Femi Otedola as Peter “the Rock” of Philanthropy, by Osmund Agbo

We are accustomed to Nigerian big men and their prima-donna dispositions, often surrounded by mean-looking, gun-toting entourages vying for prominence. However, witnessing a billionaire, denominated in dollars, swaying to the rhythm of Joeboy’s chart-topping track “Alcohol,” while his highly impressed daughters share gleeful laughter in the backdrop, presents an entirely unique and invigorating perspective about life.

Femi Otedola is a man of extraordinary wealth, but even more extraordinary is his self-effacing nature. Despite commanding a stupendous fortune,
he prefers to be addressed simply as “Mister,” shunning the grand titles that society often bestows upon the wealthy elite. His modesty struck me the very first time we spoke, and though he may not know it, behind his back, I refer to him as “Ogbeni Oja.” Perhaps it’s a name that has stuck with me, resonating with the legacy of the late Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola, one of Nigeria’s most prominent industrialists of his era and a former Chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, whose name was inextricably linked to that title.

Like Odutola, Otedola, the billionaire businessman and Chairman of Geregu Power PLC has achieved numerous firsts. Yet, in recent years, his philanthropic endeavors have made him akin to the Nigerian version of Robert Frederick Smith, the African-American billionaire founder and CEO of Vista Equity Partners.

Smith’s remarkable act of philanthropy, during the 2019 commencement speech at Morehouse College, is etched in history. He paid off the loan debts of nearly 400 graduating students, a gesture totaling $34 million. What makes Smith’s story even more inspiring is his commitment to the Giving Pledge, a campaign founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, encouraging wealthy individuals to allocate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Morehouse President David A. Thomas hailed Smith’s gift as a “liberation gift,” freeing graduates to embark on their careers without the burden of debt. Starting life debt-free offers an invaluable head start to those graduates and sets the stage for their future success.

In Nigeria, Augustine University, a private Catholic institution affiliated with the Lagos Catholic Archdiocese, received a generous dose of Femi Otedola’s heart. On October 26th, Otedola was inaugurated as the university’s chancellor, and he chose that moment to make yet another extraordinary and selfless gesture. He granted N1 million scholarships to all 750 students of the university, an act that is consistent with his ongoing commitment to promoting education and societal well-being as a whole.

Otedola’s generosity extended even further. He pledged N140 million to furnish the newly completed Engineering faculty building at the university and an additional N110 million to install streetlights around the campus and acquire a standby generating set. His total contribution amounted to a substantial N1 billion, in addition to his earlier contribution of $6 million for the construction of the multistory Faculty building. This facility was subsequently named “The Lady Doja Otedola Building” in honor of his mother.

Otedola like his other high net worth friends, is no stranger to philanthropy. However, what sets him apart is the share scale of his magnanimity. In November 2019, Otedola donated NGN 5 billion (approximately $14 million at the time) through his daughter, DJ Cuppy’s Foundation, the largest individual charitable donation in Nigeria’s history. This generous contribution was intended to support various intervention programs aimed at assisting needy children in the Boko Haram-ravaged northeast region of Nigeria. The charity focuses on improving the welfare of Nigeria’s vulnerable and marginalized children, emphasizing early childhood education and healthcare, among numerous other initiatives.

Femi Otedola’s philanthropic actions demonstrate a fundamental truth: giving is not merely an act of charity; it is a testament to the transformative power of philanthropy. His contributions to education illustrate how giving can shape the future by providing opportunities to those who might otherwise be left behind.

However, the influence of giving reaches far beyond those who directly receive its benefits, also significantly enriching the lives of the givers themselves. Numerous studies and anecdotal accounts consistently demonstrate that giving leads to heightened personal happiness and a profound sense of fulfillment. Femi Otedola undeniably exemplifies this, as he is a man of immense contentment who dedicates time to his family. He appears to be in his finest form when surrounded by his gorgeous daughters. When individuals like Otedola contribute to causes they are deeply passionate about, it, in turn, fosters a collective sense of purpose and gratification within the family, transcending the limitations of material wealth.

Moreover, philanthropy allows individuals to build lasting legacies. While material possessions can be fleeting, the impact of philanthropy can endure for generations. By creating a legacy of giving, wealthy individuals can ensure that their values and principles live on long after they are gone.

Engaging in philanthropic activities can also lead to personal growth and self-discovery. Givers often learn more about themselves and their values as they become involved in causes they are passionate about. This journey of self-discovery enriches the giver’s life in ways that extend far beyond the act of giving itself.

Nevertheless, it is essential for society to acknowledge and appreciate philanthropists without developing an entitlement mindset. No one is obliged to give, regardless of their financial standing. Recognizing philanthropy as a voluntary, altruistic choice, society should express gratitude and appreciation for the generosity of individuals like Otedola.

Femi’s middle name, Peter, holds an intriguing prescience in the narrative of his life and his ascent as a philanthropic powerhouse. Like the biblical figure Peter, known as the rock upon which the Christian church was built, Otedola’s journey through wealth and giving also mirrors the establishment of a firm foundation for positive change. His role as the “Rock of Philanthropy” embodies the enduring impact that one individual can have on the well-being and progress of many, just as Peter’s faith laid the foundation for the Christian faith.

The power of giving is profound and multifaceted. In recognizing the power of giving, we honor the positive impact it has on individuals and communities, leaving a lasting legacy of compassion and social progress. Much respect and kudos to Mr. Olufemi Peter Otedola, or should I say, “Ogbeni Oja”. May his ships sail on calm waters. Ami!

Osmund Agbo is the author of ‘Black Grit, White Knuckles: The Philosophy of Black Renaissance