2015

Nigeria’s Renewed Optimism and the Role of Catalytic Leadership

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Here is the summary: before the 28th of March 2015, Nigerians could be classified as an unhappy and distressed group of people. This was not just a passing wave of depression; the national mood had been continually dampened by wave after wave of Boko Haram attack in the north and the growing suspicion that the deadly group could strike somewhere else in the country. Nigeria was equally tense because of the failure of the federal government and military to re-capture the over 200 kidnapped girls from Chibok in April 2014, the recent sharp decline in the value of the national currency, the evident ineptitude of the Goodluck Jonathan led-government, and the sudden postponement of national elections by six weeks apparently to ‘fight Boko Haram’.

However, since the 28th of March, life has returned to Nigeria; everyone seems optimistic about the country’s future and the national mood can be best described as boisterous. The obvious reason for the quick turnaround is the crumble of the much-talked-about power of incumbency and the emergence of an opposition party candidate as president. Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat in the presidential elections and the ascendance to power of Muhammadu Buhari has been vaunted on every global medium as previously unthinkable in Nigeria, and indeed it is; but there is an undertone to Nigeria’s transformation that has not been trumpeted as much as it could be – the importance of catalytic leadership. Nigeria is not a changed country because a new president was sworn-in on the 29th of May, it is a new country because catalysts in positions of authority demonstrated exceptional leadership in the days leading up to and succeeding the 28th of March, 2015.

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The first of the catalysts is the incoming president of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari. A self-confessed converted democrat whose reputation for discipline and integrity were insufficient to earn him national recognition and success at the ballot at three previous attempts suddenly ascended to the level of messiah. Much can be said about the political machinations that resulted in his emergence, but there is much more to be said about the man. Unlike his opposite number, he exuded calm and tact throughout the campaign process, always looked assured and presidential, campaigned solely on ideas, employed a youthful team of media experts, and chose a class act (Professor Yemi Osinbajo) as his running mate. Unlike Namadi Sambo (Jonathan’s running mate), Osinbajo hit the ground running and connected easily with the common man. His credentials stood him out, but his demeanour elevated him even further; it was as though the people by themselves had chosen him. Even more dignified was the fact that the Buhari campaign team hardly ever engaged in any form of negative campaign, which was the trademark of the Jonathan campaign team championed by Messrs Femi Fani-Kayode, Ayo Fayose and Doyin Okupe; they seized every opportunity to rubbish the personality of General Buhari and to predict all manners of mishap if he ever became president. On the flip side, there was no hint of desperation from the Buhari camp, and this singular trait endeared him even more to the people; from interviews on Al Jazeera and CNN to a world class speech delivered at Chatham House, London, he looked and spoke like the incoming Nigerian president, and now he is.

Another Nigerian whose serene character calmed a tense nation is the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega. His task was never an easy one and it was made much more difficult by the endless allegations of electoral fraud all over the country. Nearly everyone expected that the will of the people will be subverted, especially when the long-confirmed election dates were shifted. Many assumed that this was a ploy by the ruling government to adjust conditions in its favour, while others guessed that it was an opportunity to force Jega to proceed on extended leave. In the end, Jega successfully marshalled a team of over 170,000 people across the nation to implement the use of electronic card readers for the first time in Nigeria’s history which went a long way in easing the fears of citizens about the outcome of the elections. Even when complaints begun to filter in from all over the country about under-age voting and electoral violence, Jega never appeared flustered or overwhelmed by the job; rather he took responsibility for the onerous process of data collation. He was extremely meticulous in verifying numbers and cross-checking results, and even took the time to school an unruly party chieftain about the intricacies of decorum in public settings. If he wasn’t already a national hero, Jega was crowned on the 31st of March, 2015. He was the definition of calm under pressure.

Screenshot_2014-12-14-17-06-40Finally, perhaps the most significant catalytic leader in Nigeria these past few weeks is the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. Suffice to say that he was way in over his head with the job of a lifetime, he was verbally assaulted and insulted for the better part of six years by an insatiable population demanding good governance. He was often deficient in tact throughout his presidency, but it can be argued that his greatest act as president was performed the night of March 31, 2015 when he placed a congratulatory call to his opponent before the last votes were counted. Such statesmanly actions have been so rare in Nigerian politics that even members of his political party criticized him for conceding so cheaply. By requesting a meeting to begin discussing transition plans before his opponent had been officially declared winner, Jonathan singlehandedly forestalled the shedding of innocent blood, endless court cases and utter chaos in his country. He has been deified in several sections of the country, and while that might be a stretch too far, he definitely should be commended for preserving the best of Nigeria’s democracy and laying the standard for his peers across the continent.

