By Jude Atupulazi
Lady Ndidi Mezue, Anambra State Commissioner for Women’s and Children’s Affairs, has been a busy woman, scouring the streets of the state in search of the mentally challenged, beggars and child traffickers as she strives to execute the mandate of the State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, to clear the streets of Anambra of such people and halt child trafficking. In this interview with Fides Editor-in-Chief, Jude Atupulazi, the Commissioner, who has just marked one year in office, tells her story.
Could you give a summary of your mandate and activities in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs?
My name is Lady Ndidi Mezue, the Honourable Commissioner for Women’s and Children’s Affairs here in Anambra State. This is my first year in office and I must tell you that we have done well in championing the cause of women and children; with the mentally challenged inclusive. For sure we have been on the roads of Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi, getting the mentally challenged off the major streets as directed by Governor Willie Obiano.
Within this period we have also dealt with street hawking by minors. We raid and keep them in remand homes. For some, we pay up the bills that accrued in school; others, we invite their parents to discuss with them and educate them on the dangers of street hawking. Then again are beggars, last month we picked one hundred and seventy-five beggars and during our investigations, we found out that none of them was from Anambra State. Only one was from Ebonyi and got married to an Anambrarian. Much more, there are some who are working as syndicates, who get kids to beg for alms after which they will collect the money and give them stipends. It was astonishing finding out this. Also, we encountered the issue of child trafficking which is rampant. A minor from Enugu State was recently found. She said she was fourteen years and in JSS 2. A Good Samaritan brought her to my office and said that she was being used as a sex worker, so the Nigerian police force and other enforcement agencies that we are in collaboration with, are investigating the case. At this juncture I want to warn parents to know where and who your child is living with. Our parents should sit up and know who they give their children to. Because the girl said she was selling Ugu leaves (pumpkin leaves) in Enugu before she was taken for prostitution.
We have the mentally challenged home at Nteje which the Governor set up through our ministry in collaboration with CAFÉ, owned by the wife of the Governor. We pick them from the streets and then take them to the home, bathe some who had not bathed for a long time. Some received medical care of which twenty of them have been certified medically okay and have recuperated and then involved in one skill or the other. Surprisingly, most of these people are not even from Anambra State. Some are from Enugu, Benue and Ebonyi States, while just a few from Imo state. So, we have played and will continue to play our part to ensure that Anambra State is safe.
Okay, since most of them are from neighbouring states, have you been able to create contact\relationship with their govt to lessen the burden on you?
Exactly what we do. When we take them to the mentally challenged home, we get the medical history from those who are now mentally ascertained well, we then write to sister ministries in their various states so that they can help during repatriation. We then hand them over to their communities. We however encountered challenges when we took some to Ebonyi State. We had about seventy-five street beggars; twenty women. Others were minors. As we went there, they refused, complaining that they had nowhere to keep them. But I told them they were constituting a nuisance in our own state and we don’t have anything for them here. So, we had an agreement that anytime we have such issues, we will write and move them back to their states.
So, what are the major constraints your ministry is experiencing so far?
One is funding. Though the Governor and his wife are very supportive, without them, I don’t know where the ministry will be. Some people just say negative stuff without knowing how difficult it is. Sometimes, these street beggars are fake. Because during my work on the streets, I get to find out many stuffs where people fake to be blind, lame and deaf, just to extort money from people. Sometimes I meet kids who go around begging with their mothers who pretend to be blind and by the time you dig deep to query the children, they start confessing.
How does your ministry cooperate with café to push the project forward?
Like I said, CAFÉ is an NGO championed by the wife of the Governor of Anambra State. It is independent and not funded by the government. What we do in our ministry is to set our own budget. So she gets the funds from well-meaning individuals and organizations. We just work in collaboration with her, we go and source for information and send her the data and then she takes off from there. She uses CAFÉ to provide for poor widows in the state. Also, she has built toilets in our markets and boreholes too. She has done marvelously well on her own, and I appreciate her for that.
Looking back, how well do you think your ministry has been able to deliver on its mandate?
Thank you very much for that question. Without even asking, we have video records of what we have done. We have done our best and we will continue to deliver. It’s just one year in office and I think we have done a commendable job and the success story is everywhere.