Rinsola Abiola: A Gender Equity And Youth Empowerment Perspective #JKFeedack

The last time I visited Ekiti was in December 2012; I was on the National Executive Committee of the Youths Summit Group and travelled down to Ado-Ekiti to inaugurate the Ekiti State Chapter. I recall being impressed by the good road network and the seeming low number of potholes along the way. I spent three days in Ado then before leaving for Abeokuta to inaugurate excos there too. When I asked members in Ekiti for their opinion of Governor Fayemi’s tenure, the reactions I got ranged from very satisfied to downright critical – the most pleased seemed to appreciate the ‘unprecedented infrastructural development’, while those critical of him hinged their dissatisfaction on the fact that most of the projects were funded with loans; loans which, according to them, were being expended on things – such as roads and a new government house – that could not quite yield appreciable returns. The latter, however, is logic I fault to a very large extent; good infrastructure would in turn attract investment which would stimulate economic growth and expansion. At least, theoretically.

This time around, I received an invitation via email to be a part of something which I deemed innovative – for the first time, a government official had agreed to put himself in the virtual line of fire by convening a no holds barred session with a group of people who had been jointly christened ‘children of anger’. This not only seemed like a very courageous thing to do, it also seemed to me like proof of what I had believed all along; that Governor Kayode Fayemi was indeed a different sort of leader who deserved to be addressed as one not because occupying a position automatically conferred the title on him, but because he truly possessed the characteristics of a true leader – a specie which seems to be rapidly facing extinction in the Nigerian political clime. For me, it was an opportunity to ask questions, and that I did.

I couldn’t tour the Local Governemnts in EKiti along with everyone else because I arrived a day behind schedule; I had been on my way the previous day but had to return to Lagos in order to sort out pressing family issues. The following day, I set out as early as possible, hoping to get to Ikogosi before the others embarked on the tour, but despite the effort I made, I arrived a tad late. Since I couldn’t tour the state, I decided to put some thought into what issues I ought to draw attention to; as an advocate for gender equity and youth empowerment, I was therefore naturally inclined to ask about gender representation in Governor Fayemi’s cabinet and of course, youth empowerment. I added a third – a question about the state’s security vote and how it’s expended because that is one source of state income which is considered ‘normal’ for the governor to keep in this part of the world; afterall, ‘he doesn’t have to account for it’. By asking about the security vote, I believed that I made it clear that my generation is an informed generation, and that not every norm is acceptable. Accountability and transparency should be entrenched in every aspect of governance and I and others like me will not stop making demands until that happens.

The Governor’s response to my questions were okay – not entirely satisfactory – but in a bid to conserve time (what little we had) and give others a chance to speak, I chose to not turn the session to a cross-examination. A brief recap of the questions and answers he provided goes thus;

On the glaring under-representation of women in his cabinet, he said: ‘our approach to gender equity is to first have the necessary laws in place. This is the only state [in which] the National Gender Bill has been domesticated, [and we also have the] Equal Opportunity Bill. Patriarchy does not give up easily so please understand that this will always be a work in progress. By the time you come back after the elections, there will be significant improvement.’

On the question abut how much the security vote is and how it’s expended, he explained that there is no security vote, but that a ‘contingency vote’ does in fact exist, which is not quite a fixed figure but is usually around N75million Naira monthly. This contingency vote, he further explained, goes to the various security agencies present in the state and to any other ‘emergent security issues which may arise’.

On my suggestion that perhaps the youth volunteer scheme should be modified to something more like the YouWin scheme in order to prevent a culture of dependency from taking root and ensuring that the scheme actually makes measurable impact on the economy of the state (through the multiplier effect of empowering those inclined towards entrepreneurship either through grants or interest-free loans), he explained that my suggestion was based on the (faulty) premise that the scheme neither had a tenure for volunteers nor involved engaging them in acts of community development. He also added that they were empowered with a lump sum of about N40,000 upon graduation from the scheme. On this, I have issues and must admit that I am not satisfied. Perhaps, for some, a stipend of N10,000 monthly for two years and N40,000 after might go a long way, but I strongly believe that current economic realities might in fact make little of these efforts in the long run.

