News Column

Women Empowerment Drives Nigeria's Development - Urhobo

April 28, 2014

After a meritoriou service in government's establishments, Dr. Omawumi Urhobo, Chief Executive Officer, Coastline Microfinance Bank, retired in 2012. She then deployed her talents and resources to the empowerment of women and youths in Niger Delta region through her Morgan Smart Development Foundation (MSDF) set up by her 11years ago. A member, Advisory of National Advisory Committee of Nigerian Stability and Reconciliation Programme of the British Council, she studied Sociology at the University of Lagos. She spoke to Senior Reporter ANTHONIA SOYINGBE on the plight of women in Niger Delta region. You retired few years back, but since then, you have been involved in more service-oriented activities. What informed this?

Honestly, I find it hard to rest, because there is so much to be done in our society. I recently discovered that God created me for this purpose and I won't relent in doing it very well to the best of my ability. I advocate for the disadvantaged people and in this case, it is women. This is my calling, because amazingly, it is getting bigger and bigger because it is God's purpose for me and I won't relent.

How has it been over the years?

I recently attended an empowerment programme for Women in USA and it has catapulted my vision for women and youth empowerment. I have been exposed to poverty through what we are doing here and I often ask myself 'who will help women?' But it suddenly dawned on me that I can help women out of poverty. There is a need for linkage between the Federal Government and women in the grassroots. Government at all levels needs to be sensitisied on the need to empower women, especially at the grassroots. I see myself now than before in advocating for women. Poverty level in this country is enormous and it is a big tragedy so we all must do something.

Don't you think the conspiracy of silence is a big issue militating against women empowerment in Nigeria?

We have many programmes for women, but what does all these things translate to? People are just paying lips service to women empowerment and I don't see what most of all these First Ladies' projects translate to women development at the grassroots, which I work. We are concentrating on women in Niger-Delta and my take is that there is a conspiracy of silence against women in Niger Delta. This is a region that produces more than 85 per cent of the wealth of this country. These are the women who gave birth to all these militants, kidnappers and all the youths carrying out anti-social activities. Has anybody stopped to ask the question on what went wrong and why we are experiencing all these? It is okay to say it is because of joblessness, but there are situations where mothers still fend for their jobless children. What will happen if that mother is jobless? We have lost strong, good, moral values, because our women are incapacitated.

Women in my region are clothed in poverty and they are stripped of their dignity. Women in the region watch their children become street urchins because they can't fend for them. They wake up in the morning and they can't even guarantee what they will feed their children with. At a very early age, these children have to fend for themselves or die and since everybody's instinct is to survive, they do anything to survive. These children grow into picking up anti-social vices just because they want to survive. If you go down the chain, you will discover that there was a disconnect because the mother couldn't meet their responsibilities towards their children. Why is nobody talking about these things? Big votes are being made, given to rehabilitate ex-militants.

The only way you can cure an ailment is to go to the root cause of that ailment and tackle it. What structures are they putting in place to effectively address the situation of poverty of the women in the region? In the last 12 years that MSDF have been working in the region, we have come face to face with poverty. There are worse scenarios than what you have seen in pictures. I hear of poverty alleviation and women empowerment, who is in charge? Who is in charge of bringing succor to these women? Let us draw the attention of everybody so that government will come to the aid of the women, so that we can restore their dignity and make them take charge of their responsibilities as nation builders. By empowering them economically, you have started the process of halting this monster of vices in our society.

We are still scratching the issue of militancy. We are training militants now, but if you don't give those jobs, they will go back to the creek; and don't forget that everyday, a potential militant is being born. It is going to keep cycling and can the government keep budgeting for militants? Why can't they deploy that budget to empowering women so they can live up to their responsibility of being the proper woman they are? We are not paying enough attention to the women. When last did the governors or ministers gone to rural areas to see and document how these women are living?

I have the privilege of documenting the livelihood pattern of women in Niger-Delta and it was so pathetic. The situations are heart-breaking and so government need to watch out for women heart. My consciousness is from that region because I am from that region. We can't get anywhere if women issues are not properly addressed. Nigeria will be a prosperous country if we really empower women especially those at the grassroots. Government should set up the structure to address issues relating to women empowerment. When last National Women Commission did sent a delegation to interview women in rural communities? When we were to commission MSDF Resource Centre, which we built with our own fund to train women, none of them even showed up to celebrate this feat with us. We need a structure and as they are making provision for militants, they should make provision for women. Government has a responsibility of letting women have a feel of the oil that is coming from the land.

Some people are beginning to complain that women are asking for too much, what are your thoughts about this?

Women at the informal sector are still the engine room of our nation's economy. That is not to say women are sitting down and not doing anything. But when you look at the sustenance level at which these women are working in terms of all the energy they put in to irk out a living and what they are earning, it doesn't worth it. What we are asking for is support to the women to make whatever the women are doing efficient and enough to increase their income so that they are in position to meet their economic and social needs towards their children. We are demanding for equity and we will continue to demand for it. The issue of 35 per cent has become an obligation and element of tokenism, how entrenched is this? We shall continue to shout for gender equality and women empowerment because we are all created equally by God and so we should not be disadvantaged in any way. We need to stop all the criminality going on where you get the girl-child out of school. Women empowerment is more fundamental because it is the fibre of development.

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Source: AllAfrica