Time for Nigeria’s “Big Men” to Give Back to Society


Nigeria’s former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, recently announced that he is offering one undergraduate/postgraduate scholarship to young Nigerians, to cover study within Nigeria or in a foreign institution. The details of the scheme titled “Education Solutions” are available on his website here.

The scholarship scheme has been attracting mixed reactions on social media so far– applause and condemnation in almost equal proportion. Personally, I am very ambivalent about it. While I will not condemn it, I certainly think more can be done to improve education as a whole in Nigeria, through teacher trainings and workshops, provision of books and study materials, advocacy campaigns and so on, rather than giving out one scholarship. To be fair to the former vice president though, he has emphasised that it is a nascent, pilot scheme, and he does own one of the most reputable private universities in the country, the American University of Nigeria.

Ultimately, there is no harm in our former public officials giving back to society. Giving out scholarships through a competitive process that selects the best and the brightest and changes someone’s life positively certainly beats sitting idly about, making self-serving, inflammatory and polarising press statements threatening that “Power Must Return to the North or Else…” or “Power Must Remain in the South or Else…” whilst sitting on a huge mound of fortune that is either frittered away in obscene and vainglorious consumption, or that lies dormant in Swiss Banks, South African hotels, Malibu mansions and Emirati apartment blocks. Call it the lesser of two evils if you must.

Now imagine if more of Nigeria’s “big men” were to invest in education, advocacy, and productive enterprises at home. We probably wouldn’t be begging the Americans, Europeans and lately the Chinese to do OUR work for us: to come establish labour-intensive manufacturing firms on our shores. If only 10% of Nigeria’s $170 billion stashed in foreign accounts (these are 2003 figures, the current figures must be several multiples of this amount) were to be re-invested back home, the tremendous impact it would have on our economy is best left to the imagination.

I have argued severally that a lot of our former public officials need to make themselves useful. It has been 14 years since the transition to democracy. These 14 years have created many former governors, former ministers, former senators, former ambassadors and others who have held influential positions (I haven’t even included the titans of the military era). These are individuals with the resources and the clout to make a direct positive impact on their communities in numerous ways. A few of them have proceeded to establish consultancies, NGOs, think tanks or are still engaged in politics or policy. Some have chosen to retire in peace. Many others have temporarily skulked back into the depths of obscurity, resurfacing occasionally to rally young Nigerians to their ethno-centric, bigoted and self-serving causes.

There are so many productive ways to get involved.

One way is advocacy and enlightenment campaigns on leadership and good governance to ensure people at the grassroots stop selling their votes to the highest bidder.

Another is advocacy and enlightenment campaigns to ensure young women are enrolled and allowed to complete at the barest minimum secondary school education especially in the North East and North West.

A third could be the establishment of profit-making enterprises (if they can’t find competent local managers, they can hire qualified expatriates – there are many!) which will create value and jobs in their communities and make more money for them.

A fourth could be teaching and lecturing in many of our tertiary institutions that are wallowing in the dearth of expertise and learning equipment. Writing opinion pieces on the pages of newspapers is just not enough. Young Nigerians in tertiary institutions will benefit tremendously from the wealth of their experience in public service.

The list is endless. Most of them are influential. Many of them have the resources. Many of them can make a difference.

It is really tempting to dismiss Atiku Abubakar’s scholarship scheme or to question his motive. Indeed, one might even wonder whether the scheme will last beyond the 2014 elections primaries. Nevertheless, society will definitely benefit from more of the well-to-do giving back in useful ways that will make a real difference to people’s lives.

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14 thoughts on “Time for Nigeria’s “Big Men” to Give Back to Society

  1. Irrespective of his source of wealth, the scholarship he’s awarding is a welcome development. As for those who think its too little, too late, its better late than never.

  2. MTSW sAKARKARU, YA SACE KUDINMU KUMA YANA AMFANI DAKU DON TALLATA SHI, KAN MAGE WAYE, WA ZAI ZABI ATIKU IN BA DAN JARI HUJJA BA

  3. Kamar mutum ne ya shiga gidanka ya sace maka naira dubu goma kuma ya zo daga baya ya na tutiya wai zai ba ka kwandala. Akwai sakarci a lamarin ‘yan Nijeriya. Tunanin su ya gurbata da yawa. Mentality na cin bagas ya saka shuwagabanni sun mayar da kowa dan maula. Maganar gaskiya babu yadda za a sami cigaba mai dorewa a kasar in ba tare da an yi addressing din wasu fundamental issues ba. Kwaskwarima ba ta daidai da wanka da soso da sabulu.

  4. Such constructive musings are a chink of light in an ocean of fatuous, verbose and incomprehensible rhetoric that one usually reads, and hears in the Nigerian news media. It is a tragic fact that the “big men” take no notice!

  5. Ayyah, Zainab. These are BIG THIEVES, and you call them ‘big men’? When they were in government, they knew not the value of education, that is why the primary education fund (SUBEB) is the second biggest till from which governors and ruling parties steal, after the joint state/LGA fund, how do you expect the gluttonous clowns to ‘donate’ to education? And please let’s get this right: if the state (government) would not take the lead in education and its funding, we should forget it. You that’s out there, list the number of ‘donors’ to UK education, and what’s the proportion of private donations to what governments spend on education? Let’s stop this ‘kid glove’ approach please, urging scoudrels to do more for what the helped to bury…

  6. While Anonymous @ 21:32 has written out some valid points, I still agree with Sadiq, still better late than never. And, Zainab, I love your comment about the “big men” giving back. It’s funny, I’m always yapping to my friends that wouldn’t it be great if Dantata or Dangote or Babangida (the rich men irrespective of if they’ve been involved in politics or not) were to sponsor even 5 students a year… imagine the ripple that would cause through our society. It would be like when our parents were sponsored by their state governments in the 50’s – 80’s to study in the U.K. and the U.S., that was the time of sweeping educational advancement, upward socioeconomic mobility and migration for a lot of Nigerians (both north and south). I’m not saying that our educational system shouldn’t be worked on, in fact I purport that it should, but in keeping up with the Jones’ we have to also enable more of our students to leave our shores (esp ppl who can’t afford it) and concurrently create revenues for them to return home! Irrespective of if people agree with Atiku or not, or his hidden motives, I still think this is a trickle in the ocean of possibilities that this could trigger!

  7. The well-to-do giving back was long time expected fm almost 20% of those that has tasted power which cut across the Nation. This scholarship scheme fm Alhaji Atiku is a welcome idea and even greatly applauded, many more of this are expected fm others. With patience. stone can be boiled to a soften taste and by surprise, a dead cock can still gulp corn. We are patiently waiting to receive more of this from even any other angle.

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