Agbajowo, Lafinsoya | Unity, Our Strength

by James Tayler

By the Nigerian Federation and JEI-Nigeria



23-30 AUGUST 2015


Introduction and background:

This report covers the incoming exchange to Nigeria from 23-30 August 2015, the first incoming exchange to Nigeria since the Federation was born in mid 2013.[1] Accordingly, this exchange focused primarily on core SDI rituals, especially savings, and to a lesser extent broader issues of mobilization, building Federation leadership structures, and launching the Nigerian Urban Poor Fund.

Participants included members of the Nigerian Federation (Lagos and Port Harcourt), JEI staff (Lagos and Port Harcourt), and representatives from the Ghanaian Federation and Peoples Dialogue, Ghana. Unfortunately participants from Kenya and the SDI Secretariat were unable to attend due to visa issues and conflicts in scheduling.

The weeklong exchange involved time both at the Federation/JEI office in Lagos and in the field in communities where the Federation is active. Accordingly, a variety of learning and exchange techniques were utilized, including ‘classroom’ lectures and interactive dialogues on theory as well as practical exercises in the field. At the start of each day of the exchange, participants reflected on the previous day’s activities and reviewed the objectives and schedule of the day ahead.


Opening session:

The exchange began with excited chants of “Agbajowo-Lafinsoya! Ogboriboisime-Nyo! Odudu-Odudu!” – meaning “Unity-Our Strength!” in three of the many languages of the Nigerian Federation. Over 75 savers from different informal settlements across Lagos had gathered together at the Federation/JEI office in Lagos, together with two visitors from the newly launched Port Harcourt chapter, eager to exchange with their Ghanaian counterparts. The exchange had just begun.

The Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Federation led the opening session, which included individual saver introductions and an overview of the objectives of the weeklong exchange. Thereafter, the Nigerian Federation gave a brief introduction comprising of the history of savings groups and Federation mobilization in Nigeria. Subsequently, Haruna of the Ghanaian Federation introduced the Ghanaian Federation, his savings group, and their activities/accomplishments. He carefully explained the relationship between federation members, the supporting NGO, and SDI. This introductory session served to launch the exchange, enable Federation members to get to know one another, and also for everyone to raise the important questions and issues that they wanted addressed during the week.


PHOTO: Opening session at Federation/JEI office in Lagos, with over 75 Federation members from more than 20 different savings groups in attendance

At the end of the day, there was a deliberation on how to revise the schedule to simplify and focus, and also better accommodate the core issues raised during the day’s program and facing the Nigerian Federation more broadly at this stage in their development – SDI core rituals, leadership development, and mobilization.


Exchange objectives:

During the course of an open session on Day 1 of the exchange, the Nigerian Federation agreed to the following list of priorities for the exchange:

  1. Savings (techniques for mobilization of new groups) and loans (within groups)
  2. Federation leadership structures and qualities (by understanding how leadership structures developed in Ghana, and reflecting on the Nigerian Federation’s development to date)
  3. UPF (how to launch, manage the fund, keep records, and explain benefits)


Savings, loans, and UPF:

During the exchange, more emphasis and attention was given to savings than any other topic. Given the size of Lagos, and challenges of bringing most of the Federation membership to a single location, it was agreed that the exchange would move to different zones around the city and convene larger groups of savers who lived close to those areas so as to enable broader Federation participation. Four locations were chosen: Orisumnibare (Apapa LGA), Tarkwa Bay (far out islands), Otodo Gbame (Lekki peninsula), and Bishop Koji (Amuwo-Odofin LGA islands)

On Day 2, the exchange was taken to Orisunmibare informal settlement for a convening of over 10 savings groups to discuss local savings and loan practices. Orisunmibare informal settlement was chosen for this meeting because 2 of the 3 savings groups located in the community have successfully initiated loaning within savings groups. Loaning is not presently widely practiced across the Nigerian Federation, and therefore Orisunmibare served as a good ‘learning ground’ for the rest of the Federation. The meeting held in Orisunmibare was interactive, including presentations by the Ghanaian delegates and several beneficiaries of the loaning schemes who explained how they had used the loans, and why they were helpful.

