Dr. Glory Edet is the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare in Akwa Ibom State. She has been on the saddle for more than three years and has been able to mobilise women form the state to do what is right. Speaking with The Guardian in Uyo, she highlighted not only what her ministry has been able to do for the womenfolk in the state, but what Governor Udom Emmanuel has used his office to impact on the welfare of women in the past two years. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of Governor Udom Emmanuel in the last two years?
I want to thank the governor for making Akwa Ibom proud in the last two years, he has spoken to us that he is ready to serve the people of the state. Through this Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare, the governor has done a lot of things. We have seven departments in the Ministry, but the four major departments that are touching the lives of the people are the Social Welfare, Women Affairs, Child Development and the Rehabilitation departments. I want to say that this ministry made sure that the Central Bank of Nigeria loan was given to Akwa Ibom women; we paid the interest for them and that made the women be happy and start doing business.
Even though some of them already had something to do, they had to use the loan to expand their businesses and that has helped in reducing the poverty level among the women in the state. When poverty is reduced among women, poverty is reduced in the whole state.
Akwa Ibom state is the only state that specifically sends widows on pilgrimage, other states including this state have been sending women generally, but last year, the governor specifically directed that five widows from the 31 local councils of the state to go and pray for the state and the nation. This was so symbolic and when we went to Israel, even the pilgrim office in Abuja, acknowledged that Akwa Ibom state is the only state that did what the governor did by specifically sending widows on pilgrimage.
Also in this ministry, there is something we have known as Widowhood Empowerment Scheme. Widows register with us in the ministry and the essence of the registration is to know their levels.In poverty parlance, we call it the poorest of the poor, because not all the poor people are at the same level; sometimes we have widows who are not poor, so when we do the registration, we will know the real people we are empowering and the governor, through this ministry, will always give money to those widows who do not have means of livelihood so that they don’t get frustrated in live.
During the International Women’s Conference, we organise seminars and workshops where we invite personalities to come and speak to our women on different areas. During the period, we collaborate with Female Medical Association of Nigeria that will help sensitise our women on the dangers of breast cancer and other health-related matters. The doctors even did test on the women and those discovered as having symptoms of such sickness, through the benevolence of the governor, would be referred to the hospital for treatment.
We also train our women on how to behave at social gatherings, how to maintain their integrity and discipline in such places and how they can train our daughters who are future mothers on how they should behave and look responsible at all times.
Apart from that, in the children development department, we have what we call Children Parliament and Akwa Ibom state is one of the states in the country that, not only domesticated the Child Rights Law of 2008, but we also implement the law in the state. We collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary to make sure that those who go contrary to the Child Rights Law are brought to book according to the law, because we believe that our children today will become the leaders of tomorrow. We carry out sensitisation campaign throughout the state on these issues against child abuse, abandonment and trafficking because we have to protect our children.
We also involve traditional rulers, churches, women, teachers, stakeholders and opinion leaders; because we believe that they have roles to play in making our children better future leaders. It baffled me sometimes when you hear people say, this child is a witch or wizard, it is against the law. But you never hear a child of a commissioner, pastor or a child of any prominent person being labeled a witch or wizard. Why is it that only children of the lower class are seen as this?
It is an offence to offend the children especially, the female children. One of the things Akwa Ibom state government is doing to ensure that the Child Rights Law is followed to the letter is by establishing in 17 local councils what is called Social Welfare, so that any issue should be reported there, because some persons at the level of government may not have money to pay transport to our office in Uyo when such issue comes up. We have workers who attend to people’s complaints at the level.
This ministry also goes round schools in the state to create awareness and sensitize the children on their role, because by implementing the law, you are not advising them to insult their teachers or parents, hence they all have roles to play.The governor has made education free, compulsory and qualitative for our children. The essay competitions usually guide us to know how the children fare in their studies.
We also have five government schools, where we have about 300 children; some of them are orphans, less privileged, abandoned children and all of them are taken care of by the governor. Some of them are in the university, some in secondary and primary schools. Many of them participated in the last Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations; if they pass and gain admission, the government will train them. Those in the university are studying engineering, law, social sciences and arts courses.
