Airtel’s Touching Lives: Sustaining impetus of true love

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It came in soft, gentle droplets, like beads of water cascading through the leaves after the rain. But the impact was powerful and pungent, seizing the soul in a crushing sensation.

No less a recreation of Mark Anthonio’s dirge at the graveside of Julius Caesar that instantly ignited the fire, which roused the spirits of the people against the killers the Roman icon, in the same manner it captured the gentle and rustling words of Portia at the court in Venice while delivering those eternal lines with which she sort to capture the “quality of mercy”, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, the delectable and effervescent wife of Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, practically put a knife in the hearts of many an audience, this Thursday night, opening them to reveal the hidden treasure of love.

Venue, was the Federation Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, date, January 14. The event was the premiere of Touching Lives, Season Two, a platform of telecommunication giant, Airtel through which it gives back life to the totally hopeless in the society.

It was the climax of a series of activities including soul-touching speeches, presentations, testimonies, dances and even jokes, all geared towards the company’s attempt to give impetus to the belief that humanity would remain incomplete with the rich and the poor living in separate and distinct worlds.

Managing Director, Airtel, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya, had begun the exhortation, whilst welcoming the guests at the occasion. He had reminded the audience, which included Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Youths and Sports, Solomon Dalong, Wife of Minister of Solid Minerals, Ererun Bisi Fayemi, Tony Ojobo, Director, Public Affairs of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Femi Gbajabiamila, the Leader of the House of Representatives, Chairman House Committee on Communications, Said Fujabi, Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, Chukwuemeka Uja, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Communications, captains of industry, chief executives of corporate entities and the professions, that the privileged in the society could always find ample explanations for shirking the responsibility of uplifting the poor and hopeless in the society.

“We can find a number of reasons to say no to those who need help – tough economy, dollar exchange rate, whatever and we can choose to walk away. (But) At Airtel, we have found enough reasons to say yes to those who need help. We are not going to walk away,” he said.

Using the case of Ebong Essienkang, one of the beneficiaries of the programme, the Airtel Chief Executive Officer (CEO), argued that nobody would have claimed to have lived while refusing to pull out those in the dark holes of life, citing the case of Esther in the Bible, whom at the critical time, had to use her position to save her people, even at the risk of her own life.

“Mr. Essien was a software programmer. He still is. But tragedy struck in 2013. He was shot by armed robbers in the eyes. He went blind. We came to his aid. We didn’t restore his eyesight, we couldn’t, but we gave him resources to live a more meaningful life, so that he could fend for himself. We provided aids for him to continue to write programmes.

“About 30 years ago, I was in a similar circumstance with Mr. Essien. As a student of University of Ife, I was doing my industrial attachment at an engineering firm in Lagos with a number of colleagues. We were trying to separate some wires that got stuck together. My colleague mistakenly drove a screwdriver through those wires and the wires gave and the screwdriver went right into my eye. My parents could afford a very good care for me, so I didn’t go blind. There are so many people here who under similar circumstances, the story could have been different. I’m here tonight because I got help, I got support and I didn’t lose my eyesight. Mr. Essien, two years got shot by armed robbers. He lost his sight and we supported him.

“I’m sharing this story with you to bring out something in you, to know how close one can be to a live-changing event,” he said.

Stressing the spirit of the programme, and the numerous beneficiaries, he explained that the essence of going public about it, was not to garner any sort of benefit for the company, but to use it as a platform to encourage the public to support the needy in the society.

His words: “It is not that we are paying for exposure. This is not advertising for us. We are not showcasing the miseries of other people to gain sympathy for our brand. Tonight, it is not about selling recharge cards, it is about doing good to other people. We are simply doing good stuffs because we believe that for you to be a great person, you must be a good person. You can never be great unless you are good. And similarly for a company, for a company to be a great company, the company must be a good company.

“The activities of Touching Lives are recorded and produced for national televisions only with a view to promoting the spirit of giving and love among Nigerians. I firmly believe that very successful companies have an obligation to support their communities. We must build a society where the rich support the poor, where the strong support the weak.”



