Women have fared better under Jonathan’s govt –Onwenu

Director General, National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), Lady Onyeka Onwenu, in this interview with Saturday Independent Editor, Charles Okogene, speaks on the centre, its activities, and how women have fared under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration

We have seen the work you have done in this centre and if we may ask, what exactly did you meet on ground when you assumed office? 

Onyeka Onwenu

First of all, I had to acquaint myself with what the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD) is all about because it seems that it has gone into obscurity. It had been allowed to go into obscurity and what a wonderful set up it is – the idea behind it is a brilliant one; that is to serve as a centre for research, advocacy and training to project Nigerian women and protect their interest, to be a gathering point, a launching pad for women to get to where they should be in this country. So when I came here I was very happy that God has brought me to this place because it was like a culmination of all that I have been working towards without knowing it. But I was also slightly overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done; I was very sad that it has been allowed to deteriorate. Then I realised that I cannot do it alone; it is either I have a management team on board to work with me to get the work done or I have support from the ministry that oversees this place, support from the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because she is so concerned about women issues. She has kept me on my toes; she has made me work harder than I probably planned to work. Her expectations from me are very high and I have to keep up with her because having come close to her and seeing her work ethics, she is very hard working and hardly rests; and I have learn by watching her over this period. She never takes no for an answer on any issue concerning women. She is my role model for that. She tells me that the stakes are very high and that this is about the Nigerian woman and this is her time, her opportunity and she has to grab it with not only her two hands but her feet as well because people are waiting to say “see now, they have been given opportunity and they are not able to utilise it.” She keeps telling me that we must maximise every opportunity that we have.

So, on what I met on ground, you know that I am not a civil servant. I come from the private sector and so I will be lying if I say there were no challenges of working with people that have a different mindset. But it was either we have a collision and nothing will come out of it or we have a minor collision and at the end of the day, the person is well meaning; that the person has every intention to give more than what he/she can get and not what he/she can give as well. I must say that in my management, I have found good people who understand the reasons I am here. That understand the enormity of the task that we have been given and the opportunity that has presented itself to us to excel and I am working with people of like minds. To say that we work 8 to 4 is understatement; we don’t work 8 to 4. Sometimes we close 9p.m. To us, it is, whatever it takes just get the work done. Sometimes we resume as early as 6a.m. It has been challenging, interesting and it has tasked me emotionally and spiritually in every way but I can only say glory be to God. There has been a turnaround with the foundation we have made. We are not there yet but we know where we are going. It is no longer business as usual.

You have just conducted us round the centre; I have seen the ongoing work at the guesthouse but how were you able to get the fund for the renovation?

I tell you what, the reason we have not finished it is because the finance is not there. The lack of fund is responsible for our inability to have completed the work. But all the same, we pride ourselves with the ability to think outside the box. We have utilised the little resources at our disposal wisely. We have realised that by being accountable, I mean every one, because accountability is not just for one person, by making sure that accountability is the business of everyone. It is no longer business as usual and whatever happened here before I came is no longer happening, so that everything can be accounted for. The construction of the place has allowed us to have that guesthouse and the multi-purpose hall, which were completely run down before I came and which we have brought back to shape. We needed to put them back to shape so that they can yield revenue part of which ill be used to maintain the structures in this centre. For me, you can’t continue running them as they were been run and run down without enough patronage or without maintenance. You must take from the revenue it generates, no matter how small, to maintain it. I consider myself a gardener and when I came in here and I found that we were growing flowers, I started bringing flowers from my garden. Nobody pays for that; I transport them from Lagos and the flowers are blooming.

 By the time you come back here in six months time, you will see new flowers blooming; that is what I mean by creativity. Whatever that anybody can do that is not going to cost us money, do it and so far we have been able to achieve and I dare say that once the guesthouse is opened, we can make more money, part of which will go to the Federal Government. The damage that was done to these facilities was such that, for example, some pipes were broken and leaking water into the walls and these were damages which, if they were not repaired on time, could have ended up pulling down the entire edifice and that would be a lot more expensive project to embark upon. This we have done so that the damage will not spread further. We intend to do what we have done in the guesthouse in the hostel; we have been doing the multi-purpose hall bit by bit. We have renovated the Presidential and Vice president’s suites, we have done the banquet hall downstairs, and the two meeting rooms we have also renovated. We are working on the chiller and it is improving; so people will no longer come in here and you see them on TV fanning themselves. There is still a lot more work to be done but we are taking it bit by bit, as we raise money. We are doing the best that we can and we are hoping that people who read this will come to our aid.

What is a first timer likely to see in this place apart from the guesthouse, the multipurpose hall and the hostel?  

