By Nkechi Chima Onyele, Abuja
NATIONAL President, National Council for Women Societies, Gloria Laraba Shoda, a professional teacher, school administrator, development practitioner, philanthropist and proprietress of a group of schools in Shagamu, Ogun State, is a pace-setter.
She got married to her soulmate, Col. Emmanuel Shode, a native of Shagamu, Ogun State, as a young girl immediately after her SSCE. Afterwards, this amazon combined marriage and motherhood to bag National Certificate of Education (NCE) in Applied Science and Technology as well as a bachelor of Education (B.Ed), master of Community Development from University of Ibadan and a doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from the Theological Seminary.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Mrs. Shoda goes down memory lane into what transformed her life from the classroom to a champion of empowerment for women and children. She also speaks on the NCWS, her marriage and need for Nigerian women’s participation in governance, among other issues.
Could you tell us about your organisation?
The National Council for Women Societies is a non-governmental and non-partisan women’s organisation composed of a network of independent women groups in Nigeria binding together to use NCWS platform to advocate gender welfare issues to the government and society.
It is an organisation with representatives in all 774 local government areas in Nigeria, with chapters, which includes the FCT.
NCWS was formally inaugurated in 1959 as an organisation for women’s groups in the country. The key organisations that came together to form NCWS include Women’s Cultural and Philanthropic Organisation in Eastern Nigeria, Women’s Improvement Society, Women’s Movement, Nigerian Women’s Union and Federation of Women’s Societies. Between 1961 and 1962, the organisation established regional branches in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos.
In the early 1960s, NCWS took an active role in promoting initiatives to increase the participation of women in Nigeria through training classes and credit programmes. They also organised economic literacy programmes for the market women community.
The NCWS goal of affecting national life through active participation of women has led the organisation to support women’s suffrage in northern Nigeria. The NCWS was also involved in mobilising women to participate in the political process. In addition, it is a very broad organisation as a voice for advocacy of gender equality, right of girlchild, children and the physically-challenged. However, we interface with government in programmes that are positive to women and we also advocate and criticise government on programmes that are not relevant to women, children and the physically-challenged, but we don’t belong to any political party.
What was the state of NCWS when you took office?
I must congratulate the past administration of NCWS for their leadership skills. Every elective officer must commence work from where his or her predecessor stopped and my case was not different, having been sworn in on July 17, 2016, by our grand patron, Her Excellency, Aisha Buhari. The wife of the President tasked us to chart a course for a greater future for women and children in Nigeria, which was my major objective as the national president. We also stressed the importance of involving all stakeholders in building a strong partnership as enshrined by the NCWS slogan, “Service in Unity,” as advised by Her Excellency.
First, we embarked on renovating the council to enjoy conducive environment for work. Thereafter, we continued empowerment programmes and activities, but funding has been our major constraint in executing our core duties.
In the past, the federal and state governments gave subventions to NCWS. We understand that you are no longer enjoying this, so you are faced with funding challenge. What do you think could be responsible for government’s stance on financial support for NCWS now?
Critics could attribute government neglect as a tool to make us voiceless, but this wouldn’t prevent the council from implementing its core duties. NCWS is a vehicle used to pilot the affairs of women and children, to replicate the current needs of women and children, especially in relation to over two million displaced women and children in Nigeria. So, NCWS will not be less critical of some actions of the government to the detriment of the nation. Nevertheless, we are dismayed at government’s neglect of our subvention.
What steps have you taken to redress the situation? Have you expressed your worries to the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development or the National Assembly?
We have visited the National Assembly asking for grants to restructure the council, to carry out our duties as the only NGO working under government; we are the only NGO affiliated to the International Council of Women. So, government should prioritise NCWS.
In more advanced countries, they are treated with uttermost attention, but in Nigeria, the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development travels abroad for women programmes without the NCWS president or representatives; it is daunting.
As an organisation with vast numbers of women in participation, they always remember NCWS during political rallies, to assemble women for political purposes, which shouldn’t be the primary objective. I think government should make hay while sun shines for the progress of Nigerian women, children and less privileged ones in our society.
Are you saying you are denied your privileges by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development?
We have a cordial working relationship. The incumbent minister, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, is an epitome of beauty and brains; she is a true replica of a leader with a dogged spirit. I celebrate her vision for Nigeria women. Recently, she kicked off the HeForShe Campaign for the passage of gender equality bill. As a champion, we are working towards its actualisation.
Your leadership just marked one year in office. Could you list some of your achievements?
We have done a lot in advocacy. We have visited the Human Rights Commission on matters relating to women, especially pregnant women in prisons. The Nigeria Police has briefed us on the increase in rape in camps. Regrettably, some policemen are perpetrators of this crime. However, Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris gave us his word that he would set up units to handle the issue.
The council has visited the Consumer Protection Council for partnership. Most significantly, NCWS has visited Mr. President Muhammadu Buhari, on advocacy for gender equality and the passage of its bill. Also, the council has visited FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello, on welfare of women, children and the less privileged within the FCT and we requested for land to support our women in farming, to which he was receptive, but we await the realisation of that visit.
We made impact in the North-East with our victims support team in Yobe to give relief materials to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), using my personal funds. We have also done a lot of educational campaign programmes; we have kicked off widows’ campaign programmes in various states for first ladies to empower women. NCWS visited the Central Bank of Nigeria to canvass for loans for women and we await their kind gesture.
We applaud the Federal Government’s support, through the Bank of Industry, in empowering women in all 774 local governments in Nigeria with credit alert loans of N50,000.
As a mother, what do you make of the increase of defilement of minors by relatives and even biological fathers? What would you say is responsible for this?
We have visited Senate President Bukola Saraki on this dreaded recurrence, demanding a law that those who defile minors be sentenced to 50 years jail term. It makes my heart bleed, how these men are agents destroying destinies of innocent children; even three months old babies. What could be responsible for perpetrating such evil acts? Could it be for ritual purposes or something else? I ask these questions because they can’t tell me they are sexually attracted to babies or minors.
It is sad that when perpetrators are arrested, they regain freedom after some days in police custody, while their victims are traumatised emotionally, physically and psychologically. I don’t know why the National Assembly is quiet over this issue.
However, I must commend the Kano State government for imposing 15 years imprisonment on offenders. Fifty years would be preferable. Imagine committing incest with impunity, without the fear of God.
What project are you planning to execute?
We will soon roll out the drums for a women’s political summit; we have to examine critically some factors that have brought this wide political and socio-economic disparity, which has been an obstacle to effective participation of women in politics, governance and decision-making in Nigeria. And we will be calling on other stakeholders, regardless of political party, to get involved in this programmes and policies that would empower women politically, socially and economically, to discuss the way forward for Nigerian women in 2019.
For instance, a woman won election in Benue State, but she was denied inauguration. Women have the largest number in the population of Nigeria, so let’s utilise for our own good than being relegated and abused. The NCWS is planning digital literacy to educate women on the needs to acquire knowledge to remain relevant in society.
Thirty-five per cent of appointments has been set aside for women. Are you satisfied with this?
It is just written in books. I haven’t seen its realisation. I don’t want to think about it; but women involvement in governance is important. Meanwhile, we are not restricting ourselves to domestic leadership but leadership in every sphere of life.
You are deeply involved in service to humanity. Could you tell us more about your life as a philanthropist?
While in Ogun State, under my NGO and other NGOs, we improved the life of women in various local governments; we distributed sewing machines, grinding machines, hair dryers and cash to add values to their life and they were very grateful.
I recall how a woman we empowered with 5,000 for puff-puff business, we supported the NGO with cash to empower other women. In fact, my passion led me to publish a book, “Empower to Be Empowered.”
You are reputed to be a courageous woman. Some people say you are fearless. Is it true?
(Laughter) Nobody is fearless, but I only fear God. I don’t hesitate in going for what I want. I’m not lousy in decision-making and I don’t give up easily. As a blunt and peaceful woman, I don’t tolerance arrogant, dishonest, selfish and irresponsible people.
Could you share some of your success story in marriage and career to motivate others?
Auspiciously, I married my friend at a very young age, immediately after my secondary education. Subsequently, I continued my education in my husband’s house, which was indeed a great privilege for me. In fact, my husband is my pillar of success and I thank God for him.
Have you had dark moments in life?
Life itself is a misery; every individual has different experiences that life brings. Is it to talk about my husband’s arrest during Abacha’s regime? Or should we talk about how I lost my first daughter to the cold hands of death at a grown age? Indeed, these were the darkest moments of my life, but God mended my broken heart and crowned me with glory regardless of the devises of the world.
How did your daughter die?
She suddenly died of kidney failure in 2008. May her soul continue to rest in peace, and we will always miss you dear.
Despite your age, your style always stands out. What does style mean to you?
I love looking good, but I’m not a fashion fanatic. I’m not easily attracted to trends; I prefer comfort, which defines style. However, I’m an advocate of made-in-Nigeria products. Of course, my outfit is made in Nigeria, while my shoes and handbag are made in Aba.
What do you think government should do to encourage women?
Nigerian women are involved in local production. I believe local government chairmen should build factories or shops, with machines or engines, for gari procession, soap or cloth making for export. There should be hubs for small-scale manufacturing businesses.
How would you assess the present administration?
It’s difficult to assess people when they are hungry. Honestly, I’m a straightforward person; imagine a situation where I can’t even assess myself. Nevertheless, I must applaud the Federal Government for empowering women and we look forward to their favorable consideration.