Poverty is a common affliction of our people. It strikes you directly on the face whether you are in Ughelli, Owerri, Ekiti or Kano. And the consensus of experts and friends of Nigeria including Britain and the US is that poverty in Nigeria is government-induced either through its policies that have no direct bearing on the lives of the people, or as a result of mindless looting of the nation’s resources by those who have access to power. What this therefore means is that the battle for poverty alleviation will have to be led by few in government ready to offer selfless service. I think when we see some that are making efforts at implementing policies that have the potential to reduce poverty among our people, they deserve to be celebrated.
One such creative response to the scourge of poverty is Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso’s ‘organized mass marriages and empowerment of women’ in Kano, which he initiated at the onset of his administration three years ago. If his initiative received any attention at all, it could only have been in form of severe criticism by uninformed non-indigenes of Kano. In fact it was the scurrilous attack on the person of the governor in the social media by professional mourners who weep louder than the bereaved that compelled me to take another look at Rabiu’s initiative. It turned out in my view that the governor’s ingenious response to poverty alleviation in Kano which focuses on women training and women empowerment is a silent revolution. This is because the UN as a body has long established that the neglect of women in terms of education and empowerment, described as ‘feminisation of poverty’ is partly responsible for poverty in the Third World nations.
The forth phase of Kwankwaso government’s ‘divorcees, widows and spinsters mass marriage’ programme of 1,111 including 60 Christian couples took place last week, at a cost of some N278.270 million to the government. This meant that government is investing an average of about N250, 468, on each couple. The amount according to the governor covered procurement of furniture, textile materials, foodstuff as well as grants for the brides and other essential items. Kwankwaso who wears the shoe and knows where the shoe pinches also stressed that ‘the marriage programme would help ‘people strengthen the family institution and halt social crimes in the society, most of which were as a result of erosion of family values.’
The governor has also initiated a special ‘family orientation programme aimed at preventing and minimizing the rising cases of divorce in the state in addition to evolving capacity building programmes especially for women to enable them support their families.’
The governor did not stop at that. His administration refurbished 20 cottage industries and handed them over to women co-operative groups accompanied with empowerment packages to the beneficiaries.
With these measures in place, the governor has gone ahead to perform what was considered impossible in the history of Nigeria and West Africa,- signing in to law ‘the Street Begging Prohibition Bill 2013’ which prohibited children and adults from begging on the streets, motor parks and other public places. To give the law a human face, the state government would train 2,205 people with disabilities in various entrepreneurship skills that would suit their individual capacities. He has also promised to absorb those so trained into the public service while ‘’the state government will give N10,000 monthly to those with disabilities that lack the wherewithal to engage in any trade.”
I think we must salute the governor for this bold and creative initiative. It will most likely succeed because of its focus on women who, studies have shown, will spend about 80 per cent of their earnings on their children. Rabiu initiative will also appear to have better prospects than the federal government nomadic school project which was a reaction to Boko Haram insurgency. As we have seen in the case of federal government involvement in ‘unity schools’ and federal universities, funding may dry up for the nomadic federal government initiative. In any case mere provision of school building and facilities to shelter those picked from the streets will not automatically turn those who are already hardened into good citizens. What we all know is that the socialization processes that will enable children imbibe positive values starts at the family level.
I think Rabiu’s modest initiative can serve as a model for many of the states in the north currently battling the social malaise of almajiris who often become easy tools for violence and other crimes. Empowerment of over 1000 women in Kano has the potential of grooming about 10,000 children yearly for a secured future.
Of course other states outside the north also have much to learn from Rabiu’s initiative. What some of the virulent southern critics of Rabiu initiative have failed to see is the parallel between the social malaise called almajiris and thousands of young men who cannot read and write hawking smuggled substandard products on the streets of Lagos and other southern major cities. If this southern equivalent of northern almajiris are not taken off the streets and trained, they are going to become a threat to those we are currently investing on as leaders of tomorrow in our various universities. And already in Lagos, it is the focused leadership of Governor Fashola that has invested heavily on security, which has reduced incidences of gun totting ‘hawkers’ holding up motorists inside traffic demanding for money, trinkets and telephone handsets.
Besides Kwankwaso’s modest efforts at attacking the root course of poverty and securing a better future for Kano children, he is said to be setting the pace in other areas such as leadership by example, transparency and accountability in governance. Dapo Thomas in a piece in last Sunday edition of The Nation called attention to Kwankwaso’s unique attempt at removing the myth of secrecy surrounding governance by advertising the minute of his state Exco meetings every week, spelling out in details, debates on government policy initiatives and policy implementation for everyone to see. Cited in one of such advertised minute of Kano exco meeting by Thomas was the approval of Kano State Scholarship Board’s recommendation and government approval of N320, 000 to each of the 53 Kano indigenes that qualified for Law school.
Kwankwaso’s modest efforts are aimed at reclaiming the soul of Kano, a beautiful city of life, energy and humanity, a city with paved ways, uncharted safe alleys and ever bustling Kirki market where the heterogeneity of our nation is in full display daily as one encounters a Christian Yoruba woman trader momentarily take over the wares of her Hausa co-trader observing one of the five daily mandatory Muslim prayers. But it is also a challenge to not only his brother governors but also the federal government where we hear stories of missing N500b SURE-P funds, NNPC unremitted $48b now negotiated down, to $10.8b, N500b missing kerosene subsidy payment etc.
There was a report by a committee set up by President Jonathan to look into issue of abandoned projects early this year which stated that, if no fresh projects are initiated, it will take three years of annual capital budget to implement abandoned projects on which substantial payments had been made. These contractors are Nigerians and some of them are in government. The 2014 budget proposal was presented to the National Assembly early this week, yet not even the constituencies have been told what percentage of the constituency projects supervised by the lawmakers was implemented.
Kwankwaso is set for the battle for the soul of Kano. Talk to Kano tomato retailer or orange hawker in Lagos, they will tell you of a cousin in Malaysia or USA on scholarship. But beyond this, he has also hinted at the source of pervasive poverty in our nation and has demonstrated by his own personal example that it can be eradicated by a leadership style that removes the myth of secrecy about governance.