Since no meaningful transformation can be achieved in any society without due consideration for women, children, the aged and the vulnerable, Governor Ibikunle Amosun has demonstrated that he has a heart for them
“For I cannot think that God almighty ever made them [women] so delicate, so glorious creatures; and furnished them with such charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind; with souls capable of the same accomplishments with men: and all, to be only stewards of our houses, cooks, and slaves,” wrote Daniel Defoe, The Education of Women.
Governor Ibikunle Amosun seems to agree with Defoe on this note. Thus, on assumption of office, one of the first steps he took was to change the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development to reflect the new pivotal role and vision the administration has carved out for it.
In line with the new vision and mission of the administration “to build a just society which is devoid of discrimination against women, to ensure continuous empowerment of women and promote the rights of children and other vulnerable groups,” four new departments were added to the three existing ones in the ministry.
Elaborating on the mission of the ministry, Elizabeth Sonubi, Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, said, “Our ultimate goal actually is to promote gender equality, to ensure that both male and female in the state, have equal opportunities, equal access to all the activities and programmes of this administration… to ensure that we build that social trust and that the state will have social justice that ensures the treatment of everybody fairly and equally.” For these laudable goals to be achieved there must be strategies in place. One of these strategies is the creation of new departments, which will specifically address the various important aspects of people’s lives. Hitherto, there were just three core departments and two serviceable departments. “We want to be specific and we want to ensure that each department has the capacity to reach out to our beneficiaries, the targeted groups. So we added two core departments, so right now we have five core departments; Social Welfare, Child Development, Women Empowerment, Research, Statistics and Planning departments,” she said.
In line with the policy trust of the administration, Women Empowerment is to promote the social economic activities of women, to ensure that they are empowered politically, economically and socially. In the realms of economic empowerment, the administration realised, and rightly too, that women contribute quite significantly to keeping the home front. In some cases, they are the breadwinners while in others; they are there to give the necessary support to the man to ensure that food is on the table. As a caring and listening government, poverty alleviation is part of the strategies. “And so we believe that if we target women to enrich and develop the household, definitely we will be able to reduce poverty. So, poverty alleviation is our target for this department,” she explained.
And to ensure that it is not lip service that is paid to poverty alleviation, there’s the Economic Empowerment scheme for women that has as its major thrust, the establishment of micro-credit scheme for women and an accompanying capacity building to help them manage their businesses effectively. To prosecute this, the loan of N1billion has been secured from Ecobank out of which N100 million will be used to run a pilot project of the scheme.
“We have implementing partners that will assist us in disbursing and monitoring the beneficiaries to ensure that they use the money for what it is meant. Already, through the application form, we have gathered data about their present economic situation, so that we can know where they are presently. So after that period of time of utilising such money, we will be able to assess them to know if that kind of facility did have impact on their businesses,” the commissioner said.
On measures to avert failures, she disclosed that use of microfinance banks, MFBs, was originally considered but it was discovered that MFBs were not in all the 20 local government areas of the state, making the option of partnering with the non-government organisations, NGOs, that are into micro credit scheme attractive. “We are targeting women that are already into business because we want to expand their businesses and to ensure that they have access to funds without going to commercial banks that would demand for collaterals. It is even important to state that the government is subsidising because we are collecting the loan from Ecobank at the rate of 20 per cent and giving it out to the beneficiaries at nine per cent. Those partners get it at seven per cent so they have two per cent as their administrative charges at the monitoring. So, we are doing this and we are ensuring that we are empowering the women and we are not exploiting them,” she explained to the magazine. Another scheme that is in the works under this scheme is for those women that are about to start either small-scale business or wish to expand their businesses. “The criteria needed are that applicants must be women and must have an existing business. We are using group approach so that they can monitor themselves. A maximum of 10 members per group so that they can know each other [and] be close to each other,” she said about the micro-credit scheme.
