Aliko Dangote may not have located any of his ubiquitous cement plants, flour mills, salt and petrochemical refineries, and rice and tomato processing mills in the ancient town of Ile-Ife in Osun State yet, even as some of the people of the historic town have been benefiting indirectly from the great industrialist’s initiatives through dealerships.
Last Monday July 10, 2017, however, Dangote stormed Ile-Ife with a most impactful munificence that has turned hopelessness into hope and would stamp permanent impressions on some 220 lives.
On March 8, 2017, the lives of many residents of Ile-Ife had come crashing down when some Yoruba and Hausa traders clashed over what a judicial panel of inquiry confirmed was a minor disagreement that arose between a Yoruba woman and a Hausa man in the commercial Sabo area of the town. The disagreement would degenerate into a violent crisis that resulted in about 46 deaths, while shops and goods worth tens of millions of naira belonging to the traders were destroyed.
In April, the Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, inaugurated the judicial panel to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the crisis and submit its report within four weeks. The panel, chaired by Justice Moshood Adeigbe, began sitting on April 19 and sat for 27 days. During the sitting, the body received 406 memoranda but treated only 289 of them. The panel’s Secretary, Mr. Bisi Babalola, said that most of those who submitted memoranda refused to show up before the panel despite several announcements and invitations to them to do so. Many of them, he said, were not even at the scene of the crisis. He added that most witnesses of the crisis did not also show up to give eye-witness accounts, as most of those who appeared before the panel were direct victims who lost goods and had come to appeal to the state government for compensation.
"While many claimed that their shops were looted during the fracas, others also claimed that their houses were burnt and appealed to government to assist them," Babalola said. Assistance eventually came for the traders as they wished, but not from the direction they had appealed to. Unknown to them, as the panel was sitting, some very concerned leaders had been meeting to discuss hope for them. As the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamudo Sanusi, narrated last Monday at the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Ooni had reached out to him and the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, immediately the crisis occurred to brief them. The three worried traditional rulers later met in London to further deliberate on the issue. But the Emir of Kano would realise the extent of damage and the need for urgent palliative measures for the traders more when he visited Sabo, the scene of the crisis in Ile-Ile.
Emir Sanusi disclosed that he and the Ooni were in the latter’s car after he had seen the ruins when his mind went to who could possibly assist immediately to get the traders back on their commerce track: Aliko Dangote. Sanusi recalled that on occasions in the past, he had had cause to call on the industrialist for financial succour for the needy, and Dangote had never disappointed. One particular assistance was when he turned to the philanthropist to assist insurgency victims in Maiduguri. The Dangote Foundation had already been spending millions of naira on that cause; it had spent close to N1 billion even before the Emir came calling. But that wouldn’t stop further donations from him to the cause. Dangote would further spend, in Emir Sanusi’s words, about N2 billion more to bring relief for the victims.
So it was to Aliko Dangote that the traditional rulers once again turned as they sought a two-pronged measure to revive the victims’ ruined businesses as well as reunite the Hausa community in Ile-Ife and their Yoruba hosts.
Hosts? No. The fact emerged at the grand reunion ceremony last week at the Ooni’s palace that the non-Yoruba residents (the Hausa specifically) in Sabo and, indeed, Ile-Ife generally have been living in the town for scores of years that they are now as Yoruba as make no difference. Actually, most of them speak Yoruba fluently and are married to Yoruba spouses. As Babalola highlighted, the judicial panel discovered the crisis was not a tribal affair but a mere disagreement between a man and a oman from the two different tribes that unfortunately degenerated into bloodshedding.
The reunion ceremony at the Ooni’s palace, attended by, apart from the Emir of Kano, other notable Yoruba obas and Hausa leaders, was so emotional, with both Yoruba and Hausa beneficiaries full of smiles while praising Alhaji Dangote for his selflessness.
As cheques were being presented to the 220 beneficiaries, Access Bank staffers were on ground to convert the cheques immediately to cash for those who wanted immediate cash value.
Ooni praised the magnanimity of Dangote in rising to the occasion each time the need arises to help victims of either natural disaster or man-instigated calamity. Oba Ogunwusi described Dangote’s generosity as unparalleled, noting that many other Nigerian could have easily done the same thing but would rather choose not to.
"Dangote is touching the people’s lives in so many ways, giving back to the society and doling out money to help Nigerians in need. Our youths are jobless but Dangote has been helping many of them. I appeal to our youths to embrace peace. Those who engage in hate speeches and threats of war should stop it. When there is violence, the executors are youths and the victims will be youths.
“Let us come together and channel our energy to positive causes for ourselves and say enough is enough. I have surrendered my life to the cause of the youths. So also has the Emir of Kano and several other monarchs. I am challenging other wealthy Nigerians to emulate Alhaji Dangote. And I enjoin the youths to please pray for him,” the Ooni said.
Emir Sanusi regretted that the people engaged in violence, which he emphasised they shouldn’t have done, noting that peace should be desired by all because "no development can happen without peace."
He praised the Ooni on how he handled the issue when it broke out, saying he briefed both himself and the Sultan of Sokoto on the development and action taken so far and that both of them were convinced that the Ooni did the right thing at that material time, not only to douse the tension but to ensure that peace reign permanently.
“I implore those spreading hate speeches not to set Nigeria up in flames. War will not do anybody any good. Those beating the drums of war seeking seccesion should take a look at the map of Africa and see how war has torn into pieces countries like Ruwanda, Somalia and Sudan," he said.
The Emir thanked Alhaji Dangote profusely for his consistent favourable response to distress calls for assistance whenever there was any problem in any part of Nigeria.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Mrs Zouera Youssoufou, said the clash between the Hausa and Yoruba was touchy to Alhaji Dangote, who immediately promised to bring relief to the victims.
“Alhaji Dangote was disturbed by the clash and wondered why communities who have been living together would allow a minor disagreement to tear them apart to the extent of killing themselves and destroying their properties.
“So he decided to cushion the effects by identifying the victims who are still alive but suffered destruction of their properties and means of livelihood. So, today, we are assisting 220 victims who will benefit from the donation, according to their losses,” Youssoufou said.
She added that the gesture was meant to help the victims resettle and "come back to life as what happened was not wished for in the first place.”