Dropping machine gun for a sewing machine


•50 ex-female militants graduate from skill acquisition centre set up by Nigeria’s famous actress, Hilda Dokubo

From CHRIS ANUCHA, Port Harcourt

Hilda Dokubo. Do you still remember her? Stories about Nigeria’s movie industry or Nollywood, will be incomplete without a mention of the popular actress, whose emotional roles in movies stand her out as one of the best. She actually has laurels to show for her acting prowess.

But besides acting, the actress has penchant for philanthropy and passion for fighting for the downtrodden, the voiceless and the less privileged in the society. It was not surprising, therefore, when the Federal Government granted amnesty to ex-militants (males) she “stormed”

Abuja to protest and canvass for, inclusion, in the number, women who cooked, fraternized and ‘entertained’ the ‘creek boys’. Proving to the authorities that there were ex-female militants, was really a herculean task for the actress.

Her job was, however, made easier by a photograph she presented to those packaging the amnesty programme, in support of her claim. In the photograph, taken alongside their male counterparts during the surrendering of arms and ammunition, some women were carrying pistols some were smoking Indian hemp (cannabis) like their male counterparts.

That was when it really convinced those at the helm of affairs that there was need to also rehabilitate the women.

With the support of the Special Adviser to the President on Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku, some 50 women, went through a 12-month programme at the Centre for Creativity Arts Education (CREATE), Port Harcourt, Rivers State. It was February 3, 2012 that CREATE received the 50 women from all parts of Niger Delta.

They were sent to the place by the Niger Delta Amnesty Office. CREATE was charged with the responsibility of training and possibly, providing them with opportunities where they can put to good use what they learnt after their training.

According to Dokubo, who is the Executive Director of the centre, initially, most of the women lacked the basic communication skills. As a result, they were given basic literacy training and preparatory classes, before they were introduced to their core skill areas. The training curriculum included basics in English Language – (Learning of letters of Alphabet) Mathematics, among others.

The participants were trained in Creative arts, bead, making, knitting, wire and fabrics works, integrated agriculture (snail and fish farming, poultry, among others). CREATE, Education Review later gathered, is accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). The accreditation, according to Ms Dokubo, accounted for the 100 per cent pass rate in the NABTEB examinations.

Speaking to Education Review, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State recently, Dokubo said the 50 students trained by CREATE are unique, as they had acquired the reputation for being not only successful, but also creative minds, who now understand the issue of being unique.

Coincidentally, nine of the trainees were pregnant before they were admitted, but it did not stop them from participating in the training programme, since they were accommodated in apartments instead of hotels.

“The programme was designed to allow for bonding of families and not its disintegration,” Dokubo said. Children of trainees, especially, those under three years, were allowed to attend school with their mothers.

She explained how that was possible: “Creche is provided to serve as holders and care places for these children. During the training, all the nine pregnant women had their babies. These little ones were received with thanksgiving to God and added to the already existing list of children cared for, by the centre.”

The centre also used the training programme as an opportunity to compel some of the women, who were heavy users of hard drugs like cannabis sativa, popularly known as Indian hemp, to quit the bad habit. Those who could not do without alcohol and casual sex were also made to see reason for living normal live, devoid of alcoholism and casual sex.

“This experience marked the end of these vices in their lives,” she revealed. She explained how the women left the centre better than they came. For instance, those of them who claimed to have passed the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) but could not make a correct sentence in English Language, at the end of the training, were able to do so. “Some couldn’t identify letters of the alphabet or pronounce words correctly. We started to teach them, using chalk and slate.

They learnt A-Z and 1-1000. Some of them couldn’t spell their names when they came, but they can now spell their names, sign steady signature, reason properly and proffer solutions to tasks given to them.”

The centre ensured that when the trainees left after 12 months, they would be self-reliant and creators of job opportunities. That was why they acquired skills in animal husbandry, creative arts, decorations and accessories, fish farming and poultry.

Dokubo explains further: “We took them to existing farms and taught them how to process fish and poultry. Some of the farmers are now requesting that some of the women should come and help them to process their fish and chickens.

We are getting employments for five of them in an agric establishment and the centre is retaining three of them, who distinguished themselves during the training.” The three persons, according to the actress, would serve as mentors and motivators. “The women who were referred to as “useless” are now useful.

The amnesty was for armed men, but if you disarm men without the women, there will be problem, crisis. You have to demobilize the women because they have direct contact with the men (ex-militants).

The women were also in the camps where they played key roles as surveillance, acted as armourers, cooked food and were wives to the men. Seven hundred and ninety-nine of the women were demobilized.

From that group, we took fifty for the training,” the Executive Director said. According to her, the training of the 50 women is seen as a pilot scheme as 50 more would be enrolled this month, while another 100 will be taken on board when the classrooms are set.

“We will keep drawing until it is zero, until we have trained all the 799 women.” CREATE is also to set up a cottage industry, acquiring incubators that could hatch eggs as well as establishing other centres to train and empower women.

She, however, appealed to NEXIM, Bank of Industries, etc, to assist it to set up incubator centres for the women. She explained that the centre had been in existence before the amnesty programme. Dokubo, who read Education, after obtaining a degree in another discipline, said the Federal Ministry of Education had taken interest in the centre’s programmes, especially, the “street-to-star” programme.

It was gathered that CREATE is the only creativity centre in the country to be accredited as a polytechnic. Some of the trainees who spoke to Education Review expressed happiness that they had acquired skills which would afford them the opportunity to be self-reliant. They also disclosed how they had been reformed by the centre.

One of them, Rosemary Wilson, recalled how she used to smoke Indian hemp before she was admitted to train in the centre. According to her, besides being a skill acquisition centre, it has acted as a corrective centre for them.

Speaking in the same vein, Tamimumi Jackson acknowledged that she now “I now know what I never knew before I enrolled in the skill acquisition programme.” Ebi Awe, told Education Review how excited she was, in taking part in the training, which prepared her to be able to, among other things, sign regular signature.

“We can now sign regular signatures. Mama (referring to Dokubo) has taught me what I can teach my generation,” she said. To Patricia Ombo, the skills she acquired at the centre is transferable and promised to teach them to other women in her village. On her part, Adire Azibator is happy that she now distinguishes between colours.

To the best student, Doris Ileberi, Aminia Briggs and others, the 12-month-programme at CREATE is a life-transforming one, because of that they would remain grateful to the government and to Hilda Dokubo, the woman behind the laudable programme.

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