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When Giving Dethrones Fame In Nigeria

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By Emmanuel Onwubiko

A key aspect of the general scope of African cultural value system is the obligation on Africans under their respective customs and traditions to be charitable to the less privilege even as hardwork and resilience by all are encouraged.

In the days of yore, going by recorded accounts in many great African philosophical texts, the ordinary African in his native land is made to imbibe the cultural value of giving. Typically, hunger, starvation and extreme poverty aren’t notorious in ancient African communities. Indeed, different African traditional communities thrived on productivity in agricultural practices. In Igbo cultural or traditional society, the wealth of a man used to be rated by the accumulation of yams in the family barns. 

Fast forward to these days when due to mismanagement of resources and widespread corruption by a lot of central government officials and sub-national officials in the 36 states and the federal capital territory, poverty, hunger and deprivations practically walk with four legs on the streets of virtually all cities and towns all across Nigeria. Majority of Nigerians have migrated away from their rural communities to urban areas in search of greener pastures away from the farms. The effects of social media and the bridging of communication brought about by the World Wide Web has broyght a new kind of lifestyle whereby most youths have embraced the quest for white collar jobs and have substantially abandoned traditional African careers in the Agro-allied sector. Absence of social amenities encourages rural-urban drifts and these migrations erode the African attachment to the cultural value of GIVING. Due to widespread poverty, Nigeria has become like a basket case thereby compelling rich and generous nation’s in the Western Societies to initiate actions to fund charities in Africa and Nigeria as the nation with the largest black population in the World, also receive some of the largest part of the largesse from the West.

The unprecedented scope of poverty is the reason such externally funded interventions are carried out in major flashpoints by such qualitatively governed and administered bodies like the European union, the British funded DFID and the other components (USAID) implemented yearly by the government of the United States of America.

Not long ago, an official of the United States embassy in Nigeria was quoted in the local press as stating that the United States of America provided $89 million in 2018 to fund some poverty alleviation programmes in Nigeria.

Looking at how many developed economies prioritize giving of aids to African nations shattered by poor economy and corruption, it can be safely said that the West has more cultural attachment to giving than Africa for instance whose history is replete with documentary evidence that most African communities were built around the ideology of generosity.

It would seem that the so-called Western civilization has exchanged our generosity amongst ourselves for mass poverty, hunger, starvation and collapsing economy. The new trends of mass poverty and the lack of the spirit of giving by rich Africans has also contributed to the decline in the well-known traditional value system of giving. However the Western societies still values and carry out the task of giving.

President Bill Clinton, who governed the United States of America for two terms did a great book about giving in which he made a call to action, as it were.

A review of the book seen online says that “Giving is an inspiring look at how each of us can change the world. First, it reveals the extraordinary and innovative efforts now being made by companies and organizations—and by individuals—to solve problems and save lives both “down the street and around the world.” Then it urges us to seek out what each of us, “regardless of income, available time, age, and skills,” can do to help, to give people a chance to live out their dreams.

Bill Clinton shares his own experiences and those of other givers, representing a global flood tide of nongovernmental, nonprofit activity. These remarkable stories demonstrate that gifts of time, skills, things, and ideas are as important and effective as contributions of money. From Bill and Melinda Gates to a six-year-old California girl named McKenzie Steiner, who organized and supervised drives to clean up the beach in her community, Clinton introduces us to both well-known and unknown heroes of giving. Among them:

Dr. Paul Farmer, who grew up living in the family bus in a trailer park, vowed to devote his life to giving high-quality medical care to the poor and has built innovative public health-care clinics first in Haiti and then in Rwanda; a New York couple, in Africa for a wedding, who visited several schools in Zimbabwe and were appalled by the absence of textbooks and school supplies. They founded their own organization to gather and ship materials to thirty-five schools. After three years, the percentage of seventh-graders who pass reading tests increased from 5 percent to 60 percent;’

Osceola McCarty, who after seventy-five years of eking out a living by washing and ironing, gave $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi to endow a scholarship fund for African-American students.”

