The Reporter’s Diary With M.D.Lawal (II): Empowering Rural Women, The Adamu Gwarzo Model
By Mohammed Dahiru Lawal
It doesn’t take much effort for keen individuals to discern that an aggregation of rural poverty across dwellings weighs heavily on what eventually determines the poverty index of nations and this is not a summation that requires only economists to determine. The logic is simple, except for land and labour, a disproportionately large percentage of rural dwellers are low on factors of production, primarily capital and entrepreneurship skills – other than during farming season – which are basic building blocks of an economy. This in turn leads to more poverty as fewer windows are open for people to get hired or engage in self-employment, translating to an unabating trend of rural-urban migration and birthing unintended consequences like insecurity, child labour, drug addiction to mention a few.
Incidentally, just last week, our Hasken Matasa Radio program for the youths by the youth which runs every Wednesday between 4:30 – 5:30pm on Express Radio 90.3fm supported by the Community Health and Research Initiative (CHR) and the Youth Society for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases and other Social Vices (YOSPIS), sponsored by the Aminu Magashi Garba Foundation (AMGF) had critically discussed all the issues associated with rural-urban migration and insecurity, suggesting ways forward key of which is rural empowerment.
That was why my heart surged with immeasurable excitement when I received an unexpected call from one of our grand patrons, Dr. Musa Abdullahi Sufi on Saturday night that 130 rural women in Sabon Layi Kara settlement of Gwarzo Local Government Area were to be empowered by the Adamu Abubakar Gwarzo Foundation after a need based, communally objective selection process was undertaken.
“I need you and your team to be there to cover the event,” Sufi quipped and i gave him my affirmation knowing fully well that except for Musa Sani Aliyu who has become the grandson of a newly established radio station in the city thereby running unpredictable schedules, i had no doubt that rallying my team of dedicated volunteers to come through for this remarkable event is not an issue.
As expected, Salis Mohammad Manaja, Hannatu Sulaiman Abba, Zainab Nasir Ahmed and Bello Shehu Maude turned up and so we traversed the cityscape through the rural hinterlands, headed for Gwarzo as we enjoyed the company of each other like blood bonded siblings as we usually do.
Sabon Layin Kara, 44° South West of Gwarzo in Gwarzo LGA with a slush of greenery, the sort that always captures my awe, but this time, with a sprawling expanse of guinea corn, maize and millet farm fields, across both flanks of our travel route.
As our vehicles drove by, we spotted women farmers working hard on their farm plots, young girls and boys helping out, teenage inhabitants doing their laundry on one of the streams that stretches across the route, but just like many other remote settings, the effect of climate change could be seen from the visibly expanding gulleys.
This is the country home of Professor Adamu Abubakar Gwarzo, the man whom natives love to refer to as ‘Ka fi Gwamnati aiki,’ which literally translates into the pidgin maxim ‘you work pass government’
As we sputtered through the road network linking the village, we spared time to stop by and engage locals. “Snap me and print out my photo for the world to see,” one of the locals whom we caught up with riding his donkey said in a feeling of great enthusiasm as Manaja handled the Camera. We engaged in a little more chat and then zoomed off to the venue of the grand empowerment just in record time.
The sight we beheld were newly constructed classrooms of about eleven blocks which we soon learnt was constructed by the same Professor Gwarzo.
In my years of experience reporting cross cutting subjects, lack of water, power, highly dilapidated schools and poor condition of primary health centers has always been a constant factor in most rural dwellings I have covered.
I’ve been around long enough to understand that poor schooling conditions damage not only the students’ overall performance, but their mental and emotional health and even hygiene which in turn tells on the overall quality of people communities present in terms of civil responsibility, character and productivity. Standing in front of school buildings is a divergence from the norms I’m used to when visiting places like this, raised my hope that someday Nigeria will get there.
“Dakta na farfesa ka fi Gwamnati taimakon al’umma (Doctor the professors protege, you help people pass govment)” A praise singer whom we came to fondly know as “Bula ” started singing praises of Dr. Musa Abdullahi Sufi, the Technical Assistant, Adamu Abubakar Gwarzo Foundation upon sighting the entourage made of reporting crew and organizational officials.
