Dangote’s riches and Nigeria’s mass poverty

Kano-born business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, was declared in early March 2014 by Forbes magazine as the world’s 23rd richest man with networth of $25 billion. He is also the richest man in Africa by ousting Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire, Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, “to become the world’s richest black man”. By the time he celebrates his 57th birthday on April 10, 2014, Dangote would be slowly inching his way to the top given the vastness of his business empire, spread across Nigeria and other African countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Togo, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia, among others.

The yearly progress of Dangote in the ranking of the global rich is profoundly significant to Nigeria in particular and Africa generally. The Dangote story shows that with shrewd and deft managerial capacity, the much talked about poverty and underdevelopment of Africa is but a myth and can be broken with requisite planning and unyielding determination. Although, Dangote was born literally with a silver spoon, he must be commended for being able to overcome multiple challenges ranging from social, political and economic instability in the face of infrastructure deficits to transform from a trader in buying and selling to become a hugely successful manufacturer.

As worthy of celebration and commendation as the Dangote story, it remains a narrative of an individual’s triumph in the context of the mass poverty and deplorable socio-economic conditions in Nigeria. While the Dangote venture provides thousands of Nigerian families the means of livelihood and the emotional pride that many of our people may derive from the Dangote brand as purely Nigerian, the time has come for Dangote to go beyond profit-making to a more sublime endeavour. In other words, he has to divest substantial investment to a more decent and humanistic enterprise in reciprocation of the opportunities provided him by larger society to become what he is today.

Because of the paucity of private capital’s involvement in philanthropic projects, Nigeria offers fertile grounds from which any altruistic business conglomerate with deep pocket can choose to impact positively. For instance, apart from setting up scholarship foundations for gifted but indigent Nigerians to access, there are research areas in medicine or science and the knowledge industry generally, which Dangote can set aside fund to be used. Any of these options are genuine areas of concern given that government financing on education, especially basic science, incrementally continue to dwindle and has therefore created the space for intervention from really altruistic private concerns.

Dangote and members of the club of rich Nigerians have Bill Gates as a contemporary to emulate. The Microsoft inventor and world’s richest man, in the later part of his business career, invested heavily in philanthropy by donating huge sums of money to various charitable organisations and scientific research programmes through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation established in 2000. Through the Gates Foundation, Nigeria currently gets over $400 million in funding for various projects in health and development programmes such polio eradicate, support for small scale farmers to increase food production, women empowerment through healthcare during pregnancy, expansion of access to a range of childhood vaccines, safe water and sanitation, and other effective low-cost innovations.

We believe that it is long overdue for our rich men and women, big business and enormously wealthy non-governmental organisations such as new generation churches to embrace the power of indigenous philanthropy with pride and as an act of social responsibility and economic justice. The current situation where our social space is entirely left to the mercy of foreign donors hurts our pride as we are often seen as beggars and irredeemable race.

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