Pastor Mrs. Helen Oritsejafor is the wife of former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, and also Chairman of Eagle Flight Micro-Finance Bank Limited in Delta State. In this interview with journalists, she speaks about her passion to empower and bring as many people as possible out of poverty
Could you please, tell us why you ventured into Micro Finance Bank operation?
I will never forget how Eagle Micro Finance bank started. It began when Warri was embroiled in inter tribal wars. Many people were killed; and businesses were relocating out of the city because of the volatile situation in Warri then. Seeing the penury of Warri residents, I had a discussion with my husband about I could do to support the people and he obliged. We decided to start a bank because of my banking background. We felt that rather than give soft loans as we did with our the micro credit group and the rest, we should do a little more, to give the people a reason to live, help them create a future and destiny.
Could you tell us a bit about the vision of the bank?
Eagle Flight Micro Finance bank was established to be the biggest and the best in its sphere of operation. It is planned to provide diversified, affordable and dependable financial services to the active poor in a timely and competitive manner. It is also intended to mobilize savings for intermediation, create employment, increase the productivity of poor people and provide veritable avenue for the administration of the micro credit programme of government and high net worth individuals.
How much would you say has been achieved so far?
Being one of the fastest growing Micro Finance banks that is constantly and rapidly evolving, we are proud to inform you that within a short period of time, we have managed to establish ourselves and take our rightful place in the Nigeria banking space. We are determined to be second to none in bringing first-class facilities and products to our customers and clients alike; as envisioned in the bank roadmap and strategy. Story of Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank has in many aspects, changed the face of micro financing in Delta State and Nigeria as a whole.
Within 14 years, the bank has five branches, seven cash centre with its headquarters branches and cash centers duly approved by Central Bank of Nigeria. We also hope to open more branches and cash centers, as we progress.
The bank marked it 14 years of existence in December last year; and you gave generous gifts to some people. What was your motive for the gifts?
Yes, the bank in collaboration 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 man, but also to physically and economical needs of human existence, gave out some items as a means of poverty eradication.
It is also part of actualizing the bank’s corporate social responsibility to its host community. We will continue to demonstrate our commitments to poverty reduction; we are set to achieve that by the grace of
God. 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 our poverty Alleviation Programme. For your information, all the products we gave out were branded and duly registered and ready for business.
We are also inspired to further create entrepren-eurial development and inculcate the culture of saving, as our bank has approved the opening of account with a minimum balance of N500 for savings, N1000 for current accounts and N2,500 for corporate accounts.
Could you tell more about the Poverty Alleviation Programme of Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank?
Well, the programme commenced in December 2012 when we gave out 12 tricycles, 100 grinding machines and six brand new cars to some different beneficiaries. In 2013, we gave out same; in 2014 we gave out 12 tricycles, 100 grinding machines and seven brand new cars. In 2015 we gave out 20 tricycles 100 grinding machines and 10 brand new cars, while in 2016, we gave out 10 tricycles, 50 grinding machines and three brand new cars. We could not hold it in 2017, but in 2018, we gave out five tricycles, 50 grinding machines and 19 mini-buses.
What are the criteria for choosing the recipients?
It is just as simple as get and complete the application form.The form is free and open to all members of Word of Life Bible Church headquarters in Warri, our branches and for people in our catchment communities.
What will happen in a situation where non-member of the church wins any of the items like tricycle or mini-bus?
As part of our terms and conditions, all winners who are not members of WLBC 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 people from selling off the gift items as we experienced in the past.
What happens if a beneficiary sells off the item after some time?
Where a winner sells the item won, or 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 our tricycles and mini-buses.
How do you feel the excitement of the beneficiaries of your empowerment programme?
In fact, I was a little bit teary. When you see people literally leaping for joy because somehow, God has bestowed some blessings on them, definitely, one should be excited. I feel fulfilled as an individual that God looked at me as the Chairman of Eagle’s Flight Micro Finance Bank and my husband, that God would be so generous and kind to use people like us to be a blessing to mankind and people out there.
What is your advice to beneficiaries?
I congratulate them for being lucky winners; and I tell them to remember that, this is a chance to better their lives. They should not miss the opportunity, but should leverage on it and use it judiciously for their betterment, advancement and prosperity. Last year, there was a visually impaired man who won a motorcycle. With it, he was able to triple it and expanded. Upon hearing his testimony, Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa gave him a car for taxi. From there, he started one and also expanded to four. That is what I would love to see and hear from the latest winners. They can also go out there and lift someone. It has to be a chain reaction and like giving back to the society.
So far, what have been the challenges in 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 opportunities to have access to money. So, when some money come, there is tendency for them to think, it is government’s envelope. And, instead of using it for the purpose it was meant, it could be diverted. We have had people like that.
But generally, 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 you she was serious. In fact, there are different types of poor people; the ones who live 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 were 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, if I helped her. Today, she is doing extremely well and has houses in Nigeria. You could imagine who could not afford N500, but can now do better for herself. That gives me joy; I am excited. That showed that my going round everyday supervising them was not in vain.
Are you gender sensitive?
Well, though I am a woman, I am not gender sensitive. I treat people same way, without bias because everyone is important to me.
What are your plans for women?
We have enough plans for women. Apart from our scholarship scheme that is tailored towards meeting the needs of women education wise, we encourage women by training not less than one thousand on vocations. We also empowered them with money to establish themselves. After the training, they constituted into different groups, and we bought all the necessary items they needed and gave them money as well. Sometimes, we give out sowing machines during our convention. Notwithstanding that, I am very strong in the area of capacity building. I do not leave it there. I also believe in empowerment. You will agree with me that when one learns a skill and is given a tool, it enhances prosperity and progress in that person’s business.
Many women won some prizes during your poverty alleviation programme and you were happy about that. What advice do you have women in general?
Well, I want to tell women to be themselves and should not allow anyone to look down on them. I am saying this because many of them believe that there is no hope anymore. But I am here to say that there is hope, as long as one is alive. As a woman, one can add value to herself, her home and the country. As woman, we should see how we can make our lives better. No one should end up as a house wife, but should rather go beyond that and utilize what she has to better herself. Women should never allow any worry to bring them down, no matter what. Never As a woman, don not write yourself off, believe that you are the best you. So, make the best of yourself.