The out-gone Director-General of the National Centre for Women Development, NCWD, Barr. Mary Ekpere-Eta in this interview with WO spoke on her achievements as well as the footprints she has left behind.
How do you describe your tenure?
My tenure was a fulfilling one, working round the clock to achieve the core mandates of the NCWD. With the support of the Board, Management and Staff of the Centre, I was able to carry out many laudable programmes in line with the agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, which places very serious interest in the issues that affect Nigerian women.
In this, the Centre was able to touch positively, various women across the country.
What were the challenges you encountered in the past four years as the Director-General of the National Centre for Women Development?
Challenges abound everywhere and it is in overcoming them that one brings out the best in any endeavour. You are all aware of the challenges posed by world economies and recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
These issues have affected us in no small measure by limiting the much we can do. But in all, we are satisfied with the changes we have been able to spearhead at the Centre in the past four years.
Looking back since my assumption of office as Director-General, National Centre for Women Development, NCWD, in April 2017, the experiences have both been challenging and rewarding.
I came to the NCWD with the mindset of galvanizing the human capital and other resources on ground. Of course, I also came with the private sector attitude of setting targets, meeting deadlines and having tangible achievements to highlight at key intervals.
Nonetheless, I was keen on working with staff of the agency and not trying to alienate them. I believe this has helped me a great deal with the Centre moving at a good pace. So, I have preferred to look at challenges as stepping stones in managing the affairs of the NCWD.
What is it like working with fellow women from across different backgrounds?
It has been very rewarding and fulfilling in the sense that as a woman myself and one who has always been at the forefront of ensuring the welfare of women, it is not a new terrain for me to listen and proffer solutions to the myriad issues bedeviling Nigerian women, using the instruments of government.
Looking back, I would say we have been able to make remarkable progress and I am satisfied with what the government has been able to achieve.
What do you count as your achievements in the past four years?
As the national repository institution charged with gender research, capacity development, training and documentation for the advancement of Nigerian women, the NCWD has continued to live up to expectations as a gender-compliant, gender-responsive, gender-intervention, and female-focused agency.
Alongside the management and staff of the NCWD, I have been able to scale up the existing programmes and introduced new ones.
This explains why we have been able to achieve a lot in this spate of time. Despite the initial hurdles which I scaled, it feels like I am just starting.
I am still energised with the zeal to get into the office, to work with my team to implement programmes for the advancement and empowerment of Nigerian women and girls.
This probably explains why the months ran fast, with associates and friends reminding me that I have spent four years in office.
The NCWD, not minding its low budgetary status, has continued to forge ahead. The Centre is at the forefront of sensitizing women and leading in the advocacy for improving the status of women and girls in the country.
Therefore, institutionalised training courses of the NCWD consist mostly of building the capacity of women, building competence for research on women, developing women’s knowledge on information technology; challenging more women to become more computer literate and marketing their businesses, using ICT as well as providing a platform for them to contribute to national discourse.
In the area of research, our philosophy still stands on advocating for the socio-cultural, socio-economic, and political advancement of women.
The Centre produced publications such as Who Are Making The Key Decisions? A Collation of Data on Women and Women in Governance and in Politics.’ There is also the documented position of Nigerian Women on the Restructuring Debate.
We started out in 2017 with the training and empowerment of 150 female Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs in Adamawa and Borno states, increasing the number to 225 in 2018, covering additional states of Taraba and Yobe in the North-East.
We also scaled up the female artisanship programme in air conditioning and refrigerator repairs, generating set repairs, plumbing and piping and tiling and masonry from 50 in 2017 to 140 in 2018. While providing start-off grants for them, we also obtained Trade Test 3 certificates for them.
Plans are ongoing with the German Development Cooperation Agency, GIZ to scale up the training to a more advanced level so as to award them the level 2 and 1 Trade Test certificates.
Our ICT facilities enabled us to train more women and girls in bridging the gender digital divide. Between 2017 and 2018, we have been able to train over 800 women and girls, while spreading this training to rural communities in the country. Twenty visually impaired women have also benefitted from our ICT programmes. We equally executed special training for women farmers and entrepreneurs.
The Centre continues to work with members of the parliament in training a large number of women and youth as part of their constituency projects. The success rate of these projects has led to more lawmakers domiciling their constituency projects with us.
We have also laid emphasis on staff capacity-building across the board to make them more efficient and effective in discharging their duties. Working with the staff union, welfare packages to boost staff morale across the board were also put in place. Worthy of mention is the non-accident bonus for drivers that were not involved in an accident in the course of the year.
On the salient issue of advocating for women and girls, I hosted the Old Girls Association of the Federal Government Girls College Gboko over the tragic death of Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje, who was a student of their alma mater.
Suffice to state that Ochanya’s premature death and the anger and concern that followed it will make Nigerians more aware of the fact that children, most especially girls, must be protected from sexual predators and when these predators strike despite all the protection we provide as families and society, we have to ensure that they face the law.
The list of my achievements is inexhaustible. But let me add by saying that I resumed as Director-General of the NCWD in 2017 with the zeal to reform and reposition the agency.
I met a Centre that the infrastructure wasn’t in the best of shape and I was able to bring it to international standard. My tenure has witnessed an unprecedented level of the refurbishment of critical infrastructure in the Centre.
The spike in gender-based violence is a reality that worries the majority of Nigerians, especially women who now insist on government ensuring the effectiveness of laws designed to protect women and punish persons who find it easy to attack and molest women.
Is Nigeria not yet ripe for a female president? Why are there no women in the race in the two major parties?
Nigeria is ripe for a female president. Nigerian women are making indelible footprints everywhere; a recent example is the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO.
I am sure as we move closer to 2023, interested women will join the race.