By Louis Okoroma
Between the 22nd and 23rd of April, 2016, a conference and panel discussion took place in London with the theme, ‘’Philanthropy: Investing in Human Capital’’. Speakers and panel discussants were made up of distinguished people from across Africa who had experiences to share on the theme of the conference. The conference took place at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Among the keynote speakers and panel discussants was Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President of Nigeria. Atiku spoke on the topic, “Philanthropy and Human Capital Development in Africa: A contribution from Yola, Nigeria.”
Atiku Abubakar was clearly in his element when he delivered his speech because for him, philanthropy and development of human resources is one area where he has done a lot over the years, and he said as much.
The task of the panel of discussants was to educate the audience on how to use, or how philanthropy can be used to identify, motivate, train and reward people in such a way as to promote development in Africa.
In his contribution, Atiku first defined development as “the effort to increase the productive capacity of a society, improve the people’s wellbeing and expand the frontiers of freedom, while protecting the ecosystem for current and future generations’’.
It is instructive and Nigerians need to note that Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President of Nigeria, a leading chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and one of the country’s top politicians, was a speaker and discussant at a conference where development issues was the main theme. This shows that the former Vice President, aside his achievements in politics, has other qualities that recommend him to an international audience on Africa’s development. This is no surprise as the Turaki Adamawa; in a recent post on twitter, described himself as first and foremost, a businessman, before being a politician! This is very important. It means that as a businessman and a successful one, business rather than politics defines the essential Atiku, the philanthropist and he has employed his resources, to fund both his politics, and his philanthropy.
According to the former Vice President, philanthropy, entrepreneurship and human capital development has a long history in Africa as it has enabled many an African community, “to build schools, roads, churches, and mosques. An individual’s success is deemed to be of limited social value if it does not lead to the success of others in the family, clan or community’’.
The above helps to explain the passion of the Turaki Adamawa for philanthropy notably the one that has informed his deliberate citing of his business ventures in his native Adamawa State even though employment opportunities in all his business and other endeavours are open to all Nigerians without favour or discrimination. The goal is to use philanthropy to transform his home State while providing equal opportunity and livelihood to all Nigerians.
The flagship of the philanthropic endeavours of the Turaki, as he told the audience at LSE, is the American University of Nigeria (AUN) and its affiliates. The AUN, founded a little more than a decade ago, is a development university, the first of its kind in Africa, if not in the World because while indeed, most leading universities in the world impact on their environment and society in fundamental ways, the AUN is perhaps the only higher institution which from the outset has as its goal, the development and transformation of its environment and the people who inhabit it. In a thousand little ways, the university has worked hard to live up to this task to the admiration of most discerning people.
Reflecting on the energy, resources and time being expended in setting up, administering and maintaining the AUN, the former Vice President gave an interesting insight into his thinking and motivation. He asked, “would it not have been cheaper, to use the resources expended on the AUN, to award more scholarships to African students to be educated at the LSE and similar leading universities in the UK and US?” In his response to his own question, Atiku Abubakar said “my concern, however, is to help develop my country in deeper and more holistic ways. Why should we want to facilitate the brain drain out of Africa, to enable our best and our brightest to take their ambitions, their intelligence, and their drive to London or New York? We need them in Africa. We need them to understand the problems in Africa. We need them to pitch in’’.
The point emphasised by Atiku Abubakar, is that philanthropy is an investment which has multiplier effect. Thus, when a university is set up, it immediately changes the outlook and possibilities of its environment, near and far and with time leads to an increase in the economic growth of the locality. This means that as higher institutions of learning are set up, the foundation is being laid for development and economic improvement of the society and its people. Atiku revealed further that, “a recent study estimated that a one year increase in Africa’s stock of institutions of higher education, with no other actions, would raise output growth by 0.63% per year, boosting incomes about 3% after five years and by 12% over a decade.”
According to Atiku, “increasing economic growth is absolutely essential for all African countries, but development is more than merely increasing incomes and enlarging GDPs. Development, sustainable development, is also about improving health, preserving and enhancing the environment, developing good governance, and increasing human welfare, especially for the poor”.
He told his audience that societies with widespread access to higher education have better health indicators, increased life expectancy and reduced infant and child mortality, reduced fertility rates, and increased savings rates.
ln addition, said the former Vice President, “societies with widespread access to higher education are: more democratic and more politically stable, have stronger human rights and civic institutions, lower rates of crime etc.
For African societies to grow out of poverty and to compete successfully on the global stage, said the Turaki, the technologies, skills and attitudes attendant upon the widespread use of computers and the Internet must be made widely accessible, not only to university students on the African continent, but also to everyone – especially the poor. For the poor, more than anything, lack knowledge, and information, and resources are very costly.
It is for the reasons above that the AUN fashioned the Technology Enhanced Literacy for All or TELA program, as well as the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API), amongst others.
TELA, now funded by the United States Agency for International Development, uses the old technology of radio to reach twenty thousand vulnerable, out-of-school children in surrounding communities. Two thousand of these children in the pilot program are being taught using tablet computers with applications written in Hausa and Fulfulde, the local languages of the area. Similarly, AUN students are acting as facilitators in 750 learning centres in Yola. This is integral to their training at AUN. This is not the experience they would have were they to have left Nigeria for education abroad.
The API on the other hand works for peace and cooperation among the different ethnic and religious groups in the State to prevent civil and sectarian strife among the people and weld the latter as a bulwark against the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists that have unsuccessfully tried to overwhelm the State.
Altogether, the event at the LSE, was an eye opener to the immense role which philanthropy can play in Africa’s development and emancipation. Second, for Atiku Abubakar it was a humbling experience to know that his love for people and philanthropy could have such an impact on the future of his country and Africa.
Finally, as Atiku told the audience, though profound in its impact, philanthropy cannot be a substitute for the role the State is expected to play in providing opportunities, social and economic infrastructure and ensuring better life for its citizens.
*The writer is a Public Affairs Analyst based in Abuja. He can be reached on [email protected]