This Day (Lagos)

4 December 2012

Nigeria: Changing the Status of Army Wives

analysis

The wives and dependants of armed forces personnel are finding help that will make them less dependent on the income of their husbands as they attain financial freedom through entrepreneurship skills, writes Rebecca Ejifoma

Though the smiles took a long time in coming, they finally came last week. They came at an unusual of place where many, especially women, have resigned themselves to a life of penury and deprivation. Yes, living as wives and dependants of serving armed forces personnel is restrictive enough. It is worsened by the dire economic constraints that have battered them for years. The psychological trauma of living in the barracks without work not only affects the way they live, but also takes its toll on their marriages.

But last week, these traumatised and impoverished women got a big boost. It was one they welcomed with their open arms and enthusiasm. The Ikeja Military Cantonment literally came alive during the closing ceremony of a two-week skills acquisition programme facilitated by the Defence Military Headquarters (DHQ). Over 320 dependants of armed forces personnel participated in the free training scheme.

The training programmes included hair-dressing/saloon management, hats and bead making, tailoring, agricultural business/allied services, business centre/information and communications technology, photo processing, heat transfer/printing, catering and soap-making, among others.

The participants exuded confidence and relief after undergoing the training in two weeks. These two weeks, they said, were the best moments of their lives in several years. They beamed with smiles, grinning from ears to ears as they displayed their handiwork and products to the admiration of top military brass.

To Mrs. Chinyere Ibor, it is farewell to poverty and joblessness. "I can never be poor again," she affirmed. "With what I have learnt in the last few days, I am ready to take on the world. Henceforth, I won't depend on my husband again. He would rather start borrowing from me," she added. Ibor said the hat-making course she underwent was more than enough to see this dream come true. "I have been empowered and exposed. It is up to me now and I am taking this opportunity with all seriousness," she enthused.

Until Mrs. Susan Ewame started the training two weeks before, she didn't have the slightest idea of the economic prospects in agricultural services and products. She said the practical and theoretical format adopted by her trainers infused her with knowledge on agricultural products, which she proudly displayed during her class presentation.

"In just two weeks, I can now hatch fingerlings and nurture them. I can produce feed and other local stuff like honey, semovita and wheat. It is amazing how my life has improved in these few days," she told the watching crowd with nods of approval from her classmates.

Ewame has chosen to specialise in fisheries and animal feed, which she said will fetch her a fortune. "There is no way I wouldn't make money from them. There is a ready market and with the knowledge I have acquired, I will make a success of this venture."

Miss Hart Sandra is even more excited about her new-found passion than the business opportunities. She was in the business centre/information communication technology class; the exposure she said had done her a whole world of good. "I came here empty and visionless. I didn't know what to make of my life. But I am leaving having discovered the passion to make something of my life. I have discovered myself and learnt how to confront life's challenges," she stated.

She said the passion to achieve overrides any human venture, assured she would make money in the process of working on her new found vocation. "There is no way I wouldn't make money. I am going to be doing what I love most and will hit gold in the process," the captain of her class assured.

Mrs. Idayat Okunronmu of the tailoring class said her marital life would never be the same. "It has not been easy getting money from my husband. He is trying but the needs are so many. When I ask him for money, he would just turn his back on me. This was creating friction and tension," she recalled. With her new skills, she said such untoward developments are gone for good.

"I will still collect money from him but not as much as I used to. With my tailoring skills, I can make so much money more than him. So when I ask him for money, he will gladly give me because it won't be much and I would have given more myself," she stated.

Nearly all who went through the training expressed with unconcealed joy how life transforming and enhancing the skills acquisition programme has been. They said their belief in life and their abilities had been sharpened, giving them the confidence to face the challenges of life again.

The commander of the cantonment, Brigadier General Pat Akem, said the scheme was a most welcome initiative from the DHQ. He underscored its importance: "This empowerment scheme will make our dependants more financially empowered and allow us to concentrate on the business of protecting the nation. Marital tensions will be minimised and the barrack will be safer because everyone will be engaged in one way or the other," he stated.

The Chief Executive Officer of Brand Edge Consulting, Mrs. Modupe Wigwe, said the training firm was confident that the scheme would drastically reduce poverty in barracks across the nation. "Small-scale businesses are the bedrock of national transformation and prosperity. With what they have gone through, they can start something small on their own and nurture it to great enterprises," she said.

Wigwe said some of the outstanding participants will be given grants by the DHQ and engaged in mentoring to successfully manage their ventures. Some of them, she added, will also be given equipment to start off ventures. With this, it was clear that the army officers' wives were being given the opportunity to take charge of their lives and transit from their hitherto roles of house wives to business owners within their communities. It will be the same for other dependants.

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