By Kemi Yesufu
Thousands of Women in Abia State are sharing happy stories of a new financial freedom, thanks to their keying into the Nigeria For Women Project (NFWP).
The Nigeria For Women Project is a five year intervention programme by the Federal Government with support from the World Bank. NFWP is aimed at promoting gender equality and improving women’s economic status at individual and at household levels. Women from 18 years above involved in any form of legitimate business can join a Women Affinity Group (WAG) which is the implementation platform for this collaborative programme between the Federal Government and six states. This project is being carried out in 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in six states, one each from the six-geopolitical zones of the country.
Speaking to journalists in her office, Tuesday on September 12, Acting Permanent-Secretary of the Abia State ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Rev Jane Omereonye described NFWP as highly beneficial to her state. According to her the Abia State government has also sent Expression of Interest to expand the project to all the 17 LGAs in the State from the three currently being covered because of the success stories being shared by beneficiaries.
She assessed the jointly implemented intervention as hugely successful in the three Local Government Areas (LGA) where women are participating. She further disclosed that members of the WAGs in the state have been able to generate over N281.9million as loan funds from savings contributed at weekly meetings as well as other administrative charges and fines.
This is as a total of 12,899 beneficiaries have received the livelihood grant of N60,000 each which amounted to NGN 772,946,300.00 to expand existing businesses, start a new business of diversity into other businesses. Also an additional 29,942 women who recently developed their business plans will receive livelihood grants as soon as the paper works are finalised.
She said: “NFWP is very successful in Abia State. We have hit set targets such as creating the expected number of WAGs. Right now, Abia is equally poised to enter into Phase 2 of the project. So, we at the level of disbursement of the livelihood grant which was flagged off by February this year. So, the disbursement of the livelihood grant has commenced though we have challenges, we believe that very soon all the women in Phase 1 will be paid and the current challenges will be surmounted”.
“This programme is very much appreciated in Abia State as it has impacted gone lives of women and their families. If you go the communities where the project is being implemented so many women have been uplifted. Some of them they have increased the output from their business even those who are yet to receive the livelihood grant. Some from the money they borrowed from the WAG they belong to have been able to improve the scope of their business. I remember a woman whom we met during a monitoring visit¸ she told us how she borrowed forty-something Naira from her WAG’s saving fund, invested it in her business and she was able to pay the loan in full at once.
“She so happy explaining that she so grateful for NFWP, that if it was before she would have to borrow money from loan sharks who trick people to borrow with high interest. But with NFWP project she borrowed money without stress, put the money into her palm oil business and was able to pay at once. This is kind of impact this project has made in the lives of Abia women”, Omereonye added.
A visit by Frontline News Online to one of the three implementing Local Government Area, Isiala Ngwa North, showed that indeed women good stories to tell. One of the happy women is Benedicta Nwokeoma a member of the Royal Women WAG. She told this paper that she and members of her group used a N75,000 loan from the wag to rent five plots of land to cultivate and sell cassava and corn.
“We can make more than N150,000 from the produce here when it’s time to harvest. We have never done a group experiment before, this is pour first time, but we are liking the idea. We come here to work together. We cooperated to weed, plant and manage the farm. We come here to work peacefully and go home happily”, she told Frontline News Online on the group’s farm.
Another member of the Royal Women WAG Amalahan Gladys said she had received the N60,000 livelihood grant and she used to purchase an equipment that has boosted her business. “When I got my grant, I used it to buy a cassava grinding machine. Since I started this business, the fortunes of my family has changed. I use part of the money I make for my family’s upkeep”, Gladys explained.
An elated 70-year-old member of the Royal Women WAG, Rose Onyedinelu said the N60,000 livelihood grant gave her a new lease of life. “I hardly can walk, now this kiosk is where I get money to feed myself. This kiosk was not build by me or my children, rather, I rented and maintain it from the money I received”, she disclosed.
