By Ikem Okuhu
Two young Nigerians inspired this article, the subject of which has been nagging my intellectual interrogation horizons for some time, given developments around us. These two are Charles Ogbu and Amarachi Attama, two young Nigerians, not known in the social, political and even religious celebrity sense that the media have become familiar with, but who have not made significant marks in our history, but may have sparked off what could become a social renaissance with potential economic impacts.
Around February, 2021, these two (not related by blood, nor by marriage, nor by any other thing except their shared passion for social impact) took up a mission to mobilise Nigerian folk music lovers towards a remarkable 91st birthday celebration for forgotten highlife legend, known in the 70s and 80s as Gentleman Mike Ejeagha.
This project commenced in 2018 when the same Charles and Amarachi drew attention to the plight of the music legend, drawing the attention of kind-spirited individuals who arrived for an intervention that gave the then 89-year-old some “palliatives” and hope. But Amara and Charles did not stop there. Through the Social Media, they began a campaign to celebrate the music legends 91st birthday in his largely squalid home in Abakpa Nike, a suburb of Enugu.
It started like a joke but before the event scheduled for April 3, 2021, Nigerians from all social cadres had responded to their call, donating monies and items that resulted in a total makeover of his home, which was already in advanced dilapidation. Determined to bring his fans to his home for the event, the relatively large compound was also professionally paved and rid of the slightest of filth.
I have deliberately been monitoring the progress made by this duo and could estimate the value of donated and items through them for this particular project at more that N20 million. Interestingly, a vast majority of the people and corporate organisations that made these donations had never known Charles and Amarachi personally committing their monies and resources to the project. But they did so because over the years, the two, working separately, had built powerful and bankable social equity, an intangible that hefts more than a billion-dollar worth of collateral.
The social equities market is growing in Nigeria and has increasingly been the way-out of a number of social and even commercial challenges faced by the people. In an environment of low expectations from government, the social equities market ensured those with impressive equities reap bountifully.
Aided these days by the Social Media, most particularly, WhatsApp, the Social Equities market has continued to increase in value and relevance. It yields billions of naira daily for those who take advantage of it to solve social problems.
Let me break it down. Sometime last year, a friend of mine who lives in the United States lost his father in-law and a WhatsApp group was created for friends to make contributions to support him towards giving his in-law a befitting burial. Funerals are huge projects in many parts of Nigeria. As the admin of the group kept giving updates, I was over-awed by the tally of more than N10 million contributions just to support a friend in need.
For the moralists among us, this article is not a justification of some of the needlessly exorbitant endearments we accord to the dead. On the contrary, it is about the benefits of building strong and positive social equity, and of course, the opportunities that could further be extracted from it for strong national economic gains.
If “Goodwill” is accepted as a balance sheet item for businesses, then Social equity has potential to be so calculated in values, monetary and otherwise, that could enable those with impressive social equity to attract investments in their persons and/or the businesses they incubate.
When I decided on this article, I was not sure that Social Capital was an existing subject in economic discourse, until a random search turned up tonnes of literature, most of which are still very recent and with frameworks, not properly agreed upon by thinkers. Although it could not gain currency during the time it was first introduced into social and economic discourse, Social Capital has been hiding in academic literature since 1916 when an American rural educationist, Lyda Judson Hanifan, fist used the concept.
Hanifan had by then referred to social capital as “those tangible assets that count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit”.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) then went on to define Social Capital as the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.
What has happened, and I will use the case of Nigeria because it is the market I know, is that people that have invested in social credibility have gone ahead to harvest sometimes incredible benefits. The case of my friend here is only a small example of what has been going on. The failure of government to rid itself o corruption and build social security and safety nets for the people has somehow triggered several self-help alternatives. As noted earlier, the Social Media has become a great enabler.
Strangers conveniently gather here, mustered by the magnetic pulls of the social credibility of friends and Social Media acquaintances to mobilise funds in support of one another. In this way, the huge costs for weddings, funerals, childbirths and other social events are mitigated.
There is certainly a fundamental next step to this and that will be to exploit the same Social Credibility in mobilizing funds to incubate businesses, especially in the small and medium scale businesses arena. It basically involves the same process. Investors will be anchoring their stakes in the enterprise, not just on the proven business case, but much more on the credibility of those behind the idea.
The Nigerian SME landscape is fraught with struggling individuals with businesses they cannot scale for want of capital. With powerful social capital, this category of people can pitch their ideas or existing small businesses to people with either ideas or funds that could help in the movement to the desired higher ground.
But first thing first: we must begin to deliberately invest in building Social Equity that will make our ideas attractive without struggles. Amarachi Attama and Charles Ogbu would never have got anyone to invest in the Mike Ejeagha project had they not deliberately proven to be above board with proven track record of transparent dealings.
How strong is your Social Equity?
Okuhu, a former Special Assistant to Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, is a journalist, author, farm entrepreneur, whose most recent book is ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths’