By Biodun Adeniyi
By 1996 estimation, Andrew Carnegie was reputedly worth $189.6 billion dollars. That bulk was as well estimated to be the second largest fortune ever acquired by anyone. But he reasoned that if he died that wealthy, he would have died a disgraced man. It was why he gave away a third of that wealth ahead of his death. Think of Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Foundation, and you’ll think of a man with outliving legacies. His thoughts on giving was perhaps fancied by latter-day super-rich, namely Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Ted Turner, Mike Bloomberg and Warren Buffet, who are all committing fifty percent of their wealth to charity.
The US apart, a recent estimate posted 1.77 billion pounds as the total from “angel givers” in that country. Christopher Hohn, Tom Hunter, Lord Sainsbury, David and Heather Stevens, Peter Cruddas and Anthony D’Affay, amongst some others, lead the pack of givers in the UK, having practically fulfilled or are fulfilling promises that the bulk of their wealth would go the way of charity. Nearer home, South Africa’s Francis Van Niekeuk, Jay Naidoo, Cyril Ramaphosa and Mark Shuttleworth are reputed to be some of the greatest givers. And in Nigeria, Theophilous Yakubu Danjuma, Mike Adenuga, Jr, Aliko Dangote and Emeka Offor have since caught the giving bug.
Point is, the art of giving has not only become entrenched in societies where capitalism, whether pure or prebendal, have been entrenched. Granted that wealth accumulation is a free desire in these systems, only the fittest seem to always survive, and probably triumph over others. Reasons around hardwork, luck, and inheritance often account for the disparities, but the thought to give back to the deprived majority eventually features in the consciences of the victorious few. Some holy books prioritise giving. Hear them: “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you,’’ so the Bible says in Luke 6: 38. “Surely the men and women who give in charity and give to Allah a goodly loan, they shall receive double and for them is a noble reward.” The Holy Qur’an also says in 57:18.
Not many rich givers might have been inspired by these books. After all, John Holme once told us that “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up”. And “when we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed”, so Maya Angelou said in her contributions to the giving debates. Those last two views are not necessarily directly from the scriptures, but the same meanings are shared, eventually expanding understanding on the virtue of giving. Importantly, the rich often times seem wont to giving, instead of leaving or reserving the excesses for their lineages, because of the positive pulls to so do, in the midst of deprivations.
Having just being honoured at a recent elaborate ceremony in Abuja as Rotary International First Polio Ambassador in Nigeria, Emeka Offor’s identity as a giver of note was somewhat unveiled, ultimately exemplifying one, or two of the motives behind giving. That significantly departed from the old recognition of the man as a kingmaker, who pulls strings behind thrones. It took away, and perhaps permanently, the businessman’s image as a throttle presser that does not mind whose ox is gored. And gradually, his hot political sides are being overwhelmed by the dimension of the philanthropist.
The businessman had doled out $1million to Rotary’s Polio Plus Program, in aid of the Global Polio Eradication Innitiative (GPEI). That sum was the second of such gesture from the charitable billionaire. He was in 2012 said to have also given $250,000 to Rotary’s Polio Plus Program. Petina Dixon-Jenkins reported that, Offor in February 2013 “contributed $250,000 in support of Rotary initiatives to enhance maternal and child health and another $250,000 for education and literacy projects.” Besides, “In October 2012, Offor contributed $250,000 in support of Rotary’s peace and conflict resolution studies. The gift provides support for students from Nigeria and other African countries who attend the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkom University in Bangkok, Thailand. The Center offers a three month professional development certificate in peace and conflict studies to approximately fifty peace fellows annually”.
We were also told that working in league with US based Books for Africa (BFA), the man with humble beginnings has through his foundation brought in over I million books, computers, and school items to Nigerian and other African countries. His educational empowerment project totalling $14million will eventually become the largest single contribution to schools in Africa. And back to the health sector, the business mogul in also in the fight against glaucoma, where he has established a $100,000 glaucoma research grant at the Department of Ophthalmology, University of Mainz, Germany, and has established a Nigerian fellowship for cataract Surgery and Glaucoma Management.
And at home, Offor is as well towing the beaten path. Like Holme said, he chose to exercise his heart by lending a hand to widows through his foundation. Women cooperatives have been developed to train participants towards economic independence. They are tutored in many money making skills, including palm kernel oil processing for sale, acquisition of tailoring and hairdressing skills and in the management of different small scale businesses.
Youths are also being empowered through innovative transportation concerns that include commercial buses and taxis. Micro finance grants and loans have been provided to the youths for motorcycle purchases, while participants are given technical assistance in the area of business management. Guest at the recent event were also told how the foundation has been involved in many community infrastructural projects. This comprise of “digging wells to provide potable water, enhancing the health of local communities, and sharply reducing water-borne morbidity among infants”. In addition “The foundation has also paved an access road in Offor’s home village of Oraifite to decrease the isolation of this rural community”.
Beyond books for educational institutions, the businessman further showed he has keyed into Thomas Fuller’s words that “learning makes a man fit for himself”, by going an extra mile to ensure youths are truly fit for the self. While Offor notes that “without education the people cannot create their own solutions”, he has been in the business of “building model schools and classrooms, furnishing them with Internet and other up-to-date equipments”. Scholarships are also been provided to the economically disadvantaged, with over 120 grants thus far. First class graduands amongst beneficiaries are instantly provided with a car and then employed in his burgeoning company.
The soft spoken son of a policeman told an interviewer that his passion for philanthropy was triggered by his humble backgrounds, adding up to his desire to “uplift people and make them independent and self-sufficient”. This is further to the position that he feels that “there must be something in my power to do, some impact I can make, something I can contribute to help remedy the situation (poverty).” For him, “A candle losses nothing by lighting another candle. The problem of poverty is not unique to Nigeria alone. The answer to the question of wealth creation and distribution has always been the creation of value.”
The man who sits atop the Chrome Group, spanning the diverse areas of Oil and Gas, Finance and Investments, Telecommunications, Insurance, Maritime Destination Inspection, Real Estate and the Power Sector assures that “more heroic and focussed leadership” is still to come from him, especially through his foundation. And to boot “Our nation Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and natural resources. Our faith is first and foremost in the Nigerian people. I am fully convinced that if given the same opportunities, our local talent can compete with the best there is anywhere in the world”. He added “We as a nation are a talented and resourceful people, and once our new intakes come in and embrace the strong work ethic of the group, and imbibe our can-do mentality, there is no limit to what we can achieve”.
Okey Ikechukwu (Thisday, July 2nd, 2013) sees the unveiling of Offor’s philanthropic sides as a “Metamorphosis”. That seems apt in the sense in which he perceptively mutated from being a hand that rocks the cradle to that of the “angel giver”. It is even more complete to add that he barely showcased Zygmund Bauman’s thoughts on shifting identities in the mould of the desert quicksand. But the breadth is rewarding when it is good, as the altruistic side of Offor has shown. Congratulations, Ambassador Emeka Offor.
Dr. Adeniyi is an Abuja based Communications Expert