Thursday, 8th June 2023

Knocks over poor access to Nigeria’s N154bn WEE interventions

By Tina Abeku, Abuja
14 May 2022   |   10:02 am
In a small dimly lit room cluttered with heaps of bread pans and other oddities, she sat baking pastries to display to customers on a tall show glass placed just outside the room that serves as a shop on the ever-busy Bwari bus stop close to Bwari Area Council in Abuja, Nigeria's capital city. Mrs.…

In a small dimly lit room cluttered with heaps of bread pans and other oddities, she sat baking pastries to display to customers on a tall show glass placed just outside the room that serves as a shop on the ever-busy Bwari bus stop close to Bwari Area Council in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

Mrs. Edith Sam, (not real name), is a co-owner of one of the popular bakeries in Bwari where she sells bread and pastries.

Sam is one among many women who have applied for the Central Bank of Nigeria’s COVID-19 intervention funds for MSMEs and households. Sadly, she could not access the N50 billion fund.

After years of running the business with financial aid from a few loan agencies while seeking other government interventions, she decided to halt seeking a lifeline for her business from loansharks. Instead, she would manage the little capital available even at the cost of laying off part of her labour force.

A baker of almost 10 years, Sam’s story and experience when it comes to accessing government financial intervention and other small business startup support mirrors the ordeals of many other businesses owned by women.

She said even though the Nigerian government recently has continued to make effort at ensuring that special budgetary allocations are made specifically targeting the promotion of women-owned businesses and Women’s Economic Empowerment, (WEE), access to these funds has remained a mirage for millions of Nigerian women who make up about half of the nation’s total population.

Her quest to grow her bakery business has taken her to the Bank of Industry noted for offering loans to bakers at low-interest rates.

Her efforts to access the recent survival fund of the CBN and the N54.66 billion Agriculture Small and Medium Enterprise Scheme, (AGMEIS) under the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, (NIRSAL), and a few other government-backed initiatives have not yielded any result.

“I have tried so many of these government loans and interventions but only end up in disappointment,” Sam said.” I have spent over N40, 000 to get the AGMEIS loan but after all the training they put us through, nothing came out of it.

“The so-called government intervention to grow small business and boost the economy are nothing but means of enriching the rich, a fraud and maybe a blatant display of bias toward us women because only few businesses owned by women that I know have accessed these funds because they knew some key officials in the system,” she said.

“I applied some time ago to the Bank of Industry but they didn’t give me even. I think the loan is one-sided such that those that are even getting it do not need it because they are not into any business. There are some of my customers that had access to the loan and all of them know somebody in the system. They did not even apply for it but were just called to come and collect it.”

Like Edith Sam, Madam Rose, the leader of the ‘Women of Success’ group, blamed corruption for the reason women are sidelined from accessing government loans.

“I heard what some of them, (implementers), are doing to even the few that received these interventions is to coerce beneficiaries to part with a percentage of what they are to benefit or else they will be totally cut off from accessing these interventions,” she said.

With N154, billion so far allocated in the national budget strictly for projects targeting Women’s Economic Empowerment, (WEE), between 2021 and 2022, observers said access to these funds by the target group has continue to be difficult despite opposing claims by the implementing agencies.

For someone like Sam, her business almost came to a halt at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown, the forex crisis, which saw the prices of raw materials for the production of bread skyrocketing.

She resorted to borrowing from a local women’s group that pulls funds for members in need of finances for their various small businesses, and loans from microfinance banks despite their double-digit interest rates.

In the 2021 national budget, the federal government’s allocation to projects that strictly focuses on WEE was N51 billion covering 645 projects across ministries, departments and agencies, (MDAs).

In 2022, there was a marked improvement in the WEE budgetary allocation as the amount increased to N103 billion, covering 938 projects indicating a 102 percent increase in the total budget allocated and a 45 percent increase in the number of projects.

WEE promoters have said that this landmark departure reflects a healthy budgeting trend for WEE but the key challenge still remains monitoring and evaluation to ensure efficiency so that those who ought to benefit from these projects are reached.

Women economic collectives or groups have also expressed fear that these allocations may end up in private pockets owing to the lack of efficient monitoring and evaluation and this will lessen women’s contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product, (GDP) and improve the economic status of women.

While x-raying critical issues on challenges to the implementation of WEE in Nigeria, the Partnership for Advancing Women Empowerment in Development (PAWED), a two years project being implemented by the Development Research Project Centre, (DRPC) with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), highlights key issues and bares the mind of women groups on the accessibility of government’s WEE interventions and why it is not reaching women.

President of the National Association of Women Entrepreneurs, (NAWE), and National Coordinator of PAWED, Barrister Vera Ndanusa observed that budgetary allocations for women, youths and the less privileged hardly get to the target groups due to poor tracking and system leakages.

She said the government’s investment in WEE in recent times is quite commendable but it is one thing to allocate funds for WEE and another to ensure that the intended beneficiaries indeed benefit from such projects.

“A harmonized mechanism would ensure seamless monitoring and evaluation of government’s midterm economic projects so that they get to those for which they are meant for, especially women in the rural areas who need to benefit from such interventions,” Ndanusa said.

“Without WEE, there will be no sustainable inclusiveness, no closure of gender gaps and no equality. When women are empowered they become resilient and very useful to their families and society but the government’s policies have not been very defined and specific on women but rather vague.”

Ndanusa added that for these interventions to be efficient and result-oriented, the government’s documents on monitoring and evaluation must be validated on a regular basis.

Applauding the improved trend in terms of budgetary allocation, observers have said that one of the key impediments to the successful implementation of government financial intervention to WEE in Nigeria is that there are gaps in the implementation framework.

