Felix King: I have a mandate to provide succor to vulnerable children, widows
What informed your decision to set up the Felix King Foundation and why widows?
Well, this is more of a divine mandate, a mandate to provide succor to vulnerable widows and their children in Nigeria. Because it is a divine mandate, it’s God who knows why he gives it to me. However, from personal experience, it’s heartbreaking when we see what widows in Nigeria go through; this suffering and maltreatment are made possible by customs and traditions. However, our aim is not only to ameliorate their suffering and agony but also bring their plight to the government and communities, explaining why we should stop it.
When you say ‘personal experience,’ does that mean you were personally affected?
From one part of the society to another, there’s always a widow close to us, hence the awareness of the inhumane treatment meted on these people. Because customs allowed a lot of these things, it’s fast becoming unbearable yoke and I believe this defies religions because sometimes, people will merge tradition and religion.
When you look at religion and human dignity, people with conscience would then start to think that these things are not proper because, these widows are either ones mother, sister or daughter. So, we believe is something we need to add our voice to. Apart from trying to lend our support, we believe if others begin to condemn this act and desist from practicing them, then the aim of ending this obnoxious customs may have come sooner than later.
Apart from creating this awareness, what other engagement have you done through the Foundation?
The Challenges of widowhood in Nigeria is bigger than we think. Statistics show that we have over 8 million disadvantaged widows and with an estimated 21 million children; this is a huge epidemic that Nigeria is seating on. So, what we are trying to do is to lend our little support towards reducing their plight. We have set up an empowerment scheme, which is startup trade fund. Through the scheme, hundreds of widows have benefited; we help them identity trading opportunity and finance it. So, it’s like giving them hook rather than fish. Each of these women got an average of three hundred and fifty thousand naira (N350, 000) last year to start a business because, we believe that once their source of income is guaranteed, then the future of their kids is equally secured.
What provisions do you have for children from such homes?
Well, we believe that children education is very important and unfortunately we also discovered that most of these children have dropped out of school upon the demise of their breadwinners. To ensure most of them go back to school, we have set up a scholarship scheme. Last year, tens of children were given scholarship and like I said, tens is nothing compared to 21 million I stated earlier.
However, we need to start from somewhere. Again, we’ve established medical scheme to support some of these widows’ children and we give them social support in terms of food materials too. But we did something very profound last year December by instituting a programme solely dedicated to the widows of Police officers. It is easy for people to criticise the Police, but the sacrifice they pay is so enormous. Therefore, we did a programme dedicated to the widows of policemen. It was quite insightful because the Police structure does not quite support these widows and their children.
This January, we have flagged off the N30million widows’ empowerment fund, where we will be disbursing money to the widows for those who never benefitted to use to start up their businesses. We have broken them into income groups and at this stage screening and registration is going on and when that is done, we start disbursing the fund. It’s a nationwide programme, but the first phase begins in Edo State and Lagos State. This year, priority is the military and the Police.
Is this a sort of repayable loan or free money?
No, this is not a loan; it’s an empowerment scheme. When we give them this money, we try to encourage them to start a trade; it’s not a loan but a free startup finance scheme. So, what we do is to work with groups, for instance, we are working with widows’ associations in the states where all their members are known by the associations and we are screening them. From that screening, we give them the money and encourage them to start something.
Have set up any mechanism to monitor the disbursement and spending?
The best we are doing for them is bringing in those, who can supervise them, but I strongly believe a widow would rather put that money into something good than squander it. But for the police, we are working with the Police authority, where all these women could be identified. We have a system that monitors their progress. Again, when you give ten people money, there are one or two who may not make good use of it. But presently, the report we have received is satisfactory; we have visited few of them and we found that most of them now have the reason to live. For instance, there is a woman who started with N300, 000 and now she has done over a million naira; that’s some cheering news and we are encouraged to do even more.