PASTOR Helen Oritsejafor, fondly called Mama Helen Oritsejafor, is a co-pastor of the Word of Life Bible Church, Warri in Delta State. She hails from Ado Ekiti in Ekiti State and is married to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
Apart from being a co-pastor of the Word of Life Bible Church, she is the Chairman, Board of Directors of Eagle Flight Micro Finance Bank Limited, Eagle Heights International Schools and the African Broadcasting Network, ABN. In this interview conducted before the presidential election, but after the women convention of the Word of Life Bible Church, known as Daughters of Sarah Convention, the mother of three bared her mind on several national issues. Excerpts…
What triggered your salvation and how did you get to this stage?
It’s quite interesting because every time I think of it, it tickles me because, first and foremost, my Anglican background must have played a very big role in this. My father actually built an Anglican church in our estate and it was mandatory for us to go to church in those days, but that didn’t bring the change, besides the fact that I had a moral background and upbringing. There was this thirst in me to know God more.
My Bible and my big cross then were always in my bag. I will never forget a particular day I went to the bank and I needed to meet with the bank manager. Whilst I was waiting, the bank manager’s secretary engaged me and asked if I had given my life to Christ. I told her yes and I brought out my Bible and my big cross. She started laughing. So I asked what she was laughing at and she said she was not talking about my religion; instead she wanted to know if I had given my life to Christ.
She spoke to me about the need to do so and advised that I attend a particular church on Sunday. I didn’t go. When I showed up again the following week at the office, she looked at me and asked if I attended the service and I said yes. So she looked into my eyes and said I just lied. I was shocked because I couldn’t believe she would be that bold to say that to me.
Right there, I made up my mind that I was going to attend the next service which I did. And that day, as the service was going on, it was as though the man of God was speaking about my life. I lost my mother when I was four. Growing up, even though I was in a home of affluence, the fact that my mum was not there created a big vacuum for me and my siblings.
Having to now groom yourself to be very independent with the belief that there isn’t anything you can’t achieve, that has always been my resolve. I was very radical in that aspect. I could just throw myself into a place and believe that all I need to do is to pray and everything will start turning.
For someone now to start preaching and saying you’ve always believed you could do everything by yourself, you need Christ. Those were the things that really pushed me out and I was really touched by the experience because I just felt I was just tired of struggling and needed to give myself totally to the Almighty God, which I did.
Recently, you started the Professionals Entrepreneurs’ Businessmen Fellowship. What informed the formation of PEB and what it is all about?
PEB Fellowship actually is an idea that came to Papa and I. We sat down one day and looked at what had been going on in our environment, and found that apart from the fact that Christians believe that the only thing they need to do to bring a change into their lives, they also need to fast and pray to make things work.
So we had been discussing on how to take our children to the next level of life. Apart from preaching the gospel to them and showing them how to go to heaven, we also need to give them the impetus; what is going to make them shine here on earth. It is not going to address the professionals only, the initiative is intended to address expatriates, professionals, business men and women; and, of course, we also believe that the world in which we live in is not created for only unbelievers.
Unbelievers are not supposed to be the ones in charge of wealth. Christians are supposed to be in charge of wealth. We are supposed to be the ones to teach unbelievers how to make money, but, unfortunately, we haven’t been active in that area. So we want to be able to teach our children how they can to distinguish themselves in whatever field they might find themselves. And it’s not just in Word of Life; it cuts across, meeting the needs of the community and, of course, in Nigeria as a whole.
Those who have attended the PEB Fellowship will attest to the fact that the sessions are unbelievable and unprecedented. And if we can work on the information, no doubt we will start seeing Christian multi-billionaires who, through that, can change their world positively still remain in faith. So the whole essence is to build a total man outside the spiritual aspect of impartation and make them very functional and prosper in their endeavors as the case may be.
In your position as President of Daughters of Sarah Fellowship, how do you rate the fellowship and its annual conventions?
Daughters of Sarah Fellowship is a body of women from Word of Life Bible Church, of 30 years and above, married and unmarried. The essence is to expose them to spiritual emancipation, financial, material, marital emancipation. One thing we’ve realized also is that women are the most marginalized sex, not just in Africa but around the world. It’s worse in Africa.
We know that in the western world, there has been some level of improvement because now we are beginning to see women heading countries. I’m hoping that, one day, we will be able to produce a woman as the President of Nigeria. There’s this uniqueness in a woman, because a woman is actually a man with a womb and that is the added value of a woman.
A woman can think through things if she is under pressure, you can see that she can easily balance out things. Those are some of the attributes that God has deposited in a woman and, if she is allowed to function in her aunction, not only would she be able to bring transformation to her immediate environment but the community and beyond.