Abandoned children are government’s children as far as government is the one taking care of them. We also discipline parents who abandon their children because, in the Child Right Law, child abandonment is one of them. So the government has done enough for them, not only on their educational needs but even in other upkeeps.
The governor has started what he called quarterly empowerment of women; this is his own personal project, not government financed. Every quarter, he will ask us to pick five women from the 31 Local Councils and he would empower them with N200,000 each.
What are the criteria used in selecting the poorest of the poor among the widows for empowerment?
There is something we call poverty incidence, it is what you use in knowing how women spend one-third of their income. We can say generally, 10 people are poor in the state, which is poverty incidence, but when we want to go in-depth, we now go on that amount someone spends for her household expenditure. If it is less than one-third, that talks about poverty incidence. Then poverty severity is what we call the poorest of the poor. So even among those people that are poor, they are not in the same category. When the list comes to the ministry, you tell us where you live, what you do for a living, the number of children you have, when your husband died, where you come from, what you are doing presently, among others. By the time you finish asking these questions, you will realise that some of them do not have even garri to eat. But some of them, when asked, they will tell you that their husband left something for them and so they are managing it, then you can now differentiate them.
So when we are compiling, we select those who are the poorest. When you give us the data, we move round based on the information you give to confirm that you are the actual person and we pick those ones who are in the group of the poorest first, because poverty can lead to frustration, even death. Like those with a disability, some of them are graduates, even though there are physically challenged, they are working. There are some of them who are not able to do anything and those ones need to be empowered. Some are given the scholarship to go to school, even in the current transition committee, they are appointed because we believe there is ability in disability.
What is the government doing to reduce the incident of abandon children in the state?
We are not talking about only abandoned children, but the less privileged, those stigmatised and so on. For the orphanages, some parents, when the mother gives birth in the hospital, the mother died, the next thing you see is the husband bringing the child to the ministry. There are children who are socially disadvantaged, they will put to bed and cannot stay to take care of the baby, while some are real abandoned children. There is hardly a week we don’t have reported cases on this matter, we have to go and pick the child; you cannot send the child away because child abandonment is also an offense. Sometimes we move around major streets in the state and you will be surprised at the stories these children will tell you, “my father dropped me here so that government will come and take care of me”.
Other cases are those where a father will marry another wife because his wife died and the new wife becomes a serious problem to the children. In such situations, we will take of such children and later invite the parents and advice them and allow them to go with the child. We also follow up from the ministry to ensure that those children are taken good care of. But for children who were stigmatised as witches and wizard, the story has been corrected and the government is taking care of them, even those who are in higher institutions, we pay their fees, take care of them and visit them often to see how they are faring and they are very brilliant.
What monitoring mechanisms has the ministry put in place to ensure that the empowerment programme in not hijacked by a particular group of women? We have a monitoring team in the ministry headed by a director and what we do is that in all the 31 Local Councils, we have women stakeholders and leaders. For instance, if we empower women in Obot Akara Local Council, we have some leaders there that will monitor them at that level.
We also move round. If the government has given you money, we make sure we monitor you that, you don’t divert that money for something else. We don’t want a situation that if you were given money to do business, you divert it to buy clothes.
For every empowerment, we have a comprehensive list. We not only write their names but also the village and ward so that we can effectively monitor them. Even if we empower people from the same village, we cannot repeat the same person as we have pictures of each beneficiary. That is what we do to guide against one person benefitting for more than once.
How is the ministry handling the issue of forced marriages, child abuse, and trafficking?
It is part of the sensitization that the Ministry is doing. Every time, we moved around all the 10 federal constituencies in 2016 and the sensitization was not only on child abuse, but we also talked about child-trafficking, child abandonment, baby factory and we collaborate with different security agencies like the Immigration and others. What we do in this ministry is to move around and sensitize parents on the Child Rights Law. We have been meeting with every head of immigration that comes into the state, we also have what is called Child’s Right Law Committee, where we have police, immigration and other security agencies and Human Rights Commission as members. I want to appreciate the governor in this direction because if there is anything he does not take for granted, it is the issue of abusing our children or anything that will mean the children are not protected.