Do you know that when it comes to the issue of women, children and the youths in Nigeria, many names come to the fore but one woman has taken up the challenge of reaching out to this category of persons in the society, because she understands that moral decadence and poverty have gradually crept into our lives and is threatening our very existence if nothing is done to stem the tide.
The 1st Lady of Kwara state, Her excellency, Mrs Olufolake Abdulrazaq sat down for an interview with the Editor, Woman of Substance Nigeria, Ify Onyegbule and she shed light on her work with the Youths, Women and Children of Kwara state.
Let’s start out with the work you do with Ajike People’s Support Center and the difference it is making in the lives of the people
That’s a good thing, Ajike People’s Support center is basically people’s support, the young, women, children and we just round it off by saying humanity at large, like I say I don’t exclude men from the things I do, we map out a way to respond to many of the letters that people send in to my office, a way to meet their needs so when they put forward this proposals, we investigate what they talk about in the letters they send and we find a way to meet those needs and we are happy at how far we have come since getting into office.
You led a walk in December 2019 against rape and all forms of Gender Violence, why do you think the menace still persists?
I wish all of us had an answer as to why there is an upsurge in this but we have noticed that there is a bit more reports about this, we have the case of a man who is about 60 years, sexually molesting a 3 and half year old girl, we had to get authorities involved in the matter, we worked with her and her family to try and make sure that she gets justice. The man was arrested and charged to court. One of the reasons why this menace persists is because of our culture, norms and people, you find elders get up go to and beg the parents to forgive, no action is taken and there is no deterrent so we must make sure that it goes through all the stages of the law and make sure that perpetrators are brought to book.
Why is there so much difficulty in breaking the culture of silence?
That is why the Walk against Rape in Ilorin was important, you know that the more we shed light on it, the attention will increase. People are scared that if family comes open with the rape case or issue about their child, what are her chances of marrying in future? this could be the reason why they don’t speak up about it.
So, we joined in the 16days of activism just to draw attention to the menace. We had a conference on Child Abuse in collaboration with the National Orientation Agency, the NOA and the Save A Child charity and this brought so much attention to the issue, one step at a time, we will get there where people will come out to speak about it so that the culprits will pay dearly for their bad behavior.
How will you rate the performance of the National Orientation Agency?
I will say that we had a conference, they collaborated with us and I must say that they did a good job working with my office for that huge event that received wide coverage and publicity but on the other hand, I will urge them to be more visible so that people are aware of all the things that they do. I think publicity is so important and you need to get people’s attention so that they can identify with the causes you are actually fighting for so I will say that in Kwara, we have a very good rapport with the NOA.
With the decline in morals and the dearth of good role models, how do we save the youths from moral bankruptcy?
Everybody aspires to being around someone they admire and want to be like, everyone wants someone they can look up to, so the point is we must make sure that we promote the proper role models for our children to emulate and that is why I am not happy when people shine the light on very negative things. It is important to shine the light on positive role models, people that our children can look up to and aspire to be like, we must also make sure that the right values are championed across the country.
What special ideas did you bring to the table as your husband came to office?
When we came in, we touched almost all the sectors and it was like we were starting all over because the impression we got with the Otoge movement and the feedback from the people pointed to the fact that the people wanted things done differently. We launched straight into the issue of drug abuse because with the prevalence rate of 13% we were not going to let things continue that way, that statistics put Kwara state the highest on the ratings of drug abuse in the North Central and it wasn’t pleasing at all. I was happy to be made Matron of the Kwara state Drug Control Committee so we had a huge conference with students and women because the women are directly in charge of children. Parents need to pay attention to their children because no matter how much money you make, if your children are out of order or become addicts you have bigger trouble to contend with. We did a lot on the primary health care, the flagging off of the immunization campaigns, the governor did something on polio and the Roll Back Malaria Campaign. I was also on the health task-force and we did so much on health, we don’t intend to stop because our people are going to be the better for it.
There is so much talk about skill acquisition and how it can engage people, what is your approach to that?
