We have transformed prostitutes into entrepreneurs
Dr. Glory Emmanuel Edet is an accomplished don. In 2013, she got appointed as the Hon Commissioner, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare during the Akpabio administration. On assumption of office as governor in 2015, Mr. Udom Emmanuel appointed her to serve in the same capacity. Over the years, she has discharged her duties diligently to the admiration of the women, children, the less-privileged, people living with disabilities and others whose welfare and well-being are her responsibilities. In this interview with The Guardian, she bares her mind on the landmark achievements of the Governor and wife in areas under her watch within the last one year.
When the Governor was campaigning, you must have taken notice in the areas concerning women, the areas concerning children, what is the situation now one year after?
When we were moving from one local council to the other during the campaigns, the governor promised women, children, and persons living with disabilities, youths and even the men so many things. I want to say that he has done most of those things he had promised us in terms of women and children, especially, those that are under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare. Of course, in the Ministry here, we don’t just deal with the women; we also deal with children, the socially disadvantaged persons and the less privileged. In terms of women, the state governor promised empowerment for the women and poverty reduction. He promised that he would empower women so that they can start up something in order to reduce the poverty level. And of course, when poverty is reduced, their lives will be better. I want to say that he has really empowered most of the women in terms of the CBN loan that he made available to Akwa Ibom people.
Of course, when the women are happy, the family is at peace and the society will be at peace. When we did the International Women’s Day in Akwa Ibom State, a lot of women picked from the 329 wards in the state benefitted. Apart from that, two months ago, he empowered the poorest of the poor widows to startup businesses. Through this Ministry, we’ve been giving out what we all call the Widows Empowerment Scheme where widows that are registered with the Ministry were assisted financially.
In terms of the non-governmental groups that we have, the governor has empowered these NGOs. Even some of the things that he did not promise us, he has done them. On April 15, he sponsored 155 widows on pilgrimage to Israel.
In terms of the children, of course, this is the season that we are celebrating the 2016 Children’s Day. He has done a lot, first by approving the activities lined up for the week. We started with essay competition, as you know in the state; education is free, qualitative and compulsory. In order to test the output of the free education in the state, we needed to organise the essay competition to compare government schools and private schools to see if the free, qualitative and compulsory education is really working. From the results of the essay writing and the debate, I think government schools in Akwa Ibom state are doing extremely well.
Some weeks ago, elections and inauguration of children parliament in all the 31 local council, so that they can be the mouthpiece of the children in their own local council. We also did training for these children as well. Most of the cases of child abuse and child trafficking are reported to this Ministry through the children’s parliament. He has been sponsoring medical care for some of the children who cannot afford this. We now have the Child Rights Law operating in Akwa Ibom. We don’t only have the law, the implementation is effective. Through this Ministry, all those who go contrary to the law are prosecuted. The governor has done a lot for the children and the children are very happy. For persons living with disabilities, we believe that there is ability in disability. He has given out scholarships, financial assistance and mobility aids.
It seems this government has expanded the scope and content of the Children’s Day celebration, what is your take on this?
This year’s celebration was very unique, because this was the first year of a new government. The children were very excited. Like the essay competition, we made sure we touched all the federal constituencies. Like the solemn assembly, there is need for us to pray for this state. When we went to church, it was marvellous, because children said 95 per cent of the prayers. It’s unique because like the carnival float, though, we did it last year, this year we have added a lot of things to it. Because I believe if you keep on doing something, you should add value to the existing one. Like this year’s own, we invited children across the 10 federal constituencies and they moved along the streets of Uyo to tell parents that apart from celebrating the children’s day, we were celebrating the governor’s one year in office.
Let’s talk about the affirmative action. The last time I checked, it was 35 per cent, has the percentage increased?
We are praying for more. Of course, during the International Women’s Day of 2016, the international theme we had was, the place for parity in 2030. In other words, 50-50 by 2030. Let me start from his cabinet, at least we have two female Commissioners, my humble self and the Commissioner for Science and Technology. It’s a great thing that he has done. Then we look at the Transition Committee in the different local councils, we have three council areas headed by women: Uyo, Urue-Offong/Oruko and Ikot Abasi, so, we are proud. Not only the chairpersons, when you look at the constitution of the committees, there’s no local government that does not have a women, he has really done well. As I said, we did not even expect up to that, because it was just a transition committee. When we had the last PDP Congress in the state, you discover that because of what he is doing, a lot of people have come to realise that, you cannot do without women, you have to carry us along. We are not fighting with the men. I like telling people, when you hear about gender equality, sometimes people ask me, do you people want to have Governor –Governor or Governor-Deputy Governor and all of that. I keep on telling them, when we talk of gender equality, it is not that we are competing with our men, far be it, we are just saying, give us equal opportunity. For instance, if you are a mother or father, you have four children, two are males, two are females, treat them equally in terms of educational achievements. Anything you are doing, try and accommodate the women; that is just what we are saying. Of course, we can’t fight with our men and you also know the men cannot cheat us.