Nigeria has come a very long way as a democratic entity in 16 short years, and the promise of democracy is only just beginning to yield its first bud. It is very imperative to congratulate the entire nation for an uncommon outcome, but also to specifically congratulate the youth for their invaluable role in the process through social media mobilization and their full involvement. Lastly, the de facto leader of the opposition party, Bola Tinubu must be applauded for defining a credible opposition party and strategizing endlessly to break the chokehold of the Peoples’ Democratic Party on the national life of Nigerians. This is a new season of catalytic change, and may the ripple effects of these elections long live in Nigeria and help in transforming the African continent.

PIC.2. PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI TAKING OATH OF OFFICE IN ABUJA   ON FRIDAY (29/5/15).WITH HIM IS THE WIFE, AISHA. 2815/29/5/2015/JAU/CH/NAN
PIC.2. PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI TAKING OATH OF OFFICE IN ABUJA
ON FRIDAY (29/5/15).WITH HIM IS THE WIFE, AISHA.
2815/29/5/2015/JAU/CH/NAN

This article was first published on Applause Africa

2015: Finding My Feet

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Every single day is a gift, but it is not very often that such a humbling thought stays front and centre of a person’s consciousness. I am tremendously blessed to be able to spend most of my days doing things that bring me the utmost pleasure and satisfaction. I am also immensely privileged to have a truly global community of friends and mentors who look out for me and help steer me in profitable paths. Above all, I have God who is my source and my sustenance and whose providence alone is the reason I exist to do the many things that I do.

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The year 2014 went by like a breeze; it began and ended almost in the snap of a finger. So much happened in 2014 that I can barely enumerate, but I am deeply aware of the blessings of the year. I am exceedingly thankful for the opportunities that came my way in the year – the opportunity to work and earn a living, the opportunity to interact with inspiring persons from all over the world, the opportunity to break new grounds in travel and achievement, the opportunity to see new lands and climes, the opportunity to inspire and encourage hundreds (maybe thousands) of young and old people in multiple countries, the opportunity to connect and reconnect with family, the opportunity to live in good health and conduct my activities in perfect sanity.

Looking back on 2014, I feel a deep-seated sense of satisfaction for the amazing results recorded, yet I feel a sense of anxiousness about the next steps. I have always perceived the year 2015 to be a pivotal year for me – a year in which I will love to have many things figured out. I believe 2015 is the year in which I need to find my feet and have clarity about many things about the future. I do not feel much pressure to be any particular thing to any particular set of people, yet I know that I will love to have answers to many things. In all these, I am happy to patiently wait for inspiration and guidance before moving.

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I am highly privileged to be able to make contributions to the task of developing the next generation of African leaders through my work at African Leadership Academy (ALA) in Johannesburg, South Africa, particularly through the ALA Model African Union conference which I pioneered two years ago to educate young global leaders about the intricacies of diplomacy and development on our continent. I am really excited about my upcoming work with the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN) headquartered in Washington, DC where I have just been appointed to the International Advisory Board. I am delighted about the progress made on Passion to Profession (P2P), an innovative career development platform which I am developing with some colleagues. I am tremendously excited about sharing ideas with the world through written articles, speeches delivered at conferences and private meetings in 2015; I am excited about meeting many new people, seeing many new lands and generating revolutionary new ideas.

DSC_0879With so much excitement and so much gratitude, I can’t shake the feeling that there is something incredibly mind-blowing just ahead of me. I can’t hide my joy at the realization that I don’t know all that lies ahead of me in 2015. I sense that 2015 will prove to be as pivotal a year as I believe it will be, and I look forward to heartily sharing as much detail of these developments as I possibly can as the days roll by.

I sincerely pray that this year will usher in an era of peace, prosperity and development for everyone around the world and that all peoples will learn to evolve gracefully and with as little rancour as possible. Be blessed in 2015! It will be a great year!

Is Ohimai Crazy?

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There are two young Nigerians whom other young Nigerians love to hate – Reno Omokri and Ohimai Godwin Amaize. There are several reasons why they are hated, but among the top reasons are their perceived excessive vocalizations of the Jonathan administration’s agenda, their insistence that young Nigerians should not be satisfied with ‘Twitter activism’ but should challenge government in the arena of ‘alternative ideas’, and Ohimai’s recent declaration that the best solution for our country is for the majority of Nigerians, the youth especially, to get involved with politics. That last one did not go down quite well with the vast horde of anti-Ohimai campaigners, but let’s hold our guns, Reno Omokri isn’t fairing very well at all. In his 2012 end-of-the-year Twitter award ceremony, Japhet Omojuwa awarded @renoomokri the ‘most hated twitter handle’. These days couldn’t be tougher for these two young men.

