Helen Oritsejafor, a multi-talented business industrialist, author and co-pastor of Word of Life Bible Church is the wife of Ayo Oritsejafor. In this personality interview with Modestus Anaesoronye, she shares her growing up years, how she manages her home alongside her numerous businesses, and how people can find joy in their marriage despite challenges. Excerpts:
You are such a strong woman. Even when you were in your 20s, before you got married you were a millionaire. Tell us a bit about yourself?
Well, starting a life without a mother at four (I lost my mother when I was four years old), and I told myself that I wasn’t going to allow that to stop me. So I was very serve driven. It’s also a good thing that I gave my life to Christ at an early age so of course I wanted not to just be a business woman but also serving God. The dreams that I set for my life in my 20s, I just went all the way into it. I already had a company in the UK and I moved to Nigeria to establish another one. I started bringing in SMA baby food from the UK to Nigeria. I also had my road construction company, rural edification and many other things as well. It has been God all the way. I’ve always been a very focused person and when I put my hands into something I see it to the end. You must never allow your past define your life. Everything was militating against me becoming what I am today, but I never allowed my past or environment to stop me. Today, I’m not just a co-pastor with my husband in our church which is close to 50,000 in membership, I’m also the chairman of Eco Microfinance Bank and the MD/CEO of Africa Broadcasting Network. I run a medical centre, I run a school as well, the list is endless. It goes on and on but beyond all these, it goes to say that no matter what, you must never allow anything to stop you.
Many pastors’ wives get lost in the identity of their husbands. How have you been able to maintain your individuality and still able to achieve all that you have?
I need to establish the fact that I love being me. The importance of knowing your self-worth matters a great deal. When you know who you are regardless of who you are married to, you won’t lose yourself to marriage because that’s a common phenomenon. I remember when I was once in Ghana and some of the women were telling me that once a lady gets married that’s the end of it prior to when she has all her goals set up. So, the most important thing is to know who you are as an individual.
You also need to have a dream, a goal, things you’d love to achieve in life – do you just want to end up a Mrs. and be having children? Is that enough for you? For me, that wasn’t enough. I already had my goal set up even before I got married to my husband and I never lost that I kept on ever wanting to achieve them.
Also, I’m a people person – wherever I’m found, I love to reach out to people and add value. That was also a motivation for me.
Another aspect is the God Factor; how do you think about a lady from a polygamous home setting who lost her mother when she was four years old and still able to become a multimillionaire by the time she was in her twenties? When you are focused as an individual and never allow things or pressure to bring you down; you’re already a winner and never a loser. I thank God, I have never lost my person, the real me and that is very important.
How have you been able to harmoniously balance your marriage, children and your numerous works?
It has to do with time management. I know when to be a wife to my husband. I know when to be a mother to my children and I know when to be the chairman of the bank and so on.
A lot of things call for attention so the ability to prioritise is needed. I have been able to prioritise; knowing where I’m supposed to be at what time. I also delegate duties at my organisations because I’ve been able to build a solid structure that can run effectively and ensure proper deliverables from my end and from those working with me. Many Nigerian establishments really lack proper structure.
Of course, you also need encouragement from your spouse as well. My husband has been a huge encourager; he has strongly supported me over the years. I also have understanding children as well who know that “mummy is goal-getter” and is ever pushing to achieving whatever it is that she lays her hands on.
You mentioned earlier that the most important thing is loving yourself. How does one love oneself, especially when things around try to pull one down?
I think one of the things that has prevented people from loving themselves has to do with physical appearance such as when told you’re fat or short or uneducated and all sorts of things. Once you start believing that, you start looking down on yourself as an individual. Never take those things as a determining factor. Love yourself for who you are. God never thought you were not enough, if he did, he wouldn’t have brought you the way you are.
Whether you are tall, fat, slim or short; you are unique. There are no two of you. You need to believe that. If you don’t believe that and go on to depend on what people say to you before you believing you’re a fantastic person then it’ll be a serious problem. Please believe in who you are, believe in who God has created and that’s you. No one can ever be you. The ‘you’ are needed in this world.
As an individual, believe in yourself. The authentic you is unique, beautiful, smart, intelligent, fantastic. Walk tall and square your shoulders. Look, people will always say things about you. Surround yourself with the right kind of people that are positive and will always cheer you up not people that point out your faults which cause you to internalize these stuffs and before you know it, they start affecting your psyche. So surround yourself with people who really believe in you and love you for who you are.
Never let go of you. Even at my age, I’m still improving myself. The world is evolving, everything around us is evolving – so you must also evolve too. Do something fresh about you, celebrate your person. When you wake up in the morning, psyche yourself up. Talk to yourself. Tell yourself how beautiful you are. Tell yourself how unique and beautiful you are before anything else in the morning.
What if the people who talk you down are your family members? How do you deal with that?
Sincerely, most people who may bring you down are usually family members. You can’t change a family you’re already born into, but you can set up boundaries. Be nice. Be polite. Be good. Choose whose voice you willingly listen to and that is what matters the most. Who is it that you are listening to? There has to be someone in the family who you are listening to. If you don’t have any, sometimes, friends can be much more, validating your person and nudge you on even in your family.
Let’s talk about your recently released book, ‘Joyfully Together; Keys to Enjoying your Relationship’
The first key is to love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, then you have nothing to give. A lot of people are struggling with loving themselves. Even the bible says ‘Love your Neighbor as yourself’.
What was the inspiration in writing the book?
‘Joyfully Together; Keys to Enjoying Your Relationship’ stemmed out of looking at what is going on in Nigeria, be it married or single. Such challenges include not knowing the right person to settle down with at the end of the day with an increase in the ratio of men and women having desires of ending their marriages, it is something that one needs to really look into. It’s literally growing everyday – this is one end. Then the other is the aspect of our culture not allowing women to express how they feel; they feel trapped in the marriage because they know it’s a taboo to even think about divorce which is why we don’t have high rates of divorce over here unlike the developed nations.
My desire is to challenge and change the narrative; telling people that they can actually enjoy their marriage not endure.
Just like a doctor needs to be trained to having the knowledge needed to function as a doctor, so also, there are principles that govern marriage. You have to internalize and make them a part of you as a man or woman knowing what you need to bring to the table. When those things are ironed out and well received, with time, things will start working out. You won’t have to stay in a marriage as strangers enduring each other making it look like it’s working but in the real world it’s like cat and mouse. Sadly, this is what is going on in Nigeria and even Africa as a whole. We don’t want that; we want harmony.
Having being married for over two decades, pastoring a church of over 50,000 people and counseled so many couples, in your opinion, what is the number one issue that has caused couples not enjoy their relationships?
Lack of preparation. People prepare to get wedded but never prepare enough for marriage. Wedding is one day but marriage is forever. I believe if we can put in the same efforts that we put into looking good for ‘that day’ towards our marriage; it’ll go a long way. Think first, are you whole as a person; psychologically, spiritually, physically, emotionally. Is your partner also ready in these areas? Also, do you love each other? Not the infatuation or sexual love, this goes beyond that. Of course you have to love and celebrate yourself first then love the partner that is coming into your life as a person and not because of the material things. Does the person have a goal? Are you intellectually connected? These things really matter.
Each of them needs to know their role in the marriage. The woman should have respect for the man, submit to and celebrate him. The man needs to love the woman as Christ loves the church. People are always emphasising on the woman submitting without stating the role of the man, she gives and gives until she can’t give anymore. It has to be vice versa. In a nutshell, a man has to know what he wants in a woman and a woman has to know what she wants in a man.