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What Nigeria must do to step down as the world’s poverty capital

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Sanjeev Tandon


Mr. Sanjeev Tandon is the General Secretary of the Indian Cultural Association (ICA), the apex body of the Indian community in Nigeria. In this interview with TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA, he listed the contributions of Indians as the second largest employer of labour in the country and what the Federal Government should do after Nigeria displaced India as the world’s poverty capital in a recent ranking

For how long has the Indian community existed in Nigeria?
The Indian community is the second largest employer of labour in Nigeria after the Federal Government. Some of the companies owned by Indians have been here for more than 100 years. Our group, the Kewalram Chanrai Group is more than 90 years old in Nigeria. The Indian Cultural Association (ICA) is the apex body of Indians in Nigeria, which is 70 years old. We do a lot of culture and social activities as well as charity projects, especially in healthcare like eye and limb operation. Many of our activities we keep silent because we don’t want too much publicity.

The ICA recently celebrated the International Day of Yoga, what is the significance of this?
The International Day of Yoga, or commonly and unofficially referred to as Yoga Day, is celebrated annually every 21 June since its inception in 2015. The day for yoga was declared unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly four years back and it has since been a global observance. It has nothing to do with religion; it is for the wellbeing of the human body. It keeps you fit in mind, body and soul. It is a very ancient way of keeping fit in India for many centuries, which most countries in the world have inculcated in their educational programme.

It is just to encourage a healthy lifestyle and I enjoined more Nigerians to avail themselves of the physical, mental and spiritual practice of Yoga. Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word ‘yoga’ derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolising the union of body and consciousness.

Are there any relationship between Nigeria and India beyond medical tourism?
Nigerians visit India a lot not only for medical tourism but also for educational advancement. I remember 30 years back in my home in India, we had two Nigerian students as tenants studying in the country. This has been going on for ages. The relationship between India and Nigeria dates back to pre-independence. For instance, there has been this mutual relationship between the Nigerian Army and the Indian Army, where many of the generals in Nigeria were trained in India.

Also, India is the largest importer of Nigerian crude oil and the business is huge though I don’t have the figures. The tie between India and Nigerian government has increased in the last few years. India has become the largest trading partner of Nigeria in the world. Nigeria has also become the largest trading partner of India in Africa. I understand this harmonious bilateral relationship has existed for the last 60 years.

What are the similarities and differences between Indian and Nigerian cultures?
I see Indian culture and Nigerian culture as very similar. Both have the family values, both take respect for elders very seriously and give priority to education. Also, once in a year, people create time to go back to their family not just vacationing elsewhere but go back to their roots and reconnect with their extended families.

Another similarity is that both countries love music. Indian music is based on the drums and beats and Nigerian music is based on the beats too. In the western world, the guitar plays a major role but in India as well as Nigeria, the music is predominantly based on the drums. We are also famous for our traditional dance, which are similar with Nigerian dances too.

For differences, food is number one. Indians have their unique taste and Nigerians have different taste. Here it is more of predominantly beef whereas in India, 80 per cent are vegetarians. It is a different thing if we have a problem of growing food and then you have to store the meat and other condiment, which came from the western culture where half of the time the snow falls and they can’t grow vegetables. So, they are forced to store their food for many weeks and eat later.

Whereas, both in Nigeria and India, we have a fertile land. India makes use of its fertile land to grow and eat fresh vegetables instead of eating stored processed food. This is why Nigeria must take agriculture seriously and utilize its fertile land to become self-sufficient and even export to other countries. Government should concentrate on making more Nigerians go the way of mechanized farming. Agriculture can be the next big boom here.

Recently, Nigeria displaced India as the world’s poverty capital, what is your reaction to this?
I agree with the rating that Nigeria displaced India as the poorest country in the world but with agriculture, Nigeria can rewrite that story. It takes continuous efforts from five to 10 years. Nigeria doesn’t have to import any food. They can grow all they eat. Our company is involved in agriculture, we supply fertilizer and other farm implements as our way of supporting this administration that is serious about encouraging the agricultural sector, and that is the way to go.

What are some of the activities of ICA?
We have a lot of activities. We recently sponsored a tournament in Ikoyi Club; we had the table tennis tournament for inter school competition and many other India festivals that is celebrated in Nigeria. We had the festival of colours in March, then the Harvest festival in April. We will have the Indian Independence Day on August 15 and the Diwali among other charity activities. The festival of lights, which is called Diwali, is one of the major festivals in India. It is the equivalent of Christmas for Christians.

Across the world and in India, we celebrate Diwali. It is meant for fundraising to boost our charity programmes. Diwali is not fixed by date, it is fixed by the moon calendar. It fluctuates between October and November. This year, it will be celebrated in November, which will be attended by many Indians in Nigeria.

There has been lately an interest of the Indian community in Rotary activities, what is the reason for this and how do Indians socialise?
It is recently you are seeing many Indians joining Rotary clubs in Nigeria and becoming active because of my activities as the Immediate Past President of Rotary Club of Lagos Island.

Under my leadership, the Rotary Club of Lagos Island is today the first Mega Rotary Club in District 9110 (first club with more than 100 members in the district comprising over 100 clubs in Lagos and Ogun states); we are also the largest Rotary Club in Africa; and the largest Rotary Club with female members in the world.

At the recently concluded district conference in Abeokuta, Ogun State held in May, the club was adjudged the best performing club in the district after bagging 11 awards out of 13 categories. Besides Rotary, we have the Indian Cultural Association (ICA), the Indian Women Association, the Indian Professional Forum and the Indian Fine Arts Society, which does a lot of classical music and also some regional bodies but the apex body is the ICA.

Furthermore, we have the Indian Language School in Ilupeju, which is over 30 years old. It follows strictly the Indian curriculum and Indian language is the medium of instruction because we don’t want the children brought up here to forget the culture. And for some whose parents return to India, it will be easy to be assimilated into the Indian culture and educational system back home. It is strictly for India nationals because of the language. There is another school in Lekki, which enrolls both Indians and Nigerians that run Indian curriculum.

What are some of the big projects done so far?
The biggest project by the Indian community is the Indo Eye-care foundation, Africa’s first eye hospital, established in partnership with the Rotary Club of Lagos Palmgrove Estate. It is on the Airport Road, Lagos and will be operational later in the year. Apart from that, some Indian companies are running some programmes in other hospitals across the country. Like the Kewalram Group, we have built one hospital in Yola, another one in Zaria and there is another hospital we are supporting in Ajah area of Lagos, where we give a lot of free treatment to the less privileged in society.

What is the estimate of money spent on charity so far?
The figure of how much we have spent is difficult to say but we keep on doing our projects. We have different projects across the country. Indians don’t want to disclose what they spend for their charity. Because when we do charity we have a saying that the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing. That is our culture.

What are your future plans or next big project?
Future plans? Hmmm, that is a difficult question. The priority for now is the eye hospital. More hospitals are coming up, which are owned by Indians but it is for them to declare once they are ready. I know for sure a few that are already in the pipelines, which will soon be unveiled. There is a massive investment in the healthcare because we want to make a positive mark in Nigeria and we see that there is a huge need of qualitative and affordable medicare to reduce the medical tourism.


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Sanjeev Tandon
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