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Club is a secret society’

It’s all about charity – District Governor Dr. Victor C. Onukwugha is the District Governor of Rotary International District 9125 which covers the 19 Northern…

  • It’s all about charity – District Governor

Dr. Victor C. Onukwugha is the District Governor of Rotary International District 9125 which covers the 19 Northern states and four South Western states except Lagos and Ogun, a total of 23 states, including the FCT. In this interview, he dispels the notion of Rotary being a secret society, what it does, and what it takes to be a member. Excerpts:

Daily Trust: When did you assume duty as district governor?

Onukwugha: Well, effectively from July 1, 2019. The succession process takes about two years before you assume office. I became a district governor nominee in the 2017/2018 Rotary year and then I moved over as governor-elect in 2019 and became a substantive governor in July.

DT: Could you expatiate on Rotary for those who are not well informed about it?

Onukwugha: Rotary is an international humanitarian organization that was found in 1905, we are 114 years today. It started as a fellowship organization and metamorphosed 10 years later  into a charity organization. We have been doing good to the world for the past 100 years. The truth is that the plank of the humanitarian services we do is captured on our six areas of focus, ranging from literacy and education to maternal health and child care, to conflict resolution, women empowerment, water and sanitation. But our flagship project over the years has been  polio eradication. Rotary has been at the forefront of polio eradication and had to even garner some international partners, the WHO and UN to partner, and of late, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also have keyed into it. So, we have succeeded in eradicating polio and we have only three endemic nations now. By August 22, if Nigeria is certified polio-free, it will now remain two nations. For Rotary International to certify you polio-free, you must have not recorded polio for three successive years and Nigeria has achieved that. We are almost there.

DT: How are you going to cope with 23 states?

Onukwugha: It is an enormous task, you must visit all the states, the district governor is the only Rotary International officer in any country or district and he must propagate and carry out all the functions on behalf of the Rotary International president. So, you have to superintend and supervise all the clubs, all the rotarians in his district. By the grace of God, we have committees, we have executives that help to drive some of these goals and ideals. I am lucky to have efficient executives, assistant governors and committee chairmen who will help me propagate and supervise some of these things. But as a district governor I must have oversight functions on all of these, so my club visitations will start immediately after my investiture, and for the next six months I will be visiting non-stop.

Beyond the club visitations we also have to ensure that you shore up membership, and also ensure you raise enough funds for the Rotary Foundation because it is through money from the foundation that we do good to the world. And the beauty of Rotary is that as a rotarian, even if you give one dollar, that one dollar could immunize two children. You do charity to those who may not come back to say thank you, at the end of the day you have saved lives, you have touched lives, that is the beauty of Rotary, organized giving.

DT: Some believe Rotary is a secret society. What’s your take on that?

Onukwugha: That notion was there, even now some people still have that belief. It emanated from the fact that in the beginning, Rotary was an all-male club, and because of the way they fraternized, when you see a rotarian you give him precedence over every other person. It was all about men, they called it fellowship, and people started saying no, no, no. That even gingered some women to take Rotary to court. In the USA the case went to the Supreme Court, it was only in 1989 that they won the case and they started saying gender equality, and since then we’ve admitted women, and they came to see that there was nothing like cultism. In Rotary, we don’t preach religion, you maintain your religion, it is a personal thing. I am a Catholic. When I was a president I admitted a reverend father into the club, so you have the clergy-pastors, imams belonging. So, if it was a secret cult surely all these people would not be there.

DT: What is the criterion for becoming a member?

Onukwugha: Well, if you have interest, if you have the spirit of giving, of philanthropy, and you now want to formalize it, the only thing is that you don’t apply to belong. If you are interested you tell a rotarian who will bring you in, he takes you to fellowships, introduces you. Some people have the wrong notion that you come to Rotary to make money, to get connection, no, when you come in you see the ideals of Rotary, you should believe in them and imbibe them, a member can propose you for membership and a committee will be set up to interview you, if they find you okay, they then admit and indoctrinate you into the fellowship. It can be as short as one month or four months. You have to attend fellowships for a minimum of three consecutive times which means three weeks minimum.

DT: Does it require any financial commitment?

Onukwugha: It is a place for doing charity, so, in doing charity you must spend money. So, for the admission, you have the admission fee, endowment fee, annual dues as low as N40,000 per annum and as high as N70,000 but these are dues. Beyond that once in a while you are called upon to make donations in order to help charity, that is why Rotary is for professionals, business men and women, you must either be working, or be earning, it is when you earn that you give a little. It is possible to make money because of the network you build all over the world, you might leverage on that and make money. Once you are a rotarian in your locality you are a member all over the world, which means anywhere you visit and say I’m a rotarian you are admitted and can develop your network.

DT: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Rotary in your own district?

Onukwugha: In my district, we have a peculiar problem, we have people with the notion of us being a cult, or religion based, so we try to disabuse people’s minds, that we are a non tribal, non religious organization. It is set up for purely humanitarian service, we do not say the conventional prayer, when we want to pray we say the Rotary Grace, which does not say Jesus or Mohammed, or Allah or God, we say pray in our own way. We try to ensure growth, I have four states out of the 19 in the North where we don’t have Rotary, but we are promoting it now. These are some of the only weaknesses we have, and some weaknesses are strength, like it’s the mobility of the civil service in Abuja in particular, where we lose members who are on transfer, otherwise Rotary is growing. We are even thinking of having  a second district here in the North, it’s too large in terms of land mass to cover, so that is a challenge.


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