Alhaji Bala Abdullahi Kwatu is a man of versatility whose vision is embedded in innovative thinking and proactivity. He has a reservoir of tactics and strategies in business development and has delivered businesses worth billions of naira. But Kwatu isn’t thinking about moneymaking when it comes to Hiasfest, the new nationwide school art and writing competition, one of the biggest in the country at the moment sponsored by an individual. Currently the Managing Director, Niger Resources Limited, Kwatu spoke to Henry Akubuiro in Abuja on the genesis of Hiasfest and its expected impact on the reading culture and intellectual development of Nigerian students.
The Hiasfest season has just started with a call for submission by the organisers, with mouthwatering prizes at stake. How did you come about this grand event as its major sponsor? What is the motivating factor?
Hiasfest is a story of modesty, a story of freedom, a tale of excellence, a platform for innovations, creativity, originality and positivism. It’s a story of a mother who gave her all to see happiness in others, a visionary woman who championed the course of humanity helping the less privileged. Hiasfest is a story of Late Hajiya Hadiza Ibrahim Aliyu, the wife of the Chairman of Urban Shelter Limited, Mallam Ibrahim Aliyu, the Sarduana Minna. Her support for my academic journey inspired my desire to put smile on the faces of others in my little way.
Islam listed building of mosques, drilling of wells, knowledge and plating trees among the deeds one continues to enjoy its dividends, even after one’s demise. In other words, all human deeds come to an end with his death except one, who, during his life time, left legacies of anyone mentioned above, including leaving behind righteous children to continue good deeds in your absence.
Hiasfest is my way of appreciating late Haijiya Hadiza Ibrahim Aliyu; this is my way of saying thank you in the hope that the Almighty will grant her Jannatul Firdaus. Amin! Hiasfest presents a platform for students to showcase their talents. It’s a platform where children will appreciate the value of knowledge and creativity thereby unbundling the solitary confinement or bondage lots of our younger ones associate with while going to school. Hiasfest is an intellectual campaign against terrorism, hooliganism, thuggery, racism, tribalism and idleness that refocuse the child to creative enterprise.
Why did you choose young people, I mean secondary school children, seeing that there seems to be dearth of mentorship in Nigeria?
I’m a product of many mentors. I was guided and counselled by many, including Hajiya Hadiza, one of those many God-sent faces. Every child knows his parents, but, not every child is single-handedly trained by his parents. Children belong to community and humanity, so child-training is a collective responsibility of immediate community, state and the nation. The child you help train today may be the savior of certain human predicament tomorrow.
The COVID-19 pandemic today is a challenge the world is being faced with; the pandemic has changed the world’s daily transaction, and it is situations like this that present opportunity for the younger ones to proffer solutions to our future. If we all agree that necessity is the mother of invention, then, you may also agree with me that history has it that most world’s inventions and innovation in science, technology and philosophy are all products of difficult situations.
My target for secondary school students is what you would want me to dwell on –well, I don’t know whether I should smile or cry, for the question is a heavy one –the secondary stage is a crossroad stage; it’s a stage of light and darkness; it’s a stage of make or mar. Many children feel the world belongs to them once they are at this stage –they see and perceive life as something beautiful, free of obstacles, yet their responsibility is on the head of someone and, as such, they shout, cry, laugh and dance whenever they like and however they like it.
Many children are still suffering to discover why they need to be educated. With millions of graduates roaming the streets and with millions also losing their jobs also, they keep asking the question of why the need to be educated. Therefore, the secondary school stage is the best stage to create awareness in the minds of these children that education is not channeled toward gaining employment with the government. The goal of education is not to be an employee but to create jobs.
At this stage, you can counsel children to help grow their family business. If your family is best known for farming, then, at this stage, it’s easy to counsel a child on how to become a better farmer. A farming family with well-articulated plan could employ 20 people and, by so doing, they are equally contributing to the development of the nation’s GDP. The family of Urban Shelter Ltd, where I happen to belong, is of denial of its role in job creation. Spanning across three decades, the company has succeeded in establishing the first generation and succession plan for the company business empire, and this is what other family needs to copy. Most of the businesses in Africa die with its founders, and this is what we are out to preach, and this is the mission and vision of Hiasfest in creativity, education, art, entrepreneurship towards a created society through the schoolchild.
Our society can be better secured by understanding the importance and contribution of family business as the first door to secure employment and to develop the nation’s economy. This is what I want Hiasfest attendees to imbibe, using their innate talent after school.
In Nigeria, nobody does anything these days without expecting a reward, why are you spending so much on what might not give you financial returns at the end?
(laughs) I have already been rewarded; the children are happy with Hiasfest; this shows they have embraced Hiasfest as their own, not mine. I’m happy that they are happy, because, in the few years to come, these children will take over from me as the sponsors of Hiasfest. My dividend is the happiness in the minds of not only the children but the parents as well. The biggest happiness is that I prayed Allah extend this happiness to the grave of whose name the platform has been created for, and that is Hajiya Hadiza Ibrahim Aliyu.
The nation can be better by creating more competitive and employable graduates, not graduates that add to the burden of the nation. We want to see Nigeria full of capable human talents, not human horrors. I want to go to bed every night with my two eyes closed, and the best way is to support academic excellence, particularly, in creativity, and this is the biggest return anyone can give to society.
Why did you choose Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation as your platform for driving this massive event?
The dream of any wise investor is to put his money where he can have quick returns. Hill-top Creative Art Foundation is the only formidable and most organised literary foundation I have come across, the type that can give me maximum return on Investment. And yes, we started in 2018; three years down the line, we are gradually becoming a national symbol of academic and artistic festival.
Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation is full of committed members. Recently, the founder of the foundation, who also founded TBRi (The Blue Resolution Initiative), inaugurated a campaign for the completion of the Baro Port, the first time such movement and agitation is taking place in the North under no sponsor’s influence. This group believes Baro Port holds the key to the advancement of the economy of the North, yet no Northern elder has shown any interest in it. For the first time, I saw people trying to take their destiny into their hands. This group has really demonstrated what pressure group is all about, and you see why I chose to partner with Hilltop to showcase Hiasfest.
What are your future plans for this grand fest? Have you endowed it yet?
Hiasfest is still work in progress and, gradually, we hope, one day, I should be in the position to endow the project and for my future plan. It’s my hope to bring together people of thoughts to form a Board or Trustee to help advise on the future of the programme if you insist on seeing Hiasfest surging in generations to come.
It’s perceived that most Nigerians don’t read. Do you share the same sentiment? What kind of books appeal to you and when do you find time to read?
It will be wrong to say most Nigerians do not read. How best can we read, the newspaper? Watching movies? Listening to radio? Novels? Text books, etcetera? We read every day. What we read on the internet and social media is also reading, as we learn one or two lessons out of it either good or bad lesson. I read lots of books depending on the situation I found myself; but, if you insist, I’m presently reading a book by Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons in the 21st Century. I started it before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, but it’s like the book was written in relation to the present situation. Anyway, it’s all about algorithms.