Mrs. Emmanuel presenting an item to a beneficiary of her programme
By Chioma Onuegbu, Uyo
Teenage or adolescent pregnancy is one of the social issues rampant in most parts of Akwa Ibom State. In fact, the incidence has degenerated to a level where people no longer see it as a problem but rather have come to accept it as a way of life.
In other words, little or no regard is given to its attendant negative effect on the development and well-being of the adolescent girl such as dropping out of school, abandonment, exposure to prostitution and other forms of delinquency/ anti-social behaviours.
Accordingly the high prevalence rate in the state has been blamed on the mindset of the people towards the incidence coupled with some other factors such as lack of parental care, neglect, poverty as well as the ‘wanna-be factor’ on the part of most vulnerable teenagers.
Vanguard Metro, VM, gathered that teenage pregnancy rate is usually on the increase in the months of May after the Easter celebration and January after the Christmas celebration when most vulnerable girls are lured to bed by rich men in exchange for huge sums of money and expensive material gifts.
According to the recent Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, NDHS report, the adolescent pregnancy rate in Akwa Ibom State is estimated at 17 per cent, which means that nearly one in five adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in the state is either pregnant or has had a child.
The good news at the moment is that the unenviable development which recently assumed a disturbing dimension is currently attracting the attention of the state government which has vowed to stem the ugly trend. It is in this regard that the first lady, Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel, recently launched a pet project to frontally tackle those acts and offenses that have contributed and sustained the lingering incidence in the state.
Speaking during the formal inauguration of the Family Empowerment and Youth Reorientation Programme, FEYReP, last week in Uyo, Mrs Emmanuel expressed her readiness to consult and to seek the support of the state legislators to tackle all forms of gender-based violence and acts meted on the girl-child. Citing the adage, prevention is better than cure, she informed thus: “One of the major focuses of FEYReP will be on how to prevent teenage pregnancy. Some of these girls are victims of rape and other forms of gender-based violence. According to the 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report, one in every three girls aged 15 to 24 experience violence.
“This is one challenge that I am ready to consult and discuss with our legislators at the state level. We cannot go on to condone the stigma and culture of silence that allows such acts to go unabated and the perpetrators go unpunished.
“At the Beijing World Conference for Women, the US first lady Hilary Clinton summarised the matter in these words: ‘These abuses have continued because for too long the history of women has been a history of silence.”
Continuing she revealed that her project team has already embarked on a random baseline survey of the incidence, causes and nature of the problem in all the 31 local government areas with the findings well documented that will inform a rigorous intervention effort in the days ahead
She, however, solicited for partnership to enable her actualise the objectives of her project saying: “The challenges before us are enormous. We cannot do this alone. This, therefore, calls for partnership and whenever you contribute to programmes targeted at the weaker and more vulnerable groups the benefit goes beyond the direct target of your support.
“The Bible says ‘Give and it shall be given unto you’; such giving goes beyond money and material things. You can give your time, energy, knowledge, skills and prayers.
“We will approach our interventions as an investment in the society for which we expect to reap Social Returns on Investment in the form of reduced incidence of adolescent pregnancy, low-youth related violence, cultism, reduced rates of drug and alcohol abuse, improved educational achievements, reduced maternal infant/child mortality and morbidity.
“Our youths represent an immense reservoir of social, political and economic energy, and the longer we leave that potential untapped the harder it will be for us to achieve our bigger goals as families and as a state”.
The objectives of FEYReP, according to her, include to create a platform to showcase successful families, to empower women to provide economic and emotional support to their families, to advocate for the prevention o teenage pregnancy and education of the girl-child, create platform for promoting moral values in youths and support government effort towards sustainable development.
In her remark, the Chairman of the occasion, Dorothy Ufot (SAN), described the project objectives as life-touching and commended the vision of the first lady to nip in the bud the worrisome girl-child issue which has remained a serious social challenge in the state over the decades.
Some of the prominent present and past leaders in the state, including the former deputy governor, Lady Valerie Ebe, in their goodwill messages, expressed the conviction that the project would realise the set objectives for the benefit of the targeted groups.
The immediate past first lady, Mrs. Unoma Akpabio, lauded her successor for the vision and stressed the need for the project to be sustained throughout the tenure of the administration.
Taking his turn to speak, Governor Mr. Udom Emmanuel described the programme as well thought out, timely and appropriate. He added thus: “The Programme ably situates in our overall blueprint of supporting people across ages, gender and traits. To live a happy and productive life, this pet project… has come as a soothing balm and as a stitch to the patches of different homes. I, therefore, implore you to work like Florence Nightingale and shine your lamps to the appropriate homes. Whether it is health matters, charity or spiritual needs, we should meet all at the point of their needs and that is the main thrust of this government”.
However, Mr. Saviour Akpan, Executive Director Community Policing Partners for Justice, Security & Democratic Reforms, COMPPART, expressed worry that government always lack the political will and policy direction to effectively implement such programmes and policies.
“She has to work on changing the mindset of the opposite sex (men) towards protective sex, like the use of condom. Past efforts by government to address this issue failed because of lack of political will. Unfortunately in Akwa Ibom State, politicians are the ones who often lure these young girls to their hotels rooms, spoil them with money and gifts. So the governor’s wife must be ready to tackle these issues if she must succeed in this project,” he stressed.
The inauguration which formed part of the week-long activities that marked the 28th anniversary celebration of the state’s creation also featured the presentation of various empowerment items ranging from hair dressing equipment, sewing machines, barbing salon kits, KVA generators worth millions of naira to over 40 Akwa Ibom youths.