What value addition has the Office of the Governor’s Wife witnessed concerning the welfare of women?
You know you cannot sing and dance when you are not happy. You only sing and dance when you are happy. So, for the women to be going to Government House for prayers, going to some places with the wife of the Governor, it shows that they are happy. What we are emphasizing is not just for the women to collect money and go back, tomorrow you’re back to collect again. We have a monitoring team, which makes sure that whatever you’re being given to start a business with, you actually use it to start a business, so that others will learn from you. We don’t encourage our women to sit down in their husbands’ houses and become permanent housewives. We are not saying you should not take care of your home, what we are saying is, do something to assist your husbands, assist the family. That is one of the things we are really emphasizing now. I think the women are happy, because sometimes when they take the money to startup businesses, they start seeing the profits coming in, they are really amazed at what they are making out of the business. Our men now understand that women can also contribute positively to the family.
So far, to what extent would you say you’ve implemented the content of the Child Rights Act?
We have really done a lot in terms of implementation of the Child Rights Law. Because like I told you, there are some cases we don’t want to expose. We have prosecuted a lot of sexual offenders, child abusers; we’ve done sensitization in a lot of schools.
In the implementation to the law, we collaborate with the Ministry of Justice and Akwa Ibom State Judiciary. We have the family courts. All these cases are handled in family courts because we don’t take them to the main courts. Right now, people are beginning to respect the rights of the child. It might interest you to know that, people never knew that child abandonment was an offence. That was why we went round to do sensitization so that nobody will claim ignorance. If you abandon your child and you are caught because sometimes people will say, we took the child to the Ministry of Women Affairs and they did not collect the child from us; that was why we abandoned the child. If you are caught, you will be prosecuted. Sometimes, even the parents maltreat their children or step-children. I keep on telling the women, before you get married to a man, if you know that, that man had children already, you have to make up your mind, as you are going there, you have to take those children as your own children because if you maltreat them, it’s against the law, at least discipline them with love. Even when the children are in school, you now send your children or step-children to go and hawk in the streets. All these are contrary to the Child Rights Law. We appeal to parents because sometimes, it is the parents that try to cover up these acts. We make sure that any child’s case we take to court; we don’t expose the child so that their future will be protected.
But we still have a few challenges on the issue of child abuse, as children are seen on the streets during schools hours; again, by traffic lights, you see some street urchins, children looking for some menial jobs; to what extent are you looking these areas to ensure that the implementation of the Child Rights Law also affects this category of children?
A few weeks ago, I, with my permanent secretary and some directors, went to Itam Junction to meet these children, they didn’t know who we were. We interviewed them and there are some of them we are trying to reintegrate into their families. What we do is when we pick them up, we take them for screening and it’s so pathetic to know that sometimes the parents will come and drop the children that government will eventually pick them up. Such parents, we will take the children back to them, and give them a form to fill and warn them to desist from such acts; if they repeat it, that is when we charge them to court.
Apart from the children, sometimes, you see destitute. Of course, in this ministry, we have categories we’re dealing with. For the lunatics, you know we’ve been evacuating them, taking them to psychiatric hospitals. The last set that we evacuated, we reintegrated about 140, remaining about 30 that we are trying to reintegrate them in the next few months. But for the destitute, we will just pick all of them, because some of them are not from here, some are not even from Nigeria. But for that particular set, we collaborate with the Nigeria immigration Service. I had a meeting with the Comptroller of Immigrations in the state; we are trying to evacuate them. For those ones who are within this country, the Ministry of Women Affairs will take care of them, reintegrate them with their families or know what to do for those ones who have nobody. For those who are not from Nigeria, those are the ones we will handover to Immigrations.
The issue of hawking during the schools hours, we are working with the Ministry of Education, because that ministry is not happy with what some parents are doing. We’ve set up a team in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare, so that any child that we pick from the street, we won’t only punish the child, we will go to the parents because without the parents or guardians asking them to go out and hawk during school hours, they wouldn’t have done it.
