It was exactly 23 minutes past four o’clock that his phone started beeping (that person is me). Unfortunately, the phone was in silent mode and for the next four hours it rang 34 times. The caller had promised him a VIP ticket to a charity fundraiser the previous day and had said she wasn’t sure as she had planned to give another passionate Nigerian.
Let’s fast forward to 8:00 PM, I checked my phone out of sheer boredom and found it ringing for the 35th time. The moment I picked the phone was the beginning of an adventure that got me thinking about charity, foundations and NGOs in Nigeria – yet another industry where corrupt Nigerians have explored in the hustle to making a living.
This particular event was attended by names popular with the other side of the political divide – the “CHANGE” camp; the daughter of the President – Zahra Buhari, Japheth Omojuwa, Alh. Yahaya Bello, Kadaria Ahmed, representatives of the wife of the Senate President, Toyin Saraki, one Mr. Nasiru, and dignitaries from Zenith Bank and Transcorp Hilton where the event held; Arik and some others whose names I cannot place. Now, let me begin to make my point.
Reading Elnathan John’s satirical piece on how to start an NGO in Nigeria is a depiction of what the industry requires in the name of impact, the connections you have to have, the pictures you have to take, the videos you have to make and the grants you have to apply for. Hearing ACE Charity tell their 5-year story about the impact they have tried to make on child and adult education in Nigeria and the partnerships they had sourced and the addition of their latest ambassador (Zahra Buhari) to their team was nothing short of inspiring.
The kids were the reality of what Babachir David Lawal narrated in the closing days of the Nigerian Economic Summit. Children whose parents either no longer exist or are unaware of their whereabouts; whose hopes go as far as the night and never beyond; children who lack the basic needs of the right to live – food, clothing and shelter, children; whose lives depended on the compassion of people like Kiki (founder of ACE) and others who do as little as ‘dumping’ bags of rice in their camps, taking pictures that is to be shown to their grant donors and leaving them to sort it out.
Seeing Zahra cry when she gave her ambassadorial speech was unseating for me, but I later learnt it wasn’t her first time having “cried her eyes out the first day she visited an Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) camp” – so I was told. What was more touching was her willingness to use her recently expanded connections to pull resources together at the snap of a finger for a cause she believed in. Nigerians don’t have to live like these people when others have monies stacked up in their accounts in dollars and pounds with nothing to do with it.
My highlight of the event was not the auctioning of a gown for N2.2 million- the person who ended up with this dress was also sitting in the VIP section where I was seated- nor the 6 year old who contributed N5,300+ and wrote a letter to Zahra, it was after the event.
The children from the IDP camps (some of them) had been brought to the event and they behaved well – cool, calm and collected. At the end, there were left overs of cakes and burgers with some drinks left in the glasses at the tables. The hall was almost cleared and then the children and their mothers had a chance to walk in. It was this moment that I felt what it was like to have a taste of what you never deemed possible. The children, who were not as much as the ones I saw during the event, ate everything they could see. It was their first time and most likely the last time for a long while.
One girl, as old as the other girl who wrote Zahra a letter and donated about N5,300, drank from glass to glass, not stopping when she was obviously full, and they were all in a rush like it was soon going to be over (it was soon going to be over). As the children ate anything they could place their hands on, so did the women while they packed simultaneously. It kind of hit me that if they had not done all of that, those things would have gone into the waste bin.
Charities and NGOs that only raise money and spend close to 80% of their grants on admin. costs then take pictures of activities carried out with the remaining 20% are corrupt, yes! But, more than that, they also invoke a curse on themselves. To do little in this business is a crime, more of a moral crime that kills the soul and calls loudly at the return of Karma.
Nigerians don’t have to live like that. When the camp commandant spoke (in a language I didn’t understand – Hausa), I felt his pain and understood his worries; his needs; and, above all, his cries for help. To exploit that as a means of living is not humane and that is why we have to redefine what charity means in this country. If you are not moved by compassion, you don’t have to make people’s lives worse.
To those who live in the luxury of their rented apartments and get to eat a nutritious meal at least once a day; you have people you are better than. Be grateful!
To those who can give as little as N1,000, it goes a long way if it gets to the right quarters. Refuse to be intimidated by the millions.
I remain optimistic in this country. You should too.
Follow my thoughts on twitter @juded27
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