Primitive accumulation and lessons of philanthropy

(By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi)

Our penchant for primitive accumulation of wealth leads to envy and is part of the reasons there exists a wide disconnect between the haves and haves-not around us. Such accumulated wealth becomes so huge that it turns out to be our worst nightmare that we begin to fear that the next passer-by may have an evil intent even when such fear is unwarranted.

WHEN the Federal Government recently announced it was dropping the N446.3 billion corruption charge it instituted against Muhammad Abacha, son of former Head of State, the late Gen. Sanni Abacha, a lot of tongues began to wag. The fact that millions of Nigerians were not only shell-shocked by the sleazy announcement, coupled with the series of protests that greeted the announcement from a wide section of the Nigerian society showed how unenthusiastic most were and still are to the government’s action. While many reasons have been adduced on all sides on why the action was taken, one cannot but be surprised at the overall turn of events on the Abacha case. Corruption is one of the challenges that have come to characterise our political and social fabric such that when cases like those of the Abachas of this world are heard or those either perpetrated by people in both public and private sectors of our economy or even in high or low places become known, they become almost non-issues—not any longer issues that readily should be taken too seriously. The reason for this submission stems from the fact that most corruption cases, if not all, tend to end in favour of injustice—the hallmark of what we represent as a people in this country today.

   This writer has used the Abacha illustration as a pointer to ask the pertinent questions on how much wealth an individual can amass to satisfy his or her personal needs. The billions of naira quoted, if we have to be statistical, amounts to almost half of the trillions this country budgets for the year and as such, one wonders what one individual could use such a staggering amount of money for. Having N446.3 billion in one’s personal account in this country can never be deemed to go without raising eye brows. There is usually an apothegm that believes that for every wealthy billionaire fellow around the world, some troubling acts would have been involved—to have been able to reach such an enviable height in life.      Whether there is some truth or not in such a maxim remains a discussion matter for another day, yet the pestering question is why as a people we tend to accumulate an amount as staggering as N446.3 billion without being conscious of the fact that such money could have been better channelled into many societal challenges in urgent need of solutions. Many of those who acquire such digits, either legally or not in this part of the world, feel such wealth was not only hard won and theirs alone to keep but should necessarily not be spent on anything except on themselves. How soon many forget that our wealth becomes someone else’s when we are no more.

   It is an undisputable fact that a number of significant wealthy billionaires bestride the Nigeria socio-political space like a colossus. Interestingly, the wealthiest black man in the world is a Nigerian. Equally interesting is the fact also that the wealthiest black woman in the world is also a Nigerian while several others who we do not even know or hear of top the billionaire list. Not surprising though, many of our wealthy personalities have placed much premium on using their wealth on either to massage the ego of political stalwarts and friends, promote political schisms or even go as far as intimidate people who depend on them for survival. Some are known to go the extra mile to flaunt their wealth through the acquisition of fast and flashy cars, building of castles at Asokoro and even marrying new wives to add to the already saturated number of legitimate harems in their household. This piece is not to question how anyone uses his wealth in whatever way he may deem appropriate. Today’s billionaires cannot take away the importance of the millions of people around the world who serve as potential clients of the products they sell, one which ultimately adds monetary value to the revenue of big business corporations they own. Without ‘us’ there cannot be ‘them’ and so when an individual becomes wealthy through the people, it is expedient and most imperative for the latter to give back to that society in many ways.

   Rather than engage in charity works, what a number of our billionaires in this part of the world do is to keep accumulating wealth at the expense of wealth itself. They accumulate so much wealth that they turn out not to know how to spend it (to quote a one-time politician) and at the end die without taking a dime with them to the grave. Our penchant for primitive accumulation of wealth leads to envy and is part of the reasons there exists a wide disconnect between the haves and haves-not around us. Such accumulated wealth becomes so huge that it turns out to be our worst nightmare that we begin to fear that the next passer-by may have an evil intent even when such fear is unwarranted.

