I was raised in Ibadan, Nigeria as the third of five sons to a father who worked as a university administrator and a mother who was a high school teacher. As the middle child, I do not think that I was typically considered for leadership in my family or in the community, but circumstances often placed me in positions of responsibility or warranted me to be accountable for happenings around me. I acquired the values of tenacity, humility, and commitment very early when I was selected to be class captain three years in a row in primary school and again in secondary school; a trend which was sustained all through my time as an undergraduate in Nigeria and in graduate school in the United States of America. All my life, I’ve found myself in positions of acquired and desired leadership and these responsibilities have necessitated the urge for me to constantly think about the common good and to be a leading light for my family, my country and the world.
As a young chap, I harnessed my leadership potential during my undergraduate days in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Being an 18-year old student, I became Editor-in-Chief of the Union of Campus Journalists, a 2,500-member network of journalists, and I learned the importance of strategic planning, reflective listening, consensus-building and making tough decisions. Throughout my four years as an undergraduate, I successfully led about 12 group projects, served as lead speaker for the university’s debate team, participated in sixteen speaking competitions, was appointed by the Vice Chancellor to a university committee on the establishment of a radio station, interned at The Guardian Newspapers and the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2, wrote opinion articles for eight Nigerian dailies, taught at three secondary schools and founded a nonprofit organization. Leading a team of about 120 volunteers between 2008 and 2011, I learned to demonstrate emotional intelligence, empathy and respect for the people with whom I worked, while leading them to fulfill the organization’s mission with each successive project.
At the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, New York, I served as President of the Coalition of Multicultural Public Affairs Students (COMPAS), I was a university senator serving on the Honorary Degrees Committee, I was a research assistant and graduate assistant, I served on a consulting team for HOPE for Ariang Foundation, I was a member of Orange Orators, earning both Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership certificates within 10 months and coordinating monthly international affairs seminars at Danforth Middle School, while traveling to deliver presentations across New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Again, I learned to prioritize tasks and maintain focus in the midst of conflicting yet exciting interests.
In August 2012, I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa to take on an exciting role at African Leadership Academy. I had originally intended to spend four months contributing to the mission of an organization which excited me like no other, but after more than five years, I’m getting the feeling that this will not be a fleeting engagement. During that time, I have enjoyed the process of mentoring hundreds of young leaders, developing new projects, acquiring new skills, expanding my network and seeing Africa literally and figuratively.
In all, I have discovered that leadership is a journey, not a destination. The skills to lead successful teams are acquired over time and through experience; by reading and by observation, and most importantly by practice. My passion for youth development stems from the realization that not many young people in the world today are making the required investments that they need to champion ideas for global development. Granted, opportunities are not ubiquitous, but they were never intended to be. Each of us must continually reinvent ourselves, raise the bar on our own expectations and learn to take creative risks. We must stay constantly innovative and cultivate the habit of asking probing questions about ourselves and our world in order to meet the challenges of our age. Young people must decide to challenge the status quo by studying the world, questioning existing systems, educating themselves and creating more opportunities than they find. We would not always be able to single-handedly solve macro problems and change the world, but we can each change the conditions around us and make the world more livable for the next generation, because the world needs us.
The world we live in today is confronted with dire challenges; a weakened global economy, growing threats of terrorism championed in the Middle East, spreading across Africa and threatening the entire world, increased nuclear proliferation and tussle between countries for military supremacy, global warming and the attendant loss of water and vital resources from the earth and more overwhelmingly, the confinement of over a billion people to extreme poverty. Our generation is facing dreadful challenges, but none more grievous than those which our predecessors braved. The world needs us to be on our best game. We need to face these challenges with adequate preparation, being aware of the twists and turns in the course of defending human rights, providing social services, championing inclusiveness, equality and freedom for all. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest public servants ever said that “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.
So here’s my charge to you, my friend: make a commitment today to equip yourself with all you need to go out into your community, your city, and your country, to give them your best and leave them, not only as good, but incredibly better, far more empowered, peaceful and prosperous than they ever were. Remember that things do not change over time; things change when people take action. Give future generations enough reason to remember you for good, and in every single thing you do, act as if it makes a difference, because it really does.
God bless you.