After the session on savings groups and lunch provided by Orisunmibare savers, the Nigerian Federation and Ghanaian Federation supported community-led profiling in neighboring Abete-Ojora community – in response to an urgent request by savings groups there for profiling to take place during the week of the exchange (see Profiling and Mapping section of this report).


PHOTO: Comfort Akinde of the Nigerian Federation explains the savings and loans practices in her savings group in Orisunmibare

On Day 3, in response to requests by the Okun Ayo – a settlement neighboring Tarkwa Bay on the far-out islands facing the Atlantic Ocean – to join the Nigerian Federation, participants in the exchange visited the community to explain what is the Federation, what are the benefits of becoming savers, and how to start a savings group. After a long discussion with the community, a new savings group was launched, named “The Young Shall Grow,” with over 15 members contributing during the initial collection. Simultaneously the Nigerian Federation and Ghanaian Federation supported community-led profiling and mapping in Okun Ayo to gathering basic information about the community and the challenges they face.


PHOTO: JEI’s Lagos Coordinator Rasheed Shittu with members of the Nigerian Federation launching a “The Young Shall Grow” savings group at Okun Ayo community

Savings practices were the focus again on Day 4 when the exchange participants visited Otodo Gbame informal settlement. Otodo Gbame is a community situated on the shore of the Lagos Lagoon in Lekki Phase 1, a predominantly Egun settlement whose principle occupation is fishing and fish smoking. Otodo Gbame is an important site for a Federation meeting because there are 36 active savings groups within the community – the largest number of savings groups in any informal settlement in Nigeria. Over 100 people attended the meeting, eager to benefit from the incoming exchange. The meeting lasted for 5 hours, with great presentations from the Ghanaian delegates – especially Aisha from the Ghanaian Federation who spoke about savings and upgrading at Ashaiman – and active participation from Federation members from Otodo Gbame and Federation savings monitors. Both the Baale (traditional leader) and Chief Imam of Otodogbame were present at the meeting supporting the work of the Federation, reflecting the unity in common purpose of the Federation in Otodo Gbame.


PHOTO: Savings and loaning training at Otodo Gbame (where 36 Federation savings groups are active) with over 100 savers in attendance

During the program in Otodo Gbame, Salifu from People’s Dialogue in Ghana, and Haruna and Aisha from the Ghanaian Federation taught extensively on savings. The highlight of that particular meeting was when Aisha from the Ghanaian Federation addressed the community, showing them her passbook and telling them her personal motive for saving. The women were particularly excited to see and hear her speak – especially the story of the Aishaman apartment complex built by the Ghanaian Federation – and were motivated to save more and “save with purpose.”

On Day 5, back at the Federation/JEI office, the exchange participants together held a reflection session on the meetings and discussions that had been held during the exchange. Members of the Nigerian Federation recognized the effect Aisha had on the audience at Otodo-Gbame and took her as a case study, identifying what she did to connect deeply with her audience, including:

  1. She spoke with passion
  2. She was able to break down complex terms to the understanding of her audience
  3. She spoke using examples when necessary and stories
  4. She moved them by speaking in a heart touching and personal way
  5. She spoke showing pictures and using props
  6. She has had consistent practice
  7. She was confident

During this session on reflections on savings and loans practices, Salifu with input from Haruna, Aisha and JEI gave the core federation leaders in Nigeria a detailed lecture on savings practices. This was partly to demonstrate the way that savings is explained in Ghana, as well as to distinguish daily savings from other kinds of savings, and tackle some outstanding questions from the Nigerian Federation. This session covered the following topics:

  • Why do we save? (an interactive session with the Nigerian Federation)
  • Different types of savings in Ghana
    • Ordinary savings
    • UPF savings
    • Pension and insurance savings (Ghanaian Federation testing this practice now)
  • Tackling a big question from the Nigerian Federation:
    • Q: What if we meet a savings group already on ground?
    • A: Understand their savings group/practice (structure, purpose, how it is controlled) and compare with the Federation savings group practice. Then if they want to join the Federation, help them transition into a Federation savings group.
  • Savings group structure in Ghana, key positions and roles/responsibilities:
    • Collector
    • Treasurer
    • Loan Officer
    • Loan Committee
    • Book keepers

Haruna concluded this session by explaining the risks associated with giving loans in a savings group and encouraged the Nigerian Federation to brainstorm on ways to ensure that loans get paid back within savings groups – warning that if they do not, it can be very challenging for the savings group to survive.

