Same Process, Different Outcomes



Women in Niger State Fight Poverty with Innovations

Women in Nigeria’s North Central State of Niger are creating opportunities and adding values to their families by finding different meanings to the same livelihoods they learnt earlier through the Nigeria For Women Project.

By Onche Odeh

An average Nupe woman from Nigeria’s north central of Niger is trained to submit absolutely to the man in their lives. Such is the background that makes them completely dependent on their father and husband for most decisions relating to the family’s subsistence.

While this is a virtue most men and women alike would desire in every woman in their lives, it has, over the years, become a cause of frequent conflicts within families. This is often seen in the transfer of aggression from the man once the pressure falls heavily on him as the family grows. A common scenario is the situation where the man becomes overwhelmed by the pressure of growing family, causing a transfer of aggression to the wife.
This has been the age long burden of the typical Nupe woman, like her counterparts in other parts of the country.

For Amina Musa Mohammed, a middle-aged woman who resides in the mostly rural Kpokpota Community in Agaie, this challenge became real pressure after the demise of her husband five years ago.
Left with nine children to cater for and almost no means of livelihood, feeding and upkeep of the family became a big issue to contend with.
At the time the husband died, Amina had three children in Primary School, two in secondary school and one in the nursery.
“My husband was responsible for feeding of the family, as well as the schooling and other needs of the children and me. So when he died, it was a big blow,” Amina told AfricaSTI in Agaie.
After the death of her husband, Amina resorted to helping other women who owned cassava processing businesses to peel the tubers and making fufu ( cassava doughs) as the fallback option. She had learnt how to make fufu many years before getting married.
The proceed from doing this was, however, far from enough to meet the basic needs of the family.

Amina (sitting right)

“After the death of my husband, I had to fall back to making of fufu (cassava molds), which I learnt long time ago while I was in Kogi State. But this did not bring enough money. So, coping with the family’s needs and the stress was tough,” Amina said.

“I used to help other people peel cassava and do other things like washing and pounding to make some money for the family upkeep. At a time, I would be paid 100 naira for peeling a size quantity of cassava tubers. I could barely feed the family with what I make. But I thought that it was better than nothing,” she added.

The turnaround came for Amina when she was introduced to the Kpokpota Women Affinity Groups (WAGs), an off shoot of the Nigeria For Women Project (NFWP), a World Bank supported programme designed to help women in Nigeria get improved livelihoods in targeted communities.
Amina said, although she was initially hesitant about joining the group, she is happy that she did not allow the opportunity to elude her.
“At first when they came to us, we thought it was the same as past programmes that were introduced to us that did not go anywhere. Some of us were even scammed by the people. They collected money and never showed up again. But when I was told about how it works, I was convinced that it was profitable. So, I decided to join,” she said.

Amina’s convictions were rewarded few months after joining the WAG.
Alongside her colleagues in the Kpokpota WAG, she was trained on how to make cassava business a means of better livelihood that could do more than just feed the home. From helping others to peel cassava and making fufu out of the tubers, Amina swiftly moved to owning her own micro cassava processing enterprise, employing others to do what she was doing for others.

From the proceeds, she is currently able to save 1,500 naira weekly, of this amount, she saves 1,000 naira in the group’s collective vault and 500 naira personally.
Months after enrolling at the WAG, Amina was told that she could take a grant to improve her business. This she accessed and used to improve her cassava processing business. She now pays a number of other women who helps her to do exactly what she used to do for others.
“Part of the training we received include how to package the products from cassava to give it more value, how we can save and manage the money we make and how to compose ourselves as we grow in the business. This has helped me a lot,” Amina revealed.

Meanwhile, Amina has taken her cassava business a step higher.

“Before, it was just fufu that I was making. But now I can make and supply cassava flour to locals around. I also produce and sell starch to local laundry business owners and feeds for livestock owners,” she said.

Part of the additional value Amina has added to the services she provides now is to help people prepare ready-to-eat fufu at some fee for the product and the services rendered.
The children have not been left behind, as the family now enjoys a new lease of life. Although, the children said they miss their father’s presence, the initial shock of losing their breadwinner may have been doused.
Amina’s daughter, Zainab Mohammed said she now feels more confident about realizing her lifetime dream of becoming a nurse.
“I want to be a nurse. I thought this may never happen again after the death of my father. But with the way things are now, I am confident that my mother can cater for my training,” Zainab told Africasti.

