interviewBy Ahmed Tahir Ajobe
Kogi State First Lady, Hajia Halima Ladi Wada, is running a Non-Governmental Organisation called Kogi Women Empowerment Network (KOWEN). Unlike most NGOs run by wives of state governors that rely heavily on state governments for funding, she claims that hers is relying on donations from non-government sources. In this interview with Sunday Trust, she also spoke on the need to create enabling environment for more women to contribute to nation building and how her pet project will affect lives at the grassroots. Excerpts:
What really did you intend to achieve through your pet project, the Kogi Women Empowerment Network (KOWEN), which was launched recently?
KOWEN is poised to stimulate the socio-economic growth of the state by empowering women and youth. The initiative among other things will focus on harmonizing Kogi women for active participation in the process of governance in the state. It also hopes to improve the quality of life of the women through health promotion, advocacy and intervention. Women empowerment through capacity building and establishment of sustainable income generation activities, expansion of opportunities for literacy promotion for the women and children and improvement in the living standard of the under-privileged and the vulnerable groups, such as the widows and orphans are the inspiring targets of KOWEN. So the fundamental pre-occupation of the pet-project rests on the sacred tripod; health development projects, economic empowerment activities and charity.
Is there anything on ground to show that the initiative has fully taken off?
We had commenced work even before the programme was launched. We have planned many fallow projects to be scattered in the three senatorial districts of the state.
As I speak with you, we have been able to install a mini palm oil processing plant in Ankpa Local Government Area. Palm oil production is one of the economic mainstays of our rural women in the eastern senatorial district. We are encouraging more women to embrace the enterprise through improved technology by the establishment of a state-of-art plant. A committee is already in place to manage the plant as well mobilizing the target beneficiaries towards active participation when the palm oil season comes next.
Members of the committee are made up of women from the council, while KOWEN coordinators, will supervise the committee's activities.
So, that is one of the projects and by the grace of God, the mill has been installed and, by February or March 2013 when we have enough palm fruits, the women should be able to get into action and we shall be rolling out palm oil. We intend to call it - KOGI PALM OIL (KOGEE) and, we are in the process of registering it with NAFDAC. But, even before KOWEN takes off, I have played around with the idea of advanced fashion designing not the local 'cut and sow' tailoring method. To this effect, we have brought in Senegalese tailors who are expert designers.
A fashion design centre is already in place and functional in Lokoja, the state capital. It was actually my first project. The first batch of trainees would be graduating from the centre by April or May, 2013. We want to train them to become perfect before they join the industry. The target beneficiaries are those who ordinarily cannot afford the means of training themselves in such endeavour because of their economic status.
But you really need fund for these projects, how do you intend sourcing for it?
Well, the state government said that they recognise my vision for the women. So far, that's all I have heard. You know there are many NGOs around, so the issue of funding is always difficult, but we are optimistic. The first thing is to try and make a difference through commitment and hard work. And I believe I want to make a difference. I told you earlier that I have been in financial management all my life especially as a project manager. So, talking about credit facilities and financing of projects, it can be a bit difficult getting financial assistance; that is why we are taking a step at a time, little by little so that the projects will not become too large that financing will become a problem. By the grace of God I hope to be looking for donors, not just only the government but donors that will come to the assistance of the state. But state government funding is dicey because they are not directly part of my project. However, we can use government organs when we need to do public sensitization like in health programmes where we also help to carry out some of the functions of the ministry. That much I can say.
How will you rate the girl child education in Kogi State?
It is not as bad as the situation in some northern states and even in the south-east. Although there are cases of early marriages in some local government areas, I think there is some measure of improvement in enrolment especially at the basic education level. So there are no serious cases of drop-out. We are, however, still reaching out in the area of advocacy and other interventions to encourage continuity beyond secondary school level. We are collaborating with the state ministry of education on girl child, orphans and indigent children on area of intervention.
What is the input of Nigeria women in the on-going effort at reviewing the constitution?
Those who represent us there will always do the women and the nation in general proud. They will make strong case for the promotion of women-related issues and the enhancement of the role of women in national development. We want more space to operate in politics and other endeavours. We require some level of autonomy to avoid over reliance on men folks and all these should have legal backing. We have made progress considerably unlike before when we were completely shut out.