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Two notable Nigerian women on 14 November 2011 joined 362 others to be conferred with national honours by President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja. Hajia Saudatu Magajiya Mahdi and Barrister (Mrs.) Maryam Uwais (nee Isa Wali) were among the 68 recipients for the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). These women of substance, achievers and change champions have performed incredible feats in development work. Like a colossus, their activities and activisms straddle the area of education, human rights, law reform, legislative advocacy, banking and finance, etcetera.

Born on 20 April 1957, Hajia Saudatu Mahdi hails from Katsina State. She studied at Ahmadu Bello University and Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) from where she obtained her first and post graduate qualifications in 1978 and 1992 respectively. She has certificates in entrepreneurship, Fiscal/Financial management, advocacy and human rights and Institution Building skills. She is a Fellow of the Institute for Corporate Administration in Nigeria and a recipient of national and international awards in recognition of her work in development and women's human rights defence. She was in public service for eighteen years rising from being a classroom teacher to becoming the Principal of Government Girls Secondary School, Bauchi in August 1989. She was appointed Acting Registrar, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Bauchi on 12 April 1995 and held that position until 11 November 1998 when she voluntarily retired.

Though Hajia Saudatu distinguished herself as a teacher and an administrator, it was in the development work that she shone like a million stars. On retirement from public service, she was appointed a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Women's Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), a registered non-governmental organization. From 1999 to date, she has served as Secretary General, member and Secretary of the Board of Trustees and is the official spokes person of WRAPA on all issues.

Saudatu Mahdi has a fair degree of Islamic education and knowledge, making her well recognized and respected among the Islamic Scholars due to her competent and productive dialogue with prominent scholars on issues relating to the rights of women under the Shari'a law in Nigeria. This skill was successfully utilised to support advocacy and sensitization around the appeals of Safiya Husseini and Amina Lawal, two Nigerian women who appealed against death sentences on charges of adultery which were upheld by the Sokoto and Katsina State Shari'a Court of Appeal in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

She has to her credit over 20 published and unpublished presentations on violence against women, Shari'a and women's rights, women in democracy, women in education, CEDAW and the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa). She has participated in and piloted varied studies on gender with specific focus on violence against women, bodily integrity of women and girls, gender gap analysis in Nigeria towards project implementation and research documentation on women's political participation in Nigeria. From 2001 to date she has been working closely with lawyers and activists to develop a national law on violence against women under the auspices of the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women (LACVAW), which is a network of about 55 civil society groups, religious organizations, international human right groups and other stakeholders working on various aspects of women's rights.

What more can one say but hearty congratulations to these great daughters of Nigeria who have laboured to bring positive development to our dear motherland.

Ojo writes from Abuja