We do advocacy, which is one of the three pillars on which this centre was founded. We do a lot of research on women. There is our library where we store data about the Nigerian woman. The data is made available to any organisation that wants to know, for instance, how many women were elected into the states and National Assemblies in the last elections. How many contested at the just concluded primary election on the various parties’ platform and how many were successful. We are also in the process of launching a phone application called the market place; it allows women to get information on programmes that are designed to help them. Government has done so much for women but we have come to the realisation that women, for whom these programmes are made, do not know. So, how can we make these known to them? These are the things we are working on in the centre. We held the first ever women and girls’ summit and it was awesome. That summit was centred on girl child education and we discussed a lot of factors, violence and so on, that work against girl child’s education. We are also putting together a programme which we hope to pursue after the elections and one of the programmes is to stop violence against young girls, young women and molestation that goes on even in the family; sometimes it is from the father, brother, uncle, cook or even the drivers. When these children are left vulnerable, because they are not taught the basic ideas of what molestation is all about, these innocent minds are violated. These are some of the areas we are going to have programmes centred on. Then we have our ICT training, which we call “No woman left out.” You know that the world is changing rapidly and everything is now based on Internet and ICT, yet majority of our women don’t know how to use Internet to propel themselves out of poverty. We want to be able to teach the women how to appreciate the computer, how they can surf the Internet, how they can get buyers for the goods and services they produce or provide. That is one of the trainings we organise and we bring women from the rural areas not just those in the cities. We spread our tent all over to invite and train them.  And by the time they are done with the training, you are talking to different sets of people because the training will give them a lot of self-confident to improve their situation. We are also working towards empowering them so that after the training they do not just walk away with what they have learnt but with what will help them explore what they have learnt. We are also looking into non-traditional areas such as plumbing, carpentry, women mechanics, driving, all those areas that are not necessarily women areas.

Who pays for the training?  

There are some specific ones that are free; “No woman left out” is free. There are other trainings that are free and at the end of the day we are able to give them a small amount of money that is enough for them to start off in business. For some of the trainings they pay but what they pay just covers the materials for the training. We are not making money from the training; in fact, we put in our own money because we pay the resource persons.

How do you source for the trainees?

It is on the Internet; the information on how to enroll is on our website. You don’t need to come here to get the information. And by the way, we train physically challenged persons free. It is not an exclusive preserve of those who know somebody here. Anywhere you are you can get through to us. We have in-house ICT people that train trainees on all aspects of computer and we run some of the programmes in conjunction with reputable ICT training centres. We are accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) to train some modules like computer technology hard and softwares, computer certifications and these are diploma programmes which one can use if one wants to continue at the university level.

We have a data bank of all those that have benefited from our trainings. As a matter of fact, the office of the Head of Service has marked this training centre as one of the centres for training high-ranking civil servants on ICT. We have trained more than 400 staff of the Ministry of Police Affairs, and over 600 from the Ministry of Defence.

Why is there little or no publicity about this place and what it offers Nigerians?

The place was run down; I am not going to lie about it. It was terribly run down and we are still in the process of renovating it. So, I am not surprised that it went into obscurity. How do you expect people to patronise such a place? When we started the renovation, people now saw that it is a very nice place they can hold events and programmes. All of these are starting with this administration. I have been here for just a little over a year, and within this short period, we have done a lot.

What are you doing to let people know that this place exists?

Your presence here is part of the publicity. Your visit has opened the door and we want to use this opportunity to tell the press that they are welcomed here. And I am reaching out to Nigerians to come and see what we have done here. I will also like to encourage Nigerians to support the government of President Goodluck Jonathan because there has been a genuine, impressive transformation across the land. Whatever you feel, you cannot fault how women have done under this administration. Mr. President and the First Lady are passionate about woman agenda and have been pushing it more than any other administration in this country. And I will like to use this opportunity to tell my fellow women that there is no going back and it is not about us alone but about how and where this country is going and how we want to position it for our children.

What would you say Jonathan has done for women apart from appointing a few of them as ministers?   

By giving women the kind of appointment he has given us we are able to make the kind of contributions that are required of us. It is not just 35 per cent; it is more than 35 per cent. It is the fact that we have been given that opportunity and we are using it to make progress. Though, some people have refused to see the progress he has made but some of us see it and know that he is making progress with his transformation agenda. By the way, we are planning a fair for women in agriculture because women are the farmers. He has improved the agriculture sector and that is why prices of foodstuffs have not gone up in spite of the economic downturn because of the dry season farming programme and the elimination of corruption in fertiliser distribution. Railway is back with air condition coaches. The road network is better; the second Niger Bridge is ongoing. I want to use this opportunity to cry out that the road to Arondizuogu, my town, is bad. Though, the minister of works has promised that he is going to start work on it. The President has achieved a lot except that he is quiet about it. Jonathan’s administration has delivered.