Politics in Nigeria has never been an endeavour for the chicken-hearted. We are all devotees of Nigerian dailies which have, from time immemorial, reported gruesome tales of assassinations of patriots who believed that it was their God-ordained mission to save the country from the throes of oppression. We have mourned, cursed and mourned again after each murder, but we have moved on, with reasonable fear of the pervasive darkness of Abuja. The fastest way to incur one’s parents’ wrath was to indicate interest in a career in politics. Respectful children have learned not to threaten their parents with such wild interests. The collective dream of most of our parents is to earn enough to help us escape the misfortune of Nigeria and her cursed political system, and see us thrive in huge companies in New York or London. What then are these two vibrant young men doing in the Abuja inner-circles?

The Amaize and Omokri families must have called several family meetings to discuss the obstinacy of their sons, just as the rest of us have concluded as to their motives in Abuja – “they clearly are there to line their wallets, build enough clout to launch political careers of their own, and replace their bosses in the near future”. We have castigated their every statement, justifiably or otherwise. Somehow, it just sounds really unreasonable for a young person in this generation to justify the actions of any Abuja politician, less-talk of work directly with them. What exactly were these two gentlemen (and others like them) thinking? More specifically, what was Ohimai thinking when he wrote that piece for YNaija on January 7 and its follow-up on January 14?

Ohimai recalls the definition of a political illiterate as someone who claims to hate politics, he mentions the fact that political party membership is as interesting to young Nigerians as the hostage crisis in Algeria, he reminds us that we despise politicians because we are saints and they are demons, he acknowledges our preference for cursing the PDP and her apologists, and hints at our love for opposition parties. He, thankfully, recognizes that the PDP hasn’t done well for Nigerians in 13 years, but states that our problem is not the PDP or politics. Ohimai says that the problem is that several of us, young Nigerians have backed too far away from politics and left it in the hands of a highly-corrupt few. He calls us a politically-naïve generation, and feels pressed to give us a knock each on the head. Of course, he is the one who gets knocked on the head, kicked in the stomach and smacked in the face for making such ‘unguarded statements’. YNaija commentators did to him what the ‘Twitter activists’ have been doing to him for almost two years. Very few people felt sympathetic to his statements. I was one of them.

I subscribe to Ohimai’s assertion that not very much will change on Twitter or blog pages. A lot will change, but not very much. Social media sites do a lot for sensitization, but in all honesty a lot of that is misguided. There’s a lot of naivety being paraded on social media, disguised as patriotism; consequently, the (un)informed thoughts of a handful of socio-political critics with a few thousand Twitter followers becomes the gospel truth for their readers who hastily retweet every criticism they level, and then beg for retweets as rewards. If we set aside emotions, we’ll realize that not much of that is going to get a genuine change-maker into Abuja.

Ohimai mentions that “in a democracy, the majority, no matter how stupid will always have their way”.  He also says that “Bundles of ankara penetrate the farthest nooks and crannies of our nation and big bags of rice inspire more hope than well-written blogs “. Unfortunately, he’s right. Whether for good or bad, the majority dominates. The majority of disgruntled young people brought about the 2011 Arab Spring, as did the majority of young, black and female voters in the 2008 US elections. The silence and lack of involvement of the majority of Nigerians could also be responsible for the undesirable present state of our politics. I get amazed when Nigerians identify more as Democrats (very rarely Republicans) than they identify with Nigerian politics. Definitely, no one wants to be associated with a disgusting political institution, but Ohimai was spot-on when he said that “We can chose to be remembered as the generation that lamented about our problems or the one that took drastic decisions towards solving those problems”.

Ohimai is not crazy, he’s just unpopular. But that will not last for long. His message will percolate through the crevices of our minds and we will get involved in Nigerian politics, either through the formation of alternative political parties or the reformation of the existing ones. This generation of young Nigerians will soon lose their satisfaction with only social media advocacy and gravitate towards mainstream politics. We will realize that there is a place for us in there and that our direct involvement is as relevant as our criticisms of the status quo. We will not chide forever. We will get involved. Before or after 2015, we will migrate en masse into the core of Nigerian politics, and whether or not that is part of Ohimai’s motivation, he will be vindicated. It will be remembered that he spoke out when it was unfashionable to do so.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun