2nd May, 2012
The Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Omotayo Oduntan, is the representative of Alimosho Constituency 2. In this interview, she speaks about her committee’s effort to push local councils in Lagos to support the state government’s plan to eradicate poverty in the state
I would want you to review the oversight function recently carried out by your committee.
We have actually gone out to see how the government has fared with regard to its poverty alleviation scheme. We have 17 skill centres built around the state as at now and more are still coming up. When I got to some of them, I told the students that they should count themselves lucky to have been given such opportunity, a second chance you may call it. This is because some of the students in the skill acquisition centres actually got pregnant while they were in school and, therefore, could not continue and now the government is giving them another chance to become better citizens.
At the centres, they are taught various skills and at the end of their training, they are empowered so they can make better use of themselves. The committee members were impressed and happy at the way the centres are being run and the population of the students. It gave us the impression that with students thronging the place, the youths may not need to start looking for white collar jobs which are not even there in the first place. There are some places we visited and we found graduates who could not get jobs coming to acquire skills so that they could keep body and soul together. There are cases of married women who, before joining their husbands overseas, go to the centres to acquire skills that would be useful to them when they get there. At least, they won’t be liabilities to the men.
We even visited the office of the micro-credit scheme and now we are trying to review the laws governing the scheme, because I know they gave some money to some banks to give out to people who need, but after collecting the money, the banks begin to give it out to rich people thereby relegating those the money was primarily meant for.
Ordinarily, those for whom the money is meant do not need much, maybe between N50,000 and N100,000 for their trade, but the banks prefer to give the money to big men out there, who would collect huge sums as loan so the banks could make good returns.
We have now invited the chairman and the entire board members of the scheme to the House to explain how they have gone and what they have done so that we know how we could go back to correct the anomalies.
How would you now rate the state government in its war against poverty?
In fact, I will give the state government a pass mark. In most states of the federation, in most cases, such programmes do not exist and where they do, it is on a very small scale. There was a day we went to Edo State to see one of the centres where women are trained on skills and we found just six sewing machines, and you think you can effectively empower people?
In each of our centres, we have between 80 and 100 sewing machines in the Fashion Design department. There are also skills that people rush; these include Computer Appreciation, Hairdressing, Catering and Fashion Design. People rush these courses. There are also those who engage in short-term skill acquisition like candle, soap and stove thread making.
We are happy with this effort to reduce poverty, but people keep coming into the state because in their states, such efforts are not effective. If other states have such facilities, most of their people who come into Lagos to learn vocations would stay back and get trained there. Just like our hospitals are being overstretched, so are all our facilities. There is the popular belief that Lagos is a land of opportunities. It is actually a land of opportunities but the various other state governments must emulate Lagos State in this regard.
What other challenges did you see while performing your oversight function?
I always believe that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. The teachers of these vocations are actually trying within their limitations, but in our report, we stated that the government has to employ those I would refer to as finishers. There are different styles of hairdo in vogue currently just like there are in fashion design. We would want a situation where after the basics are taught, the finishers would train the students for a month or two before their graduation so they would be better grounded.
Another challenge is the difficulty the graduates of these centres face in accessing loans. The attitude of some of the students too is not encouraging enough. Some of them believe it is just a place they could go to while away time. But I told them it is not like that. If I have the opportunity, I would want to learn Fashion Design so I could sew my clothes, sew for people and make hats for the many churches around. There are students who make beads at the centres and people come there to buy and they sponsor themselves.
In as much as I am happy with the state government over this, I wish that it continues. I also know that we have 20 local governments and 37 local council development areas, but right now, we only have 17 of these centres. If the chairmen can build at least, one in their areas, it would go a long way in helping our people and I’m already pushing for this.
Your committee recently visited the Home for Battered and Trafficked Women and Children. How is this Home run?
The residents of this Home often have a short stay at the facility. When a battered wife comes there or report to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, government officials would first invite the husband, educate and caution him on the effect of violence in the family. But if the man continues, he is taken to the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and they resolve it. In a situation where the man throws out the woman and she doesn’t have where to stay, she is taken to this facility and while she is there, she is taught some skills if she does not have any. I think the maximum the woman can stay there is six months and after that she can now go into the society with what she has learnt and make a living through living a normal life.
How would you react to violence in the home especially with the belief that women are weaker sex?
I refuse to agree with the idea of women being the weaker sex. Women, the way God created them, can do many things at the same time which the men cannot do. If a man comes from work now, he wants to watch the television and even when the children are talking to him, he doesn’t want to be distracted from watching the news. The mother would not do that. Immediately she comes from work, she goes into the kitchen to cook for the family, see to the children’s welfare, ensure that the home is in a proper shape, takes care of the children’s clothes…women are so blessed that they could joggle so many things at the same time. So I don’t believe in them being weaker sex.
Before you get married to a woman, you must have seen something you want or love in the woman. We cannot all be perfect; we are also from different backgrounds. So you must learn to manage and co-habit in a peaceful atmosphere, making your children grow up to be responsible citizens. When you batter your wife, your children would think it is the normal thing and they would also batter their wives when they get married. You are supposed to love your wife.
I can tell you that when a man and his wife live peacefully and do things in common, they progress increasingly. But I can’t imagine a man beating me and when he goes to work, I would pray for him. Instead, I would be happy that he is out so I could get some rest. If you don’t know, God listens to women’s prayers more and when your wife prays for you, whatever you lay your hands on would be successful. So, from the spiritual aspect, it is not a good thing for the man to beat his wife or for the wife too to be rude to the husband. The husband is the head of the family and the woman’s crown. He should, therefore, be accorded due respect and given all the support. That is the way I see it.