Habib Jaafar, Nigerian-Lebanese philanthropist’s autobiography unveils a tale of unity and humanity
In a remarkable celebration of unity, kindness, and the enduring spirit of humanity, Nigerian-born Lebanese businessman and philanthropist, Habib Jaafar, launched his autobiography, African Odyssey of a Lebanese Emigrant: An Autobiography of Sorts, at the prestigious Eko Hotel and Suites in Victoria Island, Lagos, on Saturday, September 23, 2023. The event, attended by distinguished guests, including renowned writer Prof. Wole Soyinka, former Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II, and former Governor of Kaduna State Nasir el-Rufai, showcased the remarkable life of Habib Jaafar and the lessons it holds for a world often divided by religion and ideology.
Others in attendance were the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo III, former Governor of Ogun State, Senator Abikunle Amosun, Nigeria’s former Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), Chief Arthur Mbanefo, among others.
Habib Jaafar’s autobiography received widespread acclaim for its beautifully written content, with Prof. Wole Soyinka, who chaired the event, highlighting the striking similarities between Nigeria and Lebanon. In his speech, Soyinka emphasised the need to accept people as human beings first, transcending religious and ideological differences. He pointed out the remarkable friendships that endured through Lebanon’s turbulent history, serving as a powerful lesson for those who propagate religious extremism.
Soyinka stated, “When I first read the draft of this work, I said immediately: this is something all Nigerians should be compelled to read because of the similarities between our countries. It conveys the need to accept people as human beings, first and foremost, before their religion and ideologies.
“Throughout, however, there runs this thread of friendship, and ultimately, is the human factor that really counts in the history of existence, and is a lesson for some of those extremists, who believe that because they belong to this religion and not others, that those others should not breathe or walk, because there’s something demonic about them. They should read this book and learn that crucial lesson which overcomes all the various divisions that exist in various communities, and no community is exempt from.
“So when I read the book, I said we must do everything to bring it out. Also, the tenacity of the main character of the book through tribulations, the capacity to overcome a seemingly insurmountable setback in a career through various wills, the boldness of it. I found that I recognized something in him also, and so I was impacted, and whatever I could, I did. But ultimately also I want to express my gratitude to Habib who has a very deep sense of philanthropy and contribution to society.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mr. Dele Olojede, who anchored the event, said, “Jafaar is a literally cultured man who was masquerading as a businessman,” highlighting the multi-faceted nature of Habib Jaafar’s character and his contributions to literature.
The book’s publisher and Chief Executive Officer of Bookcraft Publishers, Mr. Bankole Olayebi, praised Jaafar as a remarkable storyteller, emphasising the book’s wisdom, energy, and earnestness. He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share Jaafar’s unique life story with the world.
“This is a book that I would be happy to add to my library, whether or not I was a publisher,” Olayebi said. “As you will discover, hopefully, when you pick up a copy of the book and start reading, Habib is quite a remarkable storyteller, and I found his narrative quite compelling. It is not only full of wisdom, but also marked by a certain robust energy, enthusiasm and earnestness. But what comes across for me in the book is Habib’s abiding humanity. The mind that produced this book is a nurtured mind open to possibilities, wherever they occur, mindful of history, cognizant of the next liberal march of technological progress, but always concerned with the human quotient.
“In conclusion, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Habib Jaafar for giving me and Bookcraft Publishers the opportunity to share his unique life story with the rest of the world.”
Emir Sanusi II, who shared his experiences as a fellow Kano-born individual, described Kano as an extraordinary, cosmopolitan city known for its historical acceptance of people from diverse backgrounds. He underscored the importance of recognising the humanity in all individuals and the need for peaceful cooperation and progress.
“This is a room filled with many friends, and that says a lot about the intersecting life we have had. I first met Habib when I was a junior credit officer in Icon Merchant Bank, when we opened a Kano branch in 1987. Before then, I joined Icon in 1985 as a corporate finance person, and my direct boss was Chuka Mbanefo. So, he trained me. This was in 1985, and it now sounds so long ago,” the former Emir said.
Habib Jaafar’s book launch also shed light on the deep historical ties between Lebanon and Nigeria, showcasing the contributions of Lebanese and Syrian communities in Kano’s history. It emphasised the role of these communities beyond trade, as they played a vital role in the selection of Kano’s emir during the colonial era.
In his heartfelt gratitude, Habib Jaafar reflected on his journey from Lebanon to Nigeria, highlighting the kindness, humility and generosity of the Nigerian people. He expressed his hope that his book would help change perceptions about Lebanese immigrants and showcase the values of family, kindness, and generosity that he found in Nigeria and across Africa.
The launch of African Odyssey of a Lebanese Emigrant: An Autobiography of Sorts by Habib Jaafar was not just a celebration of one man’s remarkable life but also a testament to the enduring values of kindness, humility and humanity that Nigeria and Africa continue to teach the world.