Date Published: 11/05/09
THE CONCEPT OF EWAYI & THE JOURNEY SO FAR By Angela Nkwo-Akpolu
I read the piece by Maximus Uba, titled, “EWAYI: Never Again In Imo”, which was published in some websites and I want to issue this rejoinder to explain to readers what EWAYI is all about in the face of the misconceptions contained in Uba’s article.
EWAYI is an acronym for Empowerment for Women and Youth Initiative, a pet project of Barr Chioma Ohakim, wife of Imo State Governor. It is a platform through which she has reached out to hundreds of indigent people changing their story yet quietly.
Upon assumption of office as the wife of the State Governor, Ohakim was inundated with requests that can aptly be described as “requests for financial assistance”. Every day, tens of people trooped into the Government House, Owerri to see the Governor’s wife who is today referred to as “Mama Imo”.
From small requests for food, it became requests to pay school fees, soon it was to pay hospital bills, then house rent, employment, micro-finance loans, the requests grew by the day and daily Barr Ohakim was attending to these vulnerable groups but devoid of any publicity.
It was a common scene to see a woman with tears running down her face requesting to be allowed access to go and see the Governor’s wife; or female students facing sexual harassment from their lecturers troop into Government house to complain to the ever ready listener, Barr Ohakim. The Motherless Babies homes were not left out. Simply put, it was a barrage of requests and everyday with her smile, she calmly gave succour to her guests.
Apparently, anyone who found succour told another, and soon the list became enormous, it was then it dawned on her that she needed a platform to carry out the tasks, thus in November 2008, she succumbed to pressures and finally gave a name to the interventions, that was how EWAYI was borne.
Passionate about touching lives, she threw her energy into it and soon, the beneficiaries went to town with the story about Mama Imo and how she was touching lives. People like Jonathan Ndu who almost lost his admission into the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, in Imo State due to school fees can attest to the fact that Barr Ohakim made a difference in his story. Even, Ogbonaya Obudu, a cart pusher, all found succour in her generous strides.
It was these gestures that endeared Barr Ohakim to Imo people and pretty soon even people from far and wide. Her kind gestures paved way for her to receive accolades from the First Lady of Nigeria, Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua who chose Owerri as the venue for the formal launch of the National Women Coalition on AIDS (NAWOCA) for the South East zone even when there were four other Eastern States begging to be used.
NAWOCA is a national response initiated by Hajiya Yar’Adua to address the discrimination women suffer as a result of the HIV/AIDS syndrome and to serve as a united platform for women to seek redress.
That event was collectively hosted by the wives of the South Eastern Governors but held in Owerri, the Imo State capital due to the high esteem Barr Ohakim is accorded by everyone.
From May 29, 2007 when Governor Ikedi Ohakim assumed office as the number one citizen of the State, and his wife by extension assumed office as the Governor’s wife, hundreds of people have received a lifeline through EWAYI.
It was due to the milk of kindness flowing in Barr Ohakim that made Hajiya Turai Yar’Adua to return a second time to Owerri, this time to lay the foundation stone of the EWAYI civic centre. The Senate President, Senator David Mark could not turn down the request to Chair the occasion, who could possibly refuse Mama Imo a request, everyone wanted to identify with her milk of kindness. Thus it is wrong for anyone to allege that the presence of Haiya Yar’Adua in Owerri for the event was to send out a signal to anyone considered to be a political opponent!
The launchers are not contractors with Imo State government, rather, like Barr Ohakim, they wanted to reach out to the society but probably did not want to plunge into it headlong, rather they identified someone who is sincere and is really working to make a difference and partnered with her.
The pet project of a Governors’ wife is a personal concept not state owned. I stand to be corrected but each First Lady has always left office with her own pet project and that is why Mrs Titi Abubakar, wife of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar left office and is still using her NGO, WOTCLEF to reach out to victims of human trafficking. It is then confusing for anyone to query why Barr Chioma Ohakim did not continue with Heartland Child Care Foundation, the pet project of Dr Theresa Udenwa, wife of immediate past Governor of Imo State when she is still using the platform to reach out to indigent people in her own way.
