Going by the latest Oxfam Report on the World Poverty Clock (August, 2019) on Nigeria, some 94.47 million hapless citizens are currently caught in the terrifying trap of extreme poverty. In fact, according to the Country Director of the organisation in Nigeria, Mr. Constant Tchona, the figure stood at 91.5 million back in April of this year but within four months an additional 2.969 million have found themselves slushed into the ignoble pit of extreme poverty. “By comparison, this number is more than the population of Gambia and Cape Verde combined”, he stated.
This indeed, is a worrisome development. No effort should therefore, be spared towards reducing its excruciating effects on the voiceless victims. That is where the role of states comes in. And out of the lot, the Lagos State government shoulders much of the burden for more reasons than one.
For instance, Lagos, the former nation’s capital, is seen as the juicy apple of the country. It is the melting pot for people of different ethnic, religious, socio-political and economic colouration. Apart from being seen as an industrial and entertainment/tourism hub its compelling appeal of the partly aquatic landscape oozes not only to Nigerians but foreign nationals from the West African sub-region and the world at large.
Conflicting figures are bandied on the population of poor Lagosians. According toJustice and Empowerment Initiatives Nigeria, 65 per cent of the people living in Lagos are urban poor who live in slums and settlements. But the online borgenproject.org, states that available statistics indicate that 1.7 million out of some 21million people in Lagos (8.5%) are considered poor. The growing homeless population of 300,000 people continues to fuel poverty in Lagos State. The increasing socio-economic pressure is therefore on the acclaimed Centre of Excellence.
Worsening the daily influx of people into the city is the spate of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping ravaging the Northern geo-political axis. Different citizens whose states are bedeviled by such sundry crimes load themselves into trucks with the hope that they would become okada riders, shoe shiners or security men. Yet, the city has long been denied its much deserved special status, even in terms of budgetary allocation.
It is against this backdrop that one must appreciate the state government for setting up the Ministry of Poverty alleviation and Women affairs(WaPa).To walk the talk on reducing the scourge of the twin evils of poverty and youth unemployment it has in place 17 well-equipped and manned Skills Acquisition Centres spread across the three senatorial districts. They are located in places such as Ayobo, Badagry, Egan, Ejigbo, Ibeju-Lekki, Ikorodu, Kosofe, Mushin, Shibiri, Isheri, Agege Pen Cinema and Surulere.
With the virile vision: “To sustainably reduce poverty to minimal level in Lagos State”, it goes with a mission statement that acts as its moving mantra: “Women development and poverty reduction are means to attaining sustainable economic growth through efficient and prompt service delivery”. Lucky recipients are trained in sundry skills and trades for self- sustenance. These include catering and hotel management, textile design/ tie-and-dye, ankara craft, fabrics stoning, branded throw pillows, tying of gele, aluminium fabrication, computer studies, barbing and cosmetology. Others include photography, shoe and leatherworks, making of soaps, insecticides and wicks, refrigerator and air conditioner repairs, welding and fabrication, wood and furniture making. Some unique features stand these ventures and their participants in good stead.
According to the new Commissioner of the Ministry of WaPa, Mrs. Cecelia Bolaji-Dada issues that have to do with poverty alleviation and women affairs in Lagos State are being taken to the next level through initiatives that would make the beneficiaries self-dependent. To her, it goes beyond buying and doling out sewing machines, grinding machines and pop-corn making machines to job-seeking youth and women.
The emphasis, this time around is on thorough skills acquisition and ensuring that participants are provided with loans by the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. This would enable the beneficiaries to start up small scale businesses. This is in line with the Governor Sanwo-Olu-ledGreater Lagos Vision. For instance, it is on record that back in 2017 some 315 unemployed youth and women were financially empowered with N2.5 million each, as start-up for their trades. Interestingly, some have grown their businesses in poultry and fish farming to the tune of N9 million. From assessing their performances so far they have upped their ventures to an average of N5million (100%) within two years.
Three of those who got 50 crates of eggs as start-up in 2015 have expanded theirs to egg depots. Others who ventured into poultry processing got 5kV generator with blast freezer each and have shown value for money invested. This is commendable.
Also, through the Ministry of Agriculture, there is the Agro-Processing, Produce Enhancement and Livelihood Support (APPEALS) as a World Bank-assisted project. All the 80 fish farmers who benefitted got two moveable fish ponds each, drilled bore holes, generators and 132 bags of feed, smoking kilns and 40kg table size fish. Each of those who are into poultry farming got 1,000 crates of eggs, rented shops for two years, six months salaries payment to their support staff and one tricycle.
Also, some others who went into rice marketing were given rice destoners, mini packs like Uncle Ben’s rice, of between 500g and one kg. In addition, their processing sheds and salary of one attendant were paid for. Many of the farmers enjoyed intensive two-week training at the Institute of Oceanography, Lagos. The good news about these projects is the process of continuity.
Recently, Mrs. Bolaji-Dada kicked off the Skills Acquisition Program which is targeted at women, the acclaimed homemakers, drawn from faith-based cultural organizations. Those who participated in the scheme included the women association of the Ansar ud Deen Islamic group, the Federation of Muslim Women(FOWOM), Anglican Women from 1,004 Estate, V.I. and theImo State Town Development Union. The event which was flagged off simultaneously at Ebute- Meta, Victoria Island, Ojo and Apapa has the noble objective of galvanizing the beneficiaries to dig deep and bring out the best in them to hone their latent talents and skills.
As recently attested to by those who have benefitted from the scheme, it has made tremendous effect on their standard of living. For instance, Mrs. Olabisi Badmus from Iba LGA who is into hair dressing said that “The program has had a positive impact, as it has kept me busy and that has enhanced my productivity”. She has appealed to the Lagos State government to continue with the program so as to benefit others.
As one commends these life-changing poverty alleviation schemes, we urge that the training should be sustained and the scope expanded to reach more vulnerable members of the society.
––Ayo Oyoze Baje, Lagos