A fellowship like this is to allow our women fulfill destiny in every area of life without having to be timid and feeling low with less esteem, but given a platform to function and to bring out the best in them. The beauty of this fellowship also is that it does not only encourage women in all aspects of life, but even the male folks as well.
The fellowship does not allow the women alone to attend the programme, for instance, like the just concluded convention, but it’s also for everyone because we do not only teach you on how to make your homework. Don’t forget, if your home is strong, automatically, every aspect of your life would be. Men were in attendance as well as children. I believe that this year’s convention was mind blowing because, every year, God has always tailored it to address something in our lives and it has always been incredible.
The theme was ‘Great Grace to Arise’. Nigeria is going through a lot of things right now. In the political atmosphere, Christians are being battered everyday; so many things are happening. Whether we want to agree or not, the Boko Haram insurgency happening in the North, Christians are the ones paying the higher price apart from the few Muslims who are also affected.
If you look at the economic situation of the world, it seems a little bit on the difficult side because of the sheer introduction of oil in the market that has more or less put the United States of America in a place where they now determine the consumption pattern.
Unfortunately, the developing nations have never been able to diversify their economies to a level where they can conveniently run their affairs without having to depend on revenue that comes from the US. Looking at all that, and then, of course, the personal struggles that we all have, God is saying that at this time, He is going to multiply His grace for us to be able to rise out of our ashes, out of our dungeon, out of our problems, out of things that seem to be affecting us, things that put us in a very bad state in life. What the programme did was to give us another chance.
You have also incorporated an international trade fair into the convention. What do you think is the role of the Church in business and what is your vision about women empowerment?
When we started, we had a situation where a major crisis was here in Warri, Delta State. It was an inter-tribal war that ravaged this place to a point where a lot of businesses either closed down or relocated to different parts of the country. What that tells you is that youths would be on the streets looking for jobs. Some tribes suddenly felt that they were no longer one anymore and they started killing each other unfortunately, and that put Warri and environs in a terrible state.
We created and looked for an avenue where we can champion business through Athens Trade Fair whereby people can advertise what they do and people will get to know about it. We also looked for another avenue where we brought some of the tribal leaders to the trade fair opening and create an atmosphere where they can now start interacting.
To God be the glory, we were able to successfully do that. Before we could say jack, businesses started springing up in Warri. People were now beginning to think it is still possible. People from the eastern part of Nigeria were now coming to Warri to partake in the trade fair and through that people started having all sorts of things to make their lives beautiful.
I believe that Christianity has a role to play in business. God is a businessman. A lot of time Christians don’t even know that business started from the kingdom of God. When God said “let us make man in our image” and He created the man and animals and so on for the use of human beings, He said to man: “multiply and have dominion”.
How do you multiply without engaging in business? Multiplication does not come without a trade. There has to be an exchange and that’s all what business is all about. Christianity has a big role to play in business. The only thing here is that we also know that in order to succeed, we need God and that is the beauty of Christianity. What this convention has been able to do is not only to bring in peace but to also trigger business opportunities in our community and to also open up people’s minds to various opportunities.
Day after day, people have been testifying of how God has used you to transform lives, education, family, marriages and so on. How do you assess yourself and your contribution towards the kingdom of God? Will you say you have achieved your goal?
I haven’t even started. I quite appreciate people’s perception concerning me, but, sincerely speaking, I don’t think I’m there yet. I believe more still needs to be done. How do you go to a crusade ground and you are having thousands of people in need and you are only able to make impact on a few lives? You need more to be able to do that. Honestly, my heart’s desire is to be able to enter into a place one day and just pick on people who have been considered as nothing, and God using me to take them to a higher ground. This is just the beginning of greater things to come.
All great people around the world face challenges. People like you have faced so many challenges as well. Can you tell us some of them and how you overcame such challenges?
There is always a story behind every glory. Anyone who tells you he just woke up one day and suddenly became great is a liar. It doesn’t happen. Even to manage success is also a big problem as well because you have to continue to manage. Someone can just say ‘let God bless me with a million naira and it will make me a millionaire’. By the time God puts one million naira in your hands, if you don’t utilize it properly, you will be back to becoming a thousand-naire. Life itself is a race.
The very first experience has to be many years ago when I was duped. It was supposed to be a business transaction. Somebody approached me and said he had cashew nuts and apparently Germany had written him wanting him to supply cashew but needed finance. I took him to my bank and released funds to him. He told me that, in one week, the cashew nuts would arrive, that he had already gotten a warehouse and he would bring the cashew nuts to the warehouse.
