THE DAY CHARITY WAS PAID WITH EVIL
A SPEECH BY HON. (PROF.) STEVE SINIKIEM AZAIKI, OON, ON THE DESTRUCTION AND LOOTING OF FACILITIES AT PUBLIC INSTUTIONS ESTABLISHED BY THE AZAIKI FOUNDATION FOR CHARITABLE SERVICES, DELIVERED 12TH MARCH, 2020 ON THE OCASSION OF GOVERNOR DOUYE DIRI’S VISIT TO THE LIBRARY
It was few hours to the day that was set aside for another historic event in Bayelsa State. Yenagoa, the Capital and its suburbs had already put on new looks, with decorations and preparations ahead. Though it was a party affair, so to speak, it was on the whole, a statewide event that was being awaited. As a result, every Bayelsan, irrespective of differences would have automatically been part of it or would have at least been touched by the event that was awaited.
But the unforeseen and unimaginable occurred, February 13, 2020. The long-awaited event was not to take place after all, following the stunning news that filtered into town and all homes. The unexpected news was like oxymoron. While it was sad to one side, it was good tiding to the other side.
Thus, the scenario, mixed with sadness and merriment, rather warranted a low-key celebration at last. It was indeed moments of celebration for the new winning side, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and of course the State.
But in a twist of dramatic irony, we could not celebrate as much, even though the festivity would have reached the crescendo, considering how God gave the victory to PDP.
For me, my supporters and the entire Yelga/Kolga Federal Constituency, it was double victory – The PDP had won at last, and the winner hails from our Federal Constituency. That is what we all worked and prayed for, and surprisingly, it manifested positively.
Sadly, our joy momentarily ebbed, if not totally cut shot, yet we braced up to solidarize with our new Governor and Deputy Governor as well as the PDP. I and my Constituents were re-enlivened by the subsequent revalidation of the Supreme Court’s ruling which struck out the appeal for review of the landmark judgement.
It was the havoc unleashed on the Azaiki Public Library, Museum and Institute of Science and Technology by a group of youths under the aegis of the All Progressives Congress (APC), that tried to cut short our joy of victory, yet we were undaunted by the conspirators.
While the Azaiki Foundation, incorporated with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as an organization has publicly condemned the acts, in the media, I as the Founder wishes to personally condemn the actions of the conspirators as heinous, primitive and the highest level of ignorance to be displayed by any homo sapiens in this millennium that life is knowledge-driven.
Indeed, the incident of February 14th, 2020, at about Noon, tempts me to now believe some of my friends outside Bayelsa, who had advised me not to locate the Azaiki Library in Yenagoa, instead, that I should locate it in Lagos or Abuja where the lofty effort would be more appreciated and utilized most by larger number of persons.
No! No! I should not regret locating the Azaiki Public Library and the other institutions in Yenagoa, my home, were I lived and grew up, to help the people catch up with the trend of information and knowledge-driven human capital development and economic growth. I indeed have no regrets putting such state-of-the-art facilities out there for charity.
However, I, my family, donors, users and even rational members of the public against the dastardly incident who have lent voices against the criminal and primordial acts, have continued to struggle to get over the pains caused us.
For me and my wife and children in particular, it has been hell trying to get our minds off the acts of wickedness meted against us, under the guise of political protest. The Azaiki Public Library and its allied institutions are the products of a ten-year plan. Yes! Ten years of personal sacrifice and commitment of personal funds at the expense of my pleasure and those of my wife and children, from 1999 to 2015 when the plans came alive, and even till date.
Many persons and groups, friends and sympathizers across the world have also condemned the acts. Among them is my friend, Former Governor of Adamawa State, and Ex-Minister for Youth Development, His Excellency Boni Haruna who lamented and encouraged us thus:
This is wicked, retrogressive and condemnable. We stand with you in the face of this work of the dark agents, believing it will not draw you back in your avowed determination to serve humanity through the public library owned by the Azaiki Foundation. Remain blessed.
But in all, despite the ugly incident of the attack and looting, we thank God that that dream of setting up a library, a library with up-to-date offline and E-books and journals in all disciplines and professions, was at last established and commissioned on May 19, 2015 for public use, and free of charge. As Colin Powel once said, “… a dream does not become reality through magic; it takes had sweat, determination and hard work”.
With determination, we realized the ultimate desire of building and equipping a public library and museum for public service, yet some persons do not appreciate the philanthropy. Such persons should imbibe Zig Ziglar’s advice that “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions”, because as Elie Wiessel also notes, “When a person does not have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity”.
Ingrates should therefore, try to be grateful to those who make sacrifice for the betterment of society. I believe that history will judge us all in the future. Those who do good, those who pay good for good, those who reward good with evil, will all be judged by History and above all God Almighty. As such, in the face of this punishment meted against me by the assailants, I leave my case for God to judge.
My heart bleeds whenever I set eyes on the items destroyed and when I recall images of the items stolen. You might share my feelings as I graphically enumerate the quantum of damage and theft.
The following items running into Millions of Naira were destroyed, and or looted from the offline library: hard copies of books and journals; expensive pieces of furniture, book shelves; desktop computer sets; laptops; sets of Universal Power Systems (UPS); battery power inverters; television sets; projectors; fridges; freezers; air-conditioners, standing and table fans, as well as carting away of N6million from the safe in the accounts office.
Others are destruction of cars belonging to staff, readers and visitors; two official cars belonging to Chairman of the Azaiki Library, driven away by the attackers; mobile phones, laptops and monies belonging to staff, readers and visitors. These facilities destroyed and looted by the APC assailants, besides others stated hereafter, run into millions of Naira.