Yet another WAG, dubbed the Progressive Women, has members with inspiring stories. Jane Onyedika a member of Progressive Women WAG in Umukalu community in Isiala Ngwa North, started her poultry business with a N30,000 loan from her group. The 60-year-old widow said she combined the loan and her savings to start the poultry business which she learnt from her late father. She shared the fact that not only can she now feed her family better, she was able to pay for her son’s apprenticeship. “Aside from re-investing the money I have made into my business, I also used part of the money I have made to pay for my last son to learn how to sell plastic in the city”, she explained.
Abia is the third state visited by Frontline News Online in assessing the NFWP. Recall that on Monday August 29, Frontline News Online was at Ijebu North-East Local Government Area in Ogun State, South West of Nigeria where women heartily shared their testimonies of how their joining a WAG has improved their standard of living, earned them respect from their husbands and also stopped years of domestic violence in their homes.
Just as with members of the WAG in faraway North Central zone of the country, precisely, Tofa Kampani settlement in Gurara Local Government Area of Niger State which Frontline News Online interacted with early 2022, members of different WAG groups in Ogun State pay N50 as savings contribution, while the weekly N500 contribution of members is also collected. Each member can borrow up to double of the amount she has saved from her N500 to N1000 maximum weekly contribution which as with the N50 weekly savings is kept in a metal box which is kept with the selected box keeper, while those who hold the keys to the padlocks used to keep the saving box safe are different. Women whose business plans are approved also receive a N60,000 grant to boost their businesses.
Shola Adelaja the box-keeper of the Anu Oluwa po WAG in Oke Eri community in Ijebu-North East, re-echoed the opinion of her fellow WAG members when she said the NFWP has taught them how to fish. She revealed that members of her WAG are better off with the life-changing skills taught them like saving, book keeping and the importance of gender equality. She said: “When we started, they gave us a box to keep our money and this changed my opinion. I could see where my money was kept. We borrowed ourselves money and we return the refunded money into the box, till now we have been carrying out this process. Later on, four of us were called to Abeokuta and one of us received the N60,000 grant. Through this WAG membership many of our homes are now happy”.
Yetunde Olayinka is another woman who has a success story to tell from being a member of the WAG in Imukoro-Atan community in Ijebu-North East LGA. Olayinka who is a farmer with a specialty in garri (cassava flakes) production said she added the sale of provisions to her garri production business, thanks to the assistance she got from her group. “I have not had any problem since I joined the WAG in my community. It was from what I got from the WAG that I started selling provision right from my parlor and I have enjoyed a good level of patronage”, Olayinka stated brightly.
Ofada rice farmer, Omolayo Oshofunwa also has a good story to tell about her joining Ore Oluwa WAG of Aton Ward of Ijebu-North East. Like other women in her community contributing and later borrowing from her WAG, she sees the NFWP model as a much better option compared to taking loans from cooperatives and local loan sharks. Oshofunwa alongside her husband have increased production of the popular ofada rice at their farm, this even as they have sunk a borehole in the farm with the goal of starting all season farming.
The women in Odeda LGA of Ogun State also had testimonies to share with Frontline News Online when this reporter interacted with them on Tuesday, August 30. Alice Alabi who sells yams said with the help from her WAG, she moved from only being able to buy 45 yams to her currently buying 80 to 150 yams to sell.
Bamidele Idiat a seamstress who joined the WAG in her community in October 2021 revealed that the N60,000 grant she received was used to complete her shop. According to the evidently elated beneficiary, she started building the shop after realizing she needed to make her business more visible. “I used the N60,000 grant I received to complete my shop. I used to sew in my husband’s parlor. But I always wondered how prospective clients would see me when I am operating indoors. I got inspired to build my shop when I saw a man building his home near my house. I approached him, asking him questions about things he was using to build his house like blocks and cement. He encouraged me to start building my shop even if gradually. I started building the shop with my savings and other contributions I was involved in, all through I wondered how I was going to complete the shop. My husband was supportive and promised to give me money, but when the N60,000 alert came I used it to complete my shop project”, Idiat said.