By Sam Eyoboka
CHILDREN of the high and mighty freely dined, wined and interacted with those of the less privileged in the society at a recent childrenâ€™s programme sponsored by the Word of Life Bible Church, Warri. The children sang, danced and entertained themselves and their parents who took time off their daily routines to watch their wards preaching the gospel of peace in the Niger Delta. At the end of the programme, we sought audience with the matriarch of the church and the managing director of the churchâ€™s Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank, Pastor (Mrs.) Helen Oritsejafor who shed light on the vision behind the programme and the impact of the bank in the Niger Delta area.
Why did the church come up with this programme?
The life of a child, is a life that cannot be determined. Itâ€™s so easy to look at an elderly man and say well, I can tell the need of that man. For a child, itâ€™s almost impossible to do that. Because in a child lies tomorrow, hope, the leadership that Nigerians look forward to. That is what we are looking for. And weâ€™ve discovered that often times, these children are liberated because even the parents that have them, do not seem to understand what could become of the childrenâ€™s tomorrow. So, we have taken a painstaking method in saying that we must use today to recognise our children, let them know that we believe in them and see them as the hope for tomorrow, not just in Nigeria, but all over the world, making a mark in their generation.
Is the programme aimed at training children to become leaders of tomorrow?
It is! It is a programme, to start with, like I said, you never can tell, whatever you invest in these children today is what will make them become something tomorrow. Not only being pastors, like you saw one preaching todayâ€”for him to be able to face the audience and minister to the people as a minister of God, to let you know that tomorrow he could end up being a governor. Now, in another way, he will be spiritually sound to be able to give good governance to the people.
I heard that you have a special programme for children in the Eagle Flight Micro Fincance Bank…
Very true. At Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank, weâ€™re recognising the objective of the founder of the bank and the shareholder which is the Word of Life Bible Church. We believe in the total man-building the people and equipping them that build the nation. What Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank has been able to do is to also join in celebrating our children and giving both our children and our parents a food for thought, letting them know that; please, set aside something for these childrenâ€™s tomorrow because nobody knows tomorrow. With as little as N500 deposit inâ€œEagle Catch Them Youngâ€ with Eagle Flight Micro-Finance Bank, you grow it gradually that will later earn you interest, at the end of the day youâ€™ll be able to save towards that.
Another way to it as well, is that instead of waiting till schools fees are due before making frantic efforts to look for funds you can open an account on behalf of the child and gradually you might just be able to make little by little contribution towards that account that will allow you to pay the childrenâ€™s school fees conveniently at the date required. The last one that I know Nigerians are not very well known for, but I think itâ€™s something that is worth emulating, is the fact that those children, as you help them grow their account, you might decide not to touch the account waiting until they are 18 years of age, when you can hand all the passbooks to them. You can imagine how a child like that will feel.
Number one, youâ€™ve trained that child that diligence means something. Number two, saving culture is induced into that child. Number three, that child has a good start, something to build on and wanting to also prove to the parents that he/she can see your love for him/her and is determined show that your investment is worth it. So, what Eagle Flight has actually done is that weâ€™re trying to celebrate and then also have something as well to do that will make today to be very remarkable in the lives of our children.
Can you tell the story of Eagle Flight and what has it achieved in the last three years?
Eagle Flight Bank started in December 2005. We started small, and it has become a mustard seed, becoming a mega bank, even though itâ€™s still a micro-finance bank. We started with one branch, but now we have three additional branches in Asaba, NPA and Sapele with several cash centres. You can see where God is actually taking us. The last anniversary in December, about N800 million turnover at the initial start up of the bank, now weâ€™re looking at N2 billion plus. I think Eagle Flight is really flying. But the excitement in this hall really, if you would ask me, is the impact that itâ€™s actually making in peopleâ€™s lives, because thatâ€™s what gives one joy and excitement.
We have been able to cover close to 1,000 communities, and weâ€™re not resting in our struggle. We are doing our very best to make sure we are able to do much more, giving out micro credit and also giving out loans to SMEs, high network customers as well, making sure they realise the dream that God has given unto them. As you well know, on a yearly basis, we give out things. Apart from scholarships, we also give out what you call Keke NAPEP, cars, sewing machines, grinding machines etc.Banking is still alien to many Nigerians, especially to environments like this.
