The director-general (DG) for the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), Mrs Mary Ekpere-Eta, in this interview with MARK ITSIBOR speaks on the women empowerment programmes of the federal government
You are ending your four years’ term in office, how was the journey?
My tenure has been a fulfilling one, working round the clock to achieve the core mandates of the NCWD. With the support of the board, management and staff of the centre, I have been able to carry out many laudable programmes in line with the agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which places very serious interest on issues that affect Nigerian women. In so doing, the centre has been able to touch positively, various women across the country.
What are the challenges you have encountered in the past four years?
Challenges abound everywhere and it is in overcoming them that one brings out the best in any endeavour. The challenges posed by world economies and recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have affected us in no small measure by limiting what we could do. But in all, we are satisfied with the changes we have been able to spearhead at the centre in the past four years.
Looking back since my assumption of office as director-general, National Centre for Women Development in April 2017, the experiences have both been challenging and rewarding.
Is Nigeria ripe for a female president?
Nigeria is ripe for a female president. Nigerian women are making indelible footprints everywhere; a recent example is the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). I am sure as we move closer to 2023, interested women will join the race.
What can the government do to change the narrative of Nigerian women?
First, is to ensure the eradication of every form of violence and discrimination against women in the country. More women also need to be given the opportunity in decision-making organs of the country which will in turn, affect other women positively. Adequate resources need to be deployed in order to carry out programmes and projects that directly impact on women nationwide.
How is the budgetary allocation to the NCWD?
The budget of the NCWD has not been encouraging. It has been meagre. But in recent time, particularly due to the concern shown by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the budget rose from N1 billion in 2017 to the current allocation of N5 billion. But I am confident that the allocation will get better.
What have you been able to achieve with that?
We have done a lot. The NCWD under my watch has continued to live up to expectations as a gender-compliant, gender-responsive, gender-intervention and female-focused agency. My tenure has witnessed unprecedented level of refurbishment of critical infrastructure in the centre. Despite the meagre resources available, I overhauled the facilities within the event centres such as the Maryam Babangida Auditorium, the Banquet Hall and its adjourning meeting room. Alongside the management and staff of the NCWD, I have been able to scale up the existing programmes and introduced new ones.
We started in 2017 with the training and empowerment of 150 female Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Adamawa and Borno States, increasing the number to 225 in 2018, covering additional states of Taraba and Yobe in the North East. We also scaled up the female artisanship programme in air conditioning and refrigerator repairs, generating set repairs, plumbing and piping and tiling and masonry from 50 in 2017 to 140 in 2018. While providing start off grants for them, we also obtained Trade Test 3 certificates for them.
Plans are ongoing with the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ) to scale up the training to a more advanced level so as to award them the Level 2 and 1 Trade Test certificates. Our ICT facilities enabled us to train more women and girls in bridging the gender digital divide.
Between 2017 and 2018, we have been able to train over 800 women and girls, while spreading these trainings to rural communities in the country. Twenty visually impaired women have also benefitted from our ICT programmes. We equally executed special trainings for women farmers and entrepreneurs.
Since 2017 as with previous years, university graduates have continued to top the list of our trainees. What this shows is the fact that vocational skills are fundamental in resolving the problem of unemployment in the country. Between 2017 and 2018, 750 students have graduated from our training programmes with fashion design and garment making as the most favourite, followed by hospitality and tourism, interior and outdoor decoration,
catering, cake baking, decoration and sugar craft 9, bread and pastry making, tie and dye, makeup and head gear and bead and jewellery making. The centre continues to work with members of the parliament in training a large number of women and youth as part of their constituency projects. The success rate of these projects has led to more lawmakers domiciling their constituency projects with us.
I can’t forget the little ones. Children in our daycare centre haven’t been left out in our activities. They participated in marking the Day of the African Child. This important day is celebrated on June 16 every year. It is devoted to celebrating the kids’ uniqueness as African children.