An exclusive interview with the Founder of Push Africa, Mrs. Doris Egberamen. Push Africa is a non-governmental organisation that has been working assiduously to lift many impoverished Nigerians from the trap of poverty. Egberamen spoke passionately to our Correspondent, CHIBUZOR EMEJOR, on the activities of her NGO, the role of government in tackling this hydra-headed monster head-on, among other issues.
Could you give a brief history of your non-governmental organisation, Push Africa?
Thank you. Push Africa is a non-governmental organisation as well as social enterprise organisation. Our main objective is to see how we can reduce poverty to the barest minimum. We also carry out projects and programmes aimed at ending hunger as much as possible. We get engage in programmes that empower families, the unemployed to find something doing both in the formal and informal sectors. We have realized lately that white collar jobs are not available. We need to begin to look inwards to see how we can empower people in various skills just like it is done in other parts of the world such as Asia. For example, in China, all they are interested is to have skills to solve every day’s problems. Every one of us does not need white collar jobs to get our country to work. So, we get involved in programmes that alleviate poverty. We do this by empowering our people to learn skills. When we get resources and funding, our small business operators, farmers, we assist them with something. By the time we all play some roles in trying to solve poverty problem, we will together make Nigeria a better place. It is actually worrisome to know that Nigeria as big as we are, with all the endowments, is on the global map now as the poorest country in the world. I think, it is very embarrassing. We cannot have enormous resources and still be lacking. So, we are doing all of these to add value. We have all that it takes to be whatever we aspire to be.
The vision of your organisation as I visited your website is to end poverty and hunger by 2050 in Nigeria. Is this goal realistic and feasible? Is it not a herculean task?
It is actually a herculean task. There is no doubt about it. Poverty is a global menace. There are poor people in America, Britain, and over developed economies across the world. What it means is that this is a situation that we are definitely going to be living with for a long time. Even in the Bible days, they were people who lacked the basic necessities. For us as an organisation, all we are saying is that there should not be abject poverty, a situation that people cannot afford to eat, have decent shelter and other basic necessities of life. We are not promising to save the world. If everyone plays his little role, we can achieve something very reasonable. There are a lot of arguments from various quarters that it is impossible to end poverty. We saying we can reduce poverty to the barest minimum. We can remove ourselves from that map that says we are the poorest in the world. India happened to be the poorest country in the world. But today, Nigeria has over-taken India. India had taken conscious step to ensure that they are no longer the poorest country. I think, if we do the same, we will get out of poverty.
This brings me to your second question—what are we doing to achieve these goals we have set for ourselves? We have poverty in the country because a huge number of people are unemployed. Over 60 per cent of Nigerian youths are unemployed. Why do we all keep tilting towards one direction? There is so much to be done. There is so much in the service sector. For example, if you look at our environment, as simple as getting your car fixed when it breaks down is a miracle. We don’t have skilled mechanics. We have a lot of mechanics but they are skilled. Many of them do trial and error kind of job. We don’t have enough people in the service industry to provide real time solutions. The artisan sector is one key area we need to look at.
You mentioned agriculture as one of your major areas of concentration? What exactly do you do in this sector?
Talking about agriculture, you will agree with me that one of the traits of people who are poor is that they are not able to feed. We think that if we are able to get food on the tables of average Nigerians, half of their problems would have been solved. We have good soil. Farming has been our major occupation before the discovery of oil. It is possible to go back to those days when we had enough to eat and export. Somebody told me yesterday at the bank that one of the bank staff resigned and she has been going to Cameroun to buy “Ogbono” to sell in Nigeria. It means that Nigeria is not producing enough of this commodity. So, if we pay attention to some of these things that we have here, we can reduce poverty. We can encourage young people to go into agriculture.
How does your NGO encourage young people to go into farming?
We go to local communities to encourage them to go back to farm. We are saying that farming should not be left for people who are not educated. In other countries, we have educated people who are engaged in farming. So, we go to communities and provide them with little tools. Sometimes, it could be fertilizers, cultivating tools or seedlings. It is possible to have farming as a trending profession. We carry out our campaigns to encourage agriculture. We have been doing that in the seven states of the North Central region. The states include Niger, Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, Kogi, and Kaduna.
From the statistics available, how many farmers have you been able to reach?
At the moment we have about 50,000 members. 60 per cent of these members are predominantly farmers from these seven states mentioned. As I speak to you, we are thinking of disbursing start-up tools and materials to 200 poor people who need support to start up something. We are going to implement this programme on October 17, 2018 which is a global day for the eradication of poverty. We intend to carry out a walk in Abuja to show support that it is possible to eradicate poverty. After the event, we will move to Niger, where we intend to talk to the farmers. We intend to empower them with preservatives to help them store their materials after harvesting.
