It's an improbable story. Imagine any of the destitute young children we see today: begging on the street, herding cows, selling water.
Now imagine them grown up to be successful business people, leaders in education, generous employers, philanthropists, even Vice-President of their country. Improbable, but it is true.
As Adamawa State celebrates its 25thanniversary, it is a time to face challenges and to acknowledge progress. In the midst of enormous economic and social problems, there are some very bright spots in Adamawa.
Let’s start with water and beverages. Yola, like many poor communities, does not have a regular source of clean water. Adama Beverages Limited (ABL) was established to solve that problem.
In 2005 it began producing high quality sachet water pouches for the local community. Two years later, table water and fruit juice came on line. In 2015 (in the midst of the Boko Haram crisis) the plant leapfrogged in production to 40,000 bottles of Faro water per hour. Even this level of production barely keeps pace with demand from the 5,000 retailers all over Nigeria.
Employment at the plant has risen from 17 in 2005 to 705 (as well as an additional 200 day laborers) by 2016. Adama Beverages has won numerous national and international awards for high standards and quality, and gives back to the community. Public taps have been established in the community, scholarships given to poor students, and generous donations to IDPs.The economic and social benefits from just this one company are huge.
But that’s just the beginning.
It's sister organization, Adamplast, started commercial production in 2004. Producing low cost essential goods for the poor, such as mugs, bowls, and jerrycans for water, and commercial products like PVC pipes for industry, it employs 91 local youth.
Both Adama Beverages and Adamplast focus on a triple bottom line: generating revenue, producing essential goods, and ensuring that the poor have employment and income.
Accurate and up-to date information and entertainment are hard to come by in a poor region. But with Gotel Communications, which was established in 2008, this has all changed not only for Northeastern Nigeria but for all of Nigeria and the neighboring countries.
With its 50 kilowatts transmitter, Radio Gotel covers virtually the whole of Nigeria, and extends to the neighboring Republic of Cameroun, the Central African Republic, Niger and Chad, TV Gotel began transmitting in 2011. Using the most modern equipment, it broadcasts not only in Northeastern Nigeria but also has established offices in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Kano, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Taraba and Gombe. The station produces news, drama, entertainment and cartoons, and educational programming. Its mission is to provide the highest quality programming for Nigeria and the continent, and to increase global understanding of African issues and contributions.
The poor are never far from the heart of the person who started all these organizations.
Standard Microfinance Bank (SMFB) was started in 1992 as a community bank and was converted to a microfinance bank in 2012. Employing 75 people, its goal is financial literacy and helping the poorest, people with whom banks won’t do business.
Adamawa has one of the highest rates of financial exclusion in the country - over 70% of the people of Adamawa! Those shut out from the formal economy are mainly women, smallholder farmers, micro entrepreneurs, and youth. These are the people SMFB is focusing on.
Standard Microfinance Bank gives them flexible and easy-to- access savings accounts and credit on easy and generous terms. It also provides financial education.
To date, more than 50,000 individual households have benefitted from the services of SMFB. SMFB has also assisted more than 7,500 smallholder farmers. No other MFB in the North East has such a large presence among smallholder farmers, farmers who often are reliant on credit to continue their vital work.
The most recent addition to this family of companies in Adamawa State is Rico Gado. The Rico Gado Adamawa plant was opened in 2015 and another will open in Abuja later this year. With 40 Nigerian employees it fills a huge local need in agriculture:
Rico Gado purchases the crops from farmers and provides the highest quality feed to poultry and cattle farmers. The farmers now have a reliable buyer, and cattle farmers now have a constant and reliable source of feed, especially for during the dry season.
These companies were all started by one man. The largest recipient of this man’s philanthropy is the American University of Nigeria.
The American University of Nigeria (AUN) admitted its first class in 2004, following on the heels of the creation of the AUN Academy, the state’s best secondary school. Now encompassing an early learning center, primary and secondary school, undergraduate and graduate schools, AUN hosts faculty and staff from 37 countries and employs close to 1300 people. One of AUN’s Economics professors estimated in 2014 that the annual contribution to the local economy exceeds 16 billion naira per year!
Offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in business, entrepreneurship, sciences, humanities, computer science, and information technology, AUN’s pioneering School of Law opened in August 2016. It is the only School of Law in Nigeria to focus on gender, environmental, and humanitarian law. According to global rankings, AUN’s founder is now listed among the very top of benefactors to higher education in the entire world.
Confronting the Boko Haram insurgency, AUN, through its Adamawa Peace Initiative, has been feeding and educating many thousands of IDPS who have fled south to Yola.
The thread that binds all of these varied success stories is a single person, someone who wants to make positive change. He was one of those destitute little boys you see on the street.
His Excellency Atiku Abubakar had the humblest of beginnings. Herder, street boy, and orphan, he had a passion for learning and making Nigeria a better place. That passion has impacted not just Adamawa State but all of Nigeria.
As President of the AUN, I have met his teachers from the US Peace Corps who taught His Excellency when he was that youngster. They told me that there was something very special that they all saw in the young Atiku - drive, uncommon determination, and a strong desire to learn. His Excellency has channeled all of that drive into businesses, education and of course his very successful political career.
As Adamawa celebrates its silver jubilee, it needs to thank the generosity, vision, and contributions of His Excellency Atiku Abubakar. Who is doing more to build his home state?
Prof Margee Ensign, President, American University of Nigeria and Chairperson of the Adamawa Peace Initiative
Yola, Adamawa State