Obi, Gates and Adding Value to the Society


Polycarp Egodi

Wisdom and introspection are necessary to understand the dynamics of the world and apply oneself becomingly to those realities. It is not every act of man that adds to our humanity and not everybody is disposed to making positive contributions to the society. I have seen wealthy people that understand wealth and use it to better the lot of their fellow beings. They often achieve genuine happiness, which is built of trust and responsibility they exhibit towards the society. I have also observed persons that made money, real money, but ended up using it to enslave themselves and their communities. Examples abound across the land, including those who boast that they have made enough money to court trouble and mayhem, which they gleefully welcome by the refrain: “Akalili m okwu nketere” (“I am greater than any problem that I cause”).

In our dear country, Nigeria, many of our compatriots who are labelled “billionaires” engage in all manner of senseless orgies and unwholesome public displays in order to be rated among the richest Nigerians. Some even lobby to be included by Forbes magazine as among the richest persons in the world. There is nothing men have not done to be seen as stupendously rich, even when they are in debt all over the place.

Globally, only a few men and women have stood out as examples on how to take on the realities of human society. The other day, Bill Gates of the Microsoft fame himself commended Nigeria’s Alhaji Aliko Dangote for his donations to charity around the world. Aliko Dangote is undoubtedly very, very wealthy, but is not carried away by his riches. Such are his life-style and disposition to life that millions of people across the world continue to pray that God should grant more riches to his kind.

On the contrary, there are some men in Nigeria that literally go crazy at the sight of money. They always want to lord it over others. At any opportunity, they would brag about their affluence from Jerusalem to Jericho. The objective of their concocted philanthropy is for men to praise them. Theirs is a sorry case of poverty of understanding.

One of the few men that must be held out at all times for his approach to life is Bill Gates. Until recently, he was the richest man of all times. What is touching about his wealth is that it has helped him discover his humanity. He channels most of his wealth to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has impacted tremendously on humanity.

Obviously exasperated by the Nigerian condition, he advised the Nigerian Government to focus more on human resource development as a key to unbundling the nation’s latent greatness. He expressed himself in all sincerity because Nigerian authorities have not demonstrated decent attention to developing the human person. Current statistics reveal that Nigeria has the highest out-of-school children in Africa and yet some people criticised Bill Gates for his statement. All the concerned philanthropist did was calling on Nigeria to look inwards by focusing on the right values centred on the people to enable its ascent to greatness.

The bane of Nigeria’s meaningful development is our approach to leadership. We have the wrong conception of leadership as an open sesame to power, wealth and fame rather that an avenue to contribute to humanity in positive and fulfilling ways.

In the People’s Republic of China, National leaders must have gone through thorough distillation processes; proving themselves at the Local and State levels of governance. In such climes, leadership is graduated. People cannot be entrusted with higher leadership responsibilities except they have proved themselves worthy at lower levels. Going by the Chinese process, the antecedents of anybody aspiring to leadership must be scrutinised. If, for example, he was a Local Government Chairman who did not care about human capital development, he cannot be trusted to perform well if he were made a Governor. If a Governor did not appreciate human resource development, chances are that he would wallow in the same ignorance if given opportunity at a higher level.

Bill Gates’ statement regarding the importance of developing our human resources is most profound. It is not that he said something new, but coming from him has made it wear a new toga. Having observed trends in Nigeria, I know and can talk about a Nigerian that has not only constantly advocated the grooming of human resources, but has lived it out as a state governor and in his private life thereafter. Indeed, the Case Study of my Master’s degree thesis is focused on his leadership style of responsible and responsive public service.

Whenever he is asked of his greatest achievements as Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi would not talk about the roads he built (acknowledged by the Federal Ministry of Works as the best road network in Nigeria) nor the over N100 billion he saved for the successor administration (being the only Governor that did not leave a debt or borrow from any financial institution). He would not boast of the number of industries he attracted to Anambra State (including two “Fortune 500” companies) nor refer to the several national organisations he persuaded through deft diplomacy to partner with the state. He would not talk about the numerous erosion sites he worked on or many institutional structures he variously set up and attracted to the state.

With a justified sense of fulfilment, Peter Obi has always said that what was uppermost in his mind was how to change the value-frame of the people of Anambra State. Besides personal example of right conduct and approach to life, which made him inspire the people of the state to shun extravagance and epicurean life, he invested heavily in education. At a point, he propagated what was known as “Adopt a School” policy; encouraging the people to support schools of their choice across the State.

The then Governor Peter Obi’s massive investments in education was in realisation that education is the easiest way to change the mind-set of the people and to develop the human resources of the state. It was not lip service or a mere slogan for him as he took a commendable stride to return schools to their original owners – backing it up with over N10 billion in grants, structures and equipment. His administration provided N5 billion to the State University for capital development; while each of the state’s secondary schools got two buses, computers, power-generators, Internet facilities, bore-holes, sporting equipment, rehabilitated laboratories, among others. The benefits soon began to manifest as the state came first in national/external examinations. Across the country and internationally, many people and institutions started looking upon Anambra State with admiration and respect.

Against this back-drop, when Bill Gates made comments about developing our human resources, many felt he was responding to the gospel that Mr. Peter Obi has been propagating over the years. Even many years since he left Government House, he has continued to support education in all the parts of Nigeria: Anambra, Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Kogi, Sokoto, Ogun States, among other places. We therefore agree that the smoothest means to develop a country is through its human resources. As Nigeria is at cross-roads today, we shall, like the Chinese, look for those who have done well at the Local and State levels of governance to take on the onerous task of rescuing Nigeria from the brink.

*Mr. Egodi sent this piece from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka