Starting an organization without any form of institutional /project support has been most challenging. The tasks have been daunting and the demands enormous.
    When in July 2006 we set out to demystify access to credit to the poor and lower middle class through the micro finance workshop, a critical tool in redressing economic, socio – cultural & political rights of women in Nigeria, we did not know what to expect as there were very few organizations in Lagos providing access to micro credit to our target group- The poor and the lower middle class.

    In the communities were we pitched our tent-  Ajangbadi, shibiri, Ilogbo, Okota, Egbe, etc 99% of our beneficiaries had us as their very first experience in advancing / receiving credits. We had no reference point in our documentation processes. This was worsened by the fact that 80% of our beneficiaries were illiterate and could barely read or write English language. Many depended on their friends and family to complete our membership and loan application forms.

    With no administrative grant to pay for office space, ICT materials, and a convenient venue to hold our bi weekly and later weekly micro credit meetings in our five existing groupings, most of these meetings were held in modest hotels at a high operational costs in the communities we operate.

    Furthermore, to cut down on huge operational costs, we had to depend solely on our appointed co-coordinators to disburse, and collect weekly loan repayment monies with considerable negative consequences. Two of our five co-coordinators have at various times in 2007 and 2008 abused this privilege with severe financial consequences to our operations.  We are at the moment reviewing the continued use of co-coordinators to disburse and repay loans in the groups.

    Other challenges experienced in the last two years included the unwillingness of our micro credit beneficiaries to be part of enterprise, organizational development and human rights trainings especially in 2008. Attempts to get them to be part of the various training programs put together in 2008 to address these issues met a lot of resistance. To many of them, they were avoidable distractions from their pursuit of daily livelihood. Efforts to get them to maintain basic book keeping records and cash flow management met stiff resistance. Yet the importance of these trainings to the promotion and protection of their economic, socio cultural and political rights as well as their overall growth and development cannot be over emphasized.

    Despite the above challenges, more than two years of advancing micro credit to the poor and lower middle class in Lagos sub burbs has proven that investing in women  especially through access to micro credits is one of the most effective ways of creating a more equal, just and sustainable world. We have proven that more women on their own and in their various personal capacities can effectively access and repay credit in Nigeria.  Most of our co-coordinators and indeed other beneficiaries are now so versatile with credit processes and procedures that they can today walk into any bank in Nigeria to access credit, having understood the rudiments of credits through our programs and activities.

    Through us, a lot of women have become economically empowered that they can defend their fundamental human rights. Many were involved with our programs with Lagos State government especially in mainstreaming gender into sector budgets of health and education. Many also worked as observers in the 2007 general elections as well as 2008 local government elections in Lagos state. Many contributed information used in the Nigerian NGO CEDAW Shadow report on Nigeria’s 6th country periodic report to the UN CEDAW Committee in New york in June- July 2008.

    Although theses milestones are worth celebrating, we remain steadfastly aware of the challenges ahead. What we are doing is at best scratching the surface. Women and girls in Nigeria still constitute majority of our poor population. Their economic, socio cultural and political rights remain unprotected and promoted. The establishing of  over 700 exiting micro finance organizations/ institutions between 2005 and 2008 through out the federation have not guaranteed more women access to required credit. Current statistics show that less than 5% of these existing institutions are committed to lending to active poor especially women in the rural areas including Lagos. It has made the continued existence of Centa for Organizational development (COD) inevitable with your continued support.

    We would remain steadfast in the coming weeks, months and years, in our desire to grow our micro finance operation into a world class model. that would  remain committed to ensuring that more poor women in Nigeria have access to credit. The outcome/ output from this endeavour would continuously be channeled to the promotion and protection of women’s socio economic, cultural and political rights in Nigeria. As always, we would count very much on your continued support to achieve our long term objectives.

    Nkiru Celine Okoro
    Executive Director