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Sunday, 27 January 2008

Niger: Zakat as poverty reduction strategy

Idowu Samuel writes on efforts of Niger State governor, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, to eradicate poverty among the people.

Apparently, he rode into the Government House of his state in a glorified furry. And hardly had he been sworn in as governor than he began to demonstrate impatience in making a difference in Niger State.
And by now, the story of the Talba, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, is becoming scintillating to the ordinary man on the streets of Minna and the entire Niger State. That has been the lot of Governor Aliyu, an accomplished bureaucrat who retreated into politics less than a year ago.
Analysts are wont to believe that six months usually could not have been enough for an administrator to show stuff in office, given the need for him to first settle down, study the situation on ground before being able to apply personal and sundry logic in dispensing with governance. Yet, for Governor Aliyu, the need to change the face of politics in his state and the attitude of government to solving problems should entail restless moments for all officials of government if only to guarantee prompt delivery of electoral promises.
Watchers of the new government agree that Governor Aliyu is in firm grip and hence, is at ease in driving the civil servants, especially members of his cabinet, for the onerous task of infusing confidence in the ordinary man in the state about what his government is up to. He had not attained six months in office when his vision and mission began to occur as a big hope to the people who hitherto believed that government was never meant for commoner to assess.
Increasingly, Governor Aliyu is making himself popular through the simple logic of devoting attention to the downtrodden. He looks determined to wrest poverty among his people to standstill, going by the initiative that his government has displayed to that effect. For instance, the war his government is waging against poverty is finding good expression in a principle that the government must constantly pay Zakat to its people as a sure way to eradicating poverty in their midst.
He has taken steps ahead of his mission in fighting poverty. At the tail end of last year, the Niger State Government mobilised resources and paid the civil servants their salaries by December 12. The beneficiaries were more than surprised. They had hardly overcome the euphoria when the Talba pulled another fast one on the workers. He paid everyone of them bonus to their salaries for the month of January. Stupefied beyond limit, the civil servants in the state concluded that no government since the evolution of the state 31 years ago had been so magnanimous.
Just last week, the Governor Aliyu-led government gave a proper definition to its idea of wiping out poverty in the state by means of Zakat offering to its people. It did that through the state’s National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP). It was the first time that the government in the state would assemble the downtrodden with a mission to removing the toga of poverty on their shoulders. Even street urchins, the lame and the blind were not left out.
The government started by offering the sum of N70million as loan to the people through their co-operative societies. At the last count, 1, 640 of such co-operative societies were identified. However, at the ceremony marking the disbursement of the sum which was held in the Government House last week, 74 among the co-operative societies cutting across different segments received different sums of money. The government made it known that others so left out would get theirs in subsequent attempts.
Expectedly, the expectant beneficiaries formed a huge crowd at the Government House during the disbursement ceremony. The list of recipients started with the Minna Central Market Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society which took home the sum of N2million. Then came the turn of Shambo Multi-purpose Co-operative Society which received the sum of N1million. There was also the Women Mellon sellers which took home the sum of N300,000.
To take care of the physically-challenged among the crowd, the government categorised them into five groups including the blind, the crippled, deaf and dumb, lepers and the HIV/AIDS careers and offered each group N250,000. There were other individuals who went home with different sums of money to take care of their private businesses.
Interestingly, each of the groups had made ready plans on what to do with the largesse from the state government. While those in the blind category agreed to set up weaving and knitting industry, the deaf and dumb said they would establish telephone business in strategic areas of Minna, while the crippled looked forward to setting up poultry farming business.
The beneficiaries did not depart from the government house without taking words of encouragement from the governor. While handing over the cheques to them, Governor Aliyu charged all to put the monies received to judicious use in order to compel the state government to do more.
He said his administration would continue to devote attention to the plight of the downtrodden by creating decent living for them and other people in the state, a reason, according to him, the government would not relent in funding poverty eradication programmes so designed for the state.
He described the soft loans offered the needy as a Zakat which he said his government would pay regularly in the spirit of fighting poverty even as he condemned street begging with emphasis that since the Islamic religion forbids street begging, his government would gear up in making the state comply with precepts of the religion about taking care of the poor.
The Chairman of NAPEP in Niger state, Alhaji Ilyasu Dhacho, in his speech at the ceremony, unveiled the government’s plan to minimise poverty. He said that the motive of the government was to whittle down the pang of poverty among the people, saying the government established NAPEP as part of its strategies for poverty eradication.
He commende the state government “for giving everybody a sense of belonging by taking governance to the doorstep of the masses, disclosing that the intention of the state government was to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor within a short period.
Dhacho said if Governor Aliyu could go this far in the fight against poverty in less than a year, the implication is that the government would do more than expected if accorded necessary co-operation by all well meaning citizens of the state.
“Those of us in NAPEP are fully aware that the Talba is full of surprises. We could not but be happy because we know the greater plan that the state government has for the fight against poverty. That is the reason each one of us has not rested on our oars in facilitating the process of delivery of the visions and the good intentions of the government for the ordinary citizen of the state. “If I may add, the intention of the government now is to put a stop to street begging. The governor has the zeal to do that since he has always been complaining about high level of poverty in the state. The process is on already and be rest assured that those who benefited from the loan disbursement would not return to the streets. This will be achieved when the plans by their groups to establish small scale business ventures that would engage each of them come to fruition.
The Niger State Government gesture of magnanimity to the poor interestingly caught the attention of the Federal Government which sent a representative. The National Co-ordinator of NAPEP, Dr. Magnus Kpakor, who was represented by Hajiya Binta Tsada, a director of the programme, disclosed that the Federal Government had already listed the state among 12 other states in Nigeria set aside to benefit from a cash transfer programme meant to take care of less privileged families in the concerned states.
Tsada said Niger State was included among the privileged states mainly because of its registered initiatives in fighting poverty among its people even as he commended the commitment of Governor Aliyu to poverty eradication.
Tsada told the the Nigerian Tribune that the government had plans to make itself a model in the task of fighting poverty and has to that effect designed measures aimed at discouraging corruption in the corridors of power. That he said would amount to blocking all loopholes in fund disbursement and expenditure.

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