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‘Government needs to improve financial inclusion for vulnerable Nigerians’

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Dr. Godwin Eseiwi Ehigiamusoe is the Founder/Managing Director of Lift Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO), a foremost microfinance bank that provides loans to over 100,000 Nigerians on monthly basis. The company’s 25th yearly forum holds today at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos. He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on various interventions of the bank to reduce poverty and squalor in the country.

LAPO has been in existence for over 29-years, in what areas have you impacted lives of Nigerians?
At our inception, we set up to do three basic things; the first one was to the address the huge challenge of material deprivation, which most Nigerians suffer, the issue of poor health and social exclusion.

We are addressing the first challenge through access to credit, which most people know our organisation for and we are doing that via our range of financial services. Secondly, we have for many years being organising health awareness programmes, especially on maternal and child’s health. Lastly, we have been involved in organising social empowerment programmes for the low-income segment of the population, particularly women.

Over the years, the firm have supported and reached a large number of Nigerians with range of financial services and health programmes. In the past ten years, we have taken steps to expand our reach within the context of our mandate and we believe that to make meaningful impact in eradicating poverty, there is the need to reach a large number of the poor. We support exclusively members of the micro enterprises. LAPO supports activities across the various segments; from the economy to agriculture.

As an organisation, we realise that a larger number of our clients engage in commerce and so, we have demonstrated uncommon commitment to poverty alleviation through the implementation of innovative credit and non-credit empowerment programmes, targeting disadvantaged groups. LAPO programmes include; gender sensitisation aimed at reducing the level of gender inequity, social exclusion and health problems in the society. Our health programmes include; prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other tropical diseases.Today, we have our footprints across the country; we are effectively and efficiently operating in 33-states of Nigeria and every month, we provide loans to over 100,000 persons.

How has the organisation tackled unemployment in the country?
Our impact on unemployment has been quite remarkable from two perspectives. Firstly, we provide direct employment to over 7,000 Nigerians. Secondly, we know that indirectly, those whom we provide financial services to, also create jobs for themselves as well as engage others thereby reducing the rate of unemployment in the country.
With the abundant natural resources in the nation, we still have high rate of poverty, social exclusion and injustices. Why has the nation remained static and what is LAPO doing to further promote social inclusion?
We are in a society where most people believed that we have enormous resources and at the same time have a growing population of the poor. This obviously arises from how has those resources been utilised for the generality of the people, which I think, is the challenge. We therefore see this resulting in the inequality, lack of access to resources and the social injustice that we have observed.

The most effective inclusive intervention is addressing the challenge of financial exclusion that is, providing financial services to those who are willing and able to use those services. Women generally, constitute a key dimension to financial inclusion in addition to youths and persons with disabilities as well as the rural dwellers.

Addressing gender inequality in access to financial inclusion requires first; targeting women, developing and offering financial services that are responsive to the specific needs of women for themselves and their businesses.

Why focusing on women?
It is a developmental reality that there is no society where women are treated as good as men. In order to address that, gender equality focuses on women. If you meet a poor man, he’s most likely to be the husband of a poor woman.

You titled this year’s forum; “Towards Sustainable Social – Economic Transformation of Nigeria: Option for non-States’ intervention, why that choice?
The LAPO annual development forum has been in existence since 1994 when we organized the first section and has remained constant every year. The forum is to create opportunity for persons in the different segments of the society; media, academia, industry and government to address a specific theme and in the process provide solutions for addressing the challenges. This years’ edition is the 25th and we have specifically chosen that theme. We are examining what role non-state actors and institutions as well as non-governmental agencies could play in addressing numerous socio-economic challenges that we face in the country.
The beneficiaries have been LAPO in the sense that we input suggestions made in the various sections to improve our products, services and processes. Nigerians obviously will also be the beneficiaries. We also encourage participants who are drawn from the various segment of the society to also see how solutions that are put forward are imbibed in whatever they do.

Specifically, we want to address the challenge faced by the low-income members of the society.Usually, we have persons who will present the lead paper and address the theme and the chairman. This year, we are having a diplomat and former Petroleum Minister; Chief Philips Asiodu as the chairman of the session, and Prof. Michael Obadan who is a Professor of Economics and non-executive director in the board of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and others.We are expecting people from universities, government, non-governmental organisations, religious leaders and people from the industries.

How much of the objectives of the forum have been achieved?
Over the years, we have enormously gained from the solutions that are often put forward at every session and used them to develop some innovative products and enhance our structures in the organisation. I believed that the participants have also implemented some of those suggestions to reposition themselves. We believe that because we address salient and vital themes yearly, we are making meaningful impacts on the society and the economy and it is for that reason that we will continue with the programme in the years ahead.

Nigeria is currently facing enormous challenges in nearly all facets of development including economy, politics, health, education, and infrastructure. With the obvious failure by successive governments to address hydra-headed issues militating against the country’s socio-economic transformation and overall development due to crass ineptitude and brazen corruption, Non-State Actors (NSAs) are expected to fill the vast development gap.

The theme of the first edition of the yearly LAPO’s development forum held in 1994 was “The Nigerian Economy and the Poor: 1984-1994”. Discussions and conclusions at this session reinforced our belief that sustainable approach to poverty alleviation must go beyond charity and directed at strengthening income capacity of the poor. Subsequent editions of the forum also addressed pertinent issues.

What are your expectations at the end of the programme?
At the end of the programme, we should be able to come up with a number of suggestions and solutions that would enhance the participation of non-state actors in the socio-economic development of the country. Essentially, we hope that we will be able to assess the extant role of NSAs in national development, the effectiveness of NSAs in engendering the socio-economic advancement of Nigeria and provide opportunity for government, private sector and NSAs to deliberate on strategies to address Nigeria’s developmental challenges.

Has the government done enough in eradicating poverty through its social intervention programmes/policies?
The statistics speak for itself and the impacts on poverty and the major actors in poverty alleviation of which government is the principal actor. The statistics show that the level of poverty in terms of its spread and severity, is on the increase, that would indicate that efforts been made by those actors, government inclusive has not been as effective as it should be. But, we know that there have been series of interventions in financial content, and some social and economic aspects. The social intervention programme of the government was put together for some factors, thinking that it could address the hard-core poverty; I believed that it could make more impact, if there are enough resources and implementation of the programme is properly managed.

Impact of social interventions on poverty could also be weighed when you engender social-economic growth through policies and programme and such would trickle down to the poor in the society. There is the urgency that the poor needs support to put food on their table, send their children to school and so direct support for people at the bottom of the society is also considered as appropriate.

Most of the non-state actors like the community development organisations and non-governmental organisations are essentially closer to the people and in most cases tend to be less bureaucratic. They are more flexible and effectively engage people at the low bottom end with health programmes and kill acquisitions/ enterprise development pprogrammes. I believe these organisations can effectively support the promotion of life sustaining skills and health of the people in the society.
Government needs to provide more support for Nigerians who are vulnerable, to reduce the level of poverty in the country.


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Godwin Eseiwi Ehigiamusoe
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