I surely would not place everyone on the same standard, but what purchasing power does 40,000 hold? What amount of production could 40,000 facilitate? In many states, that’s not even nearly enough money to rent a shop or office space. Unless these youths plan to sit beneath umbrellas and sell recharge cards or drinks, or maybe run a small restaurant beneath a shed, 40,000 might actually not achieve much. These ‘small’ business activities do impact the economy in some way but I still insist that if the government truly plans to tap into youth potential on a much larger scale, then funds need to be made available in order to enable these youths become employers of labour. Due to pecuniary challenges, the state may not be able to afford grants and may provide interest-free loans which will be paid back over a specified period of time instead. I believe that modifying the youth volunteer scheme this way would yield the following results;

· The first, eradicate or prevent dependency: I’m not convinced that the tenure of 2 years will not lead to a dependency culture. It will eventually, just with a tenure attached to it too. Young people might as well just volunteer instead of seeking jobs since they’ll get a stipend at the end of every month.

· Secondly, the multiplier effect on the economy would be huge: A young woman with plans to establish a fashion school and a clothing line who is empowered through this scheme would help to train other young people in Ekiti to be self-dependent (hence, taking pressure off the state government) and hire people who would perform several duties and tasks within the organisation. If the state intends to expend less on remuneration, this is the way to go. Ekiti will not and can not cease to be a civil service state if industries such as these are not established. Seeing to it that they are should therefore be a top priority and the youth population is a great tool which must be utilised in order to achieve this. While some may argue that the relatively large sums of money which would be required may put a strain on the government’s purse, the long-term effects would far outweigh the seeming inconvenience, and not every youth wants to own a business. Many of us are more than content with working for someone and earning a salary at the end of the month. Making it necessary to pay back would also ensure that the money is recouped; a win-win situation for the state and its people. Instead of stipends for two years, they could simply train beneficiaries on business and entrepreneurship for three months at most.

I understand that the Youth Volunteer Scheme was most probably borne of Governor Fayemi’s very apparent socialist ideology, but there are more profitable and mutually beneficial ways of empowering young people and I hope that modifying this scheme as humbly proposed will be considered.

I would have loved to commend him for the great work that he has done so far, but my purpose in EKiti was to ask questions, and I did. However, I would like to state here with every sense of respect and admiration that Governor Fayemi’s tenure has enacted more laws that seek to promote gender equity than any other in the history of this country. At Ikogosi, I also learnt that Ekiti has a sex offenders register; this was created upon the realization that most rapists and sex offenders who had been apprehended were in fact repeat offenders. I knew about Ekiti’s social security scheme for the elderly several months before it became a topic of discussion on social media and I believe that a state with such a meagre federal allocation which would bother to take care of its people this way is proof that there is still hope for the common man in Nigeria; hope which depends greatly on choosing a true leader with the welfare of the masses at heart.

I was disappointed that the Governor chose to attend the event without his wife, the lovely Erelu Bisi Fayemi. At the risk of sounding like a feminist – which I totally am – I must add at this point that a man’s views and actions are greatly influenced by his wife’s ideological leanings and the things she chooses to be passionate about. Governor Fayemi’s respect, admiration and love for his wife were apparent in the way he addressed the question on whether or not her office was legal and being funded by the state. He informed all present that she was the ‘Wife of the Governor’, and that her development foundation was funded by foreign donor agencies whom she had a long-standing relationship with, and that despite not receiving a dime from Ekiti State, her office gave accounts of expenditure and income on a periodic basis.

This may, perhaps, be my bias towards women of substance coming to the fore, but I am deeply impressed by Erelu Bisi Fayemi. It takes a woman with vision, intelligence and passion to see to the enactment of the Equal Opportunity Bill, among several others which seek to put an end to the systemic inequalities entrenched in this society.

In conclusion, as far as social welfare is concerned, I believe that Ekiti State has shown the rest of Nigeria the way forward.

Rinsola Abiola

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