Philanthropy and compassion are attributes and virtues common to all faiths, common to some of the world’s wealthiest people who believe that in contributing to the wellbeing of others, giving to communities, to the have-nots and to the world at large, they find peace, they find joy, they find fulfillment, they find more meaning in life and they even find God—the compassionate giver of all riches. It was Paul Allen, the millionaire who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates who said: “When it comes to helping out, I don’t believe in doing it for the media attention. My goal is to support the organizations that need help.”
Mike Adenuga, one of the world’s richest men and the founder of the proudly Nigerian telecoms brand, Globacom, would definitely resonate with the above statement as much as he would agree with the famous Czech write,r Milan Kundera, who wrote in his classic novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being: “There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavily as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
For Adenuga who will be 68 on Thursday, April 29, giving is in the blood. It is part of his DNA. He was born to give. From childhood, he had been generous. To illustrate Mike’s inborn kind-heartedness, his immediate older sister, Pastor Mrs. BunmiAdegbola told me this anecdote: “We had this driver—my mother’s driver by name Gengeto. He would give his own food to the driver and then come and share mine. I would ask: ‘Why did you have to give everything to Gengeto?’ Right from childhood, he has always been generous. Any time he was coming home, he would come with six to eight friends. If he had money, he would spend it all on his friends, taking them to cinema or whatever. He had so many friends he was looking after. He would give his last, and then he would come and sit down quietly in the house. And I would ask: ‘Why do you have to give out your last? Now you are sitting at home.’ But that has always been his style.”
Harvard-trained neurologist, Dr. Seyi Roberts, Adenuga’s bosom friend at Ibadan Grammar School, attests to that: “As students, we didn’t really have money and we were always going to swim in big hotels. But Mike will place order for chicken and chips for all of us and he will pay the bills because he could afford it. Adenuga’s generosity is not a new thing. Anybody who knows him can testify to it.”
Many years after they left school, Dr. Roberts tells me Adenuga still remembers friends, giving out sophisticated phones and Glolines, playing the Good Samaritan to friends and even strangers in dire straits when he gets to hear. “He doesn’t give and make noise about it,” Dr. Roberts continues. “He does his giving silently. I remember one of our school friends who needed surgery in London. All the man did was to tell Adenuga and he sponsored the operation with about 25,000 pounds and nobody knew. But the person told me.”
Among his loyal workers, particularly the oldest ones like Niyi Adewunmi and others who have come a long way with him through thick and thin, I was told tales of car gifts, houses bought for them, and some flown abroad when they had health challenges. For friends, relations and people close to him, he also bought houses or assisted them on their housing projects. Festus Igbomor, an old Adenuga staffer, told me Adenuga bought him a house and subsequently gave him money to build a house of his choice. Igbomor, however, cautions that if you want anything from Adenuga: “Don’t stampede him. Don’t start going to beg him or trouble him for something. If it comes to his mind, he would do it for you. He knows when to do something for somebody. And he would do it for you at the right time.”
In Nigeria where car is a status symbol, Adenuga loves giving out cars as gifts. If there is a category for the highest giver of cars in the Guinness Book of Records, Adenuga would surely win year after year.
One other thing: Adenuga’s loyalty to friends. “If there is one man who believes in the power of friendship, that man is Mike Adenuga,” says Ian Randolph, a friend and top executive in his company. “He doesn’t let his friends down. And he doesn’t expect his friends to let him down. He would go the extra mile for his friend.” He doesn’t forget those who helped him in the past or helpedhis business. He would come with a hefty bank draft on your birthday, at Christmas, Easter or when you are celebrating a landmark event. That’s Adenuga for you!
Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, whose liberalisation policies led to Nigerians owning banks and competing with multinationals in oil explorations, told me while researching Adenuga’s biography: “When I left office, a few friends honestly stood by me. And for that, I remain eternally grateful to them. Mike Adenuga is one of them. What I like about them is that they appreciate whatever little effort you did for them. And so they continue to be loyal and grateful. They don’t abandon you.”
Adenuga’s attitude to giving is succinctly captured by his only surviving sister: “He is generous but he doesn’t want people to know. For him, what the right hand is doing, the left hand must not know, according to a biblical injunction. He gives without the community knowing. After giving you something, he won’t even want you to say thank you. He would not want you to mention it. He must have picked that secretive nature from my father. The spirit of not making a show of anything. My brother is forever grateful for little favours. Give Niyi a cup of water and he would take it to be a drum of water. Give him a Bic biro, the way he would react, you will think you have given him a biro made of platinum. That is just him. It is not because he is my brother. He has a way of saying thank you, thank you, all over again. He is a grateful person.”
Architect Isaac Fola-Alade captures Adenuga’s gratefulness in his memoirs. Many years ago, he gave the young Adenuga in his twenties the opportunity to build barracks in Kachia, Kaduna State. And he was so impressed that this young man could outdo the big foreign contractors in performance. Of all the contractors, Adenuga was the only contractor who kept coming back to say thank you with gifts and donations to causes Fola-Alade was involved in, years after. In his memoirs, Fola-Alade waxed biblical, quoting a statement Jesus made about some ungrateful lepers: “Were there not ten healed, where are the nine?”
At the corporate level, Adenuga sees philanthropy as a “moral obligation” and a rightful corporate social responsibility. He included this in his mission statement written on April 29, 1993: “In the end, the achiever has the moral obligation to reflect upon the general condition of humanity in the larger field of play. Such a reflection should materialise in a philanthropic attitude—that which is responsible, organised and reasoned—as well as promotion of knowledge.” So, why does he give? And what does the Holy Book say about givers and giving?