EWAYI has equipped hundreds of orphans (youths), and women, including widows with tools ranging from sewing machines, hair dryers and clippers, cash grants, generating sets, milling and grinding machines, palm kernel crackers, cassava graters, and food items.
It has also helped to register micro-credit scheme for women groups who have gathered skills on how to improve themselves and their business as a group, thereby contributing their quota to the improvement of not just their families, but the State and indeed the nation.
From Ezinihitte Mbaise local government, to Aboh Mbaise, Oguta, Isu and Njaba, Mbaitoli, Okigwe, Oru East and West, Ngor Okpala, Nkwerre, Nwangele, Owerri West and North, Onuimo, Ikeduru, Isiala Mbano, Ohaji Egbema, Ideato North, Ideato South, Orsu, Orlu, Ehime Mbano, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ihitte Uboma, Obowo, and Owerri Municipal local governments of Imo State, EWAYI has identified and impacted on the lives of people. Even the Muslim/Hausa community are not left out.
Having identified Child abuse as a major issue in the state, EWAYI embarked on aggressive campaign to schools via broadcast stations in the State to educate people on the dangers of the trend. It is heart warming to note that the number of children who hawk wares on the Streets have greatly reduced due to her aggressive campaign as well as from the State Government.
The Health Care delivery system was not left out. As part of activities during the 2007 Imo Women’s day celebration, she initiated a 2-day free medical exercise in the state to health out to people. The centres were Umuguma General Hospital, Owerri; Mbano Joint Hospital, Mbano; and the Amaigbo Joint Hospital, Nwangele, for the Owerri, Okigwe, and Orlu senatorial zones respectively of Imo State.
It was this gesture that attracted Neimeth International Pharmaceuticals PLC to EWAYI and it donated drugs worth N2.5million ranging from Combatrin, TCP, Obron 6, Pancemol, Antimalaria Syrup, Trosyd powder, and Exercise books to her NGO. Again she went on a health drive to the three senatorial zones of the State. She donated the drugs as part of activities of her NGO, EWAYI to the Mbano Joint Hospital (Okigwe zone); Obinze Health Centre (Owerri zone); and Abachaeke-Egbema Health Centre in Ohaji/Egbema council (Orlu zone). During this drive, hundreds of pregnant women received free Medicare while children of Nursery and Primary School age were de-wormed courtesy.
In 2008, having identified accommodation as a major factor militating against widows especially those who couldn’t bear children before they lost their husbands, Barr Ohakim through EWAYI built and donated a two-bedroom bungalow to three indigent widows in Imo State, one in each senatorial zone. A feat which was hitherto unknown in Imo State, such is the heart of gold Ohakim has.
The beneficiaries are Mrs Regina Nwoke of Isiala Mbano local government for Okigwe zone; Mrs Rose Ewuzie from Nwangele local government for Orlu zone; and Mrs Emilia Chukwu in Ohii community, Owerri West council for Owerri Zone. Meanwhile, she has initiated plans for more buildings to house indigent widows.
On education, EWAYI has awarded scholarships to many Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), including undergraduates. Barr Ohakim has provided materials to schools and students. At the Owerri Girls Secondary School alone, she donated school uniforms to over 100 students who had their uniforms destroyed by a fire incident that burnt one of their hostels. She has also reached out to homes and orphanages where she regularly provides feeding and other amenities. Hardly is there any orphanage in Imo State that has not been visited or impacted on by Mama Imo.
During the just concluded 2009 August women meeting (a period Ibo women return home to brainstorm on how to improve themselves and their communities), EWAYI visited the 27 local government areas of the state preaching peace and the need for self reliance. About 2000 women were empowered with various empowerment tools ranging from sewing machines, grinding mills, grinders, wrappers, and cash amongst others, to enable them start a business to support their families.
EWAYI has also held workshops, rallies, and lectures on capacity building and girl-child programmes to educate them on their rights and expectations as future hopes of society.
