Serah Makka is the country director of ONE Nigeria, a campaigning and advocacy organisation working to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa. Here, she speaks about the ONE campaign’s effort to end extreme poverty in Nigeria
How has it been steering over the affairs of ONE Nigeria in the past 5 months?
I have always been passionate about justice and bringing about a more equitable world and ONE’s mission is eliminating poverty, and poverty is a justice issue because it is not that we don’t have enough resources in the world rather it is not spread evenly or equitably. So, my person and my work have come to a good marriage at ONE.
As you know, we are an advocacy and campaigning organization, our mission is to eliminate the injustice of poverty and I really like that for the fact that poverty is about injustice and not just about [lack of] resources. In Nigeria, we are trying to achieve our mission through interventions in public health because health is one of the major determinants that keep people in poverty or lift them out of it, in many ways.
We are also looking at agriculture because of the nexus between agriculture and food security, as well as jobs creation for our huge youth population. So, agriculture is pretty significant for us. And then education is another important area, you and I are educated so we know the importance of education and what it has done for us. My father used to tell me that ‘I leave nothing for you in this world but education.’
So we are intervening in education through our campaign called poverty is sexist and that means poverty disproportionately affect women and girls; whether it is in terms of healthcare, education or agriculture. Women constitute 70% of the workforce in agriculture in Nigeria but don’t have access to as much training and [technical] know-how as men. Therefore, we are looking at everything from the gender lens.
We are also working around transparency and accountability because many a times we complain about lack of resources in Nigeria but the question is how are we managing what we have. I really believe in the power of young voices in achieving transparency and accountability; good governance is at the core of ending poverty.
We need better healthcare, educational and agricultural policies as well as effective implementation of the policies because policies are not necessarily our problem in Nigeria; we have beautiful policies! So, implementation is the big deal. In Nigeria, we have 2.3 million members who have signed our petitions and are engaging with us, in one way or another, to galvanise the voices of youth to stand up for good governance.
Nigeria is in many ways almost 36 different countries, one state has a population of 3 million, which is the size of some small countries. I am not even talking of states like Kano and Lagos. So when you are trying to cover a country as big as Nigeria, the secret will be in working with young people who are everywhere and who as consumers of technology are always on their phones. So, the understanding of what Nigeria should be and what youth can offer is one of the opportunities we are exploring across various sectors.
We also have a health-focused campaign called #MakeNaijaStronger because we believe the strength of a people depends on the quality of healthcare available to the people.
You describe poverty as having a gender face and being sexist. How sexist is poverty in Nigeria?
We know that only 3% of girls in the northeast [of Nigeria] graduate from secondary school, whenever we compare the statistics of out-of school-children, girls are always higher than boys. Women also carry the burden of childbirth and taking care of children and since the healthcare system doesn’t work well we have a lot more women dying every day. We also know that women provide over 70% of the labour force in agriculture yet they don’t access agricultural support facilities like fertilizer, tools etc.
Statistics has time and time again shown that when a woman has advantages in society, boys and girls benefit, more so, the way to favour men and women is to empower women. That is why we believe it is important to look at what women are experiencing in different sectors and ensure they are given the same support as men.
Culturally, we have a patriarchal society which is why some times women are not being recognized when it comes to government budgeting, education, and infrastructure development. Do you know that when girls are having their period having a properly functioning toilet, with water and everything, is a very important issue?
Men don’t have to go through that. So, if you are building a school and you don’t think of such facilities what you are telling girls is, at that time of the month (when they are having their periods) they should just stay at home. These little things really affect women‘s lives in disproportionate ways.
You identified agriculture as one of your focal points, how big is the opportunities across the agric value chain and how can educated Nigerian youth benefit from it, especially because educated youth view agriculture as a lowly venture?
My dream is that one day when people say they are farmers it will be like saying they are medical doctors, because there is honor in agriculture; we need to begin to think of the professionalization and commercialization of farming. In the US people who are running the economy in many ways, are farmers. For example, the Texas rednecks who run the ranches: they are rich people!
Therefore, young people have to understand the agricultural value chain and how they can be involved across the value-chain. There are lots that need to be done to professionalize agriculture; agriculture is not something you do when you can’t do anything else; it should be the first choice and not the last one.
And it takes all stakeholders to change this perception including policymakers, educational institutions and the media. Youth should look critically at the sector and see which role they can play, they need to define a role for themselves so that no one else defines it for them and they won’t be held captive to the image in other people’s head.