27th May, 2014
By Bilikis Bakare
A particular dictionary simply defines philanthropy as charitable giving to human causes on a large scale. Philanthropy must be more than just a charitable donation; it is an effort undertaken by an individual or organization based on an altruistic desire to improve human welfare. Wealthy individuals sometimes establish foundations to facilitate their philanthropic efforts. In Nigeria, we have never really fallen short of wealthy individuals with philanthropic inclinations. The late Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony and the late Chief MKO Abiola are names that readily come to mind in this regards. Perhaps, one living example is the Ibadan-based Chief Mufutau Olanihun, whose philanthropic gestures were so unbelievable that his people nicknamed him ‘Olowo ti n fowo sanu’ (literarily meaning the wealthy man who displays mercy with his money).
People may have internal or external reasons for behaving charitably. One external incentive by some people to give is to curry recognition. In our clime, people with political ambition often veer into philanthropic ventures as an end to a means. People, whose moral values are more internalised, do not need the promise of present or future recognition to be motivated to give. Real philanthropists are buoyed by their deep or inner satisfaction of impacting on the lives of their beneficiaries. Others venture into philanthropic activities because of their horrid experience with poverty. The late Chief MKO Abiola belongs to this class. He was humbled by his poor background and was, therefore, determined to help as many poor people he could to get out of the shackles of poverty which he regarded as, perhaps, the greatest enemy of mankind.
For others, especially philanthropists who never experienced poverty, sheer compassion is their main motivation. They are influenced mainly by the love for mankind and the desire to give back to the society. Sir Michael Otedola, who recently passed on at the age of 88, belongs to this class. A man whose philanthropy is legendary just as his devotion to serving humanity and God was un-wavering, touched and impacted on many lives before he bid the world farewell on the 5th of May, 2014.
Though born into a Muslim family at the modest Odoragushin community of Epe Area in 1926, Sir Otedola refused to be carried away by his success later in life. With his humble beginning always in his consciousness, he had since 1985, committed his resources to the Michael Otedola University Scholarship Awards Foundation for indigent students of Epe Division in particular and Lagos State in general. Since inception, over three hundred indigent students have benefited from the scheme to become Lawyers, Engineers and Doctors etc. They have now become useful to themselves and the society. Most of them would readily tell people that Sir Otedola was the angel that God sent to them to give meaning to their lives. Just think about many prospective professionals who are now wasting away in different parts of the country because they couldn’t fulfil their dreams as a result of poverty, then you will appreciate an individual who commits his resources to the training of other peoples’ children.
Sir Otedola’s decision to establish the scholarship awards foundation was borne out of his determination to give back to the society that offered him the platform or springboard to achieve his goals in life. He left his native Epe very early in life for Lagos city centre in pursuit of education and due to his brilliance, he won a scholarship to study Journalism at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London and graduated in 1958. This was a remarkable turning point in Otedola’s life and might have reinforced his commitment to help other indigent students attain their lofty dreams.
After his destined stint as the 2nd elected executive Governor of Lagos State between 1992 and 1993, the quintessential, unassuming Otedola quietly reverted to his private life and business, becoming even more committed to his philanthropic works. He continued to donate generously to community development projects and to various religious causes.
When the challenges of ageing came calling, this illustrious benefactor was still able to ensure the sustainability of the Sir Michael Otedola University Scholarship Awards Foundation. In 2008, his billionaire businessman son, Femi Otedola, instituted a N200 million scholarship scheme as intervention in the educational sector, expected to grow over time to include infrastructure improvements and the provision of learning aids to schools in the Epe area, thereby bringing a wider impact. That year, two innovations were introduced to the scheme; the physically challenged students from the catchment area began to enjoy special advantage, and students from the Colleges of Education were incorporated into the scheme. With this gesture, Femi Otedola, like his father, has demonstrated himself to also be a very generous man whose heart is continuously flowing with abundant milk of human kindness. This, perhaps, reinforces the fact that kindness runs in the veins of the Otedolas.
The lesson that we need to draw from the commitment of Sir Otedola and his like to the cause of the downtrodden is that whatever man does in life lives after him. Though Sir Otedola is no more, he will be remembered forever by the lives that he touched. He could have closed his eyes to the plight of the poor but he did not because he had a divine understanding of the true purpose of life. The true purpose of life, according to Martin Luther King, is not in the number of mansions one has but in the number of lives one is able to touch. It is this respect that one could actually say that Sir Michael Otedola came, saw and conquered. Adieu Sir Michael Otedola, the good man of Epe.
•Bakare wrote from Lagos