Fourth Prince Tunde Ponnle Annual Lecture, Osun State University, December 19, 2022
Tunde Ponnle: A Prince and a Philanthropist
It is a great honour to have been invited by the Osun State University to give the 2022 Annual Prince Tunde Ponnle Lecture. The invitation came from the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University, eminent Professor Labode Popoola, who embodies what is good about a modern university. I also consider it a rare privilege to have delivered two Convocation Addresses at Osogbo, one for Osun State and the more recent for Fountain University, where, unsurprisingly, Professor Popoola was the Chair of the event. When Fountain University put me in a nice hotel, and I had to pass through Labode Popoola Street, I felt a sense of pride because it was clear that a prophet has honour in his homeland.
I started this research on Prince Ponnle with a call to Professor Koya Ogen, whom I covertly refer to as “the river with calmness on the surface but swiftness underneath.” If you think the River Niger is slow and weak at the surface, why not jump into it! Ogen described Prince Ponnle in eulogistic words: “He is a famous and highly respected member of Council…he supports academics…and he donated his land at Ada to Osun State University.” As a researcher, I pursued further leads and arrived at the arithmetical permutations of a P-Man: Prince, Ponnle, Passionate, Philanthropist, Pivotal, Prominent, Purposeful, and Perspective.
Let me talk more about the phenomenal P-Man! Did I just invent a new nickname for him? Iba!
Today, generosity and kindness are two socially acceptable human traits that often appear admirable and desirable. Many people want to be called generous and kind. And, as synonymous as these two words are, they have their clear differences. Kindness goes beyond the capacity to give. Thus, a kind person is not necessarily someone wealthy enough to give but rather someone whose life and actions are based on a foundation of moral codes that drive them to help others. Kindness stems from an innate good, so much so that it is often self-sacrificial. A kind person is someone who, knowing that their next-door neighbour is severely affected by the downturn of the economy, shares the last portion of soup from their pot. In this case, the giver did not give out of abundance or an overflow of wherewithal but out of an inborn good and the refusal to see the other person suffer when they both can have a piecemeal — however little and unsatisfying as it might be. This is not to romanticize kindness as a virtue strictly found among the poor or people struggling to make ends meet. Kindness exists among the wealthy too, which is why some people are described as generous philanthropists. I will delve into this much later.
Generosity, the other concept introduced earlier, is equally a selfless act. It entails something done for others. But unlike kindness, which may not stem from riches and wealth, generosity is rooted in abundance and overflowing wherewithal. People are generous not because they have an overbearing impulse to do good but because they have more than enough and are not stingy to withhold what they have from benefitting others. A clear depiction of generosity in play would be in the acts and exploits of Animashaun and Afunimawobe — the proverbial wealthy Yoruba men whose abodes serve as the poster location for all and sundry to eat, drink, wine, and dine — these wealthy men feed and give to other people out of their generosity. They have, in abundance, and are not stingy with their wealth. They give without whining. However, not all generosity is rooted in being good.
There is no denying that goodness lies within some generous people, but being good and being a better human are not prerequisites for generosity. For instance, there was Pablo Escobar who combined generosity with wickedness. Often, generosity, not kindness, is the driving force in our world where philanthropy has been given many names.
Nevertheless, I am only a university teacher and cannot dictate how others should spend their money or how genuinely they should feel about giving. But one thing is certain: in a world where the lines are becoming blurry between the driving forces for philanthropy, there are people whom I have chosen to describe as generous philanthropists. This category of people is comparable to the Japanese supporters who cleaned the stadia in the ongoing 2022 World Cup in Qatar — an act they did not do for personal gain or fame but because they are cultured to do so. The attention came, and they had it, but that was not their motivation. Their mission was to leave no stadium dirty after the match, whether or not other people noticed their deeds. This is the same way altruistic philanthropists move. They support causes and give, not because they want to make news headlines but because it is in them to give without ulterior motives. The fame and headlines come unavoidably, but those are never the drivers or motivating factors.