Ruth Abu, a member of the Association of Women in Trade and Agriculture, (AWITA), while advocating for a more level playing ground in terms of the availability of jobs, said that improved gender-friendly policies that capture child care provisions, as well as links to access markets for women in agriculture, will enable more women to be vibrant in economic empowerment.

“For women to be vibrant in the economy, we need to provide safe spaces and change laws that limit women’s economic empowerment such as land ownership while also opening up the formal sector to women,” Abu noted.

According to Statisca, Nigeria’s population has increased from 37.8 million in 1950 to 216. 7 million in 2022 and of this total, women are capping about 50 percent, (106.8 million).

It makes economic sense to channel required national resources into businesses and ventures owned by these groups of individuals to grow and boost the nation’s Gross Domestic production, (GDP), as women reportedly contribute as high as 75 percent of unpaid work, and are highly marginalized and earn far less than their male counterparts.

Bodies such as the Council on Foreign Relations, (CFR), believe that closing the gender gap in the workforce could add a staggering $28 trillion, (to the global GDP and that by 2025 with gender parity in the workforce, the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa will leap to $721 billion, (N298, 731, 930, 000, 000) which is about two hundred and ninety-nine trillion naira, hence both advanced and developing countries stand to gain.

Although the federal government has floated a number of intervention funds targeted at Women Economic Empowerment, (WEE), before and mostly during the lockdown period, a lot of women claimed they are yet to access any such interventions.

For example, economic stimulus packages such as the N75 billion, (173, 787, 105.60), set aside for supporting Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) survival implemented by the federal ministry of trade and investment which targets 1.7 million individuals and entities, is expected to give 15 percent priority to women-owned MSMEs, yet not many women have so far accessed these funds.

Others like the N30 billion, ($72, 411, 294. 00), spent on the social intervention programme also known as the COVID-19 conditional cash transfer under the federal ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, whose WEE quota was pegged at 700, 000, have ended up having little impact on the target group according to gender experts.

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq for example, has argued that some of the intervention funds implemented by her ministry were judiciously utilized and appropriately disbursed to beneficiaries.

Responding to public scepticism questioning the transparency of the social intervention programme, the minister was quoted saying that N535, 873,800 was spent on 127,789 households in Ogun state, Lagos and Abuja among other such interventions.

But groups like the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have even called on the courts to compel the CBN and the humanitarian ministry to make public names of beneficiaries of intervention funds because of the view popular view that Nigerians did not benefit from the humongous amount allocated for such interventions.

PAWED is working as an advocacy and communications body for WEE and has on many occasion pointed out monitoring and evaluation gaps as culprit to the failures or low success rates of the federal and even states government WEE interventions.

Stories of the struggles of women in business across the country abound and while a few may have had breakthroughs in accessing some form of financial and other intervention from the government either at the federal, state or local government levels, the vast majority remain in limbo, hoping and waiting for interventions that may never get to them.

Another woman, Mrs Mary Moses, who participated in a recent skills acquisition and women empowerment training organized by the National Directorate of Employment, (NDE), in Bwari, said that they were told they would be given N2, 000 each transportation fare covering the entire period of the training with additional N25, 000 at the end of the training to enable them to set up their businesses.

She explained that by the time the business was winding up, it was an entirely different set of women who never participated in the training that was disbursed the N25, 000, sewing and welding machines among others while the real participants got nothing but were rather called to participate in group pictures while those items are given out to the allege non-participant beneficiaries.

She noted that most businesswomen in her community resort to taking loans from lending bodies like LAPO and Grooming despite the high-interest charges to enable them to keep their businesses afloat.

According to her, the major source of financial support to most of the women owed businesses apart from their meagre personal savings has been some of the local lending groups because “if you are waiting for all these government loans and credit, you only be filling forms and giving money to these officials without getting anything. It’s just a waste of time because these monies don’t get to us, it is for the big people.”

PAWED observes almost all of the WEE intervention projects suffer poor standard monitoring mechanisms or frameworks and this not only hampers budget tracking but provides ample room for corruption and leakages that may cause the project to have little or no impact on the populace. Hence the budget must provide a clear means of tracking while the expected impact must also be clearly defined.

Some are of the view that Nigeria’s midterm National development Plan may end up making a little impact if the current trend of execution of intervention funds continues without a course alteration.

They say that despite large sums of money being released and spent, it is almost impossible to locate beneficiaries of these interventions even as the national development plan is expected to bring into fruition Nigeria’s vision 20:2020 economic blueprint as per President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Recovery Growth Plan, (ERGP), which consist mass job creation, huge infrastructural development, agriculture and the promotion of economic stability among others.

Development experts, however, said that attaining the ERGP and meeting the United Nations Social Development Goals, (SDGs), is near impossible without women’s economic empowerment as stated in the SDGs Goal 5.

In his message to Nigerians at the celebration of the 65th Convention on the Status of Women, (CSW65), former United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said that the role of women as depicted under Goal 5 of the SDGs, is the thread that binds and links all the other goals together and failure to achieve goal five will make it near impossible to attain the SDGs.

He said, “unless barriers to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are removed, the attainment of the SDGs will be a mirage because goal number is the thread that links all the other goals”.

This means that success in the implementation of WEE interventions will have a result huge impact of Nigeria’s attainment of the SDGs by the year 2025.

The National Demographic Survey of 2018 indicates that 84 percent of women in Nigeria earn less than their male counterparts and that despite being faced with some serious life challenges including poor access to economic finance and land, workplace bias, underemployment, low asset ownership and are thrice less likely to own a house or land, they still are on a daily basis involved in various economic activities.

Even as the government is said to have begun toeing the right path in terms of the national WEE budget, gender enthusiasts say the balance for a successful and result oriented implementation is good tracking, and monitoring evaluation of such projects.