This fascinating copy from Bill Clinton confirms the high premium that modern Western societies place on giving although it is not a blanket statement that poverty, homelessness have completely disappeared but the remarkable contributions of rich people in the United States of America and Europe have helped to drastically globalize the essence and prime place of the humane value system of giving.

However, this piece is motivated by the emerging trends of few wealthy Nigerians who have individually decided to dedicate some percentage of their wealth towards giving to those who lack.

By some estimates, the combined estimates of the wealth of only less than two percent of the richest Nigerians dwarf the entire assets and wealth of the rest of the nearly 200 million people in Nigeria.

Although what these few rich people give to charities cannot be said to be significant when compared to the presence of the largest poor people in the world congregating in Nigeria, the change of attitudes by these few rich Nigerians has reinvented the old African cultural value of giving.

These rich but generous class of modern day Nigerians are less than half a dozen but the quantum of their giving may be small in proportion to their total assets but the shift from the stiff necked greedy attitudes of most rich Nigerians by those few numbers of wealthy Nigerians should be celebrated.

These rich and generous Nigerians are also not keen for fame but are guided to be generous by some inherent principles they may have picked up from their ancestral genes.

These are Aliko Dangote, rated as the richest black person on earth; Femi Otedola who is a son of a well brought up Lagos born Roman Catholic adherent and erstwhile governor of Lagos Chief Michael Otedola and lastly the owner of Air Peace Airline who is from Anambra Mr. Allens Oneyema.

A country such as Nigeria with at least 100 billionaires but only three have demonstrated the uncommon virtue for giving, one can then imagine how good Nigeria will be if all the rich people can have a change of heart or Metanoia, which is a Greek word for change of heart, and begin today to embrace the attitude of giving like their fellow billionaires aforementioned whose generosity are not done for fame but purely out of good will, then Nigeria will be good.

The Guardian of Nigeria tells us that the Kano state born Alhaji Aliko Dangote has been rated as the sixth most charitable person in the world. Aliko Dangote’s charitable works seem to be limited to the Northern region which is his native home. That notwithstanding is a commendable feat giving that due to corruption by the political class the north obviously harbours the largest numbers of poor people in the Country. There is over 10 million out of school children in the North alone even as child malnutrition is at an alarming rate in the North.

Femi Otedola who has been seen giving lifesaving reliefs to some sick national legends in the fields of sports and music (Christian Chukwu and Majek Fashek), was reported by a journalist to have donated $6 million building to the Augustine University in Epe, Lagos state.

The structure, which is currently under construction, will be the premises of the Faculty of Engineering at the University.

Speaking during the foundation laying ceremony of the new building, Otedola said, like his father, he was passionate about education and development of the country.

“My father was very passionate about a university being built in Epe because he was very passionate about education. Rather than spend my money on building more houses or buying a jet for myself, I decided to spend the money to support this laudable cause by the Lagos Catholic archdiocese through the Augustine University,” the businessman told journalists.

Augustine University is a private Catholic-owned University located in Ilara, a town in Epe local government area of Lagos State Southwestern Nigeria.

Femi Otedola is the controlling shareholder of publicly traded Forte Oil, an oil marketing and power generation company. Originally a Nigerian subsidiary of British Petroleum (BP), Forte Oil has more than 500 gas stations across the country. It owns oil storage depots and manufactures its own line of engine oils. Femi Otedola is also one of Nigeria’s most popular philanthropists and over the years has given millions of dollars to causes in education, health and the arts. He featured in the 2016 ranking of Forbes billionaires with a net worth of $1.8 billion at the time.

Lastly, apart from individuals, religious organisations need to embrace the virtue of giving to alleviate poverty in Nigeria. How do you tell a hungry man to stand up and praise God? With which strength? Even God will prefer that those who will worship Him should be happy.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwa@blogspot.com; www.thenigerianinsidernews.com

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