  There is a growing movement today which has taken up the banner of social justice and ultimately sparked a golden age of philanthropy unseen since the days of Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan. A recent study conducted at Boston College discovered that 0.22 per cent of families with incomes of $1 million or more contributed about 13 per cent of charitable giving in the United States. Accordingly, the number of grant-giving foundations since the early 1980s doubled from a paltry 22,000 to some 65,000 today. This should not be a surprise to many as our contemporary international political systems have albeit inadvertently, been transformed such that the power many states wield has been supplanted by powerful and emergent non-state actors who use their clout and influence in ways beneficial to mankind. These actors have today come to see the many challenges faced by humanity as theirs and as such have made it a point of duty to pull resources together to make our world a better place. Among these actors are wealthy individuals who through business sense, entrepreneurship and capitalism have emerged as leading philanthropists, using their wealth to address challenges that otherwise go largely unaddressed by the State. A typical example is Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation who has helped pioneer ‘catalytic philanthropy’, an idea whose aim was not just to give money but to fuel ideas that work, discarding those that don’t and expecting a tangible return on investment measured in social impact. This systematic problem-solving initiative has not only transformed the paradigm of non-profit work but also heralded social change and helped to produce public policy tools on a scale never before seen.

   Bill Gates is one of the biggest philanthropists in the world. Just in 2010, the Gates Foundation launched alongside Warren Buffet the Giving Pledge which served as a commitment among the world’s wealthiest to pull a bulk of their wealth into philanthropy. Happily and since 2010 when the initiative was launched, more than 125 individuals and families have bought into the idea. This is simply to help fight a number of causes around the world.

  Back to Nigeria, our wealthy class would seem to be rolling up their sleeves hopefully to help their fellowmen, the wealthy class in Nigeria sees this as an uncharitable venture. This writer, after a brief research, recently discovered that there are foundations set up by our wealthy class today in Nigeria. These are few in number. Top on the list include Tony Elumelu, Toyin Saraki, Aliko Dangote, TY Danjuma, Sir Emeka Offor Foundations to mention a few. Each of these foundations or charitable organisations is set up primarily to address many of the challenges our society face today. An interesting personality to look at is Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, a onetime Minister of Defence, who is believed to be Nigeria’s biggest philanthropist. His foundation, The TY Danjuma Foundation is arguably one of Africa’s largest charities set up with a $100 million endowment to “champion and promote causes in education, free healthcare, policy advocacy and poverty alleviation”. Tony Elumelu on the other hand, is termed as one of Africa’s top philanthropists. Apart from pledging $2.5 billion to President Barack Obama’s Power Africa programme few years back, the Nigerian economist, banker and investor is said to have donated a staggering $6.3 million in 2012 to help flood victims in Nigeria. His Foundation, among other objectives “strives to deploy its resources to generate solutions to challenges that inhibit the growth of the African private sector”. Aliko Dangote too is also in the business of philanthropy and has made useful contributions totalling $35 million. Another interesting Nigerian billionaire worthy of mention here and who recently has been in the news for his massive philanthropic gestures is Sir Emeka Offor, the Executive Vice Chairman of Chrome Group. In July last year, to boost the global efforts in polio eradication, Sir Emeka was said to have donated a total of $1 million to Rotary International. He also committed another $1 million last month to fight Polio in the three remaining endemic countries of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His singular contribution has earned him the title of First Polio Ambassador in Nigeria. His philanthropic gestures are not limited to cash donations as, according to sources, he is involved among others in massive educational initiatives such as the Book For Africa project, which helps to supply books to countries around the world through generous funding from individuals. Sir Emeka is known as the largest donor in the history of Books For Africa, and the largest private sector donor in the history of the programme.

  One could go on and on. However, there is a reality today that philanthropy is meeting the needs that the government and the private sector have not met. These individuals have not only led a movement capable of bringing much succour to the world but also played a critical role in advancing human progress. Today, the wealth we so much crave for and lustfully accumulate remains immaterial if we cannot channel them towards charitable ventures. There are a number of challenges we face as a people in Nigeria currently yet it is a truism that a government cannot solve them all alone. It is the duty of these individuals who have more than enough to fill the yearning gap. If there are as many as Tony Elumelus, Toyin Sarakis, Aliko Dangotes, TY Danjumas, Sir Emeka Offors among others in Nigeria who have a growing interest in key aspects of our daily lives, we may possibly be seeing an end to those very problems that today have become monstrous for us to solve.

  Our wealthy class owes it a duty to understand that the culture of ‘me’ and ‘thyself’ alone cannot bring fulfilled happiness and lifelong comfort. The reason we are faced with myriads of challenges in Nigeria today is because of the lack of love and it is until we all go back to our traditional culture of giving even when we have little, we may continue to run foul of what is required of us not only as humans but as true children of the Creator.

•Oluwafunminiyi wrote via  9creativitysells@gmail.com.

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