Dead Tomatoes, a Gift, and Open Doors
When our daughter Beth was in her second year at Kaduna Federal Government College (roughly equivalent to high school) in northern Nigeria, she had an unfortunate experience with her tomato plants and with the school.
Here’s a short excerpt from my memoir where I describe the traumatic experience. Beth has just come home for the Christmas holidays.
“She’d also told us about her tomato plants, which she was growing as part of the school’s emphasis on practical subjects. She’d been bothered when they didn’t grow, but in late November they recovered. “My plants are getting fuller, and I have seven tomatoes.” But when she came home at Christmas, her first words were, “My plants died. I will get a bad mark for agriculture, and I was punished.” I was devastated.
“What? How could that be?” I hugged her and pulled her down beside me on the sofa. I knew she wouldn’t have forgotten to water or tend her plants, so the failure was surely not her fault. “Don’t worry,” I said, as she started to cry. “I’m sure you did your best.”
You can read the whole segment from Chapter 22 here. The section ends with our moving Beth to Hillcrest School in Jos. We couldn’t get a space in the school’s boarding facilities so I called my friend Joanne, with whom I had taught at the American School in Lagos years earlier. She had moved to Jos and her children were at Hillcrest.
She agreed to have Beth board with her. So that’s where Beth stayed until she finished high school. Our younger son Sam joined her in Jos two years later.
In 1999 Joanne founded Open Doors for children and adults with special needs. People who are disabled physically or mentally have frequently been shunned in Nigeria. Joanne changes that for her students at Open Doors. I often read her cheerful posts on Facebook.
Two months ago I received a wonderful gift – a check for $100 – from Gerald, who’d attended my book talk at Bernard’s in Weston. He asked me to give it to a charity of my choice. I immediately thought of Joanne’s Open Doors program. I sent it to her through her son who lives in San Francisco.
She is very grateful and will use it to meet critical needs of the school and the children. Thank you, Gerald!
Two More Wealthiest Nigerians
With only $35 to his name that he had borrowed from his mother, Orji Uzor Kalu began trading palm oil, first buying the oil from Nigeria’s eastern regions and then selling it in the country’s northern regions. He then began buying and reselling furniture on a large scale. Thanks to Wikipedia for this background.
Kalu eventually established SLOK Holding, a conglomerate that today has a number of successful companies. Furniture, publishing, vegetable oils, and paper are a few of his businesses. He has also incorporated in the U.S., and operates in Ghana, Togo, Cotonou, Guinea, South Africa, Liberia, Botswana, and Korea. Supreme Oil Limited, SLOK Airlines, and First International Bank Limited are other parts of his business empire.
Kalu became the youngest Nigerian to receive the National Merit Award from President Ibrahim Babangida, at the age of 26 in 1986. He was selected as the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce’s Industrialist of the Year, and awarded the Humanitarian Award of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka‘s Humanitarian Club, the Volunteer Award of the International Association of Volunteers, the National Merit Award, the EU Special Award in Brussels, and the World Bank Leon Sullivan Award.
He is the eighth wealthiest Nigerian with a net worth of around $1 billion.
The seventh, also with a net worth of $1 billion, is Tony Elumelu, born in Jos in 1963.
He founded a bank and merged it with the United Bank of Africa which he acquired in 2005. Today UBA is a large financial services provider with subsidiaries in 20 African countries, with representative offices in France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Wikpedia tells me, “Following his retirement from UBA in 2010, Elumelu founded Heirs Holdings, which invests in the financial services, energy, real estate and hospitality, agribusiness, and healthcare sectors. In the same year, he established the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an Africa-based and African-funded philanthropic organisation dedicated to the promotion of excellence in business leadership and entrepreneurship and to enhancing the competitiveness of the private sector across Africa.
“In 2011, Heirs Holdings acquired a controlling interest in the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp), a publicly quoted conglomerate that has business interests in the agribusiness, energy, and hospitality sectors. Elumelu was subsequently appointed chairman of the corporation.
“Elumelu serves as an advisor to the USAID’s Private Capital Group for Africa (PCGA) Partners Forum, which “works with various sources of private capital to facilitate greater investment in Africa in support of key development objectives of the United States and African governments and institutions.” Clem, take note!
He serves as Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Global Food Security. He also serves as a member of the Global Advisory Board of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL).
A Reprimand from Buhari
When Buhari visited Washington in July this year, “he asked his people not to smuggle in businessment,” according to Sahara Reporters. Apparently he spotted Tony Elumelu and Jim Ovia, whom I told you about recently, at the Washington Dinner with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and was not happy.
“Elumelu and Ovia were formidable supporters of former President Goodluck Jonathan but since Buhari’s victory, these and many other businessmen have been looking for ways” to get into the Buhari fold, Sahara Reporters said.