Most times in Nigeria, news of great events with capacity to positively impact and transform generations for good are either ignored, swept aside or glossed over while issues of much less importance are celebrated.
One such news worthy of celebration and amplification is the declaration by the Chairman of Zinox Group, Chief (Dr.) Leo Stan Ekeh, that he is making available N1.5 billion (One billion, five hundred million Naira) to set up the Leo Stan Ekeh Foundation (LSEF) which has the goal of alleviation of the pervasive and evident hardship in his state of birth.
Chief Ekeh, an illustrious son of Imo State, a trend setting Nigerian and a visionary African Information Communications Technology (ICT) giant announced, at a public function in the state, in the presence of the state Governor, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, that N1 billion (One billion Naira) of the amount would be for interest free loans to petty traders and small and medium scale businesses while N500 million (Five hundred million Naira) would be for a revolving loan scheme for indigent but brilliant students of the state to further or complete their studies.
This initiative is monumental, because it would, if properly implemented, deal a devastating blow to poverty in the state. The transformation that would take place in the lives of many individuals and families as a result of it can only be imagined.
To prove that he means business Chief Ekeh has gone ahead to announce a Director General (DG) for his Foundation, which will manage the funds for the business loans that, he restated on Monday, are meant “to reduce hardship, stimulate business activities and give hope to majority of the people in the state,” as well as the funds for the “educational support project for indigent but intelligent students of the state to enable them acquire proper university education.”
The DG, Engineer Amasike Emelonye, is a first class British trained technology expert who was the pioneer Managing Director of Zinox Technologies, one of the companies that Ekeh founded. Emelonye, who has multiple degrees and professional certifications, according to a statement announcing his appointment, led the Zinox team that designed the INEC electronic voter register system and co-developed the INEC SmartCard Reader and PVC system, among several other notable national and state projects.
A renewable energy and biometric solutions consultant to several Agencies, Emelonye is a thoroughbred ICT professional who has led major ICT infrastructural developments, and would be leading a team that would ensure that the platform for the disbursement of the N1.5bn loan scheme will be digitally-driven, with minimal human interface to avoid manipulations and compromises.
There would, certainly, be significant improvement in the businesses of beneficiaries of the business loans, especially if they apply the funds properly, while young intelligent people who would have been left in the firm grip of illiteracy and poverty would be catapulted out of the vicious cycle, out of the illiteracy-induced stranglehold of lack and want by the golden opportunity being offered by Chief Ekeh’s education loans.
There are so many others who are as well endowed as this serial entrepreneur, but surely, it takes special grace for one to be able to give back to his constituency as Chief Ekeh is doing. And a very touching angle to the story is the revelation that he has used his personal collateral in addition to putting up some of his assets to secure the funds that will be used for this program.
This is altruism in its purest form because the man is not asking anything in return. He has not, for instance, given any indication that he wants to vie for any political position and certainly is not asking to be made a traditional ruler or given a chieftaincy title. Indeed, he has barred politicians from participation in the scheme which starts off before the end of this month, September, insisting that it is not “a political-oriented programme.”
He equally appealed to the media to see themselves as partners in progress and only focus on sharing relevant information pertaining to the scheme, as, he said, it is not showbiz.
“The first set of beneficiaries, about 1400, will take off before the end of September while we build remote technology to on-board the next batch. At the moment, our tech guys are working on the back-end. We want to limit human interference by at least 90% and instead, drive the project through technology,” he said in the statement.
Chief Ekeh confessed that he was always depressed by the level of poverty that stares him in the face whenever he returns home, and has to be giving out handouts every so often. But by this gesture, he is going beyond giving the people fish to teaching them how to catch fish and equipping them with the nets and boats to use to go fishing.
Ekeh, a global Advisor to Microsoft, has been an unrepentant crusader for ICT use in Nigeria and Africa, always arguing that ICT has the capacity to transport the diligent son or daughter of poor parents out of the valley of poverty onto the top of the mountain of prosperity, which he aptly describes as “wealth disruption in the 3rd world.”
He has done so much for Nigeria and Africa in general in this area and the governors of the South East states who should claim this colossus and use his expertise to their advantage must embrace him as the Imo state governor seems to be doing (and as the Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Udom Emmanuel, also seems to be doing).
The man has proved that he is able and willing to give his all towards the transformation of his immediate constituency, and has promised that he would extend the loans initiative to cover other states of the country in due course. He must, therefore, be encouraged and assisted to achieve the common good that he is so passionate about – using support for education and small scale businesses to lift many out of poverty.
His crusade to use ICT to uplift the masses must also be embraced by all and the governors of the South East and South South zones (for a start) must elect to work closely with him to transform governance in the zones from analogue to digital, since it is clear that this transformation will make governments more efficient, more transparent, less corrupt and more beneficial to the masses.