Unlucky in love? Husband cheating on you? Did you unwittingly sleep with your future father-in-law? Help is at hand from an agony aunt using Instagram (IG) to solve relationship problems in northern Nigeria. The scenarios above are just some of the problems that Ziya’atulhaqq Usman Tahir has come up against.
“I think a lot of women in northern Nigeria think like that, if you have a problem with your husband you shouldn’t say it, you should find a way to fix it, or pray for it. I’m all for prayers, but at times we have to speak,” she says.
Tahir shares other people’s stories anonymously, but she also solicits advice from her followers, who she calls “jurors”. The dilemmas they adjudicate on involve love, relationships and finances – all of the classic advice column topics. Tahir’s online advice hub began when she was discussing relationships with a friend – one who wouldn’t heed her advice. So she decided to post the problem on IG to see what the response would be like.
“It just took 20 minutes before people started sending me their stories. And that’s how this agony aunt was born,” she said.
The account snowballed, quickly picking up nearly 40,000 followers in just a few months. Tahir has developed a network of professionals who can help her with specific problems, such as lawyers, psychologists, housewives, gynecologists and a local imam. It’s a new approach to solving personal problems in the north of Nigeria, where she says it’s often difficult for women to discuss relationships openly.
“I was not raised to believe you should not talk about your problems,” she says, “There’s a woman that sent me her story; her husband rapes her every night. There’s another woman who sent me her story, for six months, her husband has been beating her,” she says. “Northern [Nigerian] women have been in pain and hopefully this is going to be a time for change.”
Tahir says she’s received many emails from people thanking her for providing a forum where people can get advice, and she says her wide IG audience is only the start. She hopes to create a TV show where she can reach new audiences looking for advice – and new jurors who are happy to chip in with their own thoughts.
Asked on how she came about her handle’s name on IG, Tahir says her love of Igbo culture inspired her Instagram handle “Fat Ibo Lady”.