‘Institutionalise charity giving to end poverty’ – The Nation Newspaper

Gregory Azemobor is the Managing Director/CEO, Bethelmendels International, Limited, a firm with interest in interior décor designs, construction, manufacturing to mention just a few. In this interview with Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, the Uromi-born businessman who is also involved in charity giving through his Azemobor Gregory Foundation holds the view and very strongly too that one best way to address the crippling poverty in the country is for everyone to be his or her brother’s keeper both at the family, workplace, and public sphere. Excerpts:

You seem to have made philanthropy a major thrust of your business. At what point did you realise this passion?

The realisation came to me when I was in secondary school. Many of my classmates can attest to that fact. I never even realised that I was in it. All I knew was that I was very active. I was always standing up for what is right. I remember that when I was in boarding school my mother who single handedly raised me used to give me grocery items which I used to share with my schoolmates. Right from time, I have always had that kind of attitude and disposition for helping and giving things to people. I think it was Mike Murdock who stated that what you have passion for is a pointer or indicator of what you were created to do by God. It is a pointer. So, all of us have this instinct, this tendency towards doing a particular thing. What you are passionate about or what infuriates you is a pointer to what you are created to do. I discover that I always like to help people. When I came to Lagos I set up a company where I was making money but I discovered that I was saddened by the level of poverty across the board. I was angry and I became very vocal about what the government ought to do that they are not doing. That was what led me to set up this foundation in 2006 that I called Advocacy for New Nigeria.

How worried are you about the rising level of poverty in the country?

In Nigeria today, we have a situation where those who are hungry are not sleeping and they have resolved that those who are well fed would no longer sleep. How do you expect to sleep in a country where over a hundred million people go to bed hungry? We are not addressing the root cause of insecurity in this country. I am concerned because of what I saw during the #endsars agitation. We all saw the army of angry unemployed youths who blocked everywhere. During the lockdown, you saw what happened. If the restrictions had not been relaxed the youth would have stormed residences of those who are well to do because they want to eat. The level of insecurity has increased in the country. My biggest worry is that the government does not even understand the root cause of this problem. The problem is not even helped by the advice being given to the government by the so-called security experts who are of the view that the government should devise more capacity to contain insecurity rather than looking at the root cause.

How do you think we can do that?

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It’s going to be an uphill task. Maybe we have to go back and look at the family system as a unit. This unit has failed completely. Leadership at home has crumbled. It is at the family unit that you can inculcate the right moral values on the people. The family unit has completely collapsed. How do we produce Godly men? Godly men do not need to profess any religion. I think we should be more concerned with spirituality not even religiosity. Look at the school system. The question we should ask ourselves is that how come is it that morality is not taught in schools? It is a deliberate design to make people amoral. To make the people lack the consciousness of morality. Do you know that in advanced countries, charity is taught in schools? They teach pupils to do things selflessly for the sake of the society. We have an uphill task of how to mould the next generation of godly Nigerians.

What kind of system are you advocating for then?

What I am advocating for is the kingdom of God or the government of God. In that system, God is the Supreme ruler. God did not intend that we rule over ourselves as humans. The worldly system creates demi-gods, they are inventions of men. Jesus came to introduce the culture of the government of God to us here. That was his mandate to the early apostles. You notice that the earlier apostles were busy trying to disrupt the economic system of the world. They were trying to redesign the economic system of the world. For instance, they began to redefine wealth not on the basis of what you are able to accumulate but by the quantum of what you give.

What are the points of divergence then?

The concept that I am proposing, which God himself put in place is that is the concept of being your brother’s keeper. Now, the state is not being able to effectively redistribute wealth to everyone that is in need but if individuals have the heart of love they can easily distribute wealth to people that are hungry. So, in other words, the concept of fruitfulness is that when a tree bears fruits, the animals around, the human beings around will go to the tree and eat the fruits. Somebody from a place like Zamfara cannot come here and eat the fruit that is here. So, there is continuity. That was why Jesus Christ said be your neighbour’s keeper. In this arrangement, there is the culture of neighbourliness. If I have so much, there are people that have needs and I have to reach out to them. What I am saying is that you make contributions to a central government who would now use that pool of resources to redistribute to those in need.

Can you put a figure on the amount of money you have spent in all your philanthropic activities in the last 15 years?

We have spent over N30million organising many events since the last 15 years. The one we are doing now, which is the widows’ empowerment project will see us empowering over 500 widows. We started about five years ago. Each of them is given N20, 000 as free capital grant to boost their businesses. It is designed for those who want to go into petty businesses. It is a free non-refundable grant. Before we give we usually do background checks on those who apply to ascertain if indeed they are entitled to the grant. We interview to know what they want to use the money to do before we disburse.

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