From Okwe Obi, Abuja
Apart from insecurity, which has largely destroyed socio-economic activities in the North, two other monsters that are on the verge of bringing the region on its knees are the swelling cases of gender-based violence and drug abuse.
Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Gen. Buba Marwa (retd.), had disclosed that about two million youths in Kano State were victims of drug-related issues.
“In Kano State, drug abuse prevalence is 16 per cent, that is, in every six persons, one is a drug addict and they are between the ages of 15 and 64 years. Kano State has close to two million drug users abusing tramadol, codeine and other cough syrups, rather than cannabis,” he said.
Marwa added that, since his assumption of office in January, over two million kilogrammes of assorted drugs, estimated at billions of naira, have been seized, adding that “8000 people were arrested and 1,600 are now serving jail terms in correctional service facilities.”
Also, a report released by the United Nations Population Fund (NUFPA), showed that the issue of gender-based violence was increasing; from forced and early marriages to the physical, mental or sexual assault on women, at least three in 10 Nigerian women have experience violence.
The disturbing narrative has propelled the 19 northern states’ governors’ wives, under the aegis of Northern Governors’ Wives’ Forum (NGWF), to weave ideas on how to halt the social vices.
Its chairperson and First Lady of Kaduna State, Hadiza El-rufai, at an interactive session with newsmen in Abuja, explained that the peculiarity of the problems necessitated the formation of the group to look into the snags.
El-rufai parried insinuations of religion being an enabler of gender-based violence, arguing that no religion would put women in harm’s way.
She said lots of activities had been marshalled out, which would coincide with special days earmarked by the United Nations to kick-start the initiative.
“We have the general governor’s wives’ forum, where all the governors’ wives are in. But we have agreed that we have certain peculiarities, certain things that are peculiar to our states, thus we have the Northern Governors’ Wives’ Forum.
“We have two key things that we want to address. You know, there are so many problems in the country today and one cannot take everything on hold. Even individually, we do have our various interests. But as a forum, we have decided to take two issues.
“We have two key issues we want to address that are bedevilling our society; the first is the issue of gender-based violence. I know you are all aware of the increasing cases of gender-based violence.
“The second issue is drug abuse. So, these are our main focus at the Northern Governors’ Wives’ Forum.
“Before the end of this year, we are going to celebrate the World’s AIDS Day here in Abuja.
“But our main programmes will start from next year. We will start by celebrating the International Day for Education, which will be on January 24.
“We all know that education is very important. In fact, that is why we want to see how the northern governors wives can help. You know that, in the North, we have too many children that are out of school.
“And when you talk about education, it does not really mean the formal education. For some people, it is rather late because we have children who are out of school that are of various ages.
“So, we need to find something for them to do. At least give them basic literacy and some kind of training that they can use to make a living.
“You know that when young people are not engaged meaningfully, especially those who have a lot of energy, they are easy targets for recruitment for all kinds of nefarious activities. We want to ensure that is minimised as much as possible. And, of course, this also comes with the issue of drug abuse.
“Our first meeting will be in March, which will coincide with the World TB Day. We are going to have that in Plateau. The next will be in June, which will be hosted by the vice-chair in Kwara State. And it coincides with the World Drug Abuse Day. It is one of the vices we intend to tackle.
“In September, we will have the International Day for Peace, which, of course, is very important to all of us in Nigeria. With the insecurity problem we are having, we need to really focus on peace because if there is no peace almost nothing can be achieved.
“In December, there is going to be another World AIDS Day. So, basically, those are the things we intend to celebrate. If you notice, we tried to coincide our quarterly meeting with these important days,” she said.
On the issue of religion and culture, she said: “Thankfully, I do not think a lot of these practices are encouraged by any religion that we practice in this country.
“There is a misconception from some people, especially those that do not know much about Islam, to think that this is condoned.
“Such things are not condoned in Islam, if you really want to know. A man is not supposed to beat his wife; you are supposed to be kindest to your wife. In both religions that we practice, we are enjoined to be compassionate.
“However, there are certain cultural practices and also human nature in which the men have the power. The women sometimes are so disadvantaged that they are forced to be in an abusive relationship because they do not have an alternative. And that is why I think women education is very important.
“It is important for a woman to be financially independent such that she is made to stay in an abusive relationship just because she has no other option.”
Speaking on the sustainability of the scheme, she said: “You know that membership of the forum changes. We are just there by virtue of our husbands being the governors.
“And when they are no more the governors, we are no more part of the forum. But we are hoping that whoever comes in will see the merits of what we are trying to do and as a result of it sustain such programmes. That is why it is key that we collaborate with government functionaries to actualise what we trying to do. We, as governors wives’ forum, are more or less an NGO.”
Nevertheless, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais, said the Federal Government had initiated such programmes to address civil unrest, especially those related to women and children.
Uwais explained that about 50 youth facilitators would be engaged to train others in their communities on skill acquisition, especially those who are unemployed but educated.
She called on state governments to deepen their interest so as to reduce the burden on the Federal Government.
She said: “We are trying to see how we can address the problem of children and youths that are at risk.
“We call it at-risk project. We are trying to get the state’s to lead in ensuring that we get these children into spaces; get their data to be able to address the various challenges.
“It is impossible to clinical on just one issue. We are hoping to open their minds, engage them in the space of possibility and also address their health concerns.
“So, we are looking at working with various partners at the state and federal levels and also the private sector civil society and development partners to see how we can engage these children in the states with the states taking the lead because the states have the constitutional mandate for children, for youth, for primary healthcare and education.
“So, we engage the states and ask them to bring those children into spaces where we can share the framework and ensure that they have basic literacy for interim period life skills, including sports, working with UNICEF, trying to see how we can address substance abuse. We are also working with NDLEA.
“We looking for data of 50 young educated but unemployed young people that live with the communities. We are hoping to work with them at the entry point.
“So, those are the ones that will be our monitors but they will also be the mentors of these children for sustainability.
“We want the human element of these youth facilitator to be able to give us feed back on how well these children are doing.
“The children will be reassigned to these 50 youth facilitators per local government to ensure that we help address the challenges that many of these children have and give them a sense of belonging. They are Nigerians as you and I are but are not fortunate as you and I are.
“It is important to work with the northern governors’ wives because the number are most outrageous in the north, having worked with UBEC and NBS so that we can get the correct fields to be generated as data.
“We do not have too much time. We should have done this like yesterday. We are hoping that if we partner with them we would begin to run.”
She noted that the Federal Government had made provisions for the services of psychologists “not just for the children but for the community and the parents because the after-effect do not impact on just the child, but the larger family. Parents see all kinds of reactions that are not usual or typical.”
According to her, “it is important for us to understand that the youth facilitators are not going to be the psychologists themselves. It is important for them to understand where to go.”
The Kwara State First Lady and vice chairperson of the forum, Folake Abdulrazag, prayed for the continuation of the scheme.
“We hope that we are back for the second tenure and we will take obviously these forward and make sure that it is sustained after 2023.”
In conclusion, they solicited media cooperation to help evangelize harmful effects of drug abuse and gender-based violence. And, also, publicise their initiative to get more support geared towards putting an end to the malaise.
“We need the press to help us publicise it. You know that whatever we do, unless the press helps us to publicize it, it may not achieve much. We might be doing a lot of good but when it is publicised, people will know what we are doing and we even get more support. Therefore, we besiege you to help us all the time to publicise it,” she appealed.