Our Philanthropists Should Invest More In Education, By Ebere Onwudiwe

In a blog of April 13, I paid tribute to the generosity of rich Nigerians who dipped into their deep pockets to fight COVID-19. That’s a form of giving back that’s expected of enlightened rich people. One of the world’s greatest philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie of the United States propounded the “Gospel of Wealth” that said that wealthy people were morally obligated to give back to others in society. It seems that this philosophy of philanthropy may be working in Nigeria.

At least, working well enough that last year a Nigerian magazine was able to present a list of its top ten Nigerian philanthropists of 2019 for “committing substantial part(s) of their wealth to the development of the society”. Neither the amount of wealth nor the proportion devoted to philanthropy was mentioned for any of those on the list, so the rating criteria could be somewhat dubious. Still, that the publication even exists suggests a growing recognition of the importance of philanthropy in Nigeria.

From Aliko Dangote to Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia to Folorunso Alakija, Muhammadu Indimi to Subomi Michael Balogun, Emeka Offor, and others, all the ten people on the magazine’s list have established foundations. Philanthropic foundations as private entities originated in the United States and were first founded in the period following the American civil war when business people were accumulating massive wealth. Through their foundations, philanthropists helped build America by investing in sustainable development sectors such as education and health.

Quality education and good health offer many benefits to both the individual and to society at large. Given our stage of development in Nigeria, quality education and good health should be high on the priority lists of Nigerian foundations and other philanthropists. Nigerians should be thankful that many of our philanthropists try to meet this challenge by supporting initiatives that advance quality education and good health in many parts of the country.

Still, at the risk of sounding like Oliver Twist, our givers need to pay even more attention to education, because it has so many other positive effects, including healthier lives, better jobs with good health benefits, and higher earnings. So by investing in entrepreneurship and skills acquisition, Nigerian foundations and other philanthropists will indirectly promote good health in the long run as well.

Many experts agree that education improves economic growth, creates jobs, and reduces poverty. Above all, the education of girls has been shown to have transformative and generational health benefits, such that every extra year of school completion by a girl reduces infant mortality rates by 5 to 10 per cent, according to The Circle, a U.K. based NGO that supports women in 16 countries. This should spur us to educate our daughters even more, because our infant mortality rate this year is 59.181 deaths per 1,000 live births,

Education clearly matters. And Nigerians appreciate that. It was made more accessible at the university level when – after we returned to democracy in 1979 – many states created their own universities and joined the federal government to provide subsidies for university education in Nigeria, making it less expensive. Still, Nigeria does not have enough universities to accommodate the ever-increasing number of students looking for admission. This may explain the enthusiasm with which the private sector has jumped into the university building business.

At the last count, there were 79 private universities in the country. The question that remains is whether what we need is a continued proliferation of weak private universities or the strengthening of existing institutions through philanthropic investments in university research centres, scholarships, libraries, resource centres, and the endowment of professorships.

The truth is that while some of our private universities are good institutions with great promise, most of them are not. As a friend of mine recently observed, if the funds thrown into building some private universities were used instead to support research or to endow chairs in some of the country’s premier universities, the standard of knowledge production in our country would have increased to respectable levels of excellence.

About the Author: Ebere Onwudiwe is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja.

Source: Premium Times

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