The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed deep sadness at the news of the death of former IPI Executive Board Member and respected Nigerian journalist Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf, who was tragically killed in a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
The first female editor at the Sunday Triumph Kano, Bilkisu served on IPI’s Executive Board from 2007 to 2011. During her long career in journalism, she also served as editor of the New Nigerian Kaduna and Citizen Magazine Kaduna, and worked as a columnist at the Leadership and Daily Trust newspapers.
The stampede in which Bilkisu lost her life came during the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday and claimed the lives of over 700 people. It occurred during a ritual in which pilgrims throw pebbles at stone pillars in a re-enactment of the Prophet Abraham’s stoning of the devil and rejection of his temptations. Bilkisu had travelled to Saudi Arabia on Hajj.
“Hajiya Bilkisu was a wonderful friend of IPI’s and a staunch defender of our work and the principles we stand for,” IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “As a veteran journalist, columnist, journalism ombudsman and civil society activist, she inspired many young journalists in the last 30 years. The passion for her work always shone through and she was an example to women journalists everywhere.”
Her commitment to press freedom was unquestioned. In an interview in 2010, Bilkisu described having resisted government pressure while working at the New Nigerian.
“They didn’t want us to be critical of the regime,” she said. “For about nine months I refused to sign my name in the newspaper, unless I was given the freedom to do what ought to be done.”
Kabiru Yusuf, the chairman of Nigeria’s Media Trust Ltd in and Bilkisu’s successor on IPI’s Executive Board, remembered her as someone who had “touched many lives as a columnist, editor, human rights activist and religious leader who championed inter-faith dialogue”.
A supporter of civil society and an advocate for women’s rights, Bilkisu was also a founding member of several NGOs, including Women in Nigeria (WIN), the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria FOMWAN) and AdvocacyNigeria.
In the 2010 interview, she said of her work in civil society: “Advocacy succeeds through two things: consistency and tenacity. You have to be patient and keep working.”
Bilkisu received a B.A. in Political Science from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin and an Advanced Diploma in journalism from the Moscow Institute for Journalism.