By Francis Ewherido
As a chartered insurance practitioner, the enormous power of Okugbe (unity, togetherness and pulling of resources together) naturally resonates with me. How do you imagine that you pay N70,000 premium annually to insure your house that is valued at N50m, yet if the house is razed, you get about N45m in compensation from the insurance company, depending on policy conditions like excess? Or you do a comprehensive motor insurance and pay N250,000 for a vehicle valued at N5m and if the vehicle is stolen, you get paid between N4.5m and N4.9 (depending on policy conditions like depreciation and excess). How is that possible? It is the power of okugbe, which is, pulling the resources of many people together and compensating those who suffer losses from the pool.
Okugbe is powerful; it makes impossible tasks possible, it makes unwinnable battles winnable, it creates giants out of Lilliputians. We see the enormous power of Okugbe among ants and bees. Lions go into a herd of elephants, isolate a juvenile elephant, bring it down and feast on it, something that is unthinkable with only one lion, but possible because of the power of Okugbe.
Individuals, nations, groups and communities have made giant strides because of the power of okugbe. Over time, there were many families, who made huge successes in business due to okugbe. People rumoured that some of these successful families and business partners were using diabolical powers. It is not true, it is the enormous powers of Okugbe. Nothing compares to okugbe, especially if it is based on equity, fairness and justice.
I have also seen the destructive power of disunity (the absence of Okugbe). Hitherto great families and relationships have been decimated because some family members or friends sowed seeds of disunity. There is no country in the former USSR that is as powerful as USSR today, not even Russia. Once USSR disintegrated, its enormous powers went with it.
Knowing the enormous powers of okugbe first hand, I did not hesitate when the President General of Urhobo Progress Union Worldwide, Olorogun Moses Taiga, invited me to join other Urhobo patriots to raise N300m to start a microfinance bank, incidentally named Okugbe MFB, which is primarily meant to provide easy access to loans for the ewheya (women) and youths (ighelle) in Urhobo land. These are two critical groups in any society. The youths represent the future of any society, while women stabilise the families. They are also helpmates and sometimes breadwinners. A friend told me some time ago that many men (and families) in the town, where he lives, would have gone hungry by now, but for their wives. The wives are the breadwinners in most of the families, according to him. With unemployment and ill health decimating the menfolk, the women have stepped in to fill the gap.
I grew up to see the average Urhobo woman as very hard working. Some of them did many income-generating tasks (farming, trading, tailoring, etc.) simultaneously to support their families. The situation has not changed. Urhobo women are in every sector of economic endeavour. Go to any building site in Urhobo land, there are more female casual workers than men, especially at concrete stages and laying of blocks. Some of these female workers are pregnant, while some are nursing mothers. Some of them are actually trying to work and raise money to start a business. In transportation they are there. They dominate trading and retail business. Setting up a microfinance bank partly targeted at Urhobo women is therefore a no-brainer. They thoroughly deserve it. Moreover, if you want to provide support to lift families out of poverty in Urhobo land, supporting the women is critical.
Someone wondered why we are leaving out the men. No one is leaving the men out. It is just that the initiative is primarily targeted at youths and women. That does not shut out the men. “Primarily” infers that there is “secondarily.” And talking about youths, they include young male adults or are young male adults not men? The level of unemployment among youths in Delta State, especially Urhobo youths, is scary. I saw it first-hand 2015 during the election campaigns, when I went around Urhobo land with a governorship candidate. Every village we went to had an army of unemployed youths. This makes it important to make them targets of such an initiative. In fact, we need many more initiatives targeted at Urhobo youths: mentorship, career guidance and counselling, skills acquisition centres, access to finance, etc. The problem goes beyond money. Some have no formal education, some are unemployable, some have defective education and others have not developed any skills or innate abilities. But many are rearing to go, but are handicapped by funding. The microfinance bank will come handy for the last group. The problem of youth unemployment is not something one person or institution can solve and it will not be solved in day, but okugbe (collaboration) overtime can do a lot. There is strength in togetherness.
Okugbe is about unity, no room for political divisions and distinguishing one clan from the other in this project. There is just one common purpose: chase poverty out of Urhobo land. Many people at individual levels are doing their bit; please continue your good works, but also remember the power of Okugbe. There is strength in collaboration and that is what this project is all about. We need 300 Urhobo patriots, who can invest a minimum of N1m each to enable the bank take off. We have also set an upper limit of N20m per investor. This is to ensure that no single individual has controlling shares as to derail the bank from its founding objectives. Subsequently, there will be another drive to raise additional N1.2b to bring up the paid capital to N1.5b. This will enable more Urhobos buy shares of the bank because the shares will be sold in smaller units. This will also increase the lending capacity of the bank.
It is easy to be scared by the enormous task at hand, but with the power of Okugbe anything is possible. The mortality rate of microfinance banks is also very high. The reasons are many: poor corporate governance, high defaults in loan repayments, regular changes in government policies, lack of requisite human capital, infrastructural deficiencies, corruption, unethical practices, etc. We are going to work round to check these anomalies when the bank takes off and ensure that it endures. Every Urhobo person has an obligation, everyone should be a watchdog, to ensure that the bank endures and continues to bring succour to our youths, women and others via Okugbe MFB when it finally takes off. We should also not forget the subscribers, who are putting their money down to bring this dream to fruition. At some point they should get returns on their investment.