It’s not every day that one comes across a story that’s as intriguing and inspiring as that of Hajiya Aisha Ja’e. The moment I saw the title of her interview in last Sunday’s edition of Daily Trust, I knew this was one page I couldn’t pass by.
The interview was simply titled ‘I want to be Nigeria’s first female airline owner’ and the smiling face looking at the reader was as Northern as we come. Is it possible for a woman from our part of the world to nurse such a great ambition? I mean we are generally better known for keeping in the background and building our men up. Could this lady be the exception?
Needless to say, the headline got me hooked and I didn’t put the paper down till I reached the very last line on the page. Surprisingly, while reading the interview, I became more impressed with what Aisha has achieved than what she plans to accomplish in future. I was full of mental applause every few seconds because almost everything Aisha Muhammad Ja’e had to say is a quotable quote to inspire others.
Imagine starting your empowerment pursuit by engaging in commercial laundry (wankau in Hausa) and then moving on to nik’au (commercial grinding of foodstuffs using stone grinder) all as a 12-year-old bride hoping to make ends meet. Yet that was how Hajiya Aisha started.
According to the Kaduna-born exemplary entrepreneur, her husband was still a student when they got married and she had to live with his family while he was away at the university and that was how she tried her hand at some things in order to help with the upkeep of the family.
Aisha’s break came when her husband graduated from school and took her and their then two children away to live in Kano. Then she started leasing wrappers and headscarves to other women for a fee. Afterwards she purchased her first commercial motorcycle, 19 years ago and got someone to ride it by transporting commuters. But before the ban on commercial motorcycles came into effect, years later, Aisha Ja’e owned no less than 500 of them. The ban necessitated her move from motorcycles to tricycles, Keke Napep, and today she owns 3980 of those.
It was while having 14 tricycles that Aisha decided to formally register her company. She eventually registered Ja’e Transport Services with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Soon afterwards Aisha ventured into bigger vehicles by purchasing a few mini vans known in Kano as kurkura, which is mainly used for delivery of goods. Today her company has 86 such vans. In addition to these, her company also purchased mini buses, the 18-seater buses that ferry passengers between the Northern and Southern parts of the country. As at now she has 25 of such buses in her fleet. Ja’e Transport Services also has operational offices in Lagos and Kaduna in addition to Kano.
For someone who started western education at the age of 25, with four children to boot, Hajiya Aisha has certainly displayed great business acumen. She currently has no less than five thousand people in her employ, stationed in different parts of the country.
Yet with these remarkable achievements, why did it take a foreign university to notice and appreciate Hajiya Aisha’s entrepreneurial genius? The only part of her story that got me disheartened was hearing that Aisha had to go all the way to a university in Benin Republic to be honoured for her business accomplishments and philanthropy.
Surely with three universities in Kano, my namesake did not need to go so far to be recognized for her achievements. What would it cost my Alma mater, the Bayero University Kano, to honour her with an honorary doctorate degree for her exemplary rags to riches story and for the many humanitarian works she has been known to undertake? The same applies to the State owned University at Wudil and the new Maitama Sule University, all existing in the ancient commercial hub of the North.
By her own admission, Aisha told Daily Trust on Sunday that in addition to five thousand full time employees her company has another 257 people earning their monthly wages from Ja’e Transport Services. Coupled with this, all her staff in Kano are given free lunches daily.
But Aisha’s generosity does not stop at her workers alone. She disclosed that they give assistance to orphanages and pay the school fees and medical bills of some orphans. Her company also pays fines on behalf of prisoners and was able to free 36 of them, in addition to building a borehole at Kurmawa prison located in Kano city.Additionally, the company runs a driving school and owns a football academy.
Tell me, if all these humanitarian and commercial ventures do not earn her the respect and appreciation of the community she serves, what will? It is for this reason that I call on the governing boards of the three Kano based universities mentioned above, to seriously consider honouring this remarkable woman of substance and compassion.
It is my hope that fellow women and youth alike, will get inspiration from her rags to riches tale and start something worthwhile with their lives. And here is wishing Hajiya Aisha the length of life and wealth needed to achieve her dream of floating the first female owned airline in Nigeria.