CHARITY beggets a lot more gains than those who look at cashbook entries often note. It defies the maxim of profit and loss. Some business school authorities, especially, community relations and social responsibility experts would actually identify charity as the bedrock of business organisations’ enduring success in given communities whilst those who appraise enterprises with some spiritual slant would add that what makes one venture bloom where others met their doom could be the goodwill that charity and benevolence bring.
‘Givers never lack’ is a popular street lingua in Nigeria. It hints of some intrinsic profitability in giving for good causes because ‘the hand that gives’ the typical Nigerian would add, ‘stays up’. Once in a while, some people’s enterprises live, act and elevate these aphorisms to truism. At least, the Nigerian aviation company, Air Peace, is currently, one such example to cite in Africa.
The firm, through a landmark gesture of empathy by its chief executive officer (CEO) Allen Ifechukwu Onyema, hit the bull’s eye last week when they turned an overtly bad situation of xenophobia – the gloomy story of bloodletting on the streets, organised murder, arson, theft, looting and treacherous elimination of fellow Africans by South Africans – into a memorable, heartwarming narative from Nigeria. Now, all over Africa there is something to cheer from Nigeria despite the oddious in South Africa.
When at the turn of this month, life suddenly turned into horror and hell for non-South Africans, especially Nigerians, the federal government began a process to evacuate our citizens stranded between the killers’ clubs, stones, matchetes, guns and bonefire there.
Names of Nigerians willing to leave for home were collated but no flyer was willing to help bring those caught-up there, home. Calls for their rescue filled the social media as fears heightened at home over their safety amidst daily feeds of mob-killings and horrible videos that worsened the anxiety. Suddenly, the first batch of almost 180 Nigerians who were rescued from the mindless killing fields of South Africa returned to Nigeria via the Muritala Mohamed International Airport, Lagos. Beholding their homeland, many of the returnees wept profusely. Most Nigerians at home, who never expected to see their folks alive again, given the gory stories flying about from South Africa, wept too.
As the Air Peace Boeing 777 aeroplane that lifted the people free-of-charge from Johannesburg touched ground in Lagos very early in the morning of Wednesday, September 11, emotions took the reins. Silent tears from bottled-up hearts exploded into wails. Prayers, praises, worship songs and chants of ‘great Naija’ rented the air. Climax of the wee-hour morning was when all the rescued persons, with wet eyes and striped faces, stood in attention and sang the whole stanzas of the Nigeria: National Anthem for the equally teary Air Peace Chairman/CEO, Chief Onyema who waited all-night to receive them at the airport.
Beholding Onyema, in tears and working physically with his airline’s staff to relive the pains of the South African xenophobia victims was like watching a true-life thriller movie. But following the flurry of encomiums that has followed his historic philanthropy which is still in progress as more batches of stranded Nigerians are still being extracted out of harm’s way from there, encourages a study on what makes a true entrepreneur.
Yesterday, another batch of over 300 Nigerians were evacuated from South Africa by his airline with more lined up.
The lawyer and businessman Onyema’s story brings to mind the globally renowned activities of the wealthy North American entrepreneur and politician, Herbie Hoover, who committed his means, time and talent in a very spirited efforts to rescue his countrymen and women who were famished and stranded in Europe during the Great Depression and in the immediate aftermath of World War 1.
Hoover’s work in this venture from 1914 to 1919 made him a household name globally for humanitarian service and social entrepreneurship. In that era of want, brood and famine Hoover reprented hope and dispatched his humanitarian in such a way that countries in both Europe and America trusted and gave him the charge to steer the west out of depression.
It was such that the general acceptance of his act brought such popular social expressions as “to Hooverize” which meant to economise on food, and in his native country, the US people observed “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” and planting War Gardens to encourage his efforts. Reports revealed that for the Wednesday, September 11 flight alone, Air Peace ‘lost’ at almost N40 million.
Unlike in Hoover’s case where state invested as well in Onyema’s it was his money. Commenting on that, the soft-speaking and somewhat public-shy Onyema said he was not perturbed because it was a mission he willingly embarked on because he saw the dire situation his fellow country people were facing in South Africa and opted to do something significant that brings succour. Emphasising that he was even happier with such loss provided it brings about a healthier society, the airline’s boss rather appreciated his Air Peace staff for their support. He disclosed that even his pilots and cabin crew waived aside their flight allowances and entitlements.
What the development tells of Air Peace is an organisation with high sense of social responsibility. Though and clearly not a charity venture, the firm’s corporate interest in the wellbeing of her society of operation comes across as high notch and remarkable.
They are not the only aviation firm that has Nigerian root but they have shown that they have compassion and desire for social change in the mode of doing business and public relations here. These evacuations join some social events one has seen them embark on such as, the yearly football competitions they organise in Ihiala local council of Anambra State, the home of Chief Onyema and their outreach to widows and the indigent.
For Onyema, the act shows the increasingly blurry line between private and public service, especially for very exposed entrepreneures. Entreprenureship, as the British business mogul, Richard Branson, noted is simply, providing solutions to mankind’s myriad of problems even if it is global warming or going to the orbits. It not all about seeking to derive profits from society and grow businesses irrespective of how people live.
Onyema comes across as representation of the tiny clan of entrprenures that our society need — radical solution providers, active givers who also work hands-on on the field to ensure that their investments yeild good results when and where the society needs them.
Social investment expert Dees J. Gregory emphasises the need for people to value the social impact that their donations are actually having. His words: “In society, I’d like to see more value placed on social impact and success than on good intentions or effective marketing or the severity of the need you’re claiming to serve. I’d like to see a fundamental change in ethics or culture around that. We still have the lingering effect of a culture of charity, which honours people for their sacrifice—how much they give and the purity of their motives.
The word charity comes from the word “caritas,” which is the Latin word for love or compassion. We’re rewarding people for demonstrating their love of humankind, but we’re not often looking to see whether it has the intended impact. So I’d love to see an ethics change, so that we honour people for the impact they’ve had directly, or indirectly….”
In the 2009 book, ‘Real Good, Not Feel Good’, Martin J Fisher and Kevin Starr wrote: “We can no longer afford to spend scarce funds on things that simply feel good. Instead we need to support initiatives that do real good, and that have the potential to generate large-scale and lasting solutions to the world’s biggest problems.”
Xenophobia is a very large-scale problem rocking Africa currently, Onyema, through his firm, Air Peace, has shown us the way to the ‘real good’. We have to head towards that impactful path or at least encourage it.
That is why I go with such groups as the Virtuous Widows Association of Nigeria (VWA) who made public their commendation for Chief Onyema for his efforts in saving Nigerians trapped in South Africa. In the words of the VWA leader, Lady Ify Egbosiuba, acts like Onyema’s from people at his level are very rare, “he deserves encouragement so that more people will step in concretely to save us from situations like the xenophobia in South Africa that makes us have more widows.”
Similarly, I support the Chairman House of Representative Committee on Aviation, Nnolin Nnaji who has commended Onyema and the management of Air Peace. Nnaji dubbed Onyema’s act as patriotic and a demonstration of true spirit of Africanness, He reasoned that it can compel Nigerians to see themselves as one family.
The main nugget in all these is that Onyema has shown that one can be a patriot and get citizens recognise him as a masses’ idol through the way he conducts his business, means and time.
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