When leadership spaces are examined across Africa especially in politics, the names of women may not readily come to mind, as there are far too few of them in that space. While history may churn up a few names such as Queen Amina and Queen Idia from within the region presently known as Nigeria, it can be argued that even with advances in providing opportunities for education to the girl child, not many of them have been bold enough to pursue careers in politics with the tenacity required to break that infamous “glass ceiling”. Truth be told, there are many factors that militate against women in Nigeria and Africa from making significant, sustained impact in politics and government and it takes a combination of providence and willpower for a woman to emerge to national and international acclaim in that space.It is for this reason that the life of Dame Pauline Tallen and the success she has achieved in politics, government and in raising a family is quite significant and worthy of commendation. During the occasion of her 60th birthday this past January, she deservedly received a flood of goodwill messages from all over the world, including notably from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. Speaking glowingly about her, President Buhari noted that her advocacy for adherence to the principles of democracy and fairness in decision-making and execution contributed greatly to his political party’s direction and continued success. He attributed her meteoric rise in politics to her appetite and doggedness for pursuing truth, fairness and balance in representation for women and he also acknowledged her as a political amazon who has written her name for good in Nigeria’s history books.President Buhari’s accolades for Dame Pauline Tallen are not far from the truth. In the history of Northern Nigeria, she remains the first and only woman to have been a Deputy Governor. Her sense of equity and fairness caused shock waves in 2015 when she declined an ambassadorial nomination by President Buhari and stated that she did so in respect for long-standing zoning and federal character principles in her home state of Plateau. In a clime where people jostle and would even kill to be given such an honourable political appointment, it was a rarity and welcome break from the norm for someone, a woman at that, to allow others serve the nation at her expense, solely on the basis of the noble values of honour and fairness. At the time, Dame Tallen had just moved to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and had become a member of the APC’s Board of Trustees and also National Adviser of the party’s National Campaign Women Council. That she chose to be selfless and just at a time when others who had not contributed as much to the party’s electoral victory in 2015 were being rewarded will go down in the annals of history as an outstanding act of honour, fairness and selflessness.In a land where many of the few women who do foray into politics find that they suffer on the home front, Dame Pauline Tallen’s life and political career is one that naturally invokes wonder and indeed emulation by other Nigerian women. Not only is she happily married to her husband and their marriage is blessed with five children, even though she is a high-ranking member of the APC, her husband John Tallen remains a chieftain of the opposition PDP and it has not negatively affected their marriage at all. Her husband too is worthy of commendation for allowing his wife express her uniqueness and individuality at such a high level, unlike many of his contemporaries. Dame Pauline continues to excel in all the endeavours and assignments that life has put before her and even as the present Chairman of the Governing Board of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), her leadership has improved the agency and the millions of lives within its purview.Her rise to the top from her humble beginnings in Shendam, Plateau State is inspirational indeed. From being Proprietress of the nursery and primary school she established in 1982 in response to the need for quality education, her life’s path took her to serving as a Commissioner in the Ministry of Social Development, Youth, Sports and Culture, and later on as Commissioner in the state’s Ministry of Health. In 1999 she served on the PDP’s Presidential Inauguration Committee. Thereafter she was appointed as the Honourable Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. Since the year 2000, she has been serving as a World Ambassador of Peace, after having been selected by the Inter-religious and International Federation for World Peace. In 2005 she served as Chairman of the Governing Board, Raw Materials and Research and Development Board and was later that year bestowed with the national honour of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in recognition of her great, invaluable contribution to national development.
As Nigeria looks to emulate other nations that are giving women more roles for participation in government and leadership following the Beijing Declaration, Nigerian women have in Dame Pauline Tallen a role model and motherly figure to look up to and draw strength from. If Nigeria were to have a female President in the future, the trail blazed by Dame Pauline Tallen is one that future generations will remember her favourably for. What she has achieved in just 60 years of life should be the subject of documentaries and academic studies across Africa and indeed any place where leadership is studied. Quiet and unassuming but powerful and compassionate, she is an African queen indeed and a precious gem amongst mere stones.