“People find it very difficult in Nigeria to give money away but the more you give the more God blesses you. Femi, you are no more a rich man. You have joined the league of wealthy men.”
With those words, Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, delightfully proclaimed a blessing on his ally, billionaire businessman and philanthropist Femi Otedola after he had donated NGN 5 billion (approximately $14 million) to the laudable, charitable cause of supporting intervention programmes for destitute children in Nigeria’s north-east region. Femi Otedola made the donation, the largest ever by a single individual in Nigeria’s history, to Save the Children fund through his daughter’s foundation, the Cuppy Foundation at a ceremony in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on the 10th of November 2019. Aliko Dangote had himself given N100 million ($275,000) to the same cause that night but what Femi Otedola did that night has raised the bar, not just for philanthropists in Africa but has also challenged all of us to consider contributing towards the upliftment of others even when we face our own challenges.
As John Rockefeller aptly stated, “the best philanthropy is constantly in search of the finalities – a search for a cause, an attempt to cure evils at their source.” This is why Femi Otedola’s humongous charitable donation is eliciting the kind of commendable responses that it is doing even though he has for many, many years prior been touching lives through his philanthropic activities. However, this particular instance of his benevolence is aimed at helping children who have been adversely affected by the protracted, terrible, armed and grossly violent insurgency in Nigeria’s north-east region. Even prior to the insurgency, that region of Nigeria had been educationally disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure and in numbers of children being educated. When the violence began and in the wake of it, thousands of children were murdered and several more forced out of school and into the wild as they and their parents fled from the fighting between the armed insurgents and government forces. Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown had visited Nigeria some years ago to raise awareness of the issue and flag off a Safe Schools Initiative but that effort gained little traction.
This particular intervention is indigenous, fortuitous, and it happened innocuously. Ifeoluwa “DJ Cuppy” Otedola, Femi Otedola’s superstar entertainer daughter is an ambassador of the Save the Children Fund which was established in the United Kingdom in 1919 but works globally to improve the lives of children through better education, health care, and economic opportunities, as well as providing emergency aid in natural disasters, war, and other conflicts. Through the help of her godfather Aliko Dangote, she visited Maiduguri, Borno State which is arguably the hardest hit town since the Boko Haram insurgency began. She saw with her eyes the carnage in the area and the suffering of those who had barely survived and were only clinging onto what remained of life by the slimmest of threads. Ifeoluwa was moved to launch her own foundation, the Cuppy Foundation, in August 2018 to also help. Her foundation also works in other parts of Nigeria to improve the welfare of marginalized and vulnerable children, focusing on early childhood education and healthcare, among other important issues. Somehow her passion and influence has drawn the attention of her billionaire father and many other wealthy and influential personalities towards collaborating to alleviate the sufferings of the less privileged.
Indeed, the roll call of eminent persons at her Foundation’s fundraising ceremony during which her father’s 5-billion-naira donation was announced was impressive. The Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osibanjo was present and in his remarks said that “It is time for everyone of us to decide that we can make a difference to ensure that the poor and vulnerable are given a decent life”. Adams Oshiomhole, National Chairman of Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was there. The governors of Lagos State (Babajide Sanwo-Olu), Ogun State (Dapo Abiodun) and Borno State (Babagana Kulum) were present and so was billionaire businesswoman, Bola Shagaya. Babagana Kingibe, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation was in attendance. Immediate past Senate President Bukola Saraki was also there, as were a host of other dignitaries too numerous to mention. It was a delight to have many of Nigeria’s most powerful people gathered in support of such a worthy cause.
Femi Otedola’s newsworthy donation, done from a pure heart and without political colourations or considerations, is already the subject of political speculation. Some pundits and media analysts have used the opportunity to lambast many of the wealthy elite in Northern Nigeria for failing to use their enormous resources to address a challenge that a man from the southern end of Nigeria has now risen to give monetarily towards. In fact, whispers are being heard across the north of Nigeria that Babagana Kingibe who was present at the event and is believed to be heavily favoured by President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed him in 2023, is being advised to pick Femi Otedola as his running mate and Vice President in the 2023 presidential election, if he decides to run for office!
This is not the first time that Femi Otedola’s goodwill has brought his name into consideration for political office and it certainly won’t be the last time even though he has often said he is not interested in public office. In his speech after his donation was announced, he had said: “God has been so kind to me in life and I feel highly privileged. 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.”
Whether or not he changes his mind about vying for and holding political office, the legacy of his generosity will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of many. Nigeria is blessed to have a man such as Femi Otedola and as in the league of wealthy men, he is arguably the MVP.