The Ajike peoples support center with other NGOs organized a social empowerment programme and it was huge. We observed that the mindset was about giving of tools to work with but a lot of times they didn’t understand what they had to do with those tools or implements they were given so they sold them off for pittance and you find that they fall back fast into the poverty circle because most times they don’t get the actual value of what they are selling. So, we thought it was important for people to learn a skill so that people can pay you for rendering a service or selling goods you have produced. We found a way to encourage the texture industry in Kwara, these days I wear Aso Oke mostly made in Kwara state. Some of the women are thought how to weave and make Aso Oke, some make pomade, air-freshner, liquid soap and other things they were able to sell in the market and it is really gaining grounds. Between me and 4 other NGOs, we have done over 1000 women and we hope to do a lot more. For the youths, we spoke to some youth organizations, they have been so proactive, the social empowerment programme has been majorly what Ajike Support Group is all about and it is well accepted and I think Higher Institutions of learning should find a space for it in the curriculum.
Skill Acquisition is very important in the life of every human being and it is the ability to be trained on a particular task or function and become expert in it. Why do you advocate for skill acquisition in higher institutions?
You and I know that a lot of times, in higher institutions, the youths learn a lot of theory, there are not a lot of practical courses anymore, it is okay to have a sort of a “side hustle” because you can either use it to make ends meet or earn legitimately from it and it surely will keep the youths out of trouble so if skill acquisition is infused into the curriculum of our institutions of higher learning, we will all be the better for it, you will learn something useful in your spare time apart from the theoretical knowledge that you acquire.
How else have you engaged the youths in Kwara?
We have been nourishing grassroots sports because we think that all these social vices come from them not being meaningfully engaged so we started the softball, baseball, table tennis, all happening simultaneously in the senatorial zones because we believe that sports will bring our youths together and keep them busy.
With a youth population gravitating towards everyday trend, how possible is it to push this idea of imbibing good morals?
We must start focusing on people and things that are of value and if we intensify this, people will change the way they see things, they don’t glorify waste, they don’t glorify bad things but see the usefulness of good things and situations so we push it by talking about it, writing about it and getting higher institutions to kind of take up this idea.
With 27years in different positions in the diplomatic circle, why do you think youths prefer to ditch Nigeria for greener pastures abroad?
This is a contending topic at the moment, there have been few sour examples lately and a lot of these people have no idea what they are up against, I actually had a Press Conference in Ilorin where I had to make the youths understand that the grass is not always greener on the other side because by the time they get to where they are going, they end up in slave-like conditions and get into modern day slavery. I believe there is some kind of culturing that has made people think it is always better abroad, no matter how good it is here they believe it is greener and better on the other side which is not always the case. We need to start the re-orientation here and urged the youths to think outside the box.We also as parents need to allow them think, express themselves and live their dreams. We need to create an enabling environment so that children and youths can thrive.
Are there youths on the table where decisions are taken in Kwara?
I am sure you know we have the youngest commissioner in history in the Kwara state government’s cabinet. She is 26 and is doing a fantastic job, Ms. Joana Kolo is in charge of the youths and sports ministry, she is a beacon of hope to other young people in the state because the youths are involved. Let me also remind you that the Otoge Campaign was championed by the youths and they are speaking out because their voices are being heard. The youths are involved in all spheres of human endeavor in Kwara and this has ignited the passion and fire for governance to run smoothly in the state and this is what we need to stem the social vices.
It is a fact that basic education is the bedrock of educational development and a major determinant of children’s performance at the post-basic stages of education and the effectiveness of lifelong learning. What is the rate or statistics of girls in school in Kwara?
Education of girls in Kwara is not low, I know that girls are enrolled in school in Kwara and they are doing well. We are trying to increase the participation of girls in school by making sure that the access to education is widespread. The empowerment programmes of women amazingly has succeeded in cutting off the situation where girls had to go and hawk items to put food on the table in their families, instead of going to school to get an education.
The girls have the opportunity to be enrolled in school instead of hawking and they are happy to gain knowledge to help them become better citizens. I was in one community in Kwara state where we gave out exercise books and what struck me was that most of those who came out to collect the books were girls and that gladdened my heart.
I also want to mention Miss Favour Musa a student of Unilorin Secondary School, who did Kwara State very proud when she emerged the champion of the 32nd National Festival of Arts and Culture 2019 Poetry competition. She got a cash prize from the Edo State First Lady, Her Excellency, Mrs. Betsy Bene Obaseki. This is also a testimony to the fact that we dont take the issue of education lightly in Kwara State.