage in the Northern part of the country, as she was quickly married off at the age of 17, after completing her Secondary School Leaving Certificate.

However, she would quickly state that it was marrying at that age, and more importantly to her kind of husband, that propelled her glorious future.

Though “my challenge would have been that I got married immediately after my secondary school at 17, and of course I couldn’t go to ABU to study medicine as I wanted because I had to live in Kaduna with my husband, so I went to Kaduna Polytechnic.

“And yes, as a child, I wanted to become a Medical Doctor.  But man propose, God dispose.  And I thank the Almighty Allah for the way things turned out for me. I eventually became the CEO of a very important agency in Nigeria (the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency).

“I am happily married with a very supportive husband and wonderful children. My husband supported my studies a great deal. He would sit and read with me and explain whatever I had problems with. He assisted with the children and even in the kitchen.  He has always supported me in whatever I want to do. That contributed a lot to my success.

“Also, I am actively engaged in many NGOs, supporting the women and the less privileged. I am well recognised in the biggest professional body in Nigeria, the Nigerian Institute of Management as a fellow and recipient of many prestigious awards of the Institute.”

HER MARRIAGE

Sodangi met and married her husband, Engr. Sabo Ibrahim Sodangi, who studied Chemical Engineering in Budapest, Hungary. The marriage is blessed children great children and a growing number of grandchildren.

Sodangi told this reporter, proudly, that, “my husband is actually my cousin and I’ve known him long before the courtship. His mum and my dad are from same father.” She also excitedly flaunted him as her “everything.”

Interestingly, the practise of marrying one’s first or distance cousin is a permissible act in Islamic religion, according to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

“Everything is about mindset,” she says, stressing that “of course, as a Muslim, I believe in the decree of Allah. I also believe that Allah will always direct one towards ones decree, but you just have to pursue it ethically and with prayer.”

Sodangi’s children are Sada Sodangi, a Master’s Degree holder in ICT and married with 2 children; Mohamed Sodangi, a marketing guru and an aspiring pilot; Dr. Jameela Sodangi (Mrs Mutawalli), a medical doctor, who is married with two children; Abduljaleel Sodangi, an architect; and Maryam Sodangi, who is currently a final year student of law in the university.

“But unfortunately, we lost one of them in a ghastly auto accident,” she recalled in a thick and emotional voice.

Speaking glowingly of her husband, Sodangi disclosed that “my husband actually registered me as a member of the NIM way back in 1998 and encouraged me to explore the institution for further growth.

“I didn’t have the mind set to be serious with it then. Until 2002 when I started attending the national conference and when we moved to Kaduna in 2003, I became active. Soon after, I became a fellow and Chairman of the Kaduna Branch, which was later recognised as the best branch of the year during my tenure. I got the Chris Abebe award. I moved on to become the North West Zonal Chairman and currently, Council member.”

LIFE REGRETS?

Sodangi said her life’s regrets were her inability to live her childhood dream of becoming a Medical Doctor and when she lost one of her children, Zaki Sodangi, who died in an accident when he was in his 2nd year studying Chemical engineering.

“Well I did not become the medical doctor I wanted to be, but my daughter is a medical doctor now, alhamdulillah. And I’m really happy with the way things turned out for me,” she said.

FOND MEMORIES

“Most pleasing of them all was, of course, when I had my first daughter after three boys,” she said with a beautiful smile.

“I also get to enjoy the holidays we used to go with my husband and sometimes with the children, especially the different tourists attraction sites at home and abroad places like Yankari games reserve, Obudu cattle ranch, all the beaches in Lagos, pyramids, museums etc in Egypt, Eiffel Tower and Disney land in France, Madam Taussauds and other attractions in the UK, Niagara Falls in the US, Taj Mahal and others in India and so many  sites in Dubai, Malaysia, etc.”

TRIBUTES ON HER 60TH BIRTHDAY

In a tribute to his wife, Sodangi’s husband was full of praises for the celebrant.

“I have been with my wife for many decades, even before we got married over 40 years ago,’’ he said. ‘’She is highly religious and always ready to assist anyone genuinely in need. That is why she is involved in philanthropy and other things. Through these agencies, she empowered thousands of widows, orphans and IDPs among others. I am glad I have known her as a person and as my life partner”.

Dr Jameela Sodangi, a medical doctor by profession happens to be one of her mother’s favourite children, possibly because the celebrant sees her as what she would have become.

Sodangi’s inability to pursue a career in medicine was all the needed motivation for Jameela to complete the dream for her.

Dr Jameela Sodangi spoke glowingly of her mother, saying, “Mama, as we fondly call her, is my role model and mentor. All that I am or hope to be, I owe it to my angelic mother.

“She is our beacon of light, a guide who I always run to for advice, a philanthropist that gives hope to a lot of people around her and the community at large. We are so lucky to have her,” she added.

Another dose of love was delivered in a remark by one of Sodangi’s younger siblings, Mrs. Rihannatu Yusuf, who described her as the family go-to- person, for all kinds of supports — emotional, spiritual, financial, motivational and even cheerleading.

“In fact, she is the button that is holding us all together and she does it with heavy dose of patience,’’ she said.

“She has been an amazing role model for us and even our friends and children, inspiring us on professionalism, charity, entrepreneurship and maintaining ties of kingship. Did I mention to you she is a good cook? She is one actually. And her culinary skills are outta this world. I learned so much from her and still calls her up for recipes”.

Abduljaleel Sodangi, the celebrant’s son, said the septuagenarian is a “Super mother, especially because of her righteousness in the public service and active role as a mother.

“As a mother, she has shown me the power of women in this world and by God’s grace, I will strive for the uplifting of women to leadership roles.’’

Mariam Hameeda Sodangi is the celebrant’s youngest daughter, whose glowing birthday tribute centered on how much she has learned from and emulated her mother.

“Being raised by Hajiya Rabi Sodangi is one of the best ingredients in my life because she is nothing but the best. She is by far the strongest woman I know. Only a sturd- hearted person can handle being the Chairperson of NIM, (Northwest Chapter), Ameerah of Almanar Women Association, the Acting DG/CEO of NSRMEA and still remains the ultimate pillar of our extended family and finds enough time to raise a family properly.

“She has stood for the needy, the broken, and the weak. I have seen her fix broken homes and people.

“Because of what she has done for others, she stands as a role model to a lot of people. And growing up as her daughter has driven me in the right direction. Because of her, I am not afraid of stepping out to make a difference. Having her as my role model makes me yearn to make a difference everywhere I go. No doubt, having just a dozen of her type will certainly make our country go places.”

WHAT IS NEXT AFTER RETIREMENT?

 “Certainly, I’m done with the civil service. Going forward, I want to engage in mentoring the youth and empowering the needy, especially women, girls and vulnerable children, insha Allah,” she said.