To my amazement, the one week came and went, nothing like the trailer load of cashew nuts. I called again and they said it’s coming that very day. I went to stay by the road side and parked my car waiting for the trailer load. So every time a trailer approached my direction, I would say this must be my cashew nuts coming, but then it would pass. The money I’m talking about was into millions. This was about 27 years ago. It was very devastating because what I had left in my account then, was nothing. To cut the story short, I lost the money. The cashew nuts never came.
The question then was how was I going to start all over again? So I went to God, where and how am I going to start? After I was done with praying, I remembered the experience of David. The Bible says David encouraged himself. So I encouraged myself. I started driving myself because I couldn’t pay my driver’s salary. My staff were still coming to the office and we were still believing God for a miracle. An Indian friend of mine just came by with his wife to my office.
I had not seen them for two years. She asked me what had been going on and I explained to her. Then she said her husband brought in what they called mini-steppers for exercises. I asked her how much was the mini-stepper, and she said N7,000. I said I was interested. ‘Let me be your representative and try to sell the mini-steppers.’ I was not in that kind of business before. I bought two mini-steppers from them and put same in my boot, combing everywhere looking for buyers.
This was me that was signing cheques of millions that was now looking for N7,000 worth of mini-steppers. It would shock you to know that that was how I became lifted again. I thank God today for that experience, and that’s why I’m never afraid to start anything afresh. It has never been a challenge to me.
Whenever things happen, I just look at it as if this is another way of making me better. When I sit back here and think about how many companies by the grace of God I have started afresh and sustained over the years, that experience came to bear from that experience I had 27 years ago when I faced with a ridiculous situation where I happened to start all over again.
Challenges come in life but you must never give up and you must never despise your humble beginning. Most times, people have difficulties embracing their humble beginning and that’s why they are unable to sustain what they come across. People want to just start big. People also need to know as well that they need God because I actually got my courage from Jehovah God who empowered me.
The money was gone but the real me was still there. Believe me, when you say I can’t do it, that’s when I want to do it to tell you it is possible. You must never give up, and then learn how to manage wealth. I was getting N500 on top of every N7,000 worth of mini-stepper. Before I knew it, my N500 became half a million, my half a million became a million and then I was able to push myself back into doing big businesses.
What happened to the dupe?
Unfortunately, nothing happened to the fellow in the sense that, initially, the matter was reported to the police. But on the long run, I just was not ready to waste my time chasing shadows. So I decided to put back my strength into building back myself. Meanwhile, about two years ago, I learnt that the person left Nigeria with his family for the U.S and then he came back to Nigeria, and he’s dead now. I didn’t have to do anything to him. I’m not happy saying it, but that is what happened.
How do you manage being a preacher, a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur, a role model?
I believe it is God. God has given me the grace to be able to function. I married a man of integrity, a man who would do anything and everything to make sure that another man becomes somebody in life. My husband has been a major encouragement to me. But, essentially, God has been awesome.
God has multiplied His grace unto me by giving me the wisdom to know when to be at African Broadcasting Network, when to make myself available at the bank as the chairman, how to make myself available as Chairman, Board of Trustees of Eagle Heights Schools, how to make myself available as the Director of Eagle Medical, how to make myself available in our Bureau de Change, how to chip in a word in Eagle Secure Win which is an insurance company, how to make myself available as a mother in the house to my children; because, at the end of the day, if you are successful out there and a failure at home, you are a number one failure.
For one thing, I do not joke with my husband. There was a day we all went on vacation and, before anything else, I’d always make sure daddy is well taken care of, he’s happy before I will attend to the children. One day, one of my daughters said to me, ‘we know we have to take care of daddy before anything else, right?’ I said yes we have to make sure daddy is happy because if daddy is happy, we are all going to be happy. These are some of the things that are very important.
I do not joke with him. What he eats is what he eats. My husband is the kind of person that does not eat overnight food. Every meal has to be fresh. I’ve known him for that so that I make sure he eats fresh. And also my children, I make sure I take care of them because it is not money that is going to make them, it is the love and care.
Two days ago, daddy was at home, and presently, the children are in their exams period. Early morning before they leave, I must do revision with them; so I’m already up by 5:30 am doing revision with them. Those are the ways you show to your children you care. Those are the things they are going to remember later in future.
They are not going to remember the expensive wristwatch you put on their wrists, it is how much you care about who they are that will speak for you tomorrow. These bring me to time management; the ability to manage your time effectively is very important.
There is this controversy that CAN, led by your husband, received, first, N6 billion and later, N7 billion, from the Presidency to campaign for GEJ’s re-election. What was your initial reaction?
