How I almost took my life – Social advocate
Daniel Soetan is a young Nigerian in his 40s whose personal struggle and life experience inspired to found a local membership based humanitarian group called Goodwill Ambassadors of Nigeria, GWAN, where members pool personal resources to make impact in poor communities, advocate social justice and reforms that will ameliorate sufferings of most vulnerable Nigerians. In this Interview, he talks about range of issue, his life and motivation, called for a more tailored social intervention in this pandemic, his dream for a Nigeria with zero inequality, need for government to create a social insurance scheme for Nigerians and plan of his group to start an initiative to support chronic kidney disease patients. Excerpts:
What’s your view about the present socio-economic situation in Nigeria?
The situation is terrible for everyone presently. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many Nigerians are living in abject poverty. The Nigerian system and environment is structured in such a way that it makes growth difficult and lifting the bottom half of the population out of poverty has become a generational challenge.
According to a World Bank Report released in August 7th this year, economic growth remains low since 2015 but we never had it better even before 2015.
The report puts Nigeria economic growth at averaged 1.9% in 2018, said it remained stable at 2% in the first half of 2019. You see that nothing much is happening for the country as a whole and consequentially no cogent investment in infrastructure.
What really bothers me as a social integration and intervention advocate is the widening gap between the rich and poor. The situation is better imagined but a sad reality.
In the main time what do you think government can do to ameliorate sufferings of Nigerians?
Government needs to be more creative and intentional in addressing the issue of social intervention. Unfortunately, there is no available central data to identify the badly impacted Nigerians by the COVID-19 pandemic, government can still rely on the available data from banks, national identity card, voters’ card and the rest.
Information provided on this data is traceable and verifiable to a large extent.
I think everyone have peculiar challenge. I can tell you from personal experience that food is not everyone’s problem.
Some needs urgent intervention for medical, accommodation and other domestic need they would have been able to meet safe for the interruption of their economic activities. What I would expect government to do is draw out a plan for different categories of intervention and work with those closer to people at the grassroots to ease penetration and access to this intervention.
Beyond the present intention what major policy or strategy would you recommend for government to assist most vulnerable Nigerians?
Number one thing and in fact the only thing is to create a social insurance scheme. A contributory scheme that will be managed at the grassroots by the local government not the federal government. Federal government has too much that it cannot handle at the moment.
I cannot explain the whole concept in this interview but I will give a peek into it. I said contributory because it will be operated like the pension fund and insurance schemes where beneficiaries pay certain amount like a premium in a timeline and value to be determined based on individual. This fund is then managed by credible fund managers with contribution of the government and made accessible to beneficiaries in time of unavoidable and unexpected emergencies.
This is just my raw idea, I believe when experts sit to consider it, it can be fine-tuned. The idea is just to create a purse where Nigerians can draw from in times of trouble with additional support provided by government. A situation where a family needs money for medical bills or other pressing needs and they are left stranded to their fate can be taken care of with this scheme.
They can go to any hospital with their Social Insurance Card can get treatment. They can go to any bank, provide necessary details and walk away with something substantial to tackle the needs at that time. Even if it won’t be enough, they can start from somewhere. Whatever is available, Government must also provide additional fund like in the case of pension.
You founded a humanitarian group, what inspired creation of the group
I know how it feels not to have. I have almost committed suicide in my lowest time before and I don’t pray that for my enemy. Sometimes when all hope is lost and there is no one to help, dangerous thought starts coming. Aside from personal experience of lack, giving has been part of me. Except I do not have, even if it the last I have, provided I have hope of getting another soon, I can give part of it out to someone who doesn’t have the privilege that I have.
My wife found this very amusing and strange but she got to understand much later that it is what makes me happy. Being able to help and put smile on the faces of others.
But the strangest part is I don’t have enough for myself and family let alone to share but I still want to help anyways. So, I thought of an idea, to start a group of like minds who share same passion like me. I figured we can pool our resources and help the vulnerable periodically. That was what inspired creation of the group.
I later approached the corporate Affairs to register the group so we can do legitimately seek for support and sponsorship for other well meaning Nigerians.
What are the milestones of the GWAN?
A lot, you will be amazed of our achievement considering we are people of low economic and social status. Some of the group members are unemployed, students, entrepreneurs and the few that earn salary earn far less than a level 7 civil servant.
GWAN has distributed relief materials in at least 15 states of the federation at different times and occasions. We were in Lagos, Kwara, Oyo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, Benue, Plateau, Abuja, Niger, Kaduna, Ogun, Delta, Edo, Anambra and Kano.
We have also engaged in different citizens sentisation and advocacy projects like the Walk for Peace before the 2019 general elections. Where we rallied in the 4 main regions to sensitise the public for need to shun violence and embrace peaceful elections.
We have visited Internally Displaced Camps to distribute relief materials and involved several SDGs based projects.
We also produced hand sanitizers during this COVID-19 pandemic and distributed free to market women that couldn’t afford to buy one because if a woman is compromised and infected she can pass it on to the whole family. As trader in the market, it is nearly impossible to wash their hands regularly. Supporting them with hand sanitizers was our own little way of fighting spread of coronavirus.
What is in the offing for your group?
We really want to do something to support people with life threatening diseases, especially Chronic Kidney Disease. It is heartbreaking seeing people with health challenges begging for alms to foot their medical bills.
In Nigeria, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN) 1,300 has died of kidney failure between 2015 and 2018. As at 2018, 25 million are living with kidney disease; 180,000 on dialysis; 10,000 with end stage kidney disease, except for transplant, it is only a matter of time before they die.
Although, this statistic is frightening, action to end kidney disease is unfortunately not intense as that of cancer, HIV, malaria and other killer diseases; as a result of this, more Nigerians are coming down with the ailment almost every day and cost of treatment for kidney disease is huge. It can wreck a whole household financially.
In the light of this prevalence of kidney disease in the country, there is need for creative initiative to support CKD patients and also to step up sensitization and awareness about kidney disease prevention, control, treatment and ultimately to create avenues where patients of kidney disease can avail themselves to medical advice, diagnosis and treatment in good time to avoid tragedy.
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