How successful has it been, making people tap into the vision?
We are people-oriented. We didnâ€™t get into business because of what we can get from people. We got into it because of what we believe we can do for people, giving people opportunity. Itâ€™s an important thing. No human being on earth can survive on his own. We all have to, one way or the other, be helped by somebody. God helps us, but God would have passed through a man to help you. And I can tell you that there are a million and one people, without having to over exaggerate, that are loaded with ideas to make things happenâ€”unbelievable ideasâ€”but they donâ€™t have people that will believe in them to say I will be part of this: Go and start this and let me watch you grow that thing. Not too many people will be able to do that.
As you well know, commercial banks will not lend you money if they cannot see what you can do with it. The first thing is to ask you for a collateral. With micro-finance bank, especially Eagle Flight Bank, you do not need a collateral to borrow money. What we look at is your seriousness. Are you an active poor person, to start with? Do you really want to use this money judiciously? When weâ€™ve been able to answer all the questions, by the grace of God we help, and then watch you grow.Â And I think thatâ€™s what is helping us apart from God who is the foundation of the bank. We are very much people-oriented.
Did you entertain any fears of failure? Did you ever entertain fear that you might give out loans to people and theyâ€™ll just go and not come back?
Maybe I should say that the fear now, if there was any, because I wouldnâ€™t say it was more or less a fear. It was like what do we do to make sure our risk involvement is limited through which we are able to come up with our own strategy in making sure that it never happens. With commercial banks, you come into the banks, ask for money, they give you and thatâ€™s it. They donâ€™t have any relationship with you. I wouldnâ€™t want to get into a lot of things for the sake of competitors; but the real truth is; looking at risk and coming up with solution to guiding against such risk, that was done. And that has helped us. At least, we have a recovery rate of 99 per cent, if not over. We do.
Again, I keep on saying it, we are very people-oriented. We do everything because we want to see you succeed. We want to see you make it. We want to see you grow from nothing to something and being somebody at the end of the day.
So, itâ€™s a social responsibility kind of scheme…
Social is one aspect, then one has to be very careful because sometimes that word is very much abused. People believe that when youâ€™re talking of social, itâ€™s giving people something and saying bye bye to it. Itâ€™s different. This one is more or less like an investment. To say I believe in you, you need this, you have this. Iâ€™ll give you and hopefully, you utilise it, having taking you through our process, and youâ€™ve been able to make it. Weâ€™ll give you the money. Like I told you, the recovery rate has been quite encouraging.
micro-finance banks, the commercial banks are using that against micro-finance banks. They are using that to steal their customers. You bring in the money, at the end of the day, they look for means to get the customers, not because they want to help the customers, but they are just interested in what they can get out of them.
But isnâ€™t there supposed to be regulation?
That is the aspect. So, it is the CBN that needs to come out to say; see, you cannot afford to do this. That I believe would have been the best thing, not having to get them into the same thing. And the funniest thing is that a lot of micro-finance banks are being affected by this. We are not, because we have been able to designed a means of not letting such things affect us. A lot of micro-finance banks are crying by the day, which will in turn adversely affect what the Nigerian government is trying to achieve in terms of beating the 20-2020 targetâ€”eradicating poverty.
What therefore, will be your advice to the government on issues like that?
The first thing I will tell them is that this is not the best way to do it. We have to regulate. If you want to build, build. My fear is free market, but even in free market, Americans operate free market, Europe also. But they are regulated in such a way that every aspect of the economy is functioning so as to allow the growth of the economy. But what you have in Nigeria is that the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. And the reason why it is so, is because there has never been proper regulations where youâ€™re told you cannot cross to this line if youâ€™re already doing this. What you need to do is to perfect one. And that is what has brought excellence to all the developed countries product, because they have their area of specialisation. Somebody manufacturing cars says this is the kind that I want to do, and they keep improving on what they are doing on a yearly basis. But, look at Nigeria, a man manufacturing cars says he wants to also do spare parts. They diversify so much until they lose track. They lose focus on what they are trying to achieve. That, I think the Nigerian government needs to really look into and regulate the system properly to allow it to stimulate the economic growth of this country.