By Abdullahi Abubakar Lamido
Alhaji Abdullahi (not a real name) is a rich man from Northern Nigeria, famous for his multidimensional philanthropy. He was, at a time, among the three richest men in his town. He came from a polygamous family and was the 14th child of his dad. He was the only rich man. Being polygamous himself, he has close to 20 children from three wives. As the only well-to-do in his extended family, his house is like a local government secretariat, always jam-packed with visitors from among family members. This is in addition to dozens of his “sons and daughters” born by his brothers and sisters, who reside in his house, under his total care. But Alhaji takes care of them all; feeding, clothing, education, healthcare, Sallah clothes, etc. He does that with all pleasure. After all, he has the means, and of course, the heart, as a wealthy businessman.
Here is a religious, wealthy man and an influential politician cum Islamic scholar. He has built several schools and mosques, sponsored the education of many orphans, given capital to many people, sponsored the marriages of many poor girls, and sponsored dozens of people to hajj. He is one of the best philanthropists you can think of. After all, that is what is expected of an affluent Islamic scholar. His school was once among the best two primary and secondary schools in the town. When he singlehandedly built it about two decades ago (he had built others much earlier), he would pay teachers’ salaries, buy uniforms for the students, and give them other learning materials. He loves the Qur’an, being also a hafidh himself. And he would provide copies of the Qur’an to all the hundreds of his pupils. This is in addition to dozens of people who rely on him for their livelihood.
As time went by, the “law of diminishing returns” began to affect his fortunes. Gradually, he began to withdraw the subsidies from the school due to continually decreasing income and ever-expanding family financial pressure. But he wanted to maintain the good deeds. Now the school needed expansion while his pocket had experienced contraction. He gave his big land close to the school for the purpose. But no funds to build it. So, he sold another land and built it. Note that the school fees could, at best, pay salaries and take care of the running cost. Every student pays. But it is a middle-class school, so the charges cannot be high. So, he went and sold another asset, built the classes. He sold another one again and again until virtually all the sellable assets became exhausted.
One day, while sitting at home, he saw his children returning before the school closing hours. “What is going on”? He asked them. They were sent home because they did not pay school fees. This happened when he was battling with how to feed his family and settle many other bills. Alhaji never envisaged a day when his fortune would dwindle to that level. Therefore, he did not save nor invest for that rainy day. He thought he would continue to secure contracts and earn considerable resources to fund his schools and even establish more. He, in short, did not benefit from the advice of a waqf expert who could have shown him the simple way of establishing an investment waqf, using a portion of his assets, that would perpetually generate a flow of revenues. The revenues could sustainably fund his schools and other charitable interventions.
Waqf offers a variety of ways for planning the future of your family and supporting other charitable projects sustainably. For instance, the idea of an investment/productive waqf would have perfectly saved Alhaji Abdullahi from selling and reselling his properties to expand his school. As it is, there are two forms of waqf; direct and invest waqfs.
A direct waqf is one created to provide direct welfare and societal development services. Examples are mosques, boreholes, and tuition-free schools that offer direct benefits to designated beneficiaries. An investment waqf is a money generating waqf whose revenues are dedicated to financing defined welfare and socio-economic development projects. An investment waqf can be made to fund and maintain a direct waqf.
For instance, a well-managed orchard can be dedicated as waqf such that the revenues generated from the sale of its fruits will be used to finance a tuition-free school. So, when Alhaji Abdullahi built his school, which he wanted to be a subsidized one, he could have established an investment waqf that would mature and, within some time, continue to finance the school from its proceeds. His other assets would have been saved for other equally important purposes. He could as well have saved himself from the embarrassment of the failure to pay children’s school fees later in his life when the recession hit him.
For instance, nothing stops this rich man from building rentable shops or apartments and dedicating them as waqf, such that what they generate would be divided into two; half reinvented and the other half injected into supplementing what is generated as school fees. He could as well have purchased shares of a halal company and dedicated the investment as a waqf for funding the school waqf. This way, the waqf corpus would continue to expand, and its revenues would grow sustainably. What started as a small waqf can grow into a megaproject that benefits society on a larger scale. Not only subsidies, the investment, if properly managed by trustworthy investment experts, would have funded the construction of more and more schools and the provision of scholarships, among others.
So, if he provided subsidies at the beginning of the school, part of such funds would have been invested, and gradually he could withdraw the subsidies as the returns from investment take over the funding of the school. This way, his children could have become permanent beneficiaries of the scholarship provided by the waqf of their formerly wealthy father. Better still, he could have simply established a family waqf (a topic for another day) specifically for his children. Waqf, in short, could have saved the situation
Abdullahi Abubakar Lamido is the Chairman, Zakah and Waqf Foundation, Gombe. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.