Beyond Charity and Philanthropism
By Dr. Dons Eze
One major drawback of the two imported religions in Nigeria, Christianity and Islam, is that those who brought them to us hardly emphasized the need for hard work. Instead, they would encourage the rich to always give alms to the poor, to do charity works, or to perform zakat.
They would teach that those who give alms to the poor, those who do zakat, who give food to almajiris, who do charitable works, who throw money around in the name of philanthropism, were good natured people, because they do God’s work, and would therefore be surely blessed by God.
There is no denying the fact that doing works of charity is very good. That is to say, that to give alms to the poor, and to help those that are in need, are very commendable acts. But there are instances where poverty may be due to laziness or idleness on the part of some people, or as a result of an unjust social order that prevents people from realizing their potential.
In both cases, poverty is man made, and therefore should be resisted. As a result, religious leaders should teach people not to be complacent or accept the condition in which they found themselves, but encourage them to rise against such unjust social and economic order, to rise against the circumstances that made them poor.
They should stress the need for hard work, for people to rise above the level of poverty, rather than fold their arms waiting for manna to drop from heaven, or for some “philanthropists” to “dash” them money, so that we would be singing and clapping for them and do obeisance to them.
The founders of Christianity and the Islamic religion, together with their immediate successors, were not idlers. They were not lazy people, and they did not depend on charity. St. Paul says, “he who does not work, let him not eat”.
Jesus Christ, for example, was a carpenter. His disciples, such as Peter, James and John, were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector. Paul himself was a tentmaker, etc.
Similarly, Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islamic religion, was a shepherd. It was while he was in the field tending his flock that the Angel Jibril appeared to him with his prophecies.
If these great religion founders and their immediate successors did not fold their arms waiting for people, who had earlier exploited them to turn round to do them charity works, how come that our present religious leaders would turn themselves into parasites, milking their followers dry in the name of paying tithes and sundry levies?
Again, from where did these latter day religious leaders derive the idea that people should simply fold their arms and wait for charity to come?
That is not to say that helping people who are genuinely in need, either due to ill health, old age, or natural deformity, is not good. No. What we abhor is a situation where some people seem to make begging a profession, as is being witnessed everywhere in our society, and our religious leaders would want us to continue to patronize them.
It is possible that some of those who give alms to the poor, who do charity works, the rich and the philanthropists, are the reason why these people are still poor. They may be contractors who were awarded contracts that would help the poor, but they would not execute these contracts after they have been fully paid. They may be ritualists who may have tied some people’s destiny. Yet, they would turn round to do zakat, to do charity works, thereby mocking the poor.
Julius Nyerere says that “whoever controls a man’s livelihood, controls the man”. The person is not free. He is a slave to the man that gives him alms.
Nyerere equally pointed out that in traditional society, everybody “is a worker”. There were no “parasites”. People did not beg. Even if a person was incapacitated or was physically handicapped, he must have something doing, to keep him going. He could even be weaving mats or baskets, etc.
Olaudah Equiano, an Igbo slave boy who bought his freedom, described the Igbo society of his days as “happy clean people, without unemployment, without prostitution, without drunkards, and without beggars”.
The philosophy of Igbo traditional “Onye Aghana Nwanne ya” (Be your brother’s keeper), means that you should rend a helping hand to your brother that is in need to enable him stand on his own, not that you should spoon-feed him, or throw cash up and down, to be called a philanthropist. “Don’t give me fish to eat, but teach me how to fish”, is a popular saying.
Okonkwo, in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” was assisted by Nwakibie with seed yams, which he cultivated that enabled him stand on his own. Nwakibie did not do any zakat, or “dashed” any food to him to eat. With the seed yams Okonkwo later became a successful farmer.
How I wish our wealthy Igbo brothers who throw money around, use part of that money to set up industries in Igbo land so that our jobless youths would have something doing, to keep body and soul together, instead of engaging themselves in criminal activities like cultism, kidnapping, or being used as thugs by some desperate politicians.
Innocent Chukwuma (Innoson), Cletus Ibeto, Ifeanyi Okoye (JUHEL), Samuel Maduka Onyishi (Peace Mass Transist), Ejike Mbaka (Aqua Rapha/Ebenezer Press), Emmanuel Edeh (Caritas University/OSISATech), and some few other investors, make more meaning to us than those who carry bags of money and would be spraying them everywhere. Thousands of Igbo youths currently take shelter under the canopy of these investors. We hail them.