Pastor (Mrs.) Helen Oritsejafor is the wife of former national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayodele Oritsejafor, and chairman, Eagle’s Flight Micro-Finance Bank Limited, Warri, Delta State.
For over 14 years, apart from her evangelical activities, she has also concerned herself with seeking ways to help alleviate the financial hardship of people, especially those in rural communities. She initiated an empowerment programme to achieve this goal.
The business outfit celebrated its anniversary recently. In collaboration with Word of Life Bible Church, they empowered many people. Beneficiaries smiled home with various items, ranging from mini-buses to tricycles and grinding machines.
Mrs. Oritsejafor tells Daily Sun in this interview that Nigerians should not rely only on prayers to bring the masses out of poverty but must create empowerment initiatives to conquer current economic deprivations and penury.
What was the driving force when you established the micro-finance bank?
It all started when Warri was passing through some critical times, fighting inter-tribal wars. Then, it was incredibly terrible and a lot of people were killed. Businesses were closing down daily because of the volatile situation. Things became very tough for a lot of people. I talked with my husband about what we should to do for people, to support them. Since I had a background in banking, it was easy to set up a micro-finance institution.
But as time went on, and we saw the positive impact the institution made in people’s lives, we felt, instead of just continuing to give out soft loans as we did with the micro-credit group and the rest, we should also go beyond that.
So, as we celebrate our 14th year, we are adding something more to give them a reason to live and to create a future and destiny.
That is why we gave beneficiaries, mini-buses, tricycles, and grinding machines.
What is the vision behind the establishment of the bank?
It was established with the vision to provide diversified, affordable and dependable financial services to the active poor in a timely and competitive manner, mobilise savings for intermediation, create employment opportunities, increase the productivity of poor people and provide veritable avenue for the administration of the micro-credit programme of government and high networth individuals.
What would you say inspired you to give out gifts of such magnitude, as you did in this anniversary?
It is in the bank’s vision of collaborating with Word of Life Bible Church (WLBC) and in fulfillment of our Papa Ayo Oritsejafor’s desire to minister not just to the spiritual needs of the people but also to the physical and economical needs of human existence that we gave out the items for poverty eradication, and also as part of its corporate social responsibility. We will continue to demonstrate our commitment to poverty reduction, which we are set to achieve. Our joy is that we see the spiritual, physical and economical changes in the lives of persons who have on a yearly basis benefitted from the poverty alleviation programme.
We are also inspired to further create entrepreneurial development and inculcate the culture of saving in people.
What happens in a situation where non-members of the church win any of the items, like tricycles or mini-buses?
As part of our terms and conditions, all the winners who are not members of Word of Life Bible Church shall automatically become members to enable us mentor and discipline them for optimal usefulness to the church and our communities. This is also to prevent the sale of the gift items as we had seen in the past.
In a situation where the winner sells the item after some time, what happens?
Where a winner sells the item won, or is not seen in the church, the church and the bank reserve the right to recover or retrieve such item from the winner. For that purpose, our legal unit prepared a document that must be signed by all winners of tricycles and mini-buses.
What are the challenges of managing a micro-finance bank?
When you look at the economy today, the situation is very hard. A lot of people are not given the opportunity to have access to money. So, when some money comes, there is the tendency for them to think that it is government’s envelope. And, instead of using it for the purpose for which it was meant, it could be diverted.
We have heard about people like that. However, on a general note, it has been a wonderful experience for me. I shared the testimony of a woman who came to the bank for some help barely two years ago. She did not have money to open an account. I could tell she was serious. In fact, there are different types of poor people: the ones living on people, the lazy ones who do not want to work, and the active poor, who want to do something but need a little push to achieve their aims.
Those are the ones I am proud of because I saw that in the woman. So, I invited her over to my office and she opened up and promised to make me proud, only if I helped her. Today, she is doing well. You could imagine someone who could not afford N500, but can now do better for herself. That gives me joy. That showed that my going round every day supervising them was not in vain.
Given your background, how would you describe the standard of living of Nigerians?
There is no doubt that the state of the economy is really bad. It is obvious that Nigerians are suffering. We cannot deny that. I went for a crusade somewhere and was able to touch the lives of some poor women. By the time I shared all I had with them, the rest started screaming, saying I should also give to them. They didn’t mind even if it was N500, they were so desperate. The sight made me teary. I could not hold back myself seeing people jostling to collect N500 for their family upkeep. That is enough to let you know how bad the situation is currently in Nigeria.
What do you think should be done to improve the living standard of Nigerians?
I think we should not resort to only prayers, but we have to do something. We must empower people. Nothing is too small in this present economic situation. Every opportunity God has given someone is very important. There is no human being who has nothing to offer. Everyone has something to give, no matter how small. You have something inside out, you just need to think a little bit and bring out that which the world is waiting for.
If you do not, the world is denied that potential God has bestowed on you. So, consult your inward self, consult God, pray, go out there, no matter how small, even if it is N100, if you throw it there, it can grow to three hundred to five hundred thousand and millions of naira tomorrow.
Those we call the rich are those who have been able to utilise the opportunity.Some did not even go to school but they want to achieve something in life. They wanted not to depend on people to survive and, based on that, today, the rest is history. So, we need to do something for ourselves. As for government, they must continue to do their best. If God gets us to the seat of power, we should be able to better the lives of our people. It is possible and I believe that God will continue to give them the power to do so. And, for those who have something to give, life is not just about you alone. Do not think about youself alone, think about your neighbour who does not have and see how you can empower them.
What are your plans for the women?
Apart from our scholarship scheme, which is tailored towards meeting the needs of women, education-wise, we encourage women by training them in different vocations. We also empower them with money to establish small businesses for themselves.
After the training, they are formed into different groups, and we buy all the necessary items they need and give them money as well. Sometimes, we give out sewing machines during our convention. Although I am strong in the area of capacity-building, I do not leave it there, I also believe in empowerment. It is only when one learns a skill and is given a tool that it enhances prosperity and progress in that person’s business.
Many women won some prizes during your poverty alleviation programme. What is your advice to women, generally and to beneficiaries?
They should be confident and remain focused. They should also not allow anyone to look down on them. I am saying this because many of them believe that there is no hope for them anymore. But there is hope, as long as one lives. As a woman, one can add value to herself, her home and the country. Never write yourself off but believe that you are the best. Make the best of yourself. The beneficiaries should understand that it is a tool to enhance their standard of living. They should not misuse the opportunity but should leverage on it and use it judiciously to add value to their lives. They can also go out there and lift someone out of poverty in their small capacity. It has to be a continuous cycle and everyone’s means of giving back to society.