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Between empowerment and handouts

There has been some hullaballoo in the past week in Adamawa State (or otherwise), depending on who is doing the talking, on the state government’s…

There has been some hullaballoo in the past week in Adamawa State (or otherwise), depending on who is doing the talking, on the state government’s refusal for the use of a venue to the APC gubernatorial candidate for the distribution of ‘empowerment’ handouts to party supporters. The brick – a – brak between the supporters of the state government and those of the opposition APC was needless and diversionary, to say the least. It was also uncivil and uncouth, which may be a pointer to how the campaign for next year’s elections may unfold. The said ‘empowerment’ handouts is supposed to come from the federal government and is meant for all citizens in my understanding and therefore every bona fide citizen of the state is entitled to and not just party members or supporters of a particular candidate. It is in form of cash handouts which, my knowledge, has never ‘empowered’ anyone.

I have searched for the definition of ‘empowerment’ in several dictionaries and atlases but didn’t come across anywhere where it is equated with handouts that can barely sustain one for a week, particularly in world economy shattered by Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. The best definition I came across was “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights”. My understanding of empowerment is completely divergent from that of the government. What the government refers to as empowerment is no more than keeping the populace in a tight leash only to relax the hold during campaign seasons, like what is causing the brouhaha right now. The poor is given what is enough to fill their stomachs and gain enough strength to hail their conquerors.

Late Commissioner of Police Audu Bako was the governor of old Kano State between 1967 to 1975. He laid a solid foundation for education which is still second to none in the north-western geo-political zone. The old Kano State boasts of adequate, well-trained manpower in every field of human endeavour to this day because of the foundation laid by Bako. I remember in the mid 1990s to early 2000s, there was no bank in Nigeria without an indigene of Kano State serving on the board of directors – as an executive director. He also laid down a second to none irrigation project that made Kano State, the biggest supplier of vegetables to the rest of the country to this day. Kanawa has been empowered for life. This is empowerment. 

Governor Murtala Nyako, when he held sway in the same Adamawa State established Skill Acquisition Centres to train youths in skills that will prepare them for life after adolescence. Today almost all graduates of these centres have been absorbed by Dangote Industries. Nyako’s successor didn’t see the necessity of continuing with this laudable project but resorted to the handouts system of ‘empowerment’. Nyako empowered the people. What Audu Bako and Murtala Nyako did for the people is my concept of empowerment. Every single individual who went to school or learnt a trade because of the policies of these administrators may be supporting a minimum of ten people and the multiplier effect of this empowerment is best left to the imagination.

The current governor of Adamawa State commissioned the revitalised and retooled eight Skill Acquisition Centres in the state last week. The potential enrolees will be in thousands and will leave the schools with a particular expertise in different fields of day-to-day human endeavours. They will enter the labour market from day one with earning potentials and ability to support their families and be employers of labour thereby taking off a lot of youth from the streets and its vicissitudes. We have seen how acquisitions of such skills have substantially quietened the Niger Delta. This is empowerment.

The inability of parents to pay examination fees for WAEC/NECO has deprived quiet several intelligent and brilliant students from going further than junior secondary school in their pursuit of education. The state by this singular act might have lost a lot of would-be engineers, lawyers, doctors, and other much needed manpower in all sectors. This was due to the failure of past administrations to pay for its students. Only God knows how many of such talents are roaming the streets with no education, no skill, and no hope. His Excellency Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri made it a priority since he assumed office to pay these examination fees for all students in the state’s public institutions. This is empowerment.

If any candidate or public official wants to ‘empower’ the people, given the definition above, I don’t think it is something to be done in a hall in a day. It is indubitably not a day’s job. We should not confuse political populism with practical solutions. Denial or giving access to a venue for the distribution of handouts should not be cause for a political shoot-out war. Politicians should learn to avoid encouraging their supporters to engage in shouting matches while they wine and dine together at the expense of these same supporters. Handouts are not empowerments by any means, but education and skill acquisition are. 

By Babayola M. Toungo who writes from Kaduna, Kaduna State