The ministry has also put skill acquisition training in place with its headquarters in Women Development Centre, WDC, where vocational skills in fashion designing, hairdressing, tie and dye are being taught. Because of the neglect of the past administration, all the vocational training centres established in the 20 local government areas of the state have become moribund. The government of Amosun is leaving no stone unturned as efforts are on at resuscitating the centres before the end of the year so that they can be deployed to use as vocational skill training centres. “The essence of this is to focus on the young women particularly the drop-outs and those who have no skill and nothing to trade in because we know that we can enrich them to be more productive and to earn their living through skill training as well. So our plan is that we will not just train them alone, we will also equip them, empower them with tools,” Sonubi told the magazine in an interview. Since the government is embarking on a holistic transformation, there is the imperative of political empowerment to increase the tempo of women political activism and participation in government. “We are lucky that we have a governor that is gender-sensitive and right now, when you talk about the cabinet members, the executive council of the state, I can say we have over 40 per cent of women there. And when you look at the whole appointees that we have in the state, we have been able to meet up even score more than the 35 per cent,” she said, adding that it is not just about those in the office alone, there is now a structure on ground that ensures that women leaders represent others across the state. Christened Women Advancement Forum, WAF, the essence of it is to allow women to remain relevant after election and stop the idea of their being used and dumped after elections. These women can become mobilisers and development agents, as they are closer to the grassroots, in the rural areas. “We want them to be part of decision making as well. So we have over 300 of them, at least one of them representing the 36 wards in the state. Though the forum is non-political because we tried to involve other categories of women like market women, NGO leaders, community-based organisations, CBOs, to ensure that we cut across the various categories of women that we have. The essence of it is that even at the local government level, they should be able to participate in decision making in their various areas. Right now, we have 310 of them as members of this forum,” Sonubi said, stressing that ministry officials meet with them on monthly basis and they bring reports and feedbacks from their locality which are also transmitted to the government.
Since health is wealth, the ministry, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, has embarked on Health Campaign for women with this year’s focus on cancer because, according to her, it is a deadly and peculiar disease whose awareness is not enough for people to prevent it, since it is not curable.
“We have started screening at the state level and we are taking it to the various local government areas. The first one we did, we screened about 40 victims of cancer who were not even aware while four of them were at critical stages. So during the screening, we had to give them the assistance to follow with treatment and we are doing that in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and of course, media campaign is part of our focus,” Sonubi said.
Another new department is the Children Development Department that targets the protection of the rights of children, to ensure their survival because when they know their rights, they should be able to exercise it just like women have their rights. Leadership training is regularly organised for the children while the ministry has inaugurated the third set of the Children Parliament with two representatives from each of the twenty local government areas.
“We have been able to set up a task force in collaboration with other agencies and they have started going round to ensure that students have access to go to school free, they should stay in school. We have a lot of counselling for them as well. And of course this Children Parliament ensures that they have their voice in governance by representing the children in the state,” she said.
According to her, being the first state to pass the Child Rights Act, efforts are in top gear to re-present the bill in the House of Assembly, because the first one lacked the juvenile law. She disclosed that the bill on equality of opportunities in Ogun State is ongoing and it is going to be presented as an executive bill in House of Assembly.
Under the Social Welfare Department, the ministry is renovating one of its buildings to be used as a rehabilitation centre for victims of child trafficking. Already, a team is already on the streets picking lunatics, destitutes and beggars, because having them on the street will not help the government neither will it help them. The government has been treating those who deserve treatment and taking those that need to be taken to the hospital, rehabilitating them for some time while those that require good training are being given and empowered through grants to start businesses that would make them to be productive and useful to themselves and the society. They are also being reunited with their family. In addition to that, the government is working with NGOs that are into child trafficking and attending to the callous issues of raping and wife battering, which she says will be tackled through public enlightenment so that when the people are enlightened it would prevent so many social problems besetting the community.
“And that is why our Social Welfare department is focusing on family because we believe that if there is peace in the family, there would be peace in the larger society. And it is when there is peace that you can talk of developing the state as a whole. Right now, we have much marital reconciliation that we have handled and when we cannot reconcile them together, we make sure that the father takes responsibility for the upkeep of the children. They pay to our social welfare offices, so those ones now disbursed to the mother to ensure that the children don’t just suffer from conflicts of couples and so on. We have guidance and counseling unit of the ministry that do educate couples more on why they need to live in harmony,” she emphasised.
Aside from care for women and children, the government is also extending care to the aged. That is why the ministry is planning to establish recreational centres for the aged in each of the senatorial districts in the state. By the time all these are put in place, the prayers of women, children and aged will definitely continue to lift up the hands of the governor in his efforts to make Ogun State the model of all the federating units in Nigeria.