From each, one bock; from all a massive mansion: the power of becoming your people’s legend
I come from a community I could well say I do not owe anything. My father opened his doors for everybody who had a need, and that was virtually everybody. My mother’s soup pot was virtually permanently never closed. At every point in my growing up time, there was always someone being fed from that aluminum contraption darkened irretrievably by years of endless heating by the firewood of our forests.
When father fell to the vicissitudes that pitilessly drop people from abundance to scary want, the birds that fluttered around him like he was life’s breadth personified quickly took flight, abandoning us to the harsh fate of depending on mum’s meagre petty trading income to live from day to another hard day. And when she yielded to the cold hands of death, the few who loitered around our space slithered away, and in their trail, magnified tales of our bad fortune. It was so bad that even the Catholic Church to which the poor woman attached all her faith, inflicted the worst vengeance on her dead body, denying her a funeral Mass because she was owning less than N600 being debts that accumulated as she laid sick and was battling for her life.
For some years, I detested people around me. But it took some divine intervention for me to begin to love them for the same reason I nearly hated them.
This article is not about me, so why did I take this route to drive home my point? I have learnt that life is not all about what we take from our environment but more about what we are able to give to it. Those who began the organisation of humanity into families and communities and then nationalities did not do so because there was something they wanted to extract from their environment. On the contrary, they knew that such sociological ordering would engender stronger ties for humanity that in itself assure of safety and security from generation to generation.
It is for this reason that I started a foundation in memory of my mother and annually, for three years now, we provide 6 – 10 exercise books for more than 1,200 pupils in the five pubic primary schools in my community.
Rudderless and impervious to standard democratic values as Nigeria has become, it takes such little interventions to keep the country from going over the edge. Evidence from all parts of the country point to the reality that there is no nationalistic messiah on the horizon and that only the little gestures from those still flowing with the milk of human kindness would continue to give hope to the people.
This was essentially what attracted me to the community service projects that have been undertaken by James Ume, a young man from Abia State, who is demonstrating a rare but much needed attachment to developing his community and the people. Those who know me well would attest to my proclivity to not praising people, especially in our clime where elected political office holders who deliver on 25 percent of their brief expect, and actually invest in attracting deafening adulations.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was scouring the social media when I encountered the activities of this young man for the first time. Long before politicians changed the meaning of “palliative” to political tokenism, young Ume had moved into his community, Abam, with 500 bags of Rice, hand sanitizers, hand-wash buckets and sundry other relief items to be distributed to the poor and vulnerable. Five hundred bags of rice translate to about N15 million at the going market rate then, meaning the sum total of what he coughed out to make living easier for his people at such a challenging period could well be above N30 million.
Although I discovered we have been acquaintances on the social media for a number of years, I have met James Ume only twice; first in Enugu when he had visited with a number of other journalists for a conference, and then briefly in Abuja in March 2020. Our relationship. But I must be frank that those two meetings were insufficient to reveal to me the stream of humanity flowing in the young media entrepreneur.
I remember I sent him a message to “congratulate” him on his kind gesture. The slant of my message must have made him laugh because conventionally, you do not send congratulatory messages to someone who shelled out such a sum of money for charity. On the contrary, you send messages of appreciation. But I belong to the old-school religion that believe there are strong spiritual forces behind every selfless gift, cash or kind. I believe such forces extract rewards from the bowels of nature’s abundance, swelling the giver’s karmic bank accounts from where effuses favours of sundry sorts, even, and especially, when unexpected.
But James did not just drop from the blues to dispense a one-off “palliative for his people. I was to learn from his digital footprints that long before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the world, James Chijioke Ume single-handedly undertook the rehabilitation of a major access road to his community. The Ndi Oji -Atan Abam road has been in very bad shape for may years and as government apparently paid little attention, the largely agrarian community lived behind the world. Erosion and other conspiratorial elements made the six-kilometre stretch of road unmotorable until his intervention.
For an individual, volunteering N13 million for relief works on a community road project must demand a sacrificial spirit but the overwhelming infrastructure needs of the people piling up for years continued to nudge the conscience of the willing benefactor, who was thus compelled to undertake the drilling of boreholes that provided portable water for more than six settlements in his locality.
Also drinking from the fountain of James kindness are young people in his community August 17, 2020, 20 youths from his state were sponsored to a digital and leadership training, which embeds exposure to computer coding skills, digital marketing and leadership. When asked why he was undertaking the funding of such an enterprise, Ume told The Whistler, an online news publication of the importance of harvesting the energy in young people and channeling same for values that would help better their lives and enrich the society.
”It’s imperative that our young people in Abia get the opportunity to immerse themselves with relevant leadership and digital skills that is critical for them to effectively compete and survive in the today’s hi-tech economy. We aim to re-channel the energy that some of our youths invest in unproductive ventures to something useful by starting to build enduring products and solutions that will power Africa through tech-innovation.”
We seem to live in a season where people prefer to complain and blame government for all their problems but the love affair between James and his community tells the story of what can happen, as I noted at the beginning of this article, when each one of us takes the development of our individual communities personal. Contributing to community development is important because it provides the foundation a city builds on to improve the lives of its citizens; it creates strong, diverse communities that are able to attract and keep talent, start and grow businesses, and overcome issues that arise. Citizens will be happier, healthier, richer, and live longer lives. Businesses will have a larger base of customers who can purchase their products and services.
What many might consider a burdensome community intervention project might be the economic vortex capable of triggering viral economic emancipation, reducing crime, limiting rural-urban migration, deepening community cohesion and enhancing the quality of life for all and sundry.
Nigeria is in dire need of selfless community builders, who do not look behind before identified needs are solved in local communities. In such small numbers spread over the sprawling expanse that is Nigeria, the answers to critical primary needs can be met. There are very few people with arms long enough to reach government. But almost everyone has an arm long enough to pat a neighbour on the back for succour, uplift or motivation to take that critical extra stride needed to make the difference between failure and fortune.
There are hundreds of Abam communities across Nigeria. What they may not have is their own James Ume. But the truth is every community has its own James in nearly every of its members. It takes rising beyond oneself to realise the profound fulfilment in a life of giving.
And for many of us who wouldn’t string one or two sentences about their locality without using the self-satisfying word, “great”, it is important to remind them that, there is no greatness without the individuals who make it, and in the words of Coretta Scott King, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”
May God give every community their own individual James’ who, in their humility, accepts they might not be able to change the world, but like Mother Teresa, recognize that they could cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
And for people like me with god enough reasons to not lift their communities even when they can, there is a new lesson; the joy derivable from ventures such as this cannot be compared to anything in this world!