Tribute to LAPO founder, Godwin Ehigiamusoe
The hypocrisy and deceit characterising national life in Nigeria today smell to the high heavens. Sometimes, one only wishes to stand akimbo or maybe sit in my hide-away office on campus and stay silent rather than comment on evolving national issues. Everywhere you turn to what you find is stench. Infidelity, treachery and debauchery are more prominent than fairness, justice, honesty and solidarity in our interpersonal relationships. Yet, life goes on. They say you must be smart to live and survive in Nigeria today.
But in this season of anomy and “official” thieves, armed and unarmed robbers, liars and double-dealers are men and women who are creative, hardworking, brilliant, honest and committed to national development with untrammeled passion. They remain steadfast to their preferred ideology, faith and morals in spite of the collapse of values in contemporary Nigeria.
These are men and women who have transcended base materialism and crooked spiritualism to attain the level of advanced humanism. One of such living in Nigeria today, and influencing lives positively, is Dr. Godwin Esewei Ehigiamusoe, the Founder of the Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO) and Managing Director of LAPO Microfinance Bank Limited.
LAPO is a non-governmental organization committed to the social, health and economic empowerment of the poor and vulnerable, with greater concentration on rural and urban poor women in Nigeria, and in some other countries of the West African Sub-region.
Ehigiamusoe founded the organization in the wake of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) imposed on Nigerians by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime in collaboration with the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The WB and IMF chief priests of disaster capitalism sold the dummy to the Babangida junta that there was no alternative to the adjustment policies imposed on Africa in the 1980s. SAP deepened the untold hardship and mass poverty in the country in the wake of the oil glut of the 1980s and the thievery by the political class coupled with the apparent mismanagement of the national economy by them.
In all this, Godwin Esewei Ehigiamusoe, having gained rich experience as a Co-operative Officer, working in the Civil Service of the old Bendel State (now Edo and Delta States); and also having been very active in the progressive movement both as a student and civil servant in the 1970s and 1980s in Benin, thought it wise to think outside the box in the face of the raw poverty and lack that confronted his people. He decided to form the Lift Above Poverty Organization, with the objective of empowering the poorest of the poor in his immediate community and the country in general.
Of course, SAP had bared its fangs and unleashed pains, scars and deprivation on majority of Nigerians. There was massive job loss from both the public and the private sector. Industries folded up, as they could no longer afford imported materials and machines due to the weakness of the naira, which had been devalued. Farm products were left to rot as potential buyers had no money to do so. Schools were shut, as government could not pay salaries for months. And then, something started. Young teenage girls dropped from schools, abandoned training shops and workshops of small and medium scale enterprises like tailoring, pottery and even petty trading to join the bandwagon of “awayians”, fleeing to Europe, America and Asia for greener pastures. And the prostitution ring opened its floodgate.
Edo girls and Edo boys were at the forefront of the new craze - going abroad. But Ehiagiamosue thought otherwise and founded the Lift Above Poverty Organization to organize his people, to teach them how to generate income, create wealth and lead a new life in the wake of the adjustment policies of the Nigerian state.
LAPO, founded in 1987 with the mission to assist the poor to break out of the grip of poverty by having access to credit facilities to invest in small and medium scale enterprise, is today a phenomenon in Nigeria and in some West African States.
When the organisation transformed into a microfinance institution in the 1990s, it incorporated social development programmes as a major component in achieving organizational goals. LAPO’s activities include gender sensitization aimed at reducing the level of gender inequality and social exclusion and health awareness activities initially centered around reproductive health and child survival, and prevention, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other tropical diseases.
Since its foundation, LAPO has demonstrated uncommon commitment to poverty alleviation through the provision of an array of responsive social and economic empowerment services to disadvantaged groups delivered on a sustainable basis. Issues addressed are economic powerlessness, ill-health, poor nutrition, discrimination, low self-esteem, ignorance, social exclusion and gender inequality through the implementation of credit, social empowerment and sustainable livelihood programmes.
