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If you think I am about to mount the “pulpit” this morning to ask the “congregation” to “donate” generously, you are correct. But it is not to buy a private jet. Rather, it is for humanitarian purposes – to save lives, to put a smile on someone’s face, to clothe someone, to feed someone, to comfort someone in this season of pain. This is an unusual topic to write about; you are used to reading politics and economics on this page every Sunday. But as I sit in the comfort of my room hitting my laptop keyboard, without a worry in the world, over two million Nigerians are homeless as a result of the floods that ravaged a dozen states between August and October this year.
The floods are now receding, but nearly 400 lives were lost in the tragedy. Thousands were injured, some permanently. Overall, seven million Nigerians were affected. Lives and livelihoods are disrupted or destroyed, further worsening poverty in the land. As people live in make-shift shelters and defecate in open spaces, the risk of contracting diseases is high. Some commentators are putting the human tragedy on the scale of what happened in New Orleans, United States, in 2005. It is that catastrophic. It’s a new experience to us in Nigeria as we have not witnessed such a widespread disaster before. But what are YOU doing about it, apart from shaking your head in pity and lamenting how irresponsible our leaders are?
One thing I have discovered about us Nigerians is that many of us are not averse to giving – the problem is, I suppose, we think certain kind of giving is not for us. While we may find it easy to help a cousin who needs to pay school fees or a neighbour who wants to settle hospital bills, it is not very popular to give to people we don’t know. When we read that there is school that has no desks, we shake our heads and lament about “this country”. It doesn’t usually cross our mind that we can buy desks for that school with just N50,000! When we hear that some people have been rendered homeless by a fire incident or a collapsed building, we just say “so sad” and move on to the next topic. This problem should be handled by the government, we declare.
Aside individual responses, however, big business must also learn to give responsibly without being pushed. It was a bit embarrassing watching Alhaji Aliko Dangote practically cajole the big guys to donate at the fund-raising dinner for flood victims two weeks ago, but maybe it’s a culture we have to develop gradually. We are used to giving in a particular way and to particular causes. The flood catastrophe appears to be the first major national disaster that we are raising funds for. When Ikeja cantonment was rocked by explosions in 2002, with over a thousand killed in the ensuing stampede, I can’t remember if there was any national effort to help the victims. For a country that courts disasters all the time, individuals and big business may have to alter their approach to relief efforts.
Dangote, the co-chair of the Presidential Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation, said at the dinner: “As my grandfather once told me, ‘The soul of business is not making money but making people happy.’ I believe quite strongly that people make the difference – and not the balance sheet. We impact positively on the lives of the people, not by how much money we have accumulated, but by how much goodwill we have accumulated. We should give while we are alive and also when we are young and capable. Sometimes, we need to have the genuine experience of deprivation and poverty in order to appreciate the need to be our brother’s keeper.” Big business must understand this fact.
Dangote followed his words with action, donating a total of N2.5 billion. That is the spirit. Telecoms and oil companies were conspicuously absent, although Mr. Jim Ovia saved the day with N1 billion donation on behalf of Visafone. Arthur Eze also gave N1 billion. I have heard the ever-cynical Nigerians say these are government contractors who would make their money back and I wonder: why are we like this in this country? Give, we won’t give! All we can do is sit down and criticise those who are giving! There are many contractors who care little about the poor and would never give even if we beg them from now till eternity. I know many Nigerian billionaires who cannot be bothered with putting a kobo into charity, yet they keep benefitting from the system. Yet, those who decide to give, we malign. The cynicism is getting to the point of insanity, I’m afraid.
We need to talk less and do more. I was touched to learn that Professor Pat Utomi had launched an individual effort. We don’t have to go through the government route to help the victims. Anything government, we know, is prone to fraud. All food is Halal to corrupt government officials, including relief materials and budgets for poverty alleviation. It’s an incredible country. But we can identify credible agencies that will channel our donations directly to the victims. Meanwhile, we cannot all give N500 million like Otunba Mike Adenuga Jnr, but there are things we can give in our own little way. There are shoes in our racks we’ve not touched in three months. There are clothes in our wardrobes we’ve not seen in four months. There is N5000 hiding in our wallets that can buy mattresses. Even N1000 can buy a bag of “pure water”. We can donate buckets and toilet rolls!
Above all, we – individuals and big business – must begin to cultivate the culture of giving not just to our family and friends and customers, but also to causes and people who don’t know and may never know. It is not always that people have to say “thank you” to us.
And Four Other Things...
Could it be that President Goodluck Jonathan is not aware that posterity will judge him largely on his performance in the power sector? Why is he listening to the confusionists and greedy guys in government who are bent on stalling the reform so that billions of naira will continue to be voted to PHCN? First, they chased away Professor Bart Nnaji as power minister. Now, they are scheming to take over the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) by seeking to terminate the management agreement with the Canadian firm, Manitoba Hydro International, through the back door. I’m scandalised.
The Godfather Sleeps
My grandfather, who died this year, was a staunch supporter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Our house used to serve as the UPN office, I recall. I don’t know what happened before the 1983 general election (I was too young to query him), but grandpa suddenly switched to NPN and became an ally of Chief SB Awoniyi and Dr. Olusola Saraki. Ironically, Saraki, having fallen out with the incumbent Kwara State governor, Alhaji Adamu Attah, directed his supporters to vote for UPN’s Chief CO Adebayo. UPN won convincingly, and Saraki consolidated his position as the godfather of Kwara politics forever (well, until his son dethroned him last year). Good night, Oloooooye!
Elections and Violence
In my article last week, I accused politicians of fomenting violence after losing an election. However, a reader said the violence is “spontaneous”. I beg to disagree. Electoral violence is never spontaneous. It usually starts before the election. Guns are bought and distributed. Opponents are tagged “traitors” or “quislings”. Threats, blackmail and intimidation are deployed. Sectional sentiments are played up. Petrol and disused tyres are acquired to burn people’s houses. How can this be spontaneous? And, I ask yet again, where is the love for country? Must you serve “my people” by force?
The football world has been celebrating Ronaldo and Messi, but my favourite player for many years has been Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish striker, who is loved and hated in equal measure for his self-confidence, is a deadly finisher with his back to goal. Last Wednesday, the son of a Bosnian Muslim father and Croatian Catholic mother scored what should easily pass as the best goal ever on TV – an incredible overhead kick from outside the penalty box in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England. For good measure, Ibrahimovic scored all of Sweden’s goals in the friendly match.