Lifting the Widows

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In a society, where widows are subjected to neglect and humiliation, a subtle move by a young Nigerian entrepreneur, Dr Felix King Eiremiokhae, seems to be re-writing their story. Raheem Akingbolu reports

Until 2014, when Felix King Eiremiokhae established Felix King Foundation and decided to use it to bring succor to widows in Nigeria, he was only known as a Marketing Communication Practitioner. Perhaps because of the usual manner in which politicians ride on such projects to enter politics, not many people took him seriously. The general belief was that he would soon abandon it and join a political party after drawing considerable attention to himself. But five years down the line, King, has not only sustained the tempo but has widened the scope of the foundation and put smiles on the faces of many widows, especially in Edo and Lagos States. Beyond giving cash to the women, which was the starting point, the foundation has grown to become a multidimensional empowerment initiative for women. Today, the foundation has helped farmers, artisans, businessmen as well as facilitating scores of cooperative societies that diligent women contribute and access.

One question that has been asked over and over is what informed the decision of this entrepreneur to look into the direction of these helpless women. Was he raised by a widow or suffered as a kid? When confronted with the question early in the week, Felix was quick to answer in the negative. 

“I was brought up well by average parents who could afford our education and take care of basic things that would make us be able to level up with our mates. I had good education and secured good job after graduation. However, my early ambition to set up my own business thought me another lesson of my life as I struggled hard to overcome the teething stage. One particular event I would never forget was when my little child fell sick about 15 years ago and I was looking for 6,000 only to settle the hospital bill. My wife was distraught and I kept moving from one place to the other to raise the money. At the end, God showed Himself and we paid and treated the innocent child. It was my turning point of becoming a humanist. I made up my mind at that point that if God in heaven blessed me, I would try all within my power to contribute my quota to the society through women empowerment because I know what women pass through while raising their children, especially if they are single mothers or widows,” he stated.

Again, one would have assumed the man running the show is a billionaire considering how much he has committed to the various scheme but King also disabused the minds of those who share such belief. According to him, one should not wait until he or she becomes buoyant before looking at the direction of those who need help.

“If you wait until you solve all your problems before you assist others to solve theirs, you will not do anything till Jesus comes. I’m not a billionaire and I’m not living in affluent but I know there are many lives I can still touch from the little I’m making from my business. Women are important to our socio-economic growth and the earlier we realise this the better,” said Eiremiokhae.

King, who owns an experiential marketing firm and a biscuit manufacturing company, revealed that he’s been able to do what he’s doing from profits he makes from his businesses. He also pointed out that he hasn’t given room to any political organisation or individuals in politics to contribute to the foundation for fear of being contaminated with ulterior moves that could undermine the objective of the foundation. 

Shedding more light on the activities of the foundation, the entrepreneur stated that the growing poverty rate among widows in the rural communities, the attendant neglect by government, and considering the important role they play in the development of their families and communities, compelled him to roll out Lift Bank scheme in May, through which 10,000 widows and active poor women in Nigeria’s rural communities would have been touched within five years. He said the initiative was designed to help in areas of small business capital access, training, mentorship and network, pointing out the initiative focuses its operations in Edo, Lagos and Ogun states.

Lift Bank is an added component of Felix King Foundation and it’s being operated under Felix King Rural Initiative in partnership with Lift Bank accredited community banks.

The initiative seeks to support widows and active poor women, who are willing to undertake business enterprise such as artisanship, trade and farming.

In a statement, the foundation laments what women had to go through to access as small as N10,000 from local money lenders and the penalty they endure for a day’s default in repayment due to stringent conditions.

“These women are harassed and chased around like common criminals,” it said. “Some abandon their homes to take refuge in the bush just to avoid arrest or confiscation of wares, tools and so on.

Eiremiokhae said: “Through the scheme, we are currently partnering with community banks/financial outfits for better output and sustainability. The role of community banks is to disburse the capital, supervise the repayment and manage the re-disbursements as well as progress monitoring of beneficiaries. The Lift Bank is a zero free loan access capital for widows and active poor women who are breadwinners of their families. And it is meant to support widows and active rural women in enterprises such as trading, farming, and artisanship.

“Beneficiaries are open to access between N10,000 to N30,000 and repayable in 36 months (three years) without interest. The system is planned as a rotational one, whereby when beneficiaries return what they borrowed, the money will be given to other women.

“Investing in women is vital for the collective economic prosperity and national stability of any country. When we empower women, communities prosper, the nation thrives and peace prevails.

“Therefore, to enhance our community’s security, as well as our national stability and growth, there is need to encourage the full and free participation of women in the national economy. This is the foundation of Lift Bank. Simply put, Lift Bank is prosperity and progress for widows and the forgotten women in rural communities.”

In 2017/2018, the foundation supported thousands of widows in farming and trading concerns and the progress report from these women, who believe so much in the works of their hand, has become a great example of how strong small businesses are backbone of the economy and communities. Today these women feel dignified and their neighborhoods stronger

Unlike the WIFARM and Widows Economic Progress Meetings (WEPROGRESS) initiatives already promoted by the foundation for widows and financed solely by Dr. King’s companies, Lift Bank is opened for public collaboration. The initiative was launched with $500 funding grants for 2018/19 calendar.