Mufuliat Fijabi


Demand Accountability Around Monetary, Material Distribution

President of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), Mufuliat Fijabi and CEO, Women’s Radio, Toun Okewale-Sonaiya have lent their voices to women groups that have decried the poor representation of women in the distribution of cash and relief items to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

They revealed that most women lost their source of livelihood during the lockdown while a good number of women and girls suffered sexual and gender based violence. They urged government at all levels to show Nigerians how they spent the monies raised and who benefitted from the palliatives they claimed was distributed to the most vulnerable as studies show many vulnerable people, including women and differently-abled persons did not benefit.

“Covid-19 palliative distribution is no different as it concerns Nigerians and transparency is essential. According to Partners West Africa Nigeria, a whooping 87percent of Nigerian women lost their jobs/source of income during the lockdown with 61percent unaware of provisions made by government; this shows we need to dig deeper and ask more questions. Our primary assignment as the media is to inform and educate, therefore asking for how palliatives were distributed whether in cash or materials is critical and appropriate. During the lockdown, we gave palliatives to women and their families including cash to widows. These were donated by Nigerians within and outside Nigeria and we gave a breakdown with video/photo evidence of how donor funds were spent. This is accountability and this is all we ask of our leaders. The media must continue to demand for accountability on COVID-19 palliatives. The media is a key stakeholder of democratic accountability and at every opportunity, must ask her leaders questions and demand for answers,” Sonaiya said.The NWTF boss on her part divulged that there have been several complaints about the distribution of palliatives, especially government initiated ones which means the agencies in question need to be more strategic in the distribution of said palliatives through point of contact. “While I do not think women should take over the heading and distribution of palliatives, I believe we all need to work together to ensure these relief items get to those who most need them.”

She added that women have been in the forefront of the pandemic as care givers, health workers and family managers and have continued to do all these with little or no government involvement. “Unfortunately, less visibility has been given to women’s efforts and government at all levels have refused to involve women. At all levels, government should deliberately mainstream women into all its activities and response to COVID-19 and the efforts already made by women who did not wait for government to involve and invite them must be acknowledged.

Sonaiya said that whilst individual women and women organizations are pushing for inclusion and amplifying female voices on national issues, more women are demanding accountability, condemning corruption and challenging stereotypes. “We need more women in positions of authority to speak up, we need to be more strategic and utilise varied approaches to increase our numbers and strengthen our visibility. Take for example, the equal opportunity bill of 2016 that was presented in 2019 by Senator Olujimi, it’s a bill that every Nigerian woman should be talking about and every Nigerian man should support because it seeks for a fair, healthy, and conducive Nigeria for all. We’ll continue to ride on the wings of those who paved the way as we widen the road for more seats to be created. We need put gender on national agenda and make it everyone’s agenda.”

Okewale-Sonaiya lamented the fact that an alarming number of women and girls suffered increased violence during the lockdown, with the home being most unsafe place for them. “According to reports, 36percent of married women experienced spousal, physical, sexual and emotional violence during the lockdown. 55percent didn’t seek help due to fear, lack of support and ignorance and from our engagement with Northern Nigeria women, mostly due to religion and culture. We need to advocate against any belief and custom that aids silence, violence and suppression of women. We need more male voices to educate and teach other men that the holy books do not preach violence but love and compassion.”

She commended the efforts of women organizations and donor agencies during the lockdown, reiterating the call for a simple framework for rape and sexual assault victims as the current process of reporting rape and sexual assault remains extremely cumbersome and vague. “From over 70 programmes we organised during the lockdown, it saddens me to say that 89percent of respondents do not know the process of reporting a rape. Seven of 10 women said reporting to the police can be humiliating, thus discouraging reporting and hindering justice whilst eight of 10 do not know that evidence of rape in court must come from only approved government hospitals. We need more legal aid, free counselling and support groups and better grassroot awareness on how to report sexual abuse. Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) are our lifesavers and any governor that genuinely cares should have a SARC established in every state.”

She revealed that many Nigerians still don’t believe COVID-19 exists and this is due to lack of trust in the government. “Some governors were initially discrediting it with zero data sharing in most cases. While media houses continue to play its role to sensitise, the government needs to intensify awareness. People go about without using masks and physical/social distancing is no longer practised. We may not have experienced a pandemic in Nigeria and cases may be decreasing, but people are still contracting it,” she said.