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Boko Haram does not intend to release Leah Sharibu —Helen Oritsejafor

PASTOR (Mrs.) Helen Oritsejafor, the beautiful wife of the immediate past president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, His Eminence, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor and mother of three is the TV host of ‘Mama Helen and You’, a talk show that deals on marriage, relationships and society.

Helen Oritsejafor

The light skinned and pretty banker superintends over the Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank Limited, Eagle Heights International Schools and the African Broadcasting Network, ABN, a satellite Christian television station strategically positioned to serve as a strong voice for the gospel of Christ from Africa to the world, in addition to being the martriach of the Word of Life Bible Church founder by her husband 31 years ago.

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Like her husband, Mama Helen places much premium on salvation, repentance, holiness, deliverance and empowerment of the less privileged, through Christian social responsibility programmes.

Over the years they have offered scholarships to indigent students in various tertiary, secondary and elementary institutions both within and outside Nigeria irrespective of tribe or denomination.

On December 26, 2005, Papa and Mama Oritsejafor partnered with the Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank to start an empowerment programme for the people and have since then made an annual ritual to empower the less privileged and alleviate the sufferings of families every December. In this interview with Sam Eyoboka, she spoke on the plight of Nigerian women, efforts to uplift their living standards, Leah Sharibu and her new book. Excerpts….

Before every Jubilee Word Festival, you always go for market evangelism. What’s your assessment of those evangelical missions?

The privilege to go out there and meet with the less privileged. I think for me it is more or less like representing Christ in itself. And the joy of bringing salvation to their doorsteps to say that salvation is not about how much money you have but it is just for you to say yes to your Maker so that He can now take you back and help renew your life the way He wants your life to be so at the end of the day you can fulfill destiny.

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Is it one of the devices to attract people to the church?

It’s soul winning. Jesus Christ said when I was hungry, you fed me, when I was in prison, you visited and so on. One of his disciples asked when were you hungry and we fed you and He said if you can do it for any of these, you’ve done it for me.

And if you also go back to the scripture where He fed 5,000 people, all that was done for the sake of the gospel. He would tell you the need to first and foremost meet the need of the people through which they can get to know the love that resides in Christ Jesus. Then you need to disciple them so they don’t just stay at the level of being just believers because they can easily go back to the world. They must be integrated into a fold where they can be mentored. That transition is a journey in itself but the number one thing is to win them to Christ.

I believe strongly, and it’s also the belief of my husband as well that every human being on earth is created to become somebody. Yes fingers are not equal but naturally God didn’t bring us to this world to suffer. And in finding our path generally, somebody has to be able to help out, somebody has to believe in you, and I think what I’m trying to say here is there are willing people in our midst, we can’t discard that, it’s not everybody that just want to live with the episode of bread and butter. There are people who want to do something with their lives and they just need someone to believe in them and empower them.

How will you link that to the growth of the church?

God has given us a new structure, God spoke to our father, before now it has been just one church besides the one in Lagos because that was the vision that God gave to him, even with his influence all over the world. If his intention was to just have 100 or one million branches, he would have been able to achieve that many years back when he was far younger.

Leah Sharibu
Leah Sharibu

He is a man who has been in virtually every continent of the world, he could have easily started churches in Europe, America and so on because people love him and they love his ministry. But he would always say ‘I don’t want to do it because others are doing it, I can play a supportive role’. And that’s why you will see even when he goes on television he would advise people to go to other churches because he doesn’t want them to be stranded because he doesn’t have a branch in that place.

But now that God has spoken to him that ’Word of Life is of age, we are listening to God and doing whatever He wants us to do. Now we branched out, what next? How do we make impact? We are doing it for God and for mankind. That in itself is very rewarding.

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The expansion comes with greater responsibilities. How do you cope with the challenges of growth?

At least now my husband is very much at home unlike before. So in terms of being at the headquarters and managing a lot of things, he has been able to help out in many ways. The other things that crop up by the virtue of our new structure is being managed. I have a fantastic husband who gives me a lot of encouragement.

I’m a very organized person in terms of administrative skills, by the grace of God I think God endowed me with the ability to be able to know when to handle church, when to handle Eagle Flight Microfinance Bank, when to handle Eagle Heights International School, when to handle African Broadcasting Network, ABN, when to handle the Eagle Medical Centre, when to handle the Eagle Bookshop.

Talking about the bank, the Central Bank recently announced the closure of some Microfinance banks for various reasons. Were you worried?