It’s quite laughable. The challenge we have in this country is that we are not people of thinkers, and it’s quite unfortunate. And that’s the reason some of these people keep playing on our intelligence. If we are people of thinkers, it would be very difficult for them to do so. A thing like that never happened to start with. It’s what propelled it that I think I will like to address.
The whole essence was to create division amongst Christians. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. Suddenly, Christians are now the ones that everyone believes that in order for them to win an election, they must have our support, for the first time in the history of our nation; instead of people to play it right and bring down their manifesto.
When they are unable to do that, what they now chose to do is to discredit the leadership hoping to be able to leverage through that by securing a portion of our Christians to be in support of what they are trying to do, which is extremely sad because what that tells me is that they must be the ones doing it and they also think that others will have to do same as well.
And since they could not get the leadership of Christians, the question will be who tried to bribe the leadership of CAN to sway their votes two years ago and how much was it they offered the leadership of CAN? And at the end of the day, the leadership of CAN stood up and walked away from such the meeting because the question then was all we just needed you to do is to de-marry this man and we will give you this and this man walked out of the meeting.
And that’s why since then they have been going after him because they believe he is a man that cannot be bribed. He is a man that is very passionate about everything he is doing. And because they know that, they are doing their very best to see how they can malign him and give him a bad name. They’ve done everything to set him up.
I thank God no one has been able to come out and say that he was caught in the house of XYZ. Everything you see is to come up with different stories to give him a bad name. But it’s too late now. The reason I say it’s too late now is because we have Nigerians who are smart enough to read between the lines knowing fully well that something is evidently wrong here.
The question is, are you going to vote someone to power who has done everything to rubbish your faith and to rubbish what you believe by going under the leadership to cast aspersion on it, or are you going to support someone who is upholding your tenets? It’s an easy question.
It’s just like someone telling you that your parents are bad but the children are good. The same yardstick used in caning your parents will be used in caning you too. If you are a true child of those parents, you will know that whosever can wag his hands on your parents can also do same to you and you will never pay attention.
David said to Goliath, how dare you defy the king of the Jews?’ I want Christians to know that their destiny; let us not sell our birthright because of whatever reason. Let us follow our spirit. It is my prayer that we will allow reasoning to come to bear in this matter.
Can you tell us who attempted to bribe some people two years ago?
I’m not going to talk about the governor who unfortunately is very desperate right now. He’s desperate because a man who thought he was going to end up being a vice president is no way in the same politics where he started off as a governor. The initial offer dangled at him that made him to betray and leave a party for another was because he was to become the vice president should this party win.
Unfortunately, he’s no longer in the race and he has spent all of his life in it, so obviously he has to continue to gain relevance in that position. The pastor collaborating with him; I feel for him because he is a pastor that my husband has helped so much. There is nothing my husband has not done for him. But we had a big challenge with him for which we had to keep our distance.
It was at that point in time that my husband felt he was no longer going to have anything to do with him. I just see a man who feels that this is a time I can get back at this man. He’s been coming to beg. I’m quite aware that he has been looking for different ways to come and apologise for what he did.
From what I heard again, I hear he’s putting it on somebody else which I’m not going to mention the name. But the fact remains, Jonathan does not need to bribe Christians to vote for him. He’s a part of us. What we are talking about here has to do with Christians in Nigeria. I’ve not heard anyone trying to give us that assurance that we are safe in this country. What I have seen is someone trying as much as possible to label us by creating division, not giving us assurance that we are safe. No one has been able to say it with his mouth.
What the leadership of Christians is saying is; are we safe? Will Nigeria become an Islamic country if we bring you in? Because I keep seeing adverts from a part of the West saying when you become the President of Nigeria, we believe you will introduce Sharia. They claim we have one million Muslims in the West and yet they don’t allow them to practice their religion.
Now we are saying it’s not about money here; we are not going to sell our birthrights. I want to secure a nation for myself, my generation and generations to come. And we are asking, are you going to give us that leverage to continue to practice our religion or are you going to force another religion on us? And no one has been able to address that. Instead of addressing the real thing, they are casting aspersion because it’s more or less like divide and rule.
I still have a fresh memory of what happened many years ago when these same people were in power and I couldn’t wear trousers, I couldn’t wear my scarf, I couldn’t leave my hair uncovered. Nigerians forget easily. When these people were in power, I can never forget, my stepmother was to go to the market to buy something, she didn’t have her head covered, they had to smuggle her inside a store and look for a scarf for her because she was almost going to be arrested for not covering her head. A son or a daughter who decides to align with the enemies of his parents is a bastard, and I’m not one.