Ofante: giving back to community
Ogwu James Onoja hails from Ofante-Ogugu in Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State. He is a legal practitioner, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In 2009, the late Atta, His Royal Majesty Aliyu Obaje, conferred on him the traditional beaded title of Agenyi-Attah of Igala Kingdom, meaning “Attah Igala’s confidant.”
Recently, Onoja spoke on the need for individuals to give back to the community, which helped them to realise their dreams in life.
On the motive for an intervention project he sited in Ofante community recently he said: “I finished from Community High School in Ofante together with Dr. Akogwu. Ordinarily, people would not have believed we could make it from there, but we were able to graduate from an institution established by the community. The elders in that community sold kolanuts, yam, etc., and they contributed money to establish the institution.”
So, he felt it was appropriate to do something worthwhile for the community that pooled resources to support him in attaining his current position.
And though they have anonymously been contributing in different ways to the community’s development, they recently felt there was need to let people know of this.
He said: “The aim is to encourage others do the same, as well as establish the fact that such things can be done on a non-political platform, since everybody cannot be a politician. If my community could have the vision to establish a community secondary school, which brought us to the limelight, then I cannot but work to uplift that community.
“Ogugu Community Secondary School was the first of its kind in the entire North. Look at the many prominent people that community produced.
“There was this scholarship scheme by Ogugu District Union (ODU), which produced so many graduates. When I look back at the many products of that community institution, what they are doing now and how their lives have changed, I realise that our generation is not doing anything to augment what our parents did, rather, we are destroying them.”
He decried the dilapidated state of many communities, adding that the younger generation and leaders are not paying attention to what the older generation did.
On the fact that many successful people avoid their native communities, and are only brought home for burial, he said: “It shouldn’t be so. If these communities were not developed, if they were not enlightened, your children would not have anywhere to go. Whenever I go to the village, I see ruins and penury. The villagers go to chemists for injection, when they are sick, and due to lack of N2, 000, somebody may die. There is this gap between leadership and the led.
“The biggest enterprise in the country is Government. The wealthy are feasting on government, everybody wants to be in Government, but all of us cannot be in Government. So, I feel there should be a way to reach out to these communities. People will be amazed at what just N100, 000 can do in the village.”
He wondered why people in his generation only want to be on the social media to insult people, while wailing and hailing.
On the road he graded from Ogugu to Ofante, he explained that when he lost his mother-in-law, he had to go to the village, but no one could access Ofante from Ogugu.
He said: “As a sanitary inspector in those days, my father constructed roads, but there is nothing like that again. Government no longer bothers about the welfare of people in rural areas. Then, my father would hire foremen and others and they would go round mending and clearing gutters, so that water could flow. In those days, you could drive your car and even speed in the village, but you can’t do all that now. So, I decided to do something about it.
“Surprisingly, politicians started their problem, as they threatened to burn the bulldozer for constructing the road. They thought I was doing it for political reason. A man wanted to construct the road leading to his father’s house and they accused him of doing politics. But I asked them, which road did they construct before going into politics and afterward?
“Ofante, my community was neglected. Each time I went home in my big vehicles, the people looked up to me. They cannot differentiate between people in Government and those in private business.
“I felt I had to do something, which I did, and I am happy at the outcome. Though some are disputing the fact that I built that road, but fortunately, I have letters and prayers from my people in the village. Above all, I can now drive to my village.”
Onoja said his aim was to correct the impression that one must be a politician before he can do something for his people.
“And it is not only the road,” he explained. “I just established a scholarship trust fund in my father’s name with N20m. We are going to start disbursement by November. It is my own way of giving back and I am happy doing it.”
Has he ever felt discouraged by negative comments?
He said: “Some of the beneficiaries feel I am giving because I have so much money. But if dogs come to your table to eat the crumbs, you have not done anything for the dogs. To give is something very special; it is about sharing what you have. The fact that I give you N1m doesn’t mean I don’t have the need for that money.
“There has been a lot of discouragement. For instance, because people heard that I donated N1m to a church, they came to ask for their share. But these are people I do not know from Adam. Things like that make you feel like running away and never return.
“We give people money only to discover later that some of them are not students. This is partly why I decided to make it public. If you want scholarship, your mother would have to sign. Your village people should know you are collecting it, so that you stop engaging in 419.”
Onoja said he experienced deprivation and rejection when growing up, and that is why he doesn’t want others going through such.