The next topic of discussion was launching the Urban Poor Fund in Nigeria. Core members of the Nigerian Federation have recently introduced UPF savings to a number of the most established savings groups in Lagos. This step was supported by the printing of new savings passbooks that now include a column for UPF contributions, which are now being distributed to Federation members in Lagos and Port Harcourt. However, many questions and uncertainty remained about how the fund is supposed to work, who manages the fund, and what the benefits are, including how to leverage UPF savings to access the UPFI. Therefore, the Ghanaian Federation and NGO representatives took time to educate core members of the Nigerian Federation, answer questions, and discuss the need for future exchange.

This conversation was led primarily by Haruna of the Ghanaian Federation, with support from Salifu of Peoples Dialogue. They explained that the primary benefit of UPF savings is that it attracts potential funds to communities to support development and upgrading projects. They additionally told the story about how the Ghanaian Federation established their UPF. The Nigerian Federation concluded that they would continue to encourage UPF contributions from all Federation members (thus far only a small number have contributed), but that they would be recorded in their savings passbooks and, for the time being, kept within the savings groups – and only transferred to a central fund once there was a clear and comprehensive plan on how the fund would be managed. The Nigerian Federation agreed that they will continue working toward elaborating their plan for UPF management as a next step.

On Day 6, the last full day of the exchange, the Nigerian Federation convened a meeting at Bishop Koji settlement of savers from 6 communities on the islands off of Apapa Wharf – the third sub-region within Lagos where the Nigerian Federation has been most active. The meeting was led by the Nigerian Federation with support from Aisha of the Ghanaian Federation and was primarily aimed at mobilizing and encouraging savers to continue to engage in federation processes.


PHOTO: Salifu of Peoples’ Dialogue (Ghana) sharing his experience federation building in Ghana with Federation members at Bishop Koji with savers from 6 different communities in attendance


Profiling and mapping:

Because the Nigerian Federation has been using profiling as a tool to mobilize more informal settlements to join in Federation activities and start savings groups, as well as map out and identify all of the informal settlements in Lagos, the Nigerian Federation thought it important that the exchange touch on the profiling methods used in Nigeria, accomplishments thus far, and the goals ahead.

Accordingly, alongside meetings focused on savings and loans taking place in Orisunmibare on Day 2, a portion of the Nigerian Federation led a profiling and mapping exercise in neighboring Abete Ojora community. Similarly, in Okun Ayo on Day 3, a portion of the Ghanaian Federation demonstrated how they organize savings mobilization and outreach in Okun Ayo. By the Nigerian Federation leading during the first profiling exercise, and the Ghanaian Federation leading during the second exercise, we were able to learn from each others’ strengths and weaknesses which informed broader conversations about the profiling process, techniques, purpose, and outcomes.


PHOTO: Kayode, Comfort, Paul, and Emmanuel of the Nigerian Federation training Abete Ojora community on household tally as part of profiling process


Federation leadership:

