Mr. Divine Sajere is a former banker, a top-notch photographer, National Leader at Helping Hands International (H2i), and Chief Executive Officer of Wealthplus Community, a humanitarian arm of H21. In this interview with Peter Uzoho, Sajere speaks on his banking experience, his foray into photography, the mission of (H2i), among others
You were a banker before you went into photography business; tell us your experience working in the bank?
I worked in Zenith Bank. I joined the bank in 2007, worked there for six years before I left in 2013. For me, banking was a means to an end. I took the pleasure of attending to the less-privileged and the physically challenged customers who came to the bank for transaction and making sure that they were all happy. So, for me, it was an opportunity to serve and I’m glad I had been able to satisfy a good number of people through my service in the bank. Interestingly, when I left the banking sector these same people who I had done one or two favours for by attending to them without expecting anything in return formed my pioneer clientele when I started my photography business. They started introducing me to people, convincing people about my ability to deliver in my job. So it’s good to be good. Banking was really a very good start up point for me and I bless God for it.
There is this perception that those who work in banks are rich and big men. So why did you decide to leave?
For me, what I see is totally different. Most of the things you see when we go to the bank, especially those who don’t work there, are just make-belief. I’m speaking as an insider and as someone with experience. I enjoyed my banking days, no doubt. Why did I say I enjoyed it? Any work you find yourself doing in life, do it with all joy and with service to humanity. Do it with all humility; be a team player, support your team very well, and you will see that you will enjoy it. Those who can’t do these things I just counted will still be struggling; they will always be angry, and they won’t feel fulfilled. Most people you see in the bank as workers, if you look deep within you will see pains; you will see so many things that are untrue compared to the picture they paint-putting up plastic smiles to make customers feel good and all that. Some work without having service at the back of their heart. They are after the tips or what they can get and how much they can make. That’s why some people even go to the extent of doing all manner of funny things just to meet up with their target. We all know what is happening in the system. But proudly I can say I’m happy that I worked in the bank for those years because it instilled some values in me. I really learnt some things no doubt, especially in Zenith Bank where our slogan was “In Your Best Interest”. So I learnt service, I learnt how to really serve people, how to give people the real worth for their money and I’m really happy serving my people and the society. I met a lot of people in the banking sector, though it cannot be compared to the kind of people I met doing photography. I never got to meet presidents while in the bank but I’ve met them while doing photography. I’ve travelled from one country to the other doing photography. But in all it’s just God taking you from one stage to the other.
When you were thinking of leaving the banking sector, were you worried by the thought of how to survive?
I’ve always been a risk taker and, I’ve always known that from what one of my pastors used to tell me back in the days. He told me that it’s even more risky not taking risk. I’ve always loved adventure.
One day, I was in the bank and one of my supervivors who had known and studied me so well called me and said there was a certain skills acquisition programme going on in their church that I should come and learn a skill there. Being someone who has interest in life-skills, the day she brought the flyer to the bank, I saw it and picked it up. She gave the flyers to everybody in the bank but I was the only one who attended. When preparing to attend, I put up for my leave and they were trying to play all manner of pranks just to make me not to attend but I was ready to resign in order to attend the skills acquisition. I only pledged for two days and attended the programme. I took the photography class at the programme and it started from there. It was indeed mind-blowing. I would not have forgiven myself if I had missed that class.
Then after that class I started practicing. I asked my sister-in-law, Mrs. George, to help me buy a photo camera when coming back from her leave in Dubai. She bought it and I said I would be paying her gradually. That was how I started. Some Fridays, I would do some works, finish all the work in the bank so that I could be able to hit the road to neighbouring states like Oyo and others, to cover events-weddings, birthdays and all that. Starting from there, I did quite a few jobs and then discovered that the banking work was limiting me and not helping me cover all the jobs I had.
For instance, sometimes the jobs that you are supposed to travel on a Friday against Saturday and Sunday, the bank will not grant you a one day off. Even out of your leave you can’t skip time, and I’m a very hard working person right from the branches where I had worked. In the bank they used to call me ‘speed of light’ because I work with speed, I work with accuracy; I work with excellence. If I was around you would never see a crowd in the banking hall. Without blowing my trumpet I’m that good. So I brought all that I’ve learnt in the banking sector into the photography business. It gave me an edge over my contemporaries even in the photography sector. I know where to cut the strings and with that, God helped me. It was when I saw the limitations the bank was giving me that I decided to throw in my resignation. Initially, no head of operation was ready to accept my letter of resignation but finally I had my way after disturbing them for so long that I wanted to leave. It was painful to them but you know a mind that is made up is dangerous, you can’t stop it. So they had to let me go, and I’m here today.
Your moving into photography was it because people there were making money or because you had passion for it?
It was because of passion. I’ve always had this flair for photography and cameras. Back in the days when I finished secondary school in the early 90s, instead of sitting down at home idle I decided to pick up a job in a photography studio. Then, the only job available was Studio Attendant- someone who would be looking after the cameras, cleaning them and all that, and I was doing that. As I was doing that I was also studying the cameras without a coach. One day the person who was handling the coverage was not around, he went to school, and we had a military governor who visited my Local Government, Sapele, and someone had to do the shooting.
