Mr. Dele Oye
Abimbola Akosile writes about a remarkable private effort, where Ketti, a deprived community in Abuja FCT, was adopted and transformed by a group of compassionate individuals, led by a lawyer who wanted to give back to the society
Money and power, it is said, can corrupt almost individual. However, money and power, if effectively employed through philanthropy or personal magnanimity, can make a whole lot of difference in the lives of needy beneficiaries.
Although it is also often said that 95 per cent of Nigeria’s huge wealth is concentrated in the hands of less than 5 per cent of her 160 million citizens, it appears some individuals and groups are setting aside the norm to make a difference in their immediate environment and in chosen locations.
World-famous innovator and founder of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda, have donated billions of dollars to societies previously unknown to them, especially in the developing and Third World countries of the world.
Incidentally, the funds provided by this noble and committed couple have elevated millions out of the clutches of poverty, provided vital healthcare for needy children and families, and also ensured quality education for numerous deprived kids.
Ironically, the richest men in Africa are found in Nigeria, where more than 69 per cent of the population live on less than $2 a day, and where poverty and deprivation are sometimes accepted as ways of life.
Until the understanding that poverty alleviation is not the sole responsibility of the government but the collective duty of all citizens more fortunate than others is well grasped, the poverty level in the country will soar even higher.
The former President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mines and Agriculture (ABUCCIMA) Mr. Dele Oye, who is also a legal practitioner, told THISDAY that the above mindset spurred him to mobilise support for some rural communities around the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) area; particularly a village called Ketti, about 50 kilometres away from the glamour of the Abuja city centre.
Oye, who between the year 2000 and 2004, was the president of the University of Ife Alumni Council, where he led the council to construct one of the largest students hall of residence in the university till date, spoke on his sojourn in the world of community adoption.
According to him, the journey that led to his acceptance of Ketti community as his adopted village began in 1998 when a priest in the Catholic Church, Father Francis Kale, was posted to the village to revive the Catholic Church there.
“I was shocked beyond words to see that a village so close to the seat of power in the country languishing in such harrowing poverty. When I followed Father Kale to the village, it was impossible to drive our vehicle to the community. We had to park our cars and walk a distance of about 1.5 kilometres to get into the village. The condition was deplorable,” he recalled.
“When we got there the condition under which people lived was so harsh. There was no water, no healthcare facilities, no schools, and no sense of belonging. This was when I decided to adopt the community as my own and to mobilise help towards improving the lives of these people,” he explained.
According to Oye, apart from the various amenities, which were conspicuously lacking in these rural communities, there was a sense of neglect so palpable in these places, making it look like they live in a different country that from the others in the urban centres.
He said having considered the enormity of the challenge that these rural people faced as a community, it was obvious that a one-off borehole or classroom block project may not be a sustainable way to support the community.
So the legal practitioner decided on his own to adopt the community as his own, with a pledge to use his own financial resources as well as his goodwill to meet some of the pressing social needs in the community.
These efforts have led to the provision of pipe-borne water in the community and a programme under which some members of the community have received employments in the FCT while some of the students have received academic scholarships.
“Because I have adopted the community as my own I see them as a part of my responsibility. I may not have enough to give to them as an individual but I have friends, associates and relatives who I can easily pool together in response to essential needs that need to be met in this place,” he said.
Reverend Father Francis Kale of the Catholic Church, who has now been moved to another community, said it was always so moving to see that Oye would regularly come into the community with his friends and associates for the sole purpose of extending a better life to the rural poor in the community and to meet some of their pressing needs.
According to Kale, it is an attitude that all Nigerians must imbibe and practice to make the country a much better place to live in.
He said one of the remarkable initiatives introduced by Oye under his Ketti adoption programme is the annual Christmas party, where they make the ordinary people in the village actually experience the joy of the season, by providing food, drinks, gifts and toys for the children to play with and be happy.
Display of Goodwill
Describing the yearly Christmas event, Oye stressed that what is most important to them is the fact that he and all his associates would leave all their personal activities behind in the city and go to Ketti and be with the people just to celebrate them and make them happy.
“What is important is that we all leave everything we do behind and we go and be with these people and associate with them and give them a sense of belonging. We eat with them, have drinks with them and share gifts with them.
“In some deserving cases we announce scholarships to students from the community and now it has transformed into a very major event. Last year this event attracted over 3,000 people, not just from Ketti, but also from surrounding villages like Kabusa, Lugbe, and Pyakasa,” he said.
“One of the things we try to do is to bring the fun, which children who are privileged to live in the urban centres normally have during the season, to these children in rural communities. We bring Santa Claus; bouncing castles and other features of children amusement parks to the village for the little ones to enjoy”, Oye added.
Recognising the danger of mosquitoes and their prevalence in these rural communities, one of the gestures which was extended to the people in the community was the provision and distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, to help reduce the incidence of malaria, which was identified as the most common illness in the community aside diarrhea.
Mentoring and Counselling
Mentoring and Counseling have also been put in place in the Ketti community to encourage the people to pay adequate attention to healthcare and education.
“Before we started to counsel them on the importance of schools and hospital, these people never believed in it. They hardly sent their children to schools nor did they bother to take them to hospitals when they were ill, and we are happy that that is gradually changing now”, Oye said.
Being from a humble background himself, the humble philanthropist said he always tries to take advantage of any opportunity to improve peoples’ lives.
OAU Ife Gesture
Perhaps it was the same motivation from Ketti community that guided Oye’s tenure as the president of the University of Ife Alumni Council, about which time the then-Vice Chancellor, Prof. Roger Makanjuola, wrote in Chapter 19, pages 242 and 243 of his book titled: Water Must Flow Uphill.
In the detailed publication, Makanjuola wrote: “A major breakthrough came with the election of Dele Oye as the President of the Alumni Association in 2000. I had looked at him with suspicion when he was initially elected. He had mobilised a large number of previously inactive alumni to attend the national convention to vote him in, and he spent a huge sum on their accommodation and transport.
“My sentiments had been in support of the candidate of a more socialism-oriented group from Lagos, among who was Mr. Olumide-Fusika whom I had come to admire during his representation of the students at the judicial commission.
“Dele Oye proved to be the best alumni president the University has ever had and it will be difficult for any future alumni leader to surpass his achievement. So committed was he that he spent his personal money on projects and also spent generous amounts to support alumni who were in difficulty.
“Under his presidency, the two-storey Alumni Hall, a 56-bed female hostel, was constructed. This building was particularly remarkable in the university because since the 1980s; financial considerations had made bungalow structures the order of the day. Half of the cost of that building came from Dele Oye’s personal pocket,” the former VC wrote.
Oye and his friends have set a remarkable tone for rich Nigerians who prefer to stash billions in dollars in foreign numbered accounts. Admittedly, some other wealthy individuals have also employed similar people-friendly strategies to make a difference in their or selected communities.
However, if only a handful of Nigeria’s now-numerous billionaires would adopt one village or community and transform such in remarkable ways, the burden of development would be greatly reduced on government alone. Incidentally, peer review in backing and adopting villages and communities can be a remarkable pastime of the nouveau rich. What a stimulating thought.