‘We Rise By Lifting Others’i: Davido, Pope Francis, and the Politics of Social Love

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By Emmanuel Ojeifo

Last Friday, I had a seminar on the Theology and Politics of Peace. We were asked to study beforehand two ground-breaking documents of Pope Francis: Laudato Si’, which focuses on the care of creation, and Fratelli Tutti, which focuses on building fraternity and social friendship in our world. Among a number of recurring themes in these two texts is the idea of political and social love. During our class discussion, Emmanuel Katongole, a Ugandan priest and professor of political theology, drew our attention to how Pope Francis imagines the possibilities of social change in our world. In talking about political and social love, Pope Francis looks at politics as the avenue where the greatest form of charity can be done for the good of society. When he talks about politics, the pope is not just looking at what governments do – although this is important – but how people imagine social change and how they work to make this happen. Seen in this way, politics is not just what governments do, but what everybody can do.

Over the last few days, David Adeleke, the Nigerian global music icon popularly known as Davido, has captured the public social imagination. On Thursday, he made a video on Instagram calling on his friends to send him N1 million each for his birthday. Davido said he was joking when he made the video, but as it turned out, within 24 hours he had raked in N171 million in his account at Wema Bank. A few hours later, the money had risen to 184 million. The news media in Nigeria and abroad picked up the story, the Nigerian social media space was on fire, and Wema Bank posted on its Instagram handle “Na bank wey Davido dey use I wan dey use now!!” appropriating a slang that had dominated the Nigerian social space over the last couple of weeks.

There’ve been varied interpretations of the gesture of love that Davido’s friends have showed him. Some said he didn’t need the money. Some said the donors are doing it for public show. Some said no one should attack pastors if they ask for money since David has done the same. Daddy Freeze replied: we are not against pastors asking for money. What we are against is how they ask for the money. As is often the case, this is the kind of conversation that tends to wear out the Nigerian social media space when money is involved.

Yesterday, Davido took to his Instagram handle to thank everyone who donated to his pre-birthday crowdfunding. What struck him, he said, was the fact that some of his fans sent him N500, N1,000 and even N100, which might well be the last cash they had. He was extremely grateful and announced the formation of a 5-person committee to supervise the disbursement of the money to orphanages in Nigeria. In addition to the N200 million gift from his friends and fans, Davido made a personal donation of N50 million, making a total N250 million ($500,000). He hinted that he might organise another fundraiser in December saying, “If we can do 200 million in two days, we can do one billion if we all come together.”

Davido’s pre-birthday fundraiser shows what’s possible in Nigeria with friendly feeling. In July this year, it was at Obi Cubana’s mother’s burial at Oba where his friends came together to rain cash gifts and hundreds of cows. When some people took to the social media to question his source of wealth, the man had this reply for them in an interview with BBC News Pidgin: “Miracle no dey give money bicos pastor need money pass. Native doctor no fit give you money bicos im children dey fetch water for stream. Work hard, work hard, work hard.” He noted that most of the people who showed up in solidarity at his mother’s burial are his friends, classmates, and fellow businesspeople with whom he’s journeyed together. He hinted that he’s done so much investing in his friends, which explains why they came together to ‘shut down’ his town of Oba. Rather than waste his time offering an answer to those who suggest how he should use his wealth, Obi Cubana said he’d invest it to make more money while his critics watch. Davido made a similar remark in a recent interview where he contrasted himself with some other rich people who hardly help others. “If they fall they’d land on the ground but if I’m falling others will be lifting me up.” Those others are those he’s helped to rise. Does this say anything about what Jesus said in the gospels, “To those who have will more be given, and they’ll have more than enough” (Matthew 25:29)? Or “Give and it shall be given to you” (Luke 6:38)? Perhaps!

Kindness pays! There is no doubt that Nigerians are an extremely generous class of people. They can go to great lengths to do good. They do this not just for their friends, but for people they’ve never met, people they don’t even know. I think of the amazing ways that Nigerians on social media rally together to raise funds for various causes, from helping the sick pay their medical bills, funding cash-strapped start-ups and small businesses, paying the school fees of brilliant indigent students, providing housing for homeless, aged people and putting food on the tables of the poor.

There is so much problem in Nigeria. Government at all levels has failed to deliver on development, politics has lost its moral hygiene, citizens are dying, and many skilled young Nigerians are leaving the country. But Nigeria is not all bad news. In the midst of the troubling times, there is another snapshot of Nigeria. It is snapshot provided by young people like Davido who not only use their talents to put Nigeria on the world map, but are also using their influence to raise money for good causes.

Philanthropy is something we need to encourage in Nigeria. Nowhere in the world do governments alone solve social problems. This is not to absolve governments of their responsibility, but to say that we also need corporate agency to make development happen. From civil society, corporate entities, and religious institutions to faith-based organisations and good-spirited individuals, Nigerians are doing a lot to complement the half-hearted measures of over-stretched and under-funded public agencies, to ensure that social goods are delivered to millions of people. This is what Pope Francis means by the politics of social love. Professor Katongole used a practical example to drive home this point during our seminar: “When I help an old woman to cross a river, that is love. But when I build a bridge across the river, that is social love. The bridge can serve not just the old woman but the entire community.”

Davido and many others show us that we need to normalize the habit of giving back to the communities in whose life we share. I write this sobering thought with profound humility and gratitude. I have been able to pursue two Master’s degrees and currently on doctoral studies on full scholarship in three overseas institutions. By 2026 when I finish my doctoral studies, I would have spent 264 million Naira (with current dollar exchange rate). I have not paid a dime from my pocket. Although this has been made possible through the Catholic Church to which I belong, I am actually benefitting from the endowments made to universities by philanthropic individuals and organisations. This is the story of many young Nigerians out there who have gotten good education free of charge. This buoys me up to give my life in service to others and, if God blesses me with the means, to extend such gestures to others.

In his recent book Let Us Dream (2020), where he offers an inspiring and actionable blueprint for building a better world, Pope Francis invites us to put on the attitude of the Good Samaritan in our daily dealings with others. He admits that there is so much suffering in our world, but he urges us to never turn our eyes away from the various situations of human misery around us. “To act in a Samaritan way in a crisis means letting myself be struck by what I see, knowing that the suffering will change me.” He says: “God asks us to dare to create something new.” “This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities – what we value, what we want, what we seek – and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.” In Laudato Si’ he warns against a kind of politics driven by the mentality of short-sighted gains. He says that results take time. But again this is no excuse for lethargy in alleviating the sufferings of today’s poor “whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting” (no.162).

Interestingly, what Pope Francis is saying is not empty rhetoric. Since becoming pope in 2013, he has put the poor and the suffering at the centre of his pastoral agenda and has done a lot to alleviate their plight. Here’s just one example from recent memory. In November 2017, an Italian automobile maker gifted Pope Francis a Lamborghini Huracan worth $200,000. After thanking him, Pope Francis autographed the car. Six months later the Lamborghini was auctioned at Sotheby’s. The buyer paid $977,000 and said he did so because of his great love and admiration for the pope’s leadership style. Thereafter, Pope Francis shared out all the money to charity, giving 70% for the rebuilding of the Nineveh Plain in Iraq where ISIS had left blood, tears, and destruction in their trail, some to a women’s charity in Central African Republic, and the rest to a Swiss and an Italian charity. That is the politics of social love at its best!

At the end of the gospel parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told the teacher of the law who asked him, “Who is my neighbour?” to go and do like the Samaritan in the story. And after reading the parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, the mystic St. John of the Cross wrote: “In the evening of our lives, we shall all be judged on love.” This is a message for all of us.

Happy birthday, Davido, and God bless you!

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