We headed straight into one of the buildings where we were officially welcomed and formalities for handing over the cash empowerment to the eligible beneficiaries were discussed.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Nigeria Strategy support program, poverty in Nigeria is predominantly a rural phenomenon, with rural poverty increasing from 28.3 percent in 1980 to 63.8 percent in 2004. However, the proportion of the urban poor also rose from 17.2 percent in 1980 to 43.1 percent in 2004.
At the heart of all this figure is a large percentage of economically disempowered rural women. That is why I agree with Flora Myamba in a January 2020 article published by UNICEF that social protection programmes are essential not only as a right but also as a gateway to realizing broader long-term development goals including education, health, and other social and economic strategies for the women, households, and community at large.
So ultimately, rural poverty is not the only challenge that hunts us but what haunts us more is rural poverty in gender dimensions especially as it affects women.
Therefore, the economic empowerment of these women is a milestone long overdue and somebody had to take the lead.
“Today is the day,” Dr. Sufi announced to the assembly of women eligible beneficiaries of the noble gesture.
“This is a trust that we are handing over to you today and we enjoin you to guard it for your onw benefit and the benefit of those after you. If you use the opportunity wisely, yiu open more doors for others to benefit, if you misuse it, you close the doors of future opportunity,” He admonished further, after the opening prayers were said and the history of the selection processes of beneficiaries was traced.
It was need-based, following communal identification, verification and vetting. I particularly marveled at how enumerators reportedly went from house to house to achieve this. Those who benefited the sum of NGN30,000 each were in two categories; those already engaged in petty business like knitting, frying akara, farming etc and needed more capital to expand, and those who are just about to start-up.
“This is about women empowerment and financial liberation and the goal is to ensure that the empowered women are powered in the next 1yr to be able to also empower others in turn from with the proceeds of their thriving businesses,” Sufi stated further cautioning them against using the benefits for frivolous expenditures like sewing ceremonial clothes etcetera but to invest it wisely for returns and business enhancement.
“Squandering this money is a betrayal of trust and we will to follow up and ensure proper implementation that the goal of this program is met,” he continued to admonish them, advising that they should form a trust fund which they can be contributing little amount over time and use to empower others as a way of extending the gesture for growth and sustainability reminding them that making a success out of the initiative will encourage other philanthropist to intervene in the life of the poor.
“This is the first phase, the second phase will come soon,” he promised, concluding his speech by praying for the founder and his households.
One of the local mobilisers captured it aptly when he said that day was a historic day that a man whose origin is from the same village has come back to give a helping hand. “his dreams and vision are invested here, let’s not disappoint him,” he pleaded.
The rural women empowerment program was piloted in Gwarzo with the potential to spread across the state and beyond.
Though not new to the volunteering system, I marveled at how Zainab and Hannatu immediately transformed from being visitors to registrars, giving a helping hand to ensure the process run smoothly by verifying and registering more than half of the beneficiaries themselves.
As part of the monitoring mechanism, beneficiaries would be classified into three groups to compete against each other in terms of business and the best team will be rewarded.
Highlight of the event was the ceremonial hand over of the cash to each beneficiary cutting across even disabled persons.
A total 130 women benefited from the total of NGN3.9m disbursement and that was unprecedented not because the gesture was uncommon, but the communal baseline and local monitoring mechanisms put in place to ensure success of the project portrays an exceptional promise.
This initiative is no doubt a catalyst for philanthropic emulation and model for eradication of rural poverty. Every Community has a wealthy individual who has risen above the turbulent sea, going back to roots to emulate this same mode alone is a great start to making an impactful difference.
Across the globe, rural poverty continues to surpass poverty in urban locations (Ali & Thorbecke, 2017) and rural residents are more likely to experience and stay in poverty longer than urban residents if such measures are not emulated in order to boost our global poverty index.
Dahiru, a media strategist and development Journalist is staff writer at PRNigeria, Reporting Fellow ICIR,OCRP, Research and Fact-Checking Fellow Dubawa PTCIJ. He is also the Convener of Arewa Agenda for Sustainable Development, Coordinator of the Network of Advocates for Digital Reporting (NADIR) and Secretary Nigerian Journalists for Climate Action Network (NIJOCAN). He can be reached on [email protected]