By Jacob Ajom
Femi Otedola, founder and chairman of the Geregu Energy Group, has continued to baffle commentators with his philanthropic disposition.
He has, through his foundation, the Femi Otedola Foundation done so much in terms of promoting the welfare of the human race, particularly, his fellow Nigerians who are in need.
Recently, the foundation set yet another pace, when, after reading about the deteriorating health condition of a retired university lecturer, Dr Inih Ebong, who, until his retirement in 2002, was an Associate Professor, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, the billionaire reacted by directing his foundation to take over the university teacher’s medical care.
Ebong’s case is a pathetic one. Here was a man who was ‘forcefully’ and ‘unjustly’ retired by the university authorities. Despite a string of victories in court, following his several legal battles with the institution, he has been consistently denied reinstatement.
He fell sick and, according to the medical report, Ebong was brought to the hospital with congestive cardiac failure. It was a very serious heart disease that needed serious medical attention.
Without any alternative source of income, Dr Ebong could no longer pay the bills and could not feed his family. The news was published by Premium Times, an online newspaper, and on reading about the plight of the lecturer, Femi Otedola instructed his foundation to see to Ebong’s plight.
Speaking with Weekend Vanguard, representative of Femi Otedola Foundation, Phillip Akinola said that, “after reading the story, Mr Otedola was sad.
He was sad that for the past 15 years, Mr. Ebong had been going through pains without any means of income and was consistently frustrated by the University authorities despite securing favourable court verdicts. Worse still, there was no help from anywhere.”
Akinola continued, “when we contacted the wife, Mrs Ebong, she corroborated what we heard and to make matters worse, the woman who was their source of help lost her job, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.”
He said, “She was in the hospitality business and the effect of the pandemic on the economy affected her place of work and she lost her job. It is that pathetic. That made the chairman to direct the foundation to see whatever we could do to help the man.”
He said the Foundation had got in touch with the doctor handling Dr Ebong’s case and had disbursed funds needed to stabilise the man’s condition.
Said he: “We have been able to pay the one year accumulated medical bill and as we speak he has commenced treatment on a clean slate.”
Dr Ebong’s case is not an isolated one as Femi Otedola has, through his foundation been involved in so many life-saving interventions that have put smiles on the faces of many Nigerians, home and abroad.
Last year, after seeing pictures of a very sick former captain of the Green Eagles, Christian Chukwu, Otedola did not waste time before sending Mr Akinola to Enugu with a $50,000 cheque which covered what the former footballer needed to be flown abroad for proper medical attention. Chukwu was flown to London where he had a successful surgery.
The foundation even spent more than the money announced as they incured other incidental expenses in the course of Chukwu’s treatment. Months later, Chukwu returned a healthier, happier man.
Some other interventions undertaken by the Femi Otedola Foundation, according to Akinola included but not limited to taking care of medical bills of former Nigeria goalkeeper Peter Fregene, Nigeria’s music icon, late Majek Fashek, veteran actor Victor Alaotan and Nollywood star Sadiq Aba.
Of Sadiq, Akinola said: “The chairman said when he heard of Sadiq Aba’s case, he remembered, when as a young boy, he used to watch the man in ‘Cock Crow At Dawn’, a popular television series in days past and vowed to help keep him.
“He only knew Sadiq through the television programme on NTA.
“On Fregene, he just read that the man had been bedridden for years. He directed that the man be taken to Anambra State University Teaching Hospital in Awka, which is close to Sapele, where he lives. His condition has now stabilised, as he can now sit on the wheelchair.”
Apart from individuals, the foundation is also noted for making earthshaking donations to humanitarian causes.
In a 2019 fundraiser organised by Save The Child Fund, an initiative of one of Otedola’s daughters, D J Cuppy, aimed at taking care of destitute children in Nigeria’s north east region, the Femi Otedola Foundation donated $14 million on the night.
It is believed to be the single largest donation ever, to charity in the country. In his brief speech before announcing the donation, Otedola said the Boko Haram conflict in the north east had resulted in a humanitarian crisis, with the children worst affected.
At the Saint Augustine University’s fund-raising and Founders’ Day in 2018, the foundation also donated a well equipped Faculty of Engineering building worth N500 million to the institution.
His foundation is also the biggest donor to the Lagos State Security Trust Fund and awards multi-million scholarships to indigent students in Lagos state.
In all its intervention programmes, the Femi Otedola Foundation has spread its goodwill across the nation without discriminating between class, tribes or region.
That shows you the kind of person our chairman is. He doesn’t need to know you before he comes to your aid. One funny thing is he does not even want your thank you.
Sadiq Aba, for instance, has been trying, for long now, to see him and tell him thank you, but he said no, that was not necessary. That is Otedola for you.”
What kind of man is Otedola? Akinola didn’t mince words when he said, What he is doing speaks for him, the kinds of things he does.He is always ready to assist the helpless, and want to put smiles to as many faces as he can possibly do. He has a heart of gold.”
Otedola’s heart of gold could be interpreted from what he said at a certain forum. “In my circle of friends, many people spend up to N50 million on champagne and generally enjoy life. At the end what happens? It passes out of their bodies as waste.
“For me, therefore (and I also tell my friends), it is important to use such money to benefit others and put smiles on the faces of as many people as we can.”
Otedola believes if people who are as rich, some even richer than himself, can be willing to let go part of their wealth for the good of humanity, a lot could be achieved in the task of bringing about a happier society.
He calls on other wealthy Nigerians to impact on society by being ready to give to the less-privileged.
He said: “God has been kind to me and I feel highly privileged. The only way I can show my gratitude to Him is to use my wealth to support those who are less privileged. This, I intend to do for the rest of my life.”