A secondary, but very important thread of the exchange was the theme of federation leadership. This topic was first discussed at length on the day that the Ghanaians arrived in Lagos, before the formal exchange program commenced. This initial conversation was primarily between the Ghanaian Federation members present, and core members of the Nigerian Federation. Discussions began with the issue of how the Federation broke with RUDI, and its founder. The Ghanaian Federation members were eager to have a better understanding of what specifically happened to force the Federation to break away. The Nigerian Federation explained that the founder of RUDI tried to leverage the Federation’s members for his political campaign for local office, started a personal loan scheme that corrupted Federation’s savings processes, threatened with physical violence (through his vigilante force) anyone who dared to disagree with him, and extorted money from a number of community leaders for them to be eligible to receive promised future payouts of “SDI money” in return. Furthermore, they explained that the leadership of RUDI was not made up of Federation members, but instead was comprised primarily of male elders from a select group of communities in Mainland Lagos. For all of the above reasons, the Nigerian Federation is relieved to have moved on and hasn’t looked back since the split with RUDI. However, the transition was difficult. The most challenging aspect was explaining the split to some of the less active Federation members who weren’t involved in the negotiations and fall-out with RUDI. Although, with time, this has become less and less an issue as the Federation continues to grow.

The Ghanaian Federation members explained that they were not surprised that the Nigerian Federation had to go through this transition, and likely there would be many more to come. They further explained that every federation goes through such struggles, and the important thing is to learn from the experience and build back stronger. Additionally, the Ghanaian Federation advised the Nigerian Federation, based on their own experiences, not to mix politics with savings no matter the promise or prospects – as doing so will undoubtedly give rise to problems. The Nigerian Federation explained that they take several lessons from the experience – that political campaigns and federation-mobilization can’t be intermingled, that leaders of the Nigerian Federation must be savers who are active in trying to advance federation aims and objectives, and that central loan schemes to individual savers corrupt savings practices and undermine savings groups, among others.

Later in the week, on Day 5, we revisited the issue of federation leadership during a daylong reflection on where the Nigerian Federation is today, and what the way forward is. The team from Ghana threw more light on the issue of leadership within federations by explaining the evolution of the leadership structure in Ghana over the nearly 15 years’ history of the Ghanaian Federation. The Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Federation sat in rapt attention, taking furious notes, especially during the stories of leadership crisis in the early years of the Ghanaian Federation. The Ghanaian federation went on to describe the first round of leadership structures put in place during an annual Federation retreat around 2005 – and more recent adjustments to the Federation leadership structures based on their study of leadership structures in 5 different countries’ Federation leadership structures. They explained that today they have four distinct levels of leadership, namely: community leadership, zonal leadership, regional leadership and national leadership. However, they explained, this leadership structure didn’t come into existence over night, and that the Nigerian Federation should not rush to establish structures prematurely.

Instead, the Ghanaians challenged the Nigerian Federation to develop second-tier of leadership where experienced federation members identify and train others to be able to lead certain processes as well. The Ghanaian Federation members pointed out, however, that typically what happens is that active federation members try to act as gate-keepers – preventing others from coming up so that the benefits and opportunities can be shared amongst a smaller group of people. JEI-Nigeria reflected that they agreed second-tier leadership is the biggest challenge that the Nigerian Federation faces today, and that if second-tier leadership is successfully developed, the federation will grow exponentially and more quickly advance towards meeting their goals.


Outcomes and next steps:

During Day 5 and Day 6 of the exchange, core members of the Nigerian Federation held meetings to think about how to strengthen the Nigerian Federation and simultaneously bringing in new practices, such as UPF savings. Among the reflections and conclusions reached, the Nigerian Federation decided they need to convene more trainings to build the capacity savings monitors, profiling facilitators, and the key members of savings groups such as the collectors and treasurers. They additionally concluded that they would request for more opportunities for exchange – both internally within Nigeria and externally with other federations in the SDI network – so that they could deepen their understanding and skills.


PHOTO: “Profiling = putting our communities on the map” is a slogan of the Nigerian Federation – here pictured on their way back from Okun Ayo where together with visitors from Ghana they carried out a complete community-led profiling, tally, and mapping process, as well as launched Okun Ayo’s first savings group



[1] The Federation in Lagos was born out of two prior incoming exchanges to Nigeria in June and August 2013, which focused on house-numbering, mapping and enumeration of the informal settlements in Mpape, Abuja, and in Badia East, Lagos, due to both settlements being under threat of eviction. The first savings groups in Lagos started in Badia East during that time.