By Kemi Yesufu
Gender inequality remains a major contributor to the high level poverty in the country, with development experts often describing poverty as having a female face in Nigeria.
Women empowerment with financial inclusion as its foundation has been at the core of gender activism and the push for change. Severally, experts and gender activists have called for empowerment programmes which will pull millions of Nigerian women out of poverty as well as protect them from Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
The statistics clearly show that Nigeria must address the seemingly intractable problem of poverty, not only to achieve the lofty, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but also to keep the country afloat and end the high level insecurity being experienced in different parts of the country by groups who have a steady supply of recruits from poor communities and households.
Owing to its impact on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Nigeria listed poverty and inequality as national security threats in its 2019 National Security Strategy (NSS, 2019). This is as the 2019/2020 Nigerian living standards survey released by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, shows that 82.9million (40.1 per cent) Nigerians are poor. A breakdown of this data further reveals that poverty is endemic in the rural area where majority of Nigerians live in. A larger proportion of Nigerians live in rural areas while slightly above 40 per cent live in urban centres. While the national poverty headcount rate is 40.1 per cent, the rural has 52.1 per cent as against urban’s 18.04 per cent headcount rate.
Even among rural dwellers, women are most affected by poverty and a lack of opportunities. As it stands, only about 5.6 per cent females are able to undergo post -secondary education compared to the 18.3 per cent of men who have the same opportunity. Education translates to job opportunities available to each gender. This explains why Nigeria had 23.1 per cent unemployment rate as at 2018 while underemployment stood at 20.1 per cent-males are had the upper hand with 20.3 per cent unemployment rate and 15.4 per cent underemployment rate while females had 26.6 per cent unemployment and 25.9 per cent underemployment. Unemployment and underemployment statistics again favours the urban than those living in the rural area. It explains disparities between male and female and urban and rural dwellers in Nigeria in relation to power, economic opportunities and positionality with the entire Nigerian society.
The above statistics explains why the Nigerian government through the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs is implementing a scheme aptly tagged, Nigeria For Women Project (NFWP). Nigeria For Women Project is a five year intervention 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.
On Monday August 29, Frontline News Online visited 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 far away 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 Odeda LGA 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.
Not only are the husbands of members of WAGs supportive, community leaders have also backed this women empowerment scheme. One of them is the Baale Akinlagun Camp, Odeda LGa, Chief Akanji Fatola. The Baale who received officials of NFWP at the town hall of his community said the scheme has brought much joy to his people. “My people were initially afraid of participating, but now they are enjoying the benefits of the scheme. They are eating well and enjoying peace in their homes”, he disclosed.
The success stories from the LGAs visited matched the assessment of the Nigeria For Women Project Ogun State coordinator, Mrs Bolanle Olatunji Fadairo. Fadairo in an interview with Frontline News Online said the project has greatly impacted the lives of many women. She opined that project which is winding down next year, March 2023, since it was flagged off in December 2020, has exceeded its target of 54,000 women to 63,331 beneficiaries in three Local Government Areas of Ogun State, due to its wide acceptance.
She said: “We happened to be the first state which participated in the training of the trainers, we started from here in Ijebu-North East LGA. Initially, our people didn’t want to join the Women Affinity Groups, thinking it was one of these scams. They wondered how they can contribute enough money to then borrow from it. But with time we won their trust. We have exceeded the target in the state. The reason being the model we are implementing.
“Before at the Ogun State ministry of Women Affairs we would empower women with skills and give them tools to start business. But with NFWP, the training aspect of the project makes our women develop a sense of belonging. I see the NFWP model outliving the project deadline because of its acceptability among women. Women have taken ownership of the project”.