Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 8, 2003
Canada gives Nigeria a hand up
Brave, determined Nigerians discover democracy and independence
By RAMON GONZALEZ
What groups like JDPC are doing is really helping these young people identify how they can participate more fully in society."
- Bob Schmidt
With financial aid from CCODP, JDPC runs a variety of programs throughout Ogun, including programs in democracy building, economic development and literacy, Schmidt said in an interview. "A lot of work is being done with women and youth. That seems to be the major focus."
The work with youth is centred on civic education, involvement in the democratic process and getting people's voices heard. Most young people in Ogun are unemployed and don't have access to higher education.
"The state does provide educational facilities, but it's difficult for the kids to get there," Schmidt explained. "They see a lot of disconnectedness, so what groups like JDPC are doing is really helping these young people identify how they can participate more fully in society and make things happen in the state."
Education in democracy is needed in Nigeria because the country lacks a culture of democracy. It has been run mostly by military dictatorships since it became independent in 1960. As dictatorships didn't respond to people's yearnings, people became disinterested in politics.
"It costs a lot of money to run for office and most of the people don't have that kind of money, so it is just an elite that is able to participate in the decision-making process," Schmidt explained. "JDPC is giving the people the tools to become part of that process."
JDPC is also educating people on a range of health issues, including HIV-AIDS, a disease that claims over 200,000 lives a year. "It's helping them understand what this disease is, how it is transmitted, how to prevent it."
Regarding women, JDPC runs several gender-programs dealing with everything from women's participation in society to inheritance laws. In Nigeria, women are not expected to talk in public or hold leadership roles in the community and, when it comes to inheritance, they are ignored too. In some Nigerian states, when a man dies, his property will automatically go to his sons or brothers rather than to his wife. "So obviously those kinds of laws need to be changed and women are being educated in that regard."
But the main thrust of the work around women is to help them assume a more substantial role in society, Schmidt stressed. In Benin City, for example, a group called Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO), a CCODP partner, is helping women gain independence and improve their lives by providing access to micro-credit and training.
Most of these women already have a small business, be it a stall in the market to sell farm produce, a metal tray to sell cookies on the side of the road or a hairdressing operation. They borrow money to expand their businesses. The CCODP delegation met with a group of women who had obtained loans.
"Our goal in Nigeria is to support the initiatives of the people."
- Bob Schmidt
In a rural village a group of women borrowed money from LAPO to dig a well in the village so women didn't have to walk six hours a day to get water.
Hundreds of loans a year have been made in many local communities in the past five years, resulting in the creation of many new jobs in agriculture, livestock raising and small trading.
"It's unbelievable how much work these groups (NGOs) do with the little resources they have," Schmidt said, noting that seven NGOs are running a total of 24 different programs, from community organizing to development education.
As Schmidt sees it, Nigerians are willing to get involved, but there is frustration at the lack of response from the government to their needs and aspirations.
"There needs to be more expenditure on education and infrastructure such as water and electricity," he said. "The power system is not reliable. Most of the people feel the government hasn't done enough in those areas."
Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of oil in the world but poverty and unemployment are still rampant, with 70 per cent of the population living on less than $2 U.S. a day. The lion's share of oil revenue goes to multinational oil companies and a small, local elite. "As a result, what gets down to the village level is very little," Schmidt lamented.
"Our goal in Nigeria is to support the initiatives of the people," he said. "They want better lives for their families and that means having economic development programs for women, it means understanding how to participate in the political process, it means youth having a hope for the future and it means better standards of health."
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