Does your NGO have partnership with the relevant government agencies in the implementation of your programmes?
At the moment, we do not have a major supporter. Of course, we are open to partnership. We are having talks with Niger State Government currently. We have capacity and passion. We are the implementing body; we seek their support so that we can carry out our programmes. We are hoping that the Nasarawa State government will come in to support what we are doing. Everywhere, people want to see your milestone before they will lend their support. We are still a bit new. We hope any moment from now, government will begin to talk to us on how we can partner.
Has your organisation made some efforts to reach out to the relevant government agencies for partnerships?
Yes, we have written to Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency [SMEDAN], Bank of Industry [BoI], National Directorate of Employment [NDE], and other relevant agencies interested in what we are doing. We have received some responses. Some of them assured us of their coming to support, when there is availability of funds. We are also planning to write to the office of the Vice President very soon. We are aware of the trademoni, the Vice President, Prof.Yemi Osinbajo, has been going round the country disbursing. We want to see how we can help. We are at the field. If we are given some support, it will help us to do more on the path that we have chosen. We will achieve tremendous results at the end of the day. In all of our projects, we have timeline to record progress and do monitoring and evaluation.
Do you think there are things government is not doing right in the fight against poverty in Nigeria, in view of the fact that poverty rate keeps on increasing in the country?
We think that government is doing what it can. Maybe, government is not doing enough. We go out there to interact with the people, I tell you, it is a herculean task, the issue of poverty eradication. I tell you, whether the government had debunked the report that said that half of the Nigerian populace live in extreme poverty or not, it is absolutely true. We go out to the field, to the families, business areas, to see what these people are doing. We can tell you that there is a lot of work to be done. Government is not doing as much as we expect them to be doing. Sometimes, we want to lay the blame on corruption. Government may have good intentions, but because of the people and environment we live, we realise that the project does not trickle down to the grassroots or the people such projects were designed for. For those of us in the non-governmental organisation, there is the issue of credibility. There is the question, if the NGOs are empowered, whether they are not going to mis-use the resources provided for them.
You talked about giving grants or loans to 200 beneficiaries. What are the criteria for the selection of the beneficiaries? Where does your NGO currently get funding?
We are giving 200 of our beneficiaries these grants. We have about 1,000 of our members who have applied. When people send the names of the people they know who are poor, sometimes, we will carry out investigations, due diligence before we give support. Yes, we have selected 200 of these poor people and some families who really need this kind of support.
Are you giving them loans or grants?
It is grants. They are not paying back. We also have a segment of our organisation basically a social enterprise, because of the need for sustainability; there are some programmes that we have that we provide loans, so that we can recycle the money. Talking about how we get our funding, as an organisation we have other services that we render. We do trainings for organisations and media outfits. We have events and programmes that we generate funds. For now, it is self-sponsored. We hope very soon, we will get funding support. They are asking of our profile, documentation and proposals. With the little we have been able to achieve, soon we believe we will attract funding support from donor agencies.
Lastly, your programme will be coming up on October 17, what do you intend to achieve in organising the programme?
Like you already know, globally, October 17th, has been set aside to be recognised as the World Day for Poverty Eradication. Looking at the fact that Nigeria is trending in poverty, we should not be seen to have been left behind in tackling this challenge. As an organisation, not a lot is being done. A lot of people are wailing and complaining that government is not doing enough. But as citizens of this country, we have to put our hands on deck. We cannot continue to leave everything for government to do. Individuals can play their part. We have many wealthy individuals in Nigeria; they are not doing so much as we expect them to do. For us as an organisation, we think, it is imperative to take up this task and run with it. We cannot let that day pass-by. We are putting together a number of events to mark that day. On October 17, we are having a small ceremony, which is disbursing these grants. The grants are not necessarily cash. For some, we may give them cash and others like artisans, fashion designers, make-up artists, photographers, we will provide them with tools. Beyond the event, we will be training them. On October 18, we will visit Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] Camp in Durumi, Abuja. We have been there severally. After the visit, we will have discussions with the youth in the camp. We want to train them between six months to one year so that they can become bread winners or help in their families. On October 20, we intend to have a walk for the eradication of poverty. We hope to have some government officials, public figures, entertainers, who would join us to commemorate that day to say, it is possible to eradicate poverty in Nigeria.