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Olajumoke and hypocrisy of corporate sponsors

Most Nigerians already know about Olajumoke Orisaguna and the dramatic twist in her fortune. The captivating narrative of this young Nigerian mother of two, who has been catapulted from hawking freshly baked ‘Agege’ bread on the streets of Lagos to a model that will soon be strutting fashion runway, has captured the imagination of the world and attracted several commentaries from the international media.

As the news of Olajumoke’s ascent from rags to riches and fame broke, she has been cited as an example of the role of fate or providence in the affairs of human beings. The young woman’s story has been told so many times that it bears no repeating here. But, for the purpose of this piece, a recap will suffice.

The bread seller was reported to have accidentally walked into the scene of a photo-shoot by the award winning photographer, musician and song writer, TY Bello and the United Kingdom-based rapper Tinie Tempah. The rest is now history, as they say.
Olajumoke’s well-chiseled looks, lean frame and model-like height was said to have attracted the attention of Bello. The search for the bread seller and her discovery in a bakery, which also served as her home, has now launched her on the path of fame. She has since become the toast of the corporate world. I am happy for her. Poverty is a hard thing. How could she in her wildest of dreams ever thought she could be plucked from poverty and obscurity to a life of comfort and fame?

Even Olajumoke has confirmed that she still feels s if she is living in a dream world. In the week that the media went into frenzy, she had emerged from trekking long distances on Lagos streets, under the scorching sun, to being chauffeured to corporate events where captains of industries feted her.

At the last count, the bread seller has, within a few weeks, progressed from making a paltry N300 commission from daily sales of bread to being the face of a billboard campaign and owning a luxury apartment, among other offers. Now isn’t that what dreams are made of?
Trust Nigerians, who were quite touched by Jumoke’s ‘miraculous’ escape from the vicious grip of poverty, to pray for such a turn-around in their lives. In online comments, they are still praying to God to perform an Olajumoke in their lives’. They have also asked God to send them a divine helper in the mould of TY Bello. Interestingly, both Bello and Olajumoke have suddenly become a point of divine contact!

Olajumoke’s story is undoubtedly one of reversal of fortune that has changed the course of her life for good. I am happy that her new found success will rub off on her family. In a country where the girl-child is still proportionately disadvantaged and girls still constitute more than half of the 10.5 million out-of-school children nationwide, Olajumoke’s story should highlight the plight of young women like her.

But, the case of thousands of young and uneducated teenage girls, who continue to flock to the major cities to engage in lowly and dangerous trades, such as hawking bread, with many of them getting raped or knocked down by speeding vehicles, must not be lost to the euphoria of Jumoke’s narrative. While her story continues to inspire other Nigerians, it must provoke a debate on the plight of the girl-child and the growing poverty that drives many people from the hinterland to the cities.

As we celebrate Jumoke, we must also interrogate the response of Nigerian big business and corporate institutions. Yet, by ambushing her to gain media mileage and portraying the façade of being socially responsible, corporate sponsors have shown how opportunistic they can be. It is a shame.

We need to question the Nigerian variant of corporate social responsibility or irresponsibility, as the case may be. Nigerian companies and big business are reputed to always want to reap where they did not sow. They are known to lie in ambush to profit from the ideas that they won’t ordinarily support to be seen as responsible.

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Nigerian financial institutions and companies are known to put their money where their mouth is. Only a few of them are known to either promote or sustain enduring projects.
In the Nigerian corporate world, ideas are not necessarily supported because they benefit the society. Olajumoke’s story has demonstrated the hypocrisy of corporate sponsors. Now every one of them is lining up to be part of her success story. They are queuing for photo-ups with her.

Knowing the antecedents of corporate sponsors in this country, it is doubtful if they are doing anything for Olajumoke for altruistic reasons.

Those who have had the misfortune of pushing any form of proposal through the corporate affairs or external relations department of any Nigeria company know that it easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a proposal to sail through for consideration, even if it will save the world. No matter the objectives of your idea, it will end up in the trash bin in many Nigerian companies where there is disregard for global best practices on the ethics guiding corporate sponsorship.

Nigerian companies are not that social responsible. That is why the big companies will rather put their money in shallow promotions that will draw the crowd to their brand even if does not create any value to the society. It will be interesting to see how many of the companies falling over themselves to honour Olajumoke would react if TY Bello had visited them with a proposal to run a project that would turn Lagos bread sellers into models.

Nigerian businesses need to be more socially responsible. The culture of ambush marketing and cashing in on already made products cannot grow the society. While commending those companies that have contributed to Olajumoke, Nigerian businesses should engage in worthy causes that will productively engage the likes of the bread seller. An orphanage had recently lamented how it was shunned by some of the corporate sponsors when they were approached for sponsorship.

More important, we should all be worried about the influx of young girls who end up engaging in menial tasks, such as street hawking, under dangerous circumstances in the cities. These ubiquitous girls, who arrive in Lagos from neighbouring states, often trek long distances and they are exposed to the dangers of city life. Government at all levels ought to put in place programmes that keep our youth in school and teach them lifelong vocations.

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