‘Supporting the poor to become productive will reduce crime rate’
Bamidele Omosehin is a philanthropist with deep-seated aversion to poverty and strong empathy for the poor. In this interview with FELIX KUYE, he spoke on the need to empower the poor and jobless citizens whose conditions are being worsened by the downturn in the economy, as a way of reducing criminality in the society.
What motivated you to set up the Bamidele Omosehin Foundation?
The motivation is rooted in the desire to assist others. The truth is that the government cannot do everything for the people. As a man with an unwavering knack for philanthropic services, setting up the foundation is my little way of contributing to the growth of the society and putting smiles on the faces of the needy. I urge well-meaning Nigerians, blessed by God, to be compassionate and help others who are desperately in need of assistance, to make Nigeria a better place for all to live in.
Growing up was not a bed of roses. Today, as I look back to remember how the average kids like me from a modest family had to struggle to get the basic necessities of life at some point in our early years, I feel challenged. This really shaped my orientation about the hardship people face daily around us and all over the world. Eventually, it propelled me to set up the foundation to genuinely help the downtrodden, widows, orphans and the less privileged. Part of the goal of the foundation is to ameliorate poverty and hardship.
We have started doing this, beginning in my local government, by giving scholarships to students willing to be educated but are financially handicapped. We also help the homeless and those struggling with medical bills in hospitals. A lot of people are dying because they cannot get proper medicare for their health challenges due to lack of money. That is what we have observed. We visit and take care of orphans and those with disabilities.
How could government assist poor Nigerians, especially at this time of coronavirus pandemic?
It is indeed a hard time for poor people, and even the jobless graduates. Many things are happening almost at the same time now that make the future appear bleak for the poor.
Look at how the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted businesses, leading to sacking of workers. The pump price of petrol and electricity tariffs have gone up. Surveyors are asking the Federal Government to rescind its decision to charge six per cent stamp duty on all tenancy and lease agreements, saying it would increase the hardship faced by Nigerians. By the time schools are allowed to resume, the fees are not likely to remain what they used to be, the hike in petrol price will cause increase in transport fares, and by extension, increase in the prices of food items. The poor and jobless people are going to be overburdened with responsibilities requiring money.
Already, many families are finding it difficult to get their three square meals a day. It is no longer news that a lot of people have lost their jobs. There is need for more intervention by the government and the wealthy citizens to lessen the burden of many families before they start indulging in what may constitute threat to peaceful living in the society. The rate of crime was high before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Nigeria cannot afford to allow the menace to increase. The country is already fighting many battles against insecurity. Therefore, there is need for a conscious effort to reduce the hardship being suffered by poor Nigerians as a strategy to check increase in crime rate as it is done in developed countries.
I am of the opinion that a stipend from the government to the vulnerable people should be the starting point. The school feeding programme should be extended to all the local governments. Wealthy Nigerians should be encouraged to help in feeding the poor and the less privileged. Efforts must be intensified to revive moribund companies that have capacity to employ thousands of workers.
How should the rich help the poor?
In this part of the world, it is unfortunate that the rich always get richer while the poor are becoming poorer daily. To say that the world is a rich place may not altogether be tantamount to flattery. One thing I believe is that nobody is born without some usefulness. The rich can help by discovering the challenges facing the poor and proffering solutions to them. This can only be possible if the rich interacts freely with the poor. To me, the rich in our society have no choice than to assist the poor because this is one of the ways we can also reduce the crime rate. The fuel for insecurity in any society is poverty. If the rich will see the poor as partners in keeping the country safe, we will all be happy together.
This is the reason political office holders ought not to be far from their constituents. From time to time, you must be in their midst, to know what they are passing through so that you can be guided in terms of knowing what their priorities are and how to tailor your representation to deliver their heart desires. But most times, many politicians are not accessible. They come around only during election season to offer the poor some cups of uncooked rice and beans, and may be a paltry N500 or N1000 that cannot solve their least problem.
What advice do you have for the government on the rising level of unemployment in the country?
Unemployment is one of the problems of our country. It is a time bomb that could explode any time. Government’s approach to the challenge should be by creating an environment that encourages private sector to establish factories and initiate projects that will provide employment for the youths. It is very possible for the government to establish profitable ventures that will, apart from providing jobs, generate income for the government itself. Similarly, government can establish small-scale industries where people can be employed. They can as well give soft loans to the unemployed but skilled youths, so that they can practise their trade. Many of them have learnt one trade or the other but because there is no money, they could not establish themselves in business. Any loan given out to them should attract single digit interest.
Do you see Nigerian youths as willing to create a better future for themselves?
I’m very sure they are ready to better their lots if given the opportunity, by making the environment conducive for business to thrive. Have we ever asked ourselves why Nigerian youths excel abroad the sooner they get there? They are excelling in all fields of endeavour because the environments are conducive. My advice to the youths, especially in my state, is to get into politics in their local environment and hold their political office holders accountable. How on earth do you explain a situation where 90 per cent of youths do not know the names of their political office holders, let alone holding them accountable? If truly we asked you to represent us, then we need to get feedback from you from time to time. In truly democratic climes, the electorate is the real boss.
You always say you believe in empowerment rather than helping to bear people’s burden…
It is better to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish. Although, some of our youths are educated, unfortunately they are educated to be job seekers only and not creators or employers. There is need to reverse the situation by encouraging vocational training among the youths. Training in different vocations is the only panacea to the rising level of unemployment among the youths. In this era, ideas rule the world, so ICT is a bundle of ideas. The youths can be trained as ICT experts repairing phones and even producing new phones. Do you know that if serious attention is given to the development of the agricultural sector, it will empower the youth and be a major source of revenue for the government. This sector requires a large labour force. Therefore, it can create employment for our unemployed youths.
In what other ways do you plan to contribute towards making life more meaningful for your people?
My people need to be given a sense of belonging even as they suffer daily the vicious consequences of unemployment, inadequate health and educational facilities. I would work towards ameliorating the lopsided distribution of amenities in my area so that less-developed places would receive their fair share. This would encourage the youths to stay put in my community and embrace agriculture as a means of livelihood, instead of running after elusive white-collar jobs in the cities. And if by providence, I am called upon to serve my people in any capacity, I will not hesitate to give my best.
You are referred to as an apostle of better life for the poor? What birthed that name?
I hail from Iju-Odo in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State. At present, I am the chief executive officer of NVX International Ltd. Omosehin is a very proud Nigerian who preaches the time-honoured maxim of always being one’s brother’s keeper. Besides, I grew up loving my fellow human beings. I have instinct for making people around me happy and comfortable. And when they face any challenge, I try to see how I can be of assistance to them. I grew up with this instinct to also believe in empowering people rather than merely helping them to bear their burden.
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