El-Rufai’s N1bn for women not for Aso Ebi –Hajiya Hafsat Baba,

In 2018, the Kaduna State government set aside N200 million for women empowerment aimed at reducing poverty and vulnerability among this group. On April 8, 2021, the state launched the second phase of this empowerment programme called Kaduna State Women Empowerment Fund (KADSWEF) 2.0.  Strategically designed to improve small scale businesses which would, in turn, improve the economy of the state, many people don’t understand what this means from the financial inclusion and social protection point of view. In this interview with SOLA OJO, the Commissioner, Ministry of Human Services and Social Development (HSSD), Hajiya Hafsat Baba, whose office is responsible for the disbursement of another N200 million naira to the benefitting women explained the context, rationale, and expected outcome of the intervention and other important issues. Excerpt:

Kaduna State government, through your ministry just launched another phase of women empowerment programme KADSWEF 2.0. What does that mean for women in Kaduna especially when we talk about financial inclusion and social protection here in the state?

It means more support for small businesswomen in Kaduna State. We did the first one which is 1.0 in 2018. We looked at what we could do differently and we considered empowering more women instead of buying sewing machines or grinding machines as the case used to be. Some of them might not be interested or they may not have space to keep and maintain these items in a profitable manner.  Hence, they may end up selling them at giveaway prices. At the end of the day, we felt that we should increase their capital. We identified women with small businesses so we can support them with this money to expand their businesses. We did the first one (1.0) and now, we are doing the second one 2.0. 2.0 was launched by Governor Nasir El-Rufai. Other people joined us virtually because of the COVID-19 protocols. The first one witnessed a crowd of people because there was no pandemic then.

For the first one, women were able to access between N20, 000 and N200,000. With this second one, we have increased the bar from N50, 000 to N2 million. In the first one, we were able to reach over 7,000 women and cooperatives. In this second one, we are narrowing it down to 2,500 because the money is higher. But then, by the time we multiply the number of women if they have formed cooperatives and access this money the number will be more than 2,500 primary targets. In this second one, we have also established an e-platform where we deposit all the number of beneficiaries in a bank for monitoring. This time around, our fund manager is United Bank for Africa (UBA). We also decided to add value to the beneficiaries by way of engaging business development services providers to train the beneficiaries on how to do simple accounting, how to keep their money and how to maximise profit. They also follow and monitor them. We also have another company called Co-Almana which has established another tracking platform for us to track these women that have collected this money for continuous supervision and to also have their data. These are some of the improvements in the second phase which is a continuum.

Has the money already disbursed to women?

When the governor launched the second phase, he disbursed over N30 million to 348 beneficiaries. It was supposed to be 350, but, two of them had issues with their accounts which we are going to sort out to make it 350 at the launch. Subsequently, we will continue to credit the accounts of the beneficiaries until we reach the 2,500.

You talked about e-platform, how are the women in hard-to-reach communities going to benefit from this fund since they mostly don’t have GPRS-enabled devices?

Yes, they are our primary target and that was why we have these business services providers in all the zones and they have to identify women in the rural areas, bring them onboard, and also train them. Don’t forget that this training is not done in English. It is done in the language they understand. For example, a lot of these women can read in Hausa and can also use their cell phones to either transfer money or receive alerts and so on. We encourage them to do these because of the financial inclusion policy. With ATM and POS, the use of cash is gradually getting lower. We encourage women to use the bank for their savings because it is safer. Apart from that, banks have other programmes for women that you cannot unlock if you don’t account for them. So, I believe including them in this policy is of great advantage to us.

Specifically, how much is going to be given to these 2,500 targeted women?

It is N200 million. It was supposed to be N400 million but because of COVID-19, it is N200 million. We started in 2018 with N200 million and the governor promised to increase it to N400 million, later N600 million, and so on until we reach N1 billion. This means by the time we will be done with this disbursement, we would have disbursed N400 million. Before the end of the year, 3.0 will start which is going to be another N200 million. Gradually, we are getting into that N1 billion which the governor promised us.

Now, this money that is coming from the government, won’t it be seen as free money that may hamper repayment? What mechanism do you have in place to ensure recovery so that more women can benefit from it?

It’s not free money. As I said, these business development service providers that we engaged are going to monitor what these women are doing with the money. We have opened a repayment loan account. These service providers are the ones that get these women for us and they are the ones to track them to ensure repayment.

Were there documents to support the engagement of these business development service providers?

Absolutely. There is a memorandum of understanding (MoU). Our papers have to be stamped by the court. We have put measures in place to ensure that this money returns. This money is tax-payers money. If we pay, it means we are giving another woman an opportunity to access this money. It is not a national cake. When women boost their businesses and repay this loan, then, another set of women will follow to use the loan. Out thinking as a government and as a ministry is that, by the time we have this loan repaid, the government does not need to give us more money. Rather, it will be a revolving loan. As you collect, you use and payback so that others can be screened and access it. We encourage the women that once they collect, they should use it well. We give them two months before they start repayment in the third month.

Some women still feel excluded from this opportunity, what will you tell such women?

The truth is the government cannot satisfy everyone at once. Those over 7,000 women that benefited in the first phase will not be the same people that will benefit from the second and subsequent phases. Let me add that, in 3.0 which will start before the end of this year, we are going to start harvesting beneficiaries from the social register because they are the most vulnerable. This is a directive from the governor and that is exactly what we are going to do. We form them into cooperatives, train them, open bank accounts, and give them this money. If they don’t have a business, we help them create some according to their interest. This is because social protection is in trying to move people from poverty and we are targeting the most vulnerable.

For those that are benefitting, what message do you have for them?

I wish those that are benefitting well. We want to have success stories. We are going to engage the media to follow them up so that we can document the success stories that are likely to follow this intervention. The government of El-Rufai is never discriminatory. I’m saying this not because I’m in government but because I had been around when other governments did empowerment programmes without considering women from other political parties. Here, we don’t discriminate. We treat everyone equally regardless of any sentiment. Every woman is entitled to this loan and we are ready to support you so long you meet the requirements and qualify for the loan.

This money is for business expansion, what are those things the benefitting women should not do with it?

Yes, they should make sure they increase their capital. They should ensure judicious use of this money. This is not money for aso ebi. This is not money for paying rent. It is not money for paying school fees. We don’t want to hear those excuses. We are giving the beneficiaries this money to improve their businesses, to improve the economy of the state, and at the same time, they become role models to others.

When you look back after leaving this seat, what would be your happiness as a woman?

By the grace of God, when I leave here, I will go back to my usual civil society work, giving back to society, helping people where I can. My organisation is still working, giving services to the people and, waiting for me. I will continue to support women. I will continue to seek justice for children. I will continue to help the youths and support people with disabilities. These are the things that I was doing before coming into government and those are what keep me happy.

Like you have noted, this government gave women the opportunity to serve more than what the state has experienced before now. How can these women justify that opportunity in such a way that people and incoming governments can leverage it to provide grounds for women for greater responsibilities?

What I want people to understand is that the governor supports women that are hard-working and that can support the government to achieve results in the state. All the women in government had done their best and thereby laid the foundation. I believe we are role models to a lot of young women. By the time other women will come on board, we want them to be more hard-working than us because Kaduna State is ours. I have a strong appeal to make to mothers like me. Please, allow your girls to go to school because, without education, they cannot be given huge political responsibilities. This is not the time to claim that you have worked for the party; that you have slaved for the party. No, the best is to get the job done and education is the key. So, allow our girls to get that education so they can be like us or even better.