So when the local government chairman’s wife asked who would cover the event, I said I can do it. Everybody was all in doubt. They said no, you can’t shoot; you are just a studio boy. She said okay, show me what you can do and I did a little sample and showed it to her and she said I should go and cover it. I went and covered it. That was my first coverage without any experience, without being taught, I covered it and it was aired in Delta Television. From there, I got that spark and it just kept on. I just love cameras and I can spend my last dine on camera and equipment.
How has the photography business been?
It has been so wonderful. Photography has been paying the bills, doing all sorts, taking me from place to place. I’ve met the high and the low, I’ve met several people, and I’ve been able to bless a lot of life even with my photography work. There are people I’ve met that ordinarily are supposed to pay hundreds of thousands for their coverage, but I blessed them by slashing the pay to half because of the passion I have for it. If you don’t have passion for it you can’t do it because you will fold up. I’ve even rendered some free services to my current organisation, Helping Hands International, where I’m a leader in. That’s because of my passion for the work and not because of the money, and that has been my policy. When you do what you do very well money will come and that’s the best way to make it.
Some people see a photographer as just anybody. So being a photographer, how do you manage to deal with this seemingly discouraging notion?
Yes, I have experienced that several times. There are times I will go to events as the major company covering them and there, some people will want to run you down like, ‘he’s just a photographer’. I don’t let that get to me because with time, most of them do apologise when they find quality and value in what I do for them. I don’t get discouraged by what people say about what I do. I’m a man of many parts; I’ve tried my hands on so many things. I’ve done Uber transport service with my own car.
How would you compare photography business with banking in terms of returns?
Initially, in photography, it’s really not about the money but the passion as I said. To be very candid photography job does not come every day, it comes in seasons. But on a good day in photography, just one weekend job can pay two months’ salary in the bank. People who build their dreams around one banking job I don’t think they’re doing justice to themselves. They should look beyond the banking sector and pick up a skill; it must not be photography. It could be makeup; it could be cake baking; it could be any skill at all. Whatever you have flair for. There is something God has deposited in everyone, you can pick it and do it and, it just gives you extra income apart from what you earn doing the banking job. There are times also in the banking sector where bills will come and even your salary won’t be able to carry them. Even, despite the fact that you work in the bank you cannot get a loan. It’s going to be and tough and terrible without having a plan B-something you can fall back on. So for me I’ll still pick photography business over bank work any day.
You met people who were already well-grounded in photography business. So how did you manage to carve a niche?
You know I told you I’ve always been a risk- taker. With the kind of knowledge and exposure I have, I already knew I would survive in such an already saturated business like photography. I’ve learnt a whole lot from one of my mentors, Rev. Sam Adeyemi, who I listen to all the time, and who I attended his school. And that also formed part of why I was not scared or worried of going into the sector irrespective of all the professionals, the gurus and all of that in the business. I know you cannot be taller than me and at the same time be shorter than me. There are areas where you are good at and there are areas where I am better than you. We’ve always known that. So I went in ready and prepared to hit the market with my own strategies, and with my own strength. I was not worried; I was not scared of anybody. I knew quite alright there are those that are good. Even there are people who are better than me that have worked with me and, are still working for me up till now, and I pay their bills. So that’s because for me I don’t take it like a competition. I always tell them- I don’t compete with anybody. You are good and you are good for you. I’m good at what I do and I’m good for me. I’ve integrity in what I do and I always maintain my name because I want people to see my brand and call me another day. I hit the market with a good price not necessarily high and not low either but with a good quality in mind. I render quality service. If I know this work is going to cost me N100, 000 and I know I will make N10, 000 gain but the customer will be satisfied and will refer 10 customers to me, I’ll prefer some people that will do a job and make N30, 000 gain and lose a customer that will lead to nobody calling them for the next10 years. Even there are some businesses that I will do and make N2, 000 or N3, 000 but the referral I will get will be so mind-blowing and I’ll be satisfied with that. It’s just like in the bank where some staff run for tips while I went for service. So that’s it for me and it has paid off. Today, there are people who insist I must be at their wedding to cover it for them. Also there are other gains that come from covering events apart from the monetary aspect. I’m spiritually sound and I have discernment because I watch very well; I perceive very well; I’m very observant. So there are mishaps that may happen at your event if I’m not there. So many people always insist I must be on ground to cover their weddings or their events.
How did your wife respond to your idea of leaving the bank for photography?
Right from our university days we’ve always had our goals written down. Even before I took the banking job she was aware and before I resigned I sat her down and told her my mind and she was already seeing it. Initially she said no. We prayed about it; reflected over it and at a time we started seeing that it has got to the point that it’s time to leave. She was aware and funny enough she edicts while I go to the field to shoot. She is a strong back up in this business that I do and I always give kudos to her. And then, women also should try and be supportive to their husbands. Businesses done by husband and wife turn out good and successful.
You are also a national leader in Helping Hands International, what is the mission of the organization?
We touch lives and empower people. When you run a humanitarian service and empower people, refer people, bring them in to join you in the business of touching lives, the organisation rewards you for doing these things. By then you now get rewards in assets and property supports, financial empowerment, and scholarship for your children and all that as their own reward for doing a humanitarian and skills acquisition to non-partners.