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By Chike B. Emenike
Poverty is at the root of millions of school-age children being denied basic education in Nigeria. And education has been recognized globally as the single most important key to human and national development.
Women in poor families in Nigeria raise children who themselves soon grow up to also become poor due largely to lack of access to the right basic education from the start. In this way poverty is transferred from one generation to another, in a vicious cycle that only a deliberate effort such as I dare to recommend here can break.
Most of Nigeria’s majority poor masses that are literate woke up recently to learn their country had suddenly become the largest economy in Africa; this abracadabra transformation having been occasioned by an abstract economic manouevre called “GDP re-basing”.
So by the stroke of this odd “economic magic” the peasant woman living at remote Kaura Namoda in Northern Nigeria is now a proud citizen of Africa’s largest economy. How wonderful! But is it?
Ordinarily, and in a normal country, however, this status should reflect positively on the poor woman’s living standard and general well-being, as it must be with citizens of other “large economies” elsewhere. But that isn’t the case in Nigeria by any stretch of the imagination.
Rather the mass of the poorest citizens of Nigeria, especially the rural women, who are in the majority, neither feel, look or live like members of a large economy; not before or after the GDP re-basing. It has changed nothing of their daily life experiences. They still can’t afford a good meal, sometimes any meal at all, even once in a day. They still live largely below the subsistent level; unable to fend for their families. They have been, and are still languishing, in the valley of intractable poverty where long-standing maladministration at all levels of government has dumped them in the last forty-four years, with apparently no hope of redemption.
Except, of course, our economic managers of the day can develop or acquire the uncommon intellectual capital required to “re-base” the GDP of the individual economy of the average poor Nigerian rural woman; enable her unlock her vast potentials to become the productive and wealth-creating citizen she should be.
Towards this end presumably, and I must be cautious here, it appears some state governments have woken up from slumber and started monthly disbursement of small amounts of cash to some of their rural poor, with a view to drawing them out of the whirling cesspit of abject poverty, this in a nation where, these days, obscene official wastages, squandermania and stolen sums are mentioned in billions of dollars. Ekiti and Imo states are some of the states now known to be pursuing this programme of direct cash hand-outs to their citizens in varying degrees and sizes, but without clearly defined ends to achieve with this. And that is the source of my concern.
At first the initiative would seem laudable but like most things done by governments in Nigeria, often devoid of passion and commitment, I must ask this pertinent question: was enough thought given to the idea to ensure it is sustainable and goal-oriented? Was a proper long-term working plan developed to drive and monitor the intiative so that the funds so disbursed didn’t go down the drain, even after the initiating administration was no longer in office?
Five thousand naira (N5,000) monthly, as in the case of Ekiti state, may seem a pittance to the wealthy city-dweller, but to a desperately poor rural woman with children to feed, this “pittance” can be an end to a life of cyclic poverty. But only, and only if she knew what to do with the money and how to do it!
This is where the sincerity, passion and commitment of the disbursing governments should come into reckoning. Because it is their duty to fully think out all the whats and hows involved before giving out money to the poor. Else it would end up like the typical election campaign cash gift from a dishonest and unpopular politician eager to buy votes; it would be a mere “dash”, a “government money” meant to be used to cook and eat and then relapse into empty days again thereafter.
There is an urgent need by governments at all levels, especially the state and federal governments, to articulate and develop programmes of empowerment with the singular objective to tackle and ultimately eliminate cyclic poverty among the poorest women; particularly the unskilled rural women; those with the lowest probability of ever freeing their families unaided from the clutches of inherited cyclic poverty.
It has since been recognized worldwide that based on the central and influential role women play in the fate of families, the empowerment of a single woman is, indeed, the potential empowerment of whole generations. Many poor women in Nigeria today are still incapable of footing even the most minimal of the costs for an academic term of basic education for their children, even where basic education is said to be free by the government.
The central features of any such programme should necessarily include: interest-free loan grant, training on micro-entrepreneurial skills, basic book-keeping, access to larger capital, mentoring by experienced beneficiaries of similar but smaller-scale programmes organized in the past.
Unlike in the past where, in a programme like this, money and equipment were freely distributed to women who went away unmonitored, to mismanage or misappropriate such grants, governments are advised to adopt a radically different approach in this case.
The key elements of any strategy, for instance, should ensure that beneficiaries of any form of loan grants are not left to misapply or misappropriate funds received. Beneficiaries in a zone should be formed into clusters which, through internal mechanisms, will monitor the activities and progress of individual members. Stock or articles of trade of all varieties should be procured in bulk by the cluster, using pooled financial resources to achieve cost reduction by leveraging on economy of scale. Procurement should be jointly undertaken by leaders of clusters, and the procured merchandise distributed to traders on pro rata basis.
Loan repayment terms should be deliberately structured to be soft, flexible but at the same time strict. Cluster leaders so authorized will regularly monitor their individual members’ activities. To facilitate this, each trader should be issued with a sales/stock inventory data card in which records of transactions and payments are entered daily.
Appointed members within each cluster make weekly rounds collecting from every trader, the stipulated repayment amount which has been deliberately determined not to exceed seven percent (7%) of the loan/trading capital so it won’t constitute a burden to the trader.
Emenike, an engineer, is also a consultant based in Lagos