Among the ranks of men whose lives embody selfless philanthropy is Prince Michael Tunde Ponnle. Prince Ponnle, as he is known by many, is a native of Osun State whose business acumen, entrepreneurial mindset, and drive have yielded positive results. He has extensive experience in managing and successfully growing large corporate bodies. At a time, he was the Chairman of one of Nigeria’s most successful companies — the West Africa Portland Cement Company, now Lafarge WAPCO. However, the path was not all smooth for him, as he did not just emerge as a business mogul overnight. Prince Ponnle is like a diamond — tried by fire and beaten into shape. Life happened to him early on in his journey, and all he had to his name were his resolve and brilliance. These two elements sustained him and drove him to work harder and do better.
In 1978, Prince Ponnle delved into manufacturing house wiring, power cables, and conductors, thus founding his then-new company, MicCom Wires and Cables. Humble beginnings are never a hindrance to greatness for those who are strategic and focused enough to chase their goals. Jeff Bezos started Amazon from a garage, as Bill Gates did with Microsoft. Today, these two companies rank among the world’s most valuable companies, and at a time, they made enough fortune for their founders, so much so that these men were, at a time, the richest persons in the world. MicCom shares a similar story of humble beginnings with these two technological companies.
Prince Ponnle’s business acumen, doggedness, strategic business management, and foresighted networking skills paved the way for his company’s success. When a company delivers quality so consistently that its name becomes synonymous with unbridled quality delivery, and when it has been in the business for so long that it has acquired a large network of customers, such a company continues to wax stronger and stronger. To date, MicCom Wires and Cables have not compromised on the quality of their service delivery and products. However, beyond this, MicCom leveraged the right network and built on past relationships, thereby emerging as one of Nigeria’s leading companies, having been contracted by the government, private individuals, corporate bodies, universities and institutions, organizations, parastatals, and residential estates and housing plans. Prince Ponnle’s business dealings extend to the booming tourism and leisure industry, with the MicCom Golf Conference and Resorts in his hometown of Ada, in the State of Osun. Truly, he is one whose labours have yielded massively; one whom the Lord has immensely blessed.
Notably, too, Prince Ponnle had people who worked with him at the company, those who supported his vision and who, like the biblical Aaron and Hur, held the arms of the company while the Prince Executive Officer fought and overcame the challenges facing the business. Being a man of retrospection and kindness, Prince Ponnle has invested his resources in bettering other people’s lives. He never forgot that some people took a chance on him, making him the success he is today. As a result, he is also taking a chance on several other young and promising people, paying it forward and helping Nigeria secure its future in his own way.
Should you wonder why I have called Prince Tunde Ponnle an embodiment of altruistic philanthropy, wonder no more; his multifaceted deeds prove it. Through the MicCom Group of Companies, his family has contributed to the betterment of Nigeria and Africa under the aegis of the MicCom Foundation for Educational Development, an organization through which many young and promising Nigerian children have received support for their secondary and university education. The MicCom Cancer Foundation is also committed to sensitizing Nigerian communities on cancer and the need for regular health checks for early detection.
Also, among the charitable deeds of Prince Ponnle is the MicCom University Funds for Teaching and Research, a body through which the philanthropist and his family have supported many Nigerian universities and their academic staff members in teaching and research through grants. These education-focused foundations do not include other commitments and donations he has made to people, organizations, institutions, and communities. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prince Ponnle served on a select committee appointed by the then State of Osun Governor, His Excellency Gboyega Oyetola, to create a strategic plan for the people’s welfare. Thus, he is not only invested through his money, but he is also actively impacting lives and communities, which are inherent qualities of a truly generous philanthropist.
Let me stop here. I now understand why Professor Popoola, in obligation to the letter P that begins his last name, has invited me to give this lecture in honour of the newly baptized Prince Ponnle, the P-Man! I promise I will not damage the “P brand” by being pompous and pointless on December 19, 2022, where I, a small man, stand before the giants.