Okowa’s Fresh Breath On Widows

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Governor Okowa is powering the e-payment for the vulnerable and poor widows in Delta state. Widows should come forward for capturing into the database for future purpose, irrespective of their political or religious affiliations.”

*Photo: Gov Okowa*

By Dominic Adewole

In the beginning

In 2015, shortly after the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, assumed office, he declared a year of favour for widows across the 25 local government areas of the state. To naysayers then, it seemed like a dream. It was another political jamboree. But lo and behold, it has become a phenomenon of good testimony. ‘I Testify’ has become the singsong among thousands of widows across the three senatorial districts of the state.

Sowing the ‘seed of grace

The Governor succeeded former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan with five point manifesto, which he encapsulated in SMART agenda, an acronym for Strategic wealth creation – Meaningful peace building – Accelerated industrialization and urban renewal – Relevant health and education and Transformed environment, through bold idea of economic and infrastructural transformation. He soon swung into action with his urban renewal, meaningful education, healthcare development, job and wealth creation pursuit – which include the heart-warming widows alert phenomenon, the skill and agricultural youth empowerment in choice areas of training and entrepreneurial programmes.

Widows’ alert, not jamboree

The Governor quickly placed a sanction against saboteurs. At the flag-off of the programme at the state’s Arts and Culture Pavilion at Asaba in Oshimili South local government area of the state, which was used as a model for the flag-off the exercise, the Governor warned accredited health officials at designated hospitals and hospitals against extortion and other malpractices.

Despite all odds

By 2018, opposition had mounted. The then Publicity Secretary of the Elders’ Council of the Delta state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) linked the scheme to the usual money politics of ‘share-the-money’, A political gimmick to catch the women young. They saw it as another political abracadabra ahead of the general elections in the state by the People Democratic Party (PDP).

But the Commissioner for Information in the state, Mr Charles Aniagwu, supported by the Chief Press Secretary, Mr Olise Ifeajika, said APC simply progressed in error and remained blind to the truth. He said APC sympathizers are living in the era of business as usual. He said, “the era of share the money is gone. Where is even the money to share? The Governor is simply granting financial freedom to women, giving them every sense of belonging and proving their traducers wrong.

The Governor has transcended the level of the highly agitated 35 per cent affirmative action for women to upliftibg their economic life. His promise of lifting thousands of women out of poverty and enhance their active participation in the economic transformation of the state has continued to shore up and the successes have spurred him into introducing various empowerment programmes for the girl-child, women and the aged.” He maintained that the onerous decision by the Governor for a life-changing scheme for the vulnerable segment of the state had attracted accolades, as it had provided succour and wiped away tears from the eyes of thousands of widows, remedy their perplexity, quench their thirst and assuage their hunger. The same year, the Governor took their matter personal. He declared free healthcare for them. He provided a veritable platform for them to access free medical attention to cushion the effect of their financial constraint and made them to understand that God is capable of supplying all their needs according to His riches in glory. He urged them not to despair in the days of adversity.

The universal dimension

By 2019, the Governor incorporated them into the state’s Universal Health Coverage in May 15, 2019, when a total number of enrolees stood at 530,664 and broken down under Equity Plan Enrolees to 390,394 (Comprising 153,100- Pregnant women and 237,167-U5 and 127 Elderly Persons), and under Formal Plan Enrolees to 133,442 (Comprising 47, 331 Primary Enrolees and 86,111 (Dependants); and under Informal Plan of 6,828, a total number of 4,442 widows, 2,270 Keke Riders and 40 Royal Fathers, 76 other residents of the state, benefitted.

The unrelenting spirit

By 2022, the Governor was further touched by their plights. Just three weeks ago, he declared what he tagged “Sustainable Solutions for Widows Financial Independence” for them. An empowerment that was designed to further tackle challenges faced by some vulnerable members of the society, especially widows. This saw to another set of 565 widows from across the state being trained to increase the number of beneficiaries on the widows’ alert empowerment. During the ceremony, the Governor ordered the Project Coordinator, Mr Isioma Okonta, to immediately incorporate the 565 newly trained widows into ‘widows’ alert monthly payment.

As if that was not enough, he ordered the directorate in-charge of the scheme to increase the numbers of those initially accredited, from 11,000 to 20,000. He did not stop at that, he ordered that their monthly stipend, which stood at N5,000 each, be upscaled from the old payment to N10,000 each per month. And the newly trained widows must be discharged with starter-packs for their different areas of vocational training, including, hairdressing, fashion-design, make-up, soapmaking and baking, and dispersed with takeoff grants. The Governor emphasized that the empowerment was part of his measures to tackle challenges faced by some vulnerable members of the society, especially widows.

He said the feat was a fulfillment of his promise for a ‘Stronger Delta’. He said, “these widows have undergone training in five different areas of vocational training. This will go a long way in shoring up their economic sustenance, and by the grace of God, will position them in due course, to offer training and employment to other persons. “At the commencement of the Widows’ Welfare Scheme, 5,607 widows were placed on a stipend of N5,000 each. After the enumeration of widows in the state, the number was increased to 11,107. “The women were drawn from the 270 federal wards in the 25 local government areas of the state. Apart from the monthly stipend, the widows enjoyed free healthcare services through the state’s Contributory Health Insurance Scheme in accredited hospitals and primary healthcare centres in their localities.

Non-partisan

He said the scheme was non-patisan as being speculated by the opposition divide in the state. He maintained that it was for women who are resident in the state, “irrespective of their political affiliation, tribe and religion.”

Governor read riot act

He said any accredited health provider caught in the act of demanding money for drugs, tests, surgery or other consultancy assignments from women under the category would be prosecuted and treated as “an enemy of the state. He charged the widows to build on the economic elevation provided by his administration to improve on their living standard and that of their dependants. He said, “last year, as part of the process to deepen the gains of the Widows’ Welfare Scheme, this administration approved the enumeration of widows across the state to provide an electronic database of their number. “The current beneficiaries are drawn from the 270 Federal Wards across the state. The training targeted the young, energetic and trainable among them. They are expected to make the best use of this opportunity to encourage the state to do more. “The scheme is a demonstration that the ‘Stronger Delta Agenda’ is all embracing. It cuts across every segment of the population from pregnant women, infants, youths, the elderly and the vulnerable.”

Empathy

Last year, activists and coalition of NGOs urged the Governor to capture more widows under the scheme. Then, a human right activist and founder of the Young NIgeria Rights Organization, who doubles as the Public Relations Officer with the Delta State Coalition of Civil Societies NGO’s and Media on covid-19 TASKFORCE, Comrade Victor Ojei, a.k.a Wong-Box, who x-rayed #Project-Widow- Delta-State, said a widow at Ubulu-uKu in Aniocha South local government area of the state, who lost her husband four months ago to the cold hand of death while trying to rescue three young men who were trapped in a well in the town, has a goodnews to tell today about the initiative.

For this reason, he appealed to the Governor to expand the number of accredited widows. He said, “Governor Okowa is powering the e-payment for the vulnerable and poor widows in Delta state. Widows should come forward for capturing into the database for future purpose, irrespective of their political or religious affiliations.” He confirmed that the Welfare Scheme has already captured 5,607 widows that have been on monthly payment of N5,000 since 2018, and said more are yet to be shortlisted. “These are the ones getting e-payment not the entire widows on their database, we are hoping His Excellency, Governor Okowa will magnanimously increase the numbers of beneficiaries. We are hopeful that new batch of widows will be registered and their payment approved”, he prayed.

Sets target

He said by 2023, “my administration is determined to leave the state better than we met it in 2015. With the continuous support of Deltans, we will not rest on our oars.”

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