Through EWAYI, Barr Ohakim has demonstrated her position as the mother of the State by empowering hundreds of indigent women, widows, children, youths and even the men. It is an initiative to uplift maternal, infant, and children health as well as the dreaded HIV/AIDS virus and cancer in the state especially among the rural populace.
According to her, the formal launch of EWAYI will go a long way to translate her visions and ideas of positively touching the poorest of the poor in the state into a reality and is not to serve as an avenue to acquire wealth. She explained that if she had sinister plans, she would have cited the EWAYI civic centre in Okigwe zone, her place (both by birth and marriage) and not in Owerri zone. Because according to her, the intention is to serve, touch the poorest of the poor and not amassing wealth as many would do.
EWAYI’s principal objective is to bring succour to women, youths, and the less privileged in Imo State through development and empowerment programmes that focus mainly on the rural communities.
Currently, it has a tripod plan of action for 2009 and 2010, which is the promotion of good health wherein it will address infant and maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis.
On human capital development, EWAYI is aggressively focusing on skills acquisition and capacity building for women and youths with emphasis on small scale cooperative businesses and agro-allied enterprises.
While the third, the entrepreneurial support will cater for business development needs of target communities through provision of revolving loans and grants to beneficiaries to promote and encourage self-dependence and reliance.
A thorough bred Imo daughter, Barr Ohakim who is a lawyer and an Administrator, is passionate about her community and rose to become Life President, Umunnuma Okohia Meeting, Lagos, and Treasurer, Amato-Numa Okohia (Home & Abroad) Okohia meeting, Isiala Mbano local government of Imo State.
She has also initiated the New Face of Imo Family Prayer Project which holds every first Friday of the month where people gather to commit Imo, her people, and government to God. Today, Imo is one of the few states that enjoy peace and is devoid of religious bickering despite the religious differences in some quarters.
Despite all these activities, she does not rely on state funds. Determined to prove that governance in Imo is “business unusual” Governor Ikedi Ohakim is prudent with funds and does not abuse office nor resources. It is no secret that government funds are not siphoned into EWAYI. The Chief of Staff, Sir Emma Ohakim, who rose to be a Director in the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) before resuming at the Government house is on hand to ensure strict orders of Governor Ohakim. The records speak for itself.
On his part, Governor Ikedi Ohakim is working round the clock to give Imo a New Face. Being a state that the bulk of tax payers are civil servants, he has initiated avenues of making it a State that can work without high dependence on the monthly allocation from the Federal Government. Currently the state ranks as the entertainment headquarters in Nigeria and to prove this, associations fall over themselves to hold their conferences and seminars in Imo! Now, the state generates income for itself.
Governor Ohakim initiated IRROMA, launched on November 15, 2008 by the Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan in response to poor rural roads. This intervention has upgraded hundreds of roads in the state which has left many places hitherto un-motorable now motorable as well as opened up many places otherwise forgotten.
He is also trying to initiate respect for civic responsibility in the people. He has reached out to everyone even in the hinterlands on the need to pay tax, to help government do more for the people, and give the people opportunity to contribute to the development of their state.
This leader noted for laudable interventions believes in the Nigerian dream and holds the Nigerian Judiciary in very high esteem. He is the only Governor who had the largest Election Petition cases filed against his emergence as the Governor of Imo State and the only sitting Governor who is still in court almost three years after election.
However, on each occasion, the courts have always thrown out such cases and he comes out victorious, ever ready to do more for the state. One would have thought he will continue to fight those making his job difficult but not Governor Ohakim who believes in the rule of law and faces each challenge without fear!
The good news is that despite the barrage of court cases, Governor Ohakim is undeterred and has successfully placed the state on world map, even literary icon; Prof Chinua Achebe who delivered the 2009 Ahiajoku lecture admits to that.
In Imo state, the first family is working round to make the state succeed. While Governor Ohakim is managing the state to make a difference, Mama Imo through EWAYI is reaching out to the poorest of the poor. Everyone cannot help but pray for the success of EWAYI and its replication in other States. Indeed, EWAYI has come not just to make interventions but to stay!
Angela Nkwo-Akpolu is the spokesperson to wife of Imo State Governor