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Mixed Metaphors: Applause for the TY Danjuma family

Many years ago, as I left Rhode Island, United States, after participating in the first Chinua Achebe Colloquium at Brown University, I walked through the New York-bound train. One of the few seats available was in the last car. I took it and found myself sitting opposite a smiling white woman.

Now deceased, I was meeting the remarkable Prof. Jean Herskovits.  She held a D. Phil. in African History from Oxford University and wielded a teaching and research record as long as your arm. Of greater interest, to me, was her extensive knowledge of Nigeria and Nigerian leaderships since the First Republic.

One of her projects in Nigeria had been the TY Danjuma Foundation, on the board of which she served, and for which she travelled to Nigeria frequently.

Last Monday in Benin City, that foundation inaugurated the Merry Ehanire Mother and Child Hospital, a top-of the line facility aimed at providing healthcare services for mothers and children.

I warmly commend Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma (retd.) and his wife, former Senator Daisy Danjuma, for their persistent commitment to elevating the society around them. This is demonstrated nationwide in the organisations and causes they support through their philanthropy.

Around the world, charitable giving empowers individuals and civil society organisations to accomplish important objectives in communities and demographics that governments are unable or unwilling to reach.

The irony is that without foreign philanthropists, Nigerian civil society would almost be inexistent: throttled to death by the combination of ruthless governments and officials, and the unwillingness of Nigerians who have more than they need to spare a thought for those who simply need a little help.

This is where the Danjumas have proved to be cut from a different cloth. Where they could be building mansions abroad and buying private jets or yachts, or burying their wealth in the ground, they are investing in people and communities, most of whom they do not know, and making sure that those enterprises work.

In Merry Ehanire Mother and Child Hospital, for instance, they have built a facility that their own family can also use, rather than travel to hospitals of lesser quality abroad. They have plugged into the universal cry for improved maternal and child health worldwide, which is a key issue in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Some 11 years ago, Nigeria was a key player in Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Every Woman, Every Child, which was launched in 2010. In 2009 and 2010, African countries had launched the African Union’s Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality, with Nigeria launching in October 2009.

Among others, in October 2012 Mr. (Goodluck) Jonathan pledged a four-year, $33.4m investment to prevent at least a million deaths of Nigerian women and children by 2015.  He said he felt the pain personally because he was the lone male survivor of his mother’s nine children, seven of them having died as infants. I supported his efforts.

Nobody, including Mr. Jonathan, appears to care what became of those federal intentions nor of the continuing challenge of maternal mortality in Nigeria, one of the world’s worst. Health was of no particular concern to his successor, Muhammadu Buhari, who inaugurated the fake Central Hospital in Benin City in 2016, among others.  So fake that two years later, the local PDP was inviting Buhari back to see the “scam” of which he had been a part, as the hospital had not taken off. So fake that, in 2022, the Godwin Obaseki government announced that it was being “repositioned” because of its “decay.”

The Danjumas provide a spark of hope that in private enterprise and philanthropy – Nigeria’s vast kleptocracy and haphazard governance permitting – we may discover the path to a brighter day.  Elsewhere, philanthropists continue to drive communities forward, and in doing so, also help governments. In his lifetime, Warren Buffet has given away over $46bn. This year alone, MacKenzie Scott has already given $2.15bn; in the two previous years, the fledgling philanthropist had surprised over 700 groups with over $8.6bn in support grants.

Sadly, this noble path forward was not on display last week when the Nigerian Army bombed civilians in Kaduna, yet another such attack by military authorities resulting in significant casualties, with the army pleading it had made a “mistake.” The death toll was 127 and rising last week.

Let us remember that earlier this year, the Nigerian Air Force inaugurated new US-built facilities for its 12 A-29 Super Tucano fleet. And also that, on his way out of office, former US President Barack Obama, had refused permission for the sale of those jets to us after the Nigerian Air Force ‘mistakenly’ bombed a refugee camp in Rann, Borno State in January 2017, killing over 100 people.

We have had those jets now for two years, but it is unclear what difference they have made to the war against the insurgents in the North, as the insecurity of Nigerians continues, including from the nation’s security agencies.

Sadly also, this noble path, in which the welfare of the ordinary people is central, was not in evidence as Nigeria’s new leadership swaggered into Dubai for COP28, brandishing an insensitive 1,411 delegates, after dumping the 2024 budget at the National Assembly for which it intends to borrow over $9bn.

Facing yet another widespread outrage, the government explained that its delegation to COP28 was “only” 422 persons. Premium Times has calculated that even if that figure was correct, the government would still be squandering nearly N3bn on what it is seems to conceive as a jamboree. The Nigerian delegation was just 120 in 2022, and less than 50 just five years ago.

Added to the theme emanating from the recently-approved Supplementary Appropriations Bill and the 2024 draft budget, in which restraint and service and leadership appear to be alien subjects – contrary to the sacrifice that is being demanded of the ordinary Nigerian – the message is sadly of government as an invasion of locusts.

If this, then, is “Hope Renewed,” what do hopelessness and the ‘locust years’ look like?

Finally, back to positivity and the Danjumas, during the dedication of the Mother and Child Hospital, Governor Obaseki spoke of an “on-going revolution in the healthcare system in Edo State.”

He identified the hospital as being “the key pointer to the direction of which [Edo] healthcare is going because it’s about access to healthcare and more importantly quality of healthcare.”

The question is what the government he leads intends to contribute to this and other economic sectors, and how does it protect the investments of entrepreneurs and civil society?

Beyond rhetoric, what is Mr. Obaseki putting in place that will serve citizens when he is out of office, empowering him to walk the streets of Edo with the appreciation and admiration of citizens and not behind thickets of barrel-chested security?

This is the lifelong reward that attends the Danjuma name, because everyone can identify a good heart when it beats nearby. Power can neither acquire it nor is it on sale at the supermarket.

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