Owolowo: M.K.O Abiola and the dearth of philanthropy
Philanthropy can be defined as the altruistic concern for human beings, as manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons or to institutions advancing human welfare.
Based on the above definition of philanthropy, how many notable philanthropists can we easily identify in our milieu? From my early days till when I became an adult the name of M.K.O Abiola would easily have been mentioned, his name was synonymous with philanthropy for many years. Though he was wealthy he was not the wealthiest, he stood out because of his philanthropic activities, an unparalleled generosity.
Recently, we were informed of having at least 400 private jets in the country, a country where the airline industry isn't up to scratch and our airports aren't exactly world class. On a poignant note, some of us are still grieving from the loss of loved ones, one year after the ill-fated Dana air crash. The fact that most of the victims' families haven't been duly compensated or the airline carrying on with business as usual is another vexatious matter entirely.
By any standard the country is filled with wealthy people, but how does that benefit the country as a whole?
I have often asked myself why many amongst us celebrate fellow Nigerians who made the rich list, like it drives economic growth? Why with all our so called millionaires (or billionaire) on Forbes, we still have to wait for a foreigner like Bill Gates to assist us with the eradication of a deadly disease like Malaria?
Why do some of us need to praise those who have stolen our funds and plundered our resources for the flimsiest of reasons, like they are doing us a favour. These 'privileged' few should be generous because it is the human thing to do, and not because of praise singers or some chieftaincy title.
Charity begins at home, for how long would our 'big men' continue to enrich other economies? I have visited various countries and once I mention Nigeria, I am duly informed about edifices, businesses and investments owned by my fellow Nigerians. Then I begin to wonder if it is a curse to invest these monies, even if illegally acquired, in our country?
This country is blessed and has made some very wealthy people, so why not give back? Of what economic use or benefit is it to our immediate environment, when our funds are stashed in foreign lands, benefiting host nations?
A society surrounded with wealthy individuals who lack the capacity to give is cancerous to any social system. A country filled will selfishness across all strata is self detrimental.
Imagine if most of these so called 'big men' were philanthropic as Abiola was for example, the impact on society would be enormous. All strata of society would feel safer because jobs would be created. The current unemployment rate is scarily high, with about three quarters of the population not gainfully employed- a depressing statistic.
The extremely opulent can start by collectively empowering at least 100 people each; these 100 go on to empower at least 500 people each. Then those 500 empower at least 1000 each, and the chain continues- the multiplier effect of such an initiative on the economy would be tremendous.
Some of the 'disillusioned' few must understand empowerment isn't about giving handouts or stipends, neither is it building some boreholes or patching up some potholes.
Empowerment isn't having carnal knowledge of young girls at will, and ruining their lives till they can't differentiate between fiction and reality. Then we wonder why many young men don't have the means of getting married, and those with the means are afraid of falling into the hands of the remnants of these 'big men', a vicious social cycle, and another lamentable topic entirely. Government seems to be a convenient way to ill-gotten wealth nowadays, but, do those in these positions of authority care about the welfare of the masses or are they ready to sacrifice their exorbitant wages and allowances for the benefit of all? It would be encouraging to hear those in the House of Assembly move a motion to dedicate a certain percentage from their income for a worthy societal cause, or the presidency takes the initiative of curbing some financial excesses for the benefit of the economy.
Earlier in the year we read about how Malawi's President, Joyce Banda took the initiative of selling off the jet purchased by her predecessor to raise funds for the flailing economy, she cut her salary by 30% and further pledged to sell 35 Mercedes Benz cars used by her cabinet as part of her austerity measures.
For politicians in general, ask yourselves what charitable causes you are actively involved with regularly, and not hasty donations done during elections. Nobody is perfect and no one is a saint, all that is required is some commitment.
M.K.O Abiola's critics say he wasn't a saint and I wonder if there are any saints in our polity, or any saints actively involved in politics- I often say, if you can show me a saint in politics, then I will show you a talking mannequin from Mars. Despite M.K.O's flaws, which we all have, our so called big shots should learn from his philanthropic gestures.
I remember witnessing the lamentations of some fellow citizens who were irked by the behaviour of a very prominent politician from the South West. They said he came into the living area where everyone was seated, lambasted everyone, and said he wasn't there because of them, that he doesn't want to see anyone and they should all leave. One of those narrating says, 'But he asked us to come'. He further said they left angrily, one of them felt really insulted because he was a self made millionaire, he said 'did we come to beg for money'
The other discussant states, 'that's his assumption, even if we did, why should he address human beings like that'
And his friend replied, 'He is only pretending to be philanthropic for political purposes, it's not natural like M.K.O Abiola, you can't fake generosity'
They ended their conversation with one of them saying in pidgin English, 'Na him wan be Abiola by force', and the other replied 'Nobody like M.K.O'
There are many more of such selfish and arrogant individuals across all our geo-political zones.
Evidently with M.K.O died many things, including genuine philanthropy. Whether you are comfortable or struggling, those who encountered him often left with contentment because M.K.O assisted unconditionally, as it was often said, it was a gift from God.
15 years ago today, an illustrious son of our country and the continent, drank a 'rice' ladened tea and breathed no more, he gave and gave till he gave his life for a selfless cause- the June 12 struggle. May he continue to rest in peace.
'Because of this man, there is both cause for hope and certainty that the agony and protests of those who suffer injustice shall give way to peace and human dignity. The children of the world shall know the great work of this extraordinary leader and his fervent mission to right wrong, to do justice, and to serve mankind. The enemies which imperil the future of generations to come: poverty, ignorance, disease, hunger, and racism have each seen effects of the valiant work of Chief Abiola. Through him and others like him, never again will freedom rest in the domain of the few. We, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus salute him this day as a hero in the global pursuit to preserve the history and the legacy of the African diaspora' - The Congressional Black Caucus of the United States of America
MOSHOOD KASHIMAWO OLAWALE ABIOLA: AUGUST 24 1937- JULY 7 1998