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I sincerely thank each and every one present here today for the 27th Annual Conference of LAPO Development Forum taking place in Benin City. I feel eminently honoured to be afforded the privilege to chair the occasion. I have, since receiving the letter of invitation to be the Chairman, taken the opportunity to learn a bit about LAPO, the acronym for Lift Above Poverty Organization, from some of the documents made available Page not found – Clive Shoes to me through the generous activity of the purposefully untiring Pastor Remi Yesufu acting as the links man between me and LAPO on this occasion.

I must say I was quite amazed to learn for the first time what LAPO stands for in the socio-economic leveraging of people from poverty. For many years I usually passed by LAPO place building at 18 Dawson Road, in Benin City without bothering to have information about it. All I thought of it – and believe me I don’t know how that crossed my mind – was that it was  an establishment backed by Government to help small and medium scale entrepreneurs (SME) with loans.

As I now know, it is true that LAPO provides opportunity for loans as one aspect. But it’s whole objective as a not-for-profit and non-governmental development organization is a strategized approach towards combatting poverty in its various manifestations and not just a matter of providing loans. Rather, it is a total package for prosperity with access to money through microfinancing, health facilities, social intervention activities and agricultural programmes and more, all of which are for the empowerment of people in order for them to have endearing relief from poverty and suffering.

This can be compared to the running of a good, proactive and effective government determined to show concern for the people or, at any rate, to the use of LAPO to point the way to those running Government towards achieving the essence of governance for the good of the majority of the people. I can see why part of the letter addressed to me by the Chief Executive Officer, Godwin Ehigiamusoe Ph.D and the Executive Director, Ayobami H. Obadiora Ph.D reads: “Initiated in 1994, the conference has become a rallying point and veritable platform to dissect and provide pragmatic solutions to issues in poverty and development in Nigeria.” But I wonder whether our leaders have shown a desire to take advantage of the opportunities thus outlined.

My curiosity is not without some basis when a passage in the submission of Professor Mike I. Obadan in the 2018 Forum is reflected upon. The paper was on: Towards Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation of Nigeria: Options for Non-State Intervention. That passage gives some hint that developed countries have embraced and tapped from the function of non-state actors like LAPO but not so by developing countries like ours. I have set out the passage as it is.

                   It would seem that state intervention has not lived up

                   to expectation, especially with respect to  reaching out

                   to the poor and that the capacity of the state to initiate

                   and deliver  development  has  been  over-estimated.

                  And so, the important question at this point relates to

                  where different  stakeholders,  in particular, non-state

                  actors (NSAs),  can   be   actively    involved    in   the

                 development process  to complement the state in  the

                  quest to achieve socio-economic transformation of the

                  country.   In   the   developed   countries, NSAs   have

                  become   a   special   force   for   change   in   the  way

                  government thinks,  acts  and  makes  decisions  that

                 affect citizens.   Their    activities have tremendous

                 impact on  both  national   and  international   policies.

I am particularly delighted in the circumstances to find myself in this year’s conference to know more about LAPO and at least to be associated, albeit incidentally, with those who established and run it. It is my great pleasure to meet with Dr. Godwin Ehigiamuose and Dr. Ayobami Obadiora for the first time and to congratulate them for their very commendable initiatives which, as noted by Chief Philip Asiodu in 2018 when he chaired the forum, have attracted international recognition and awards.

The theme for this 27th Annual LAPO Development Forum which is a health-related subject within the objectives of LAPO is stated as, Improving Access To Quality Maternal and Child Health Care In Rural Communities: Issues and Perspectives. We are told that Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR, both former Heads of State of Nigeria, are among prominent personalities who have delivered key papers at the forum in the past. That is indicative of the relevance and significance of LAPO to the ordinary people’s cause. As for the personality to deliver the keynote address today, we are certainly in good hands to have Bishop (Prof.) Vincent Iyawe, former provost, College of Medicine, University of Benin.

                                Hon. Justice S.O. Uwaifo, CON, KSC

                                Former Justice, Supreme Court of Nigeria

                                                 18th November, 2020

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