From the online library, digital facilities that were containing 30,000 E-books, encyclopedias; journals and other periodicals, among others were carted away by the APC attackers. The digital items include 150 computers and 50 pieces of Kindle E-book readers.
At the museum, the attackers destroyed, and made away with some expensive foreign and local artworks; historical artifacts; carvings; paintings and other items also worth millions of Naira.
From the Institute of Science and Technology, the attackers set ablaze some property and made away with others such as expensive marble tables and settees and the Azaiki Library’s pick-up Hilux vehicle which was parked at the Institute.
This is the ugly fate that befell edifices and facilities that were before now described and appreciated in glowing terms by many rational persons, both the low and high. For instance, the National Librarian and Chairman of the National Library Board, Abuja, Prof. L. O Aaina in a letter has this to say:
I was thrilled by the provision of the library and its service. Indeed, the library stands as the best I have seen in our country. It is a gift to our country and I am proud to be associated with this great effort. May God forever bless your loving and generous heart.
Former President Shehu Shagari in a foreword to my book, Thoughts on Nigeria commented, thus:
[Aaziki] is patriotic…I see a man of highest standard – patriotic and selfless in his dedication to service; a man exhibiting a high sense of hope amongst enormous challenges […]. The world class library facilities and its contribution to education and knowledge …, the Niger Delta Museum … speak volume of a man who is truly ahead of his time. Azaiki has given so much to our country [but] expecting nothing in return.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan who performed the commissioning ceremony of the Azaiki Public Library on May 19, 2015 through the former Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shakarau had described the public facilities provided by the Azaiki Foundation in the following expressions:
What I have seen here is amazing. It is interesting and worth the trouble of a presidential commissioning. Within the country, I have not seen anything like this, especially by a private initiative. Azaiki is a gift to the Nigeria nation and to his Ijaw people; a gentleman, who has lived his dream of giving back to society. Without the hindsight of making profit, he has rendered service to his people by building and donating the library to the community. You don’t need an architect. You don’t need to be a quantity surveyor to know what has gone in to the building.
Former president Jonathan bared his mind frankly, and further said that:
Azaiki is a great man he has given history and future to his community. No nation can rise above the level and quality of its education. What he has done is raising the level of education of Bayelsa people and Nigeria. I am sure with this project you must be a fulfilled person, because you have left behind a mark.
In like manner, outgone Governor of our State, Rt. Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, through the then Chief of Staff, Rt. Hon. Talford Ongolo, had at the commissioning ceremony spoken about the gestures of my Foundation thus:
I will like to commend the Azaiki Public Library Incorporated, especially the founder and financier, our own distinguished son of the soil, Azaiki, for sharing his vision intellect and resource with the good people of Bayelsa, Nigeria, Africa and indeed the entire world.
This library is not only for those who can read and write, but also for those who are curious and seek knowledge by other means. If properly utilized, the open doors of this library could become the stepping stone from which ambitious young people will set search of the Golden Fleece in all corners of the world.
I and my Foundation as well as other rational persons still relate our thoughts to the ideas of the various commentators cited in this speech and those not cited.
Therefore, we will strive to be unperturbed and rather push ahead in our quest to contribute more and more to the advancement of mankind and society, through personal sacrifices.
In that resolve, we will continue to be guided by the admonishments of sages like Caeser Chavez who said:
We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Therefore, our ambition must be broad enough to include the aspiration and needs of others, for their sake and for our own.
We will continue to be propelled in that resolve by the philosophy of Charles Dewey that “Education is not [just] preparation for life, education is life itself”. Thus, we will always bear in mind the witty saying by Albert Pike, that: What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remain with us and is immortal”.
In line with the above philosophies of life, besides that of Carlos Maria, which states that: “To build up a library is to create a life”, and that a library “is never just a random collection of books”, I was inspired to build a public library integrated with museum, art works and conference halls. And in 1999, the planning began, thereafter implemented and achieved in 2015 for public use.
In fact, the purposes of my setting up such a library, were among others, to replicate what I saw abroad as a student and lecturer; encourage reading and research to boost knowledge and education; provide complementary services to educational institutions in the State; document and preserve history and custom; provide leisure to divert attention from unrewarding activities, manage boredom, and above all promote the overall development of society.
I envisioned a public library that will be magnificent enough to attract meaningful people to gather and exchange ideas as well as help tackle social vices often directly traceable to idleness among young persons.
Yet, and surprisingly, some disgruntled, ignorant and unprogressive elements had long ago nursed ill will against such noble and selfless gestures, and used the opportunity of the APC’s political protest to unleash evil on the facilities so provided for charitable services.
Indeed, they rewarded charity with evil. But, their conscience will continue to disturb them.
On my part and the Azaiki Foundation, we thank all those persons and groups that stood by us in the trying moments, especially in condemning the uncivilized and criminal acts unleashed against the public facilities of the Foundation.
We call on everyone to remain law abiding in the face of this provocation, even as I assure of not relenting in rendering more services to society, through my personal and official capacities. This is my pledge.
Although they have paid charity with evil, we shall not emulate nor pay evil with evil. We abide by Mahatma Ghandi’s wisdom that “an eye for an eye will make the world blind”. Therefore, we leave our deeds for God, and history shall judge us all.
Thank you and God bless you all.
Hon. (Prof.) Steve Sinikiem Azaiki, OON,
FOUNDER, AZAIKI FOUNDATION