She, like her other siblings, are already nursing bigger dreams for their mother’s business.

Ibrahim Mohammed, Amina’s older son who said he wants to be an Engineer is already thinking of how he could create or acquire machines that could make the processing of cassava more productive and less strenuous on the mother.

“I want to be an Engineer. I am looking at how I can help my mother to get machines and other tools that will make the work easier for her. I am also thinking of how she can have better packages for the products she gets from cassava,”Ibrahim said.

Like Amina, Mrs Aishatu Larai Abubakar also lost her husband a few years ago. But instead of recurring to self-pity over the husband’s demise, she grabbed the opportunity of the knitting skills she had learnt in the past to fill in the gap. Although, she said this was barely enough at the initial stage, her decision to team up with other women under the Ebasoko-Emuse Kudu WAG proved to be one of the best decisions she has made in recent times.

“My husband died leaving behind seven children and two other orphans for me to cater for. This would have been a tough task to achieve. But the tides changed for me when I joined the local Women Affinity Group in my community,” Aishatu said.

She said, although she has been knitting since she was young and unmarried, joining the local women group gave her the opportunity to learn new ways of knitting and better ways of doing the business.

Like, most of the other women, Aishatu was initially skeptical about joining the scheme.
“Although I agreed to join, I was only saving a meagre sum of 100 per week because I did not trust that the programme would be different from the past ones that we were introduced to that did not end well,” she disclosed in an interview.

The conviction for her came when she was told she could receive a loan commensurate to her saving few months after saving some money in the collective vault.
With a loan of 18,000 naira she got from the scheme, she bought a used knitting machine. She later got a grant of 60,000 from the programme, which she used in acquiring a new and more modern version of the knitting machine to enable her cope with the growing patronage.
“After I got the 60,000 naira grant, I sold off the old knitting machine and bought a new one. I used the remaining money to buy materials and improved on the business,” Aishatu said.

Her investment in the little business has paid off, as she now supplies sweaters and pull-overs to various categories of customers, including individuals in the community, families and schools within Niger State and even Abuja.
Though resident in a remote rural community in Agaie, Aishatu has also leveraged on the social media to extend the reach of patronage for her products.

“After I made some beautifully knitted kits and clothes, my daughter used her android phone to put them on the social media. Some people saw them and reached out to me. They have become some of my big customers,” she disclosed.

As at the time Africasti visited, Aishatu was working on supplies to some school within Niger State and Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

From being a wailing widow, Aishatu has also become a strong pillar, courtesy of the improved livelihood she now enjoys. Currently, she has endowed some money for community service, as she has also offered to train some of the students in the schools within Agaie on knitting.

“Part of the knowledge we have received from the programme is that, we can make a good impact in the world if we are able to impart the knowledge of what we know into the girl child. This explains why I want to train as many of them as I can on knitting. If it can save me and become a lifeline for my family, it can for other families too,” she said.

Agaie, Gurara and Wushishi Local Government Areas (LGAs) are beneficiaries of the Nigeria For Women Project (NFWP), a strategic engagement between World Bank and the Nigerian Government set to improve the livelihood of an initial 324, 000 women in targeted communities across the country.

The programme which is being piloted for five years is implemented through hundreds of Women Affinity Groups (WAGs) across Niger and five other states including Abia, Akwa Ibom, Kebbi, Kebbi and Ogun.

Talatu Kawu, the Local Field Supervisor in Agaie spoke on how the project moved from being the proverbial rejected stone to the cornerstone for most families in Agaie.
“It was not easy at the beginning. One interesting event was when we went out to speak to the women to join only to be told that, two weeks before the entry of NFWP, a project came and collected passports and money from market women and other housewives and ran away. So, it was not easy convincing them. Some even returned the materials we shared with them. This drew tears from some of our facilitators. But we kept at what we were doing, and as you can see, the women have taken ownership of the project,” Kawu said.

Not less than 54,000 women have been earmarked to benefit from the programme, through which a second round of grants to boost their livelihood is being prepared.