Touching Lives Anchor, Wana Udobang

Detailing other aspects of Airtel’s support for the needy, such as the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in the North East, the promotion of education for indigent Nigerians as well as visitations to orphanages and homes, where individual staff were encouraged to give from their earnings, the Airtel boss struck yet another moral and philosophical note.

Hear him “Most of you in this auditorium, you are in one palace or the other today. May be you have been promoted to that palace, to that enviable position to be in a position to help someone. But remember, you have never really lived unless you give to someone, who cannot really give you anything in return. You give because you expect absolutely nothing in return. That’s the essence of living.”

Osinbajo, not only amplified the sentiments of the Airtel boss, but further embossed the raison d’etere in a most dramatic manner. With a massive hush thrown around the huge capacity-filled hall, as she spoke, her words echoed louder than a church bell, notwithstanding that they were delivered in soft, velvet and caressing voice.

Apparently because she spoke from her heart, without even jottings, let alone a prepared speech, the impact appeared quite captivating. “I’m speechless and overwhelmed whenever I think of the problems we have in Nigeria. It is a privilege to be in this air-conditioned hall, walking on plush carpet and rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème of Nigeria. Just this morning I was in Maiduguri and my feet were not on the carpet, but on the sand in the IDP camp. Touching lives by Airtel, is indeed very inspiring and as has been said over and over again, it shouldn’t be left only to the companies and their CSRs. It is the responsibility of all of us,” she told her audience.

Ostensibly imbued by the impact she was making, she went on: “When I walked around the camps this morning I couldn’t even find the tears to cry, because there were mothers without children and there were fathers without wives and there were children without parents. I couldn’t find the tears and I couldn’t even imagine or begin to imagine what it would take to touch these lives enough to make an impact.

“In Maiduguri also, I had the honour of visiting the State House with the governor’s wife. And even though it was very comfortable and very beautiful, half of the times, she looked at me with tears in her eyes. I also had the opportunity to visit the Shehu of Borno in his palace – a very beautiful place with wonderful chandeliers hanging down in the hall where he received us, but his countenance was completely down, because he had people whose lives we need to touch.

“The lives that we need to touch is not limited to the IDP camps alone. There are people in all manner of institutions whose lives we also need to touch. We have people in homes, orphanages and shelters. I, myself, have the distinct honour of running two shelters for battered women and trafficked women. One of the women in the shelter, she was with us for eight months, she was held down by her husband and a hot iron was used on her chest and there was a wound from her neck all the way to her laps. She took months to heal physically, but wonder if she will ever heal emotionally. Also at the shelter, we had a lady, a young lady whose father and her brothers were killed in one day.

“As I said, I’m speechless and overwhelmed by the needs that we have. It’s not only in IDP camps and the institutions and the homes. It also in our streets, in our offices, around the corner to where we work. There are people whose fathers and mothers are at home, but they yet, they cannot afford to live. They cannot afford to eat, to clothe or to be educated. There are those who are homes, yes they do live in homes, but as I watched the first season of touching lives and saw children that have challenges, I realised that we cannot stop.

“We were told today over and over again that the colour of love is red and we all know the emblem of our hearts, a red heart that symbolises love. You can always tell when my some of my children are at home – that’s when they make me gear up in all of these, but when they are not at home, I think I look a little duller. The colour of love is red, we were told today, and all around me, I see red. But the red of the heart, needs to stop the river red, the river of blood that flows through this land.

“My prayer for Nigeria, even as we choose to touch lives, and I pray that we do touch lives in any way we can, not only to help physically, but sometimes even to help emotionally, my prayer is that the Lord will repair Nigeria, He will restore Nigeria and He will direct Nigeria.”

Even though the event was not all about solemn speeches, as it was laced with entertainment and some of feasting, it was clear that the telecoms giant might just have created a workable template for galvanising people towards providing the planks, which when nailed together by red heart of love, a caring society, where no one, rich or poor is left behind could eventually be achieved.

As Mr. Emeka Oparah, Nigeria - ‎Vice President, Corporate Communications and CSR, the organ that put the event together, further captured it, while thanking the audience, the effusive emotions it stoked, was not meant for anybody to cry, but simply for human beings to appreciate each other.      



Posted on January, 18 2016

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