By Sufuyan Ojeifo
“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” ― Ben Carson
The first time I came in close contact with General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd.) was February 10, 2010 at the Protea Hotel in Asokoro, Abuja. It was on the occasion of the NGO consultative meeting organised by the TY Danjuma Foundation. It was the first substantive interaction that the Foundation would have with actors from across Nigeria.
As politics editor of THISDAY newspaper in Abuja at the time, I had the privilege of attending the event, which report was given front page window treatment obviously because of the ramifications of what he said. He read from a written text and also spoke ex-tempore on his wealth and the motivation behind the setting up of his Foundation.
What he read out was as instructive and important as what he said extemporaneously. The text of his speech reads in part: “The theme of this meeting is a crucial one for our country. Nigeria is currently going through a series of trials but most urgent are the abject poverty facing the country’s citizens and the weak state of our social sector, particularly the education and health sectors.
“The Nigerian government, no matter how noble its intentions, cannot address these challenges on its own. In fact, in all developed countries, the implementation of social projects is never the sole responsibility of government; there are often strong collaborations between governments, Non-Governmental Organisations as well as the private sector. More so, the philanthropic sector in such countries is thriving, as wealthy individuals believe it is their duty to apply their wealth in supporting development projects.
“In Nigeria, this is not the case. Structured philanthropic giving is in its infancy and some will argue that it has not commenced at all. This is unfortunate as Nigerian culture is rife with examples of benevolent giving at the community level. What we need to do now is look at how we translate what exists in our culture into sustainable practice.
“Many people have asked me why I started a Foundation. I am now in my 70s and could have simply enjoyed retirement quietly; rather I have decided to embark on a new endeavour. The truth is, I have served Nigeria all my life in different capacities; and, late in my life, when I became a very wealthy private citizen, I decided to also serve my country through the channel of philanthropy.
“Following my decision to establish a grant making philanthropic Foundation, I visited the Unites States, on a study tour of successful Foundations. Having no prior knowledge of Foundations, I was intrigued by the structure of these Foundations and how they operated. They were well organised, accountable, and credible. Most importantly, I observed that they were very influential and had succeeded in contributing significantly to the lives and wellbeing of their beneficiaries….”
The above was newsworthy. But what he said ex-tempore was more newsworthy. It was, to me, the real McCoy. He said that after selling his ten percent stake in an oil bloc to a Chinese company, he became very wealthy. He claimed to have been confused initially, not knowing what to do with the money. And, for him, there were two things that he would not want to happen after his death: one, he would not want his children to fight over his wealth; and, two, he would not want the banks to steal his money.
He said the Foundation provided one of the ways through which the money could be ploughed back into society for human and societal development. The Foundation started out with intervention projects in Taraba and Edo states especially in the health and education sectors. It is to his eternal credit that he has engaged so far in other acts of generosity: donating to education causes, religious bodies, community development and even individual empowerment.
The second time I had a close contact with him was in the home of a very prominent Nigerian in Abuja. He came in gaily dressed. With his face shining and his eyes almost characteristically popping out of their sockets from behind his pair of medicated glasses, his gait confident and still military-like, he was ushered into the living room of his host. Thirty minutes later, he was done and seen off to his car by his host. He is said to be business-like in his interactions. He is said to attend to issues without much of ceremonies, always short and sharp like an Angel’s visit.
Apart from subsequent “contacts” with him through media reports of his activities, at least two prominent Nigerians, who are multi-billionaires in their own right, have narrated to me how they had, even in their Olympian heights, benefitted from Danjuma’s eleemosynary. He could be described in some parlance as a rich man who takes delight in blessing other rich people.
I understand he does that obsessively, not wanting any reciprocal gesture. That raises a question about his kind of capitalist who, rather than continue to amass wealth without giving back to society, has decided to give, give, and give in all manner of ways.
Methinks Danjuma is an archetypal godfather. He does not want to owe anyone a debt of gratitude. Rather, others should owe him, but not that he cares about being appreciated for his good gestures. I was told by a friend and big brother how he requested for a favour from Danjuma through his wife, Senator Daisy Danjuma.
He said that even though he made available his private jet to fly the general down to Abuja to intervene for him at a meeting with some powerful persons, he (Danjuma) insisted on paying for the cost of the aircraft movement from Lagos to Abuja and back to Lagos. Who can beat that? And for my friend and big brother, Danjuma and Daisy are Angels in human form.
Interrogating his act of generosity may not be a comme ci comme ça enterprise. It may require the rigours necessary to understand the innate humanity that motivates and propels him within the context of our social–political and economic complexities. But the truth is, Danjuma may have the wealth of a Croesus; he has, thus far, not splashed his wealth with the sybaritic indulgence of the late Saudi Arabian international businessman and billionaire, Adnan Khashoggi. Danjuma has the discipline and character to spend his wealth on good causes; yet he is not the richest Nigerian, despite giving out money as if he is the richest Nigerian. He is perhaps heeding the admonition of Mother Theresa: “Give, but give until it hurts.”
Now, it does not appear that it is hurting Danjuma yet, as he continues to give of himself to the service of humanity and God. And, it may not hurt him in his life and times, or put succinctly, in the remaining years that he has to live on earth, given the fact that, as a shrewd businessman, he is perfectly on top of his game.
What should, therefore, be done is for people who crave the act of charity to up their ante so that, together with Danjuma who turns 80 on December 9, 2017, they can build a society that thrives on human and communal compassion. Many happy returns, General!
Mr. Ojeifo, Editor-in-Chief of The Congresswatch magazine, sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org