We have five government homes in this state. One of the homes is called Correctional Centre. Though, the Child Rights Law is to protect the children, children who go contrary to the law are put in that particular home. It’s like a prison but because they’re less than 18 years, that is why we put them there. So, some of them, after warning them, they go back, if we pick them again, we put them in the
correctional centre and they will stay there depending on the directives from the court because we also charge them to court so that we can correct them. So, it’s a two-way thing. Even though we are protecting them, we are not saying that you should be stubborn; they should not know their responsibilities and what they are supposed to do for themselves.
The number of mentally deranged people you see on our roads sometimes is disturbing; although the numbers seems to have reduced, what is your ministry doing for total evacuation of these groups of persons from our streets?
We have been able to evacuate a lot of lunatics. Some months ago, we evacuated about 170 of them. Like I said, we keep on adding value. We did not only do the evacuation in Uyo metropolis, we went to other parts of the state. We took them to the hospital; they were given treatment sponsored by the government. Out of the 170, about 140 were certified fit by the doctors. It was at the end that we discovered
that about 80 per cent of them were not even from Akwa Ibom State. We had to take them back to their different states. In terms of sanity, I think, it is in order. The few ones you are seeing are actually being brought in from other states when they hear of the evacuation being carried out by the state. I am appealing to security personnel to help us. We’re also planning to evacuate the few ones you’re seeing any moment from now.
What has your ministry done about the ‘street girls’ along Maitama?
The issue of Maitama, you know a lot people keep on asking about what we are doing. Sometimes before we carry out any action, we have to advise first. A few weeks ago, I went on air and I had to advise our women and our men that it’s not proper to go and hang there, especially, the women. You have to maintain your dignity as a woman. I don’t believe that until you expose your body to the public, that is when you are beautiful. You discover that even some of these ladies, not that they are poor, some of them are lured into these acts by their friends or are being influenced by the environment they are living. We have been appealing to them to leave the street, to leave Maitama. It’s good to warn them, advise them before you take any action so that they won’t say they were not aware. The last time we did the evacuation of prostitutes, we empowered a lot of them. We took time to advise them to look for something and do. For those who are students, we advised them to face their academics. For those who had nothing to do, we even gave them money to start up something. I know a few of them who started up something, but for others, if after being warned, they’re still there, we will take appropriate actions so that we can keep that place in order.
The well-being of the physically challenged, what has government succeeded in doing in impacting on their lives within the past 12 months?
The Akwa Ibom State government has done a lot for the physically challenged persons in the state. We have what we call the Joint Association of People Living with Disabilities, which has the clusters of the visually and hearing impaired, the physically challenged and those living with leprosy.
In all these clusters, he takes care of them. During this administration, about five blind persons were sent on training in Uganda. The last time I had a meeting with the visually impaired people, they confessed that they are happy with what the governor has done for them. During the International White Cane day, which is a day for the celebration of the visually impaired, some states did not even celebrate; the governor, because of his love had to observe it for them through this Ministry. Some of them were given Braille Machines, computers and even paid school fees for some of them in higher institutions. They were so happy. Sometimes, I ask myself, if the “disabled persons” are like this, then we have no excuse not to be happy. For the physically handicapped, he provided a lot of mobility aids for them; skill acquisition training was organised for them, among other intervention programmes during the International Day for People Living with Disabilities, they were all equipped with the necessary tools so that they can start up something. A few weeks ago, the government through this Ministry, collaborated with MTN Foundation, to carry out medical assessment for those with hearing impairment. In a few weeks to come, we will hand over hearing aids to all of them courtesy of this government. The government has done a lot for Persons Living with Disabilities.
The Special Children’s Home, what is government doing in their transition from one level of education to the other as they grow?
Specifically, we have about five government homes and these homes depend on the category of children and how they were brought into the homes. We have over 700 children in the homes. Some of them who were brought into the home when they had passed primary or secondary school age, we’ve been doing skill acquisition for them and when they finish, we make sure we equip them so that they start up something for their future. For those who were small when they were brought into the homes, of course all of them are in school. At the end of their primary school, they enter secondary schools and as well as tertiary institution. I want to say that by the special grace of God, some of them are in higher institutions. We have some reading Law, Psychology, Engineering and the rest of them.
As we move to the second year of this government, how is the future going to look like for the different categories of people under your Ministry’s watch?
Let me sum up by saying that the future looks very bright for the different categories of people under His Excellency’s care in my Ministry.
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