Anamero Dekeri: My Life as a Social Entrepreneur
Anamero Dekeri, the founder of Anamero Idofe Anamero Foundation, has nurtured his business enterprise, which he started at a tender age, into a successful empire. At the moment, he does not only desire to turn his foundation into the biggest charity organisation in Nigeria, but he also wants to touch the lives of his people and make the society a better place. In this interview with Mary Nnah, Dekeri, who was recently honoured by the Rotary Club for his humanitarian activities, discusses some of his achievements and future plans. Excerpts:
Many people do not know about your foundation, but it seems to be doing a lot in terms of community development. Why is it seemingly unknown?
What the foundation is doing is a reflection of my calling and passion. The foundation started operating formally in 2012 in Edo State. My plan is to ensure that it emerges the biggest charity organisation in Nigeria. To own the biggest charity organisation in Nigeria had been my dream even before I started the foundation. I have remained focused in pursuing that dream and make it come true. In 10 years from now, we want to see beneficiaries of the foundation come back to testify of how the organisation has changed their lives and also contributed to the moral and educational development of others. I want to see the foundation develop into a life-changing institution and a model in the humanitarian circle.
How do you plan to replicate what you have done in Edo North in other parts of the country to emerge the most prolific and biggest foundation in Nigeria?
Recently, professionals have advised that the scope of the foundation is too broad and that we should focus on education, empowerment or community development. They have advised us to focus on a particular cause and that is what we are currently doing. We will certainly go national in operation and impact. But we should remember that I have limited resources as an individual. The kids we have impacted, hopefully, will be part of the foundation someday. As we speak, I have not collected a dime from anybody or an organisation. I want to create an impact using my resources first. And that is a deliberate decision; I don’t want people to see it as a business venture when we meet them for support. If people do not see the need to join the foundation, some of those who have benefited will certainly do so. That is the reason we have continued to expand the frontier to reach as many people as possible.
The foundation has done a lot in the area of empowerment and we are currently restructuring to ensure that it is more efficient. You may not know but you can do your findings to know the number of boreholes, industrial boreholes, community townhalls, access roads and schools the foundation has donated. Our focus, going forward, will be education and empowerment. From 2012 till date, over 1000 individuals have benefited from its scholarship. The foundation will continue to endure and possibly outlive the founder. There are examples of foundations that started small but have moved on to run multi-billion-dollar budgets. The Ford Foundation is one of such.
Can you put a figure to what the foundation has done?
On the contrary, I focus more on the number of lives we have impacted. The foundation spends several millions every year to deliver the exercise book project. We have also spent much on the building of community town halls and blocks of classrooms to foster positive interactions and quality learning. We are currently constructing roads and streets. I am not seeking the praises of men, so I don’t throw these figures around. In five to 10 years’ time, I want to see the number of lives the foundation will transform. That is the ultimate end and not the billions of naira we spend on projects. The joy is giving hope to people, not getting praises.
What value are you bringing to support the industrialisation process of the state?
We will continue to expand our network to create more job opportunities for the youths. The agricultural revolution is one area we want to key into. We are working out modalities to acquire land for mechanised farming to create both direct and indirect jobs for the teeming youths. I have mentioned to the governor that we are interested in Gelegele Seaport project. I am also making plans to bring in investors to play key role in the project.
Do you think the political class is doing enough to effect positive change in Nigeria?
I had struggled for years to dissociate myself from politics because of the way it is perceived in our clime. Many people see it as a dirty game. In the cause of my philanthropy, I then discovered that there is limit to what you as an individual can do to help an extremely deprived society. I told myself that I need a platform to affect a greater number of people positively. As an entrepreneur, I have limited resources to touch the lives of thousands of people that are looking up to me. If I have a better platform, I would be able to touch more people. So, this is the whole idea. This is the passion. But more importantly, we need more people of contrary worldview to water down the endemic grab-everything attitude among public officeholders. This is the only way we can build new culture that support selflessness.
My humble background has taught me a lot about life. I have seen it all growing up as a teenager and I have tasted the harshness of life. So, I don’t need to be told what people who are in position I was are going through. My joy comes when I am able to affect positively the lives of people around me. I want to see them happy; I want to give them hope. The driving principle of religion is faith, and faith is worthless without hope. Faith runs on the vehicle of hope. If you take hope out of faith, it is useless. That hope is what I want to inspire in politics.
I was a bit reluctant to come into politics because it is seen as a dirty game. At a point, I asked myself – is it politics that is dirty or the people practising it? We need to make a clear distinction here. All what evil requires to succeed is for all good men to do nothing. If everybody stays away, then what happens to the system? How did we get to where we are today? We had decent and patriotic politicians when we were very young.
But today, it is something else. If you are passionate about your people, you must be ready to sacrifice for them. This is exactly what I am trying to do. The society will only be better for us when the greater number of the people is happy. If we fail to deal with greed and selfishness, we will all be consumed one day. The society will be better if the few people that are fortunate give hope to the less privileged and that is why I desire to be in the senate someday soon.
Why are you interested in the senate?
The drive is to touch the masses and set a new standard of representation. What we hear is that the salary of a lawmaker can pay tens of medical doctors or teachers. Imagine the different it will make if I employ 10 medical doctors to go around my senatorial district with the salary I earn. First, I will declare my salary and allowances to my people. Then, I will open a trust account where my salary and allowances will be paid into. The money will be used for the public good, to empower my people and develop my senatorial district.
You started your humanitarian service since early 90s; will you continue this even if you are not privileged to take up public office?
For me, philanthropy is a calling. It is a pledge I have made. One of the things that give me joy is giving. When I give, I get the kind of satisfaction wealth, fame and business success cannot give me. One thing nobody can separate from me is philanthropy. It is in course of expanding my philanthropic works that I am seeking a political office. I see politics as a platform of expanding the reach of my humanitarian works. The more I give, the more I realise the need to give more. It is an unending venture. So, I have realised the silliness of stomach infrastructure and the wisdom in teaching a man how to fish rather than giving him a fish. So, my intention is to focus on empowerment. We must get the unemployed youths and women to stand on their own. People will continue to run to others for help except they are able to stand on their feet. When they are independent, their thinking and orientation will change. It is only then, they will want to support individuals that are vying for political offices on the strength of their merit and not what they want to give them. They will not mortgage four years because of a pot of soup that will not last for two days or a cup of rice.
The reason Nigerian masses appear so naive is poverty. A hungry man can easily compromise. If you are hungry, everything presented to you looks like food. It is a psychological thing. I weep when people scramble for rice every Christmas when we go to villages to distribute rice. When the supposed breadwinner fights for rice, what would you expect from women? That is the level of poverty in the society. Poverty has reduced us to a ridiculous level. We must, through legislative intervention, begin to guide people to create wealth. It is a revolutionary campaign that we have to embark upon.
We must teach and support people to work to earn legitimate income. And the people themselves must be prepared to embrace the revolutionary trend.
Education, like I have said, is very critical. One of the greatest heroes of the country, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, said an educated man is easier to govern. When governance fails, it is partly because those saddled with leadership responsibility and the followers lack quality education. An educated mind is a liberated mind.
This is the reason Anamero Idofe Anamero Foundation has been involved in educational development since 2012. Since 2012, every pupil of public school in Edo North gets, at least, four exercise books. Recently, scholarships were given to 10 students in Okpe, Akoko Edo Local Government Area. On the same day, 10 women were selected for empowerment. Last October, two 10-classroom blocks built by the foundation for two public schools in Etsako were unveiled by Gov. Godwin Obaseki.
Education is not optional, it is mandatory. Little wonder that the holy book says that my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Take note, it does not say they are stupid, hungry or poor but that they lack knowledge. As a matter of fact, some translations say they perish for lack of knowledge. That tells you how crucial education is to a man. Take education from a man, he becomes useless. Apart from education, we are involved in rural development. We have built town halls to enhance peaceful deliberations; we have donated transformers. We have lost count of the number of boreholes we have delivered to make life easier for especially women. In a matter of weeks, we will complete a five-kilometre road we are constructing in a community in Etsako East LGA. The more of these projects we execute, the more needs we see.
Do you have specific areas you intend to contribute to if given a chance at the parliament?
We must begin to address the challenges in the education system in a strategic manner. When you educate an individual, you have liberated several generations to come. That is because the level of reasoning and the worldview of an educated individual is remarkably different from others. Through law-making, we can reform the education system and make it more result-oriented. Through law-making, we can bring hope to millions of people through education. The liberation of every society starts with education. To achieve this, we must live a life of contentment. We live flamboyant lifestyles that we do not have the capacity to maintain whereas the critical needs like education suffer. We cannot develop if we continue like that. This is why I invest so much on education. When I was in Primary two, I could not afford common exercise books. Whenever I remember what I went through, I acknowledge the deprivation some pupils go through and how useful I would be to them.
The level of employment and poverty in Edo North, for instance, is still extremely high. Several youths that should be assets to the states are not actively engaged. What are their challenges? Yes, some of them are graduates. But that is not enough. What other things can they do to contribute to the growth of the society? It is not just about the certificates; we can give the horde of jobless youths some direction. Our women are hardworking, commitment and diligent in the calling. But there is limit to what they can do. Some of them are doing very well in agribusiness and trading. Our has been actively involved in the empowerment of the youth and women but to reach a larger percentage of these groups, we need to put in place robust institutional frameworks that are supportive of the society we want to build. And I think that society is one that is progressive, developmental and wealth creating. Young men and women die daily of ailments that could be cured by common medical aids. Children who are willing to learn do not have the basic education facilities required for decent learning. If we cannot begin to think of how to address these challenges, it means we have lost the essence of humanity. We must create an environment that is supportive of quality living, education and healthy living.