Philanthropy: Femi Otedola’s Example by Reuben Abati

“God has been so kind, the only way I can show my gratitude to Him is to use my resources to support those who are underprivileged. This I intend to do for the rest of my life. In a world full of conflicts, diseases, calamities and inequality, we all need to show the milk of human kindness, to reach out and comfort the sick and give a helping hand to the weak.” With those touching words about the collective humanity that we all share and the purpose of life, Femi Otedola, Nigerian multi-billionaire and entrepreneur issued a cheque of N5 billion in support of Save the Children, a 100-year old UK-based charity. Otedola’s donation is for the rehabilitation of displaced and underprivileged children who are victims of the insurgency in the North Eastern part of Nigeria. The cheque was presented by Tolani Otedola, the billionaire’s eldest daughter, at a gala event in Abuja, Sunday, organised by another daughter, Florence Otedola, who is popularly known as DJ Cuppy. The latter is an Ambassador for Save the Children and a member of the organisation’s Africa Advisory Board. Femi Otedola’s friend, Aliko Dangote, also a billionaire and a philanthropist of note, added his own donation of N100 million bringing the total donation to N5.1 billion. I do not know how rich Otedola is, but any man that would give away N5 billion (about US $14 million) to support children or anyone in distress certainly has the milk of human kindness flowing through his veins. Otedola deserves special recognition and a word of gratitude for his generosity. By this singular act, and similar gestures in the past, he seems to be changing the narrative about the art of giving and the need for a sense of community and philanthropy in Nigeria. It is not enough to give, but to give consistently and generously, without any expectation of reward or gain.

Of all his efforts as an entrepreneur, Otedola would probably be most remembered for his acts of philanthropy in the long run, that is his social entrepreneurship, the readiness with which he offers a helping hand. In the last year or so, he has been on record for picking up the medical bills of Christian Chukwu, former Captain and coach of the Super Eagles or the Green Eagles as the team was earlier known. Chukwu (now 68) was a commanding presence on the football field. He led his local team, the Enugu Rangers to many victories, and as a member of the Green Eagles, he was a play maker and motivator of the team’s last line of defence. Both his fans and teammates called him “Chairman.” That was not for nothing. And yet the same man could not pay hospital bills. Femi Otedola stepped in and helped out. He did the same for Peter Fregene (now 72), Nigeria’s former international goalkeeper (1968- 1971). And for Majek Fashek, the gifted Reggae musician who at the height of his glory was dubbed “the rainmaker”, in attestation of the force and mythical quality of one of his famous tracks: “Send Down The Rain.” Many fans of his would insist even today, that whenever Majek Fashek performed that song, rain actually fell! But the magic has since left the stage, the myth has been compromised. The same Majek Fashek could also not pay hospital bills. Femi Otedola bailed him out. He also did the same for two famous Nigerian actors: Sadiq Daba and Victor Olaotan. There are probably many others whose cases are not reported in the media.

Nigeria is a very strange place where the future is as uncertain as the present. The gap between the rich and the poor is wider than the entire Sahara Desert. The average Nigerian lives on less than a dollar per day. Social infrastructure is in a state of decay. There is no social security scheme. The public health system collapsed long ago. Private hospitals detain the sick who are unable to pay for treatment. One woman gave birth in a hospital; she and her baby were detained. The country once tried to introduce a National Health Insurance Scheme. It has never worked, because it is used as an instrument of political and ethnic patronage. Ours is a country where even the rich are not sure of tomorrow. Talented people, distinguished professionals in various fields of endeavor end up becoming beggars, or destitute, not necessarily because they did not plan for their future or for unforeseeable accidents of life, but they suffer because Nigeria often leaves its citizens stranded. The state routinely disappoints the people. It is unfair. It can be cruel. People are treated as if they do not matter.

This is why every act of kindness is significant. It is not the amount that matters, but the very thought itself, that gesture that reminds us occasionally that in this pressure cooker of a society in which we live, you can still find a rich man who gives out a dollar or two, a concerned citizen who helps an accident victim, a cab driver who finds a document or some money forgotten by a passenger and returns it, or a security agent who does his work with the fear of God. Such persons are quite rare in these parts, and it is why we need a constant reminder that beyond the state or government, Nigeria is a country where we must continue to search for the meaning of Being-ness, and the reasons for being human. An Otedola helping the sick and the weak reminds us of the big difference that we all can make, not in dollars but each man in his own station according to his strength through simple and possible gestures of kindness.

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