The introduction of the microfinance policy by the Federal Government led to the emergence of LAPO Microfinance Bank Limited. Since 1987, LAPO has blossomed into a system of vibrant semi-autonomous institutions which include LAPO Microfinance Bank Limited, a leader in micro, small and medium enterprise financing in Sub-Saharan Africa, Micro-Investment Support Services (MISS), a pioneer in micro-leasing business in Nigeria; LAPO Institute, a centre for research and training in Microfinance and Enterprise Development and LAPO Microfinance Company, Sierra-Leone.
The organisation has recorded impressive performance and growth over the years in economic and social empowerment. In 2016 alone, institutions within the LAPO system in and outside Nigeria, disbursed loans to the value of N140.4 billion. LAPO currently has a staff strength of 7,233. Our customer base stands at 2.9 million in 30 states in addition to the Federal Capital Territory.
Indeed, LAPO has contributed a great deal to capturing and fortifying the informal sector of the Nigerian economy. With his Spartan discipline, deep sense of mission and skilful organizational ability, Ehigiamusoe irradiated faces of poor women who had no start-up capital with joy when he founded LAPO and worked the organization to its tilt to be able to make credit facilities available to them.
With his foresight and ingenuity, he broke the glass ceiling for millions of Nigerian women. And this is a true, original story that is unfolding. He is the Mohammed Yunus of Nigeria. He has actually lifted many people out of poverty. Imagine the level of employment he has created in the society. He is one of the major contributors to the resilience of the Nigerian economy. With this kind of contribution, the Nigerian economy cannot collapse largely because of the enormity of the informal sector in the Nigerian economy.
It is in recognition of the giant strides of LAPO and its contributions to development in Nigeria and the West African sub-region that the University of Benin awarded a Doctor of Science (D.Sc) (honoris causa) to Dr. Godwin Eseiwi Ehigiamusoe on November 26, 2016. Ehiagiamusoe, in spite of his tight business schedule, worked and earned a Doctorate in Policy and Development from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma. He earned the Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Benin earlier in life. Even as a business executive, he holds on strongly to academic work, contributes several textbooks to the literature on Development, Microfinance and NGOism.
He blends theory and practice so well that he anchors his business ethics and practice on strong intellectual foundation. The University of Benin’s D.SC award is in recognition of Ehigiamusoe’s good vision and industry. He is creative, imaginative and resourceful in virtually all fronts. He won the Model Entrepreneur Award -Nigeria in 2008, the Schwab Foundation’s Outstanding Social Entrepreneur for Africa Award in 2010. It is important to inform the reading public that this humble and God-fearing businessman from Ugha community in Uhunmwode Local Council of Edo State invested the USD10,000 cash prize of the Grameen Foundation “Excellence in Microfinance Award” won by the organization in 2006 in the LAPO Scholarship Scheme.
This scholarship for brilliant children of LAPO clients and less privileged students in the society has been in existence for over a decade now. Ehigiamusoe has practically demonstrated what hard work, commitment to vision, and humility can produce. He has shown that even in a situation of crisis and befuddlement, a Daniel can come to judgment.
While the political class corner State funds for personal use as the Buhari probes reveal, a creative, intelligent, hardworking and focused individual can turn things around for the benefit of many.
He has shown by sheer dint of hard work and critical thinking that poor Nigerians can be lifted out of poverty. It is possible to take Nigerians out of the poverty loop if the so-called elites and members of the ruling class avoid greed and avarice and invest public funds under their supervision wisely for the benefit of the mass of the Nigerian peoples.
Young Nigerians with interest in entrepreneurship should study Ehigiamusoe. I am sure they will learn a great deal from him. I salute this patriot, Pan-Africanist and global leader for his great works. I implore him not to rest on his oars. I want to believe that he has mentored, and is still mentoring young Nigerians to embrace the path of hard work, creativity, honesty and humility as they climb the social ladder.
Dr. Oriakhi teaches Political Science at the Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State.