By Osa Director
As a budding student socialist at the University of Benin, Dr. Godwin Ehigiamusoe was always thinking of a pragmatic approach to bridge the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots. He was determined to alleviate, if not eliminate the sufferings of the underdogs in society, who are oftentimes victims of poor government policies and exploitations by the ruling class.
His tenacious attachment to his dream, even after leaving the university culminated in the founding of Lift Above Poverty (LAPO) in the late 1980s and an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). However, LAPO Microfinance started in 2010 like an oasis in a desert and it has grown in leaps and bounds with focus, strategic planning and ingenious implementation of set goals and objectives under the direction of Ehigiamusoe.
In Nigeria today, LAPO Microfinance bank is the biggest microfinance bank. It has over 6,000 employees and a total of 263 branches; with an additional 50 more branches recently approved by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). LAPO is perhaps the only microfinance bank in Nigeria with at least five branches per every state of the federation, making it a real grassroots bank, touching the lives of the ordinary people.
Like Muhammed Yunus, the Bangladesh Banker of the poor and father of microfinance who won a Nobel Prize on account of his innovation, our own Ehigiamusoe is very acute in his choice of loans beneficiaries. He targets the real vulnerable in society, the poor, the rural women, youths and men with vision but lacks finance to actualize it.
LAPO in the year 2015 distributed well over N92.4b to various loan beneficiaries across the country as at 2014. It even did higher in 2015. Interestingly, the organization runs an open, credible governance policy that meets international best practice; hence LAPO is a strategic partner to multilateral agencies like IMF, World Bank, IFC, ADB etc. In continuation of deepening its tentacles and improving service delivery, LAPO has established a functional and gigantic LAPO training institute in Uselu, Benin City, Edo State.
Another cherished quality of LAPO is the self-effacing manner its founder runs the organization. Many a time, visitors to its office mistake Ehigiamusoe for one of the executive office assistant due to his cultivated simplicity. He literally shuns the limelight, allowing his works to precede him globally.
However, with his proven track records of economic re-engineering and dynamic empowerment of the dispossessed in society Ehigiamusoe should be cultivated by the federal government to help in its Npower programme and other veritable economic policies targeted at alleviating the plight of the masses. Most especially, Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, who prides himself as a technocrat should be in dire need of the LAPO strategic template if he is serious about job creation in the state.
In spite of his self-effacing style, honours have been coming the way of Ehigiamusoe. Recently, his alma mater, the University of Benin, honoured him with a Doctor of Science degree (honoris causa) in appreciation of his giant efforts in human and capital development. In spite of his being a holder of an academic doctorate degree, he nevertheless cherished this home boy honour from the University of Benin. Perhaps, our Nobel laureate in Economics is just being groomed!