We had no reason at all to be worried because, to God be the glory, we have been able to set up a very strong structure for the Eagle Flight Microfinance Bank, even with the present economic state of the country. We’ve had to teach ourselves on how to adapt to the economic challenges of the country and then to see how we can minimize cost while we maximize profit. But by and large, Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank has been doing very well and has continued to do very well in the face of many challenges. So I had no single fear. If there’s anything at all, I think as a bank, we’ve surpassed anything the regulatory body wants us to do.

We have not only taken our place in the scheme of things in our immediate and remote environment, the Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank Limited is poised to take the Micro Finance Industry to a higher level in Nigeria and Africa via our customer friendly products and services.

We were applauded by the CBN Consultative Group to Assist the poor (CGAP), the World Bank, UNDP and Association of Micro-Finance Banks in Nigeria (AMBIN). This has earned the bank an invitation to join the Mix-Portal of the World Wide Web.

Without reservation we are most delighted that Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank has a share capital of over one billion shares. So far in the Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank Limited, we have successfully registered over 883 groups with a minimum number of, at least, 10 groups from 150 different markets, communities and training centres. The cash value to such micro credit groups is over N500 million. Over 300 other Micro Entrepreneurs with viable objects in different communities have also benefited to the tune of N600 million. Loans extended to Small/Medium scale Enterprises {SME} is over N2.2 billion. In the last few years, our turnover has risen to well over N4.5 billion.

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We are presently partnering with some government agencies and multi nationals to administer co-operative schemes for the communities in their areas of operation. Such organizations include NAPEP, Chevron, Shell Petroleum Development Company Delta State Micro Credit Programme, Egbema/Gbaramatu Communittes, DESOPADEC, Itsekiri Regional Development Council, Market Associations, Niger Delta Women, Independent Petroleum Marketers, Ministry of Niger Delta, Bayelsa Micro Credit Programme just to mention but a few. We now have our Eagle Catch Them Young Plus, a product designed for Children to enable them continue their education seamlessly even when the parents are no more.

Millions of Nigerian women are terribly challenged economically. How do you counsel such people who walk through the church entrances sometimes with two or more hungry looking children?

(Sobbing) That’s a strong thing! It beats me when you move around people and N500 or N1,000 thrills them because of the State of the economy. We have just completed a skill acquisition training where we had close to 2,000 people that by the special grace of God are going to be graduating very soon and we intend to empower them. They are mostly women. I wish we have more than what we have, perhaps we would have been able to do more. We’ve done a lot of trainings in the areas of agriculture, tailoring, make-up, hairdressing and so on. They are going to be certificated very soon after our Jubilee and then we start disbursing.

The mother of Leah Sharibu has been agonizing since February this year. Recently, Boko Haram is demanding $10 million ransom for the girl. How do you encourage such a woman?

It’s very painful. It shows that the intention is not to release the girl because they know that there is no way a sensible government will part with such an amount. But one thing is sure, God is able, even when things seem very dark and unpredictable, God has a way of turning it around. As a woman and as a woman of God, we will continue to uphold her in prayers. We believe that one way or the other, God will come through for her and give her a reason to be free one day. It could look very far fetched but God is still alive. He never fails.

It might not look like something that is feasible but we must keep hope alive. The day you decide to give up, just prepare to go down the grave. As long as we have life, we have hope for a better tomorrow. I always say this, a new day is an opportunity to have a do over. And you must be grateful to God for that. People who are dead don’t have such opportunities.

One of the highlights of the Jubilee is the launch of your book. Is this your first?

No. I’ve done over 10 books. But I feel particularly happy about this new one, Joyfully Together, because everything about life is based on relationship: whether it is marital, business wise or a platonic level or whichever level there is, relationship is key. No human being is an island. When I sit back, I’ve been in a position to either counsel pastors’ wives in general, single ladies believing God for husbands, wives who are facing a lot of problems at home, husbands who are also very frustrated in their homes, this book is to actually provide answers to some of those nagging questions.

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It’s still possible for us to live together as husband and wife. Can I still get married, can this relationship work? I went through a lot of spiritual principles and the principles that govern relationship and make it work. I believe that when we know how to treat each other better, when husbands have the understanding and know what it means to be one with their wives and vice versa, it will provide wholesome family line.

Children don’t so much care about how much you know, but they care about how much you care, especially daddy. The love you show to their mum is enough for them. If a relationship between dad and mum is good, it will have a positive impact on the children and it will also produce a sound family and society at large because when homes are home, then it will have a reflection on the society.

Some of the miscreants and so called vagabonds that we have out there who are completely gone south, a lot of that emanate from broken homes. Some of them just feel what is it to live for and they go wild. But someone who is from a good home, good relationship will automatically add value to the society at large.

God has inspired me to write this exceptional and insightful masterpiece to defeat the devil in his endeavours to mislead singles and frustrate marriages in this generation.

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