Being an Address by Chude Jideonwo, Managing Director of RedSTRAT/The Future Project at The Future Awards 2011, 30 January 2011, Lagos.
Sometimes Nigeria can confound and frustrate you. Just a few weeks ago, at a meeting our organization facilitated for the Presidency to engage them on the issues that affect young people nationwide, someone said:“people have no faith in themselves, people are pessimistic – that’s why our country is the way it is.” And I smiled.
I smiled because I used to think like that too. I was 13 when I wrote my first book, “In my father’s knickers” and the first publisher I sent it to publishedit, no issues whatsoever. So when I heard people complaining about the “system” not working, I wondered what on earth they were talking about, it had worked for me. Little did I know I was an exception to the disheartening general rule. Many years later I have learnt not to be so quick to judge.
So when I hear statements like that made, statements like “our country is the way it is because people are lazy and pessimistic”, It is enough to make you cry –this utter cluelessness that can sometimes pass for engagement or problem solving, notjust by government, but by the generality of the people who have the task or the duty to ensure that our country is set upon that clichéd right track.
No,people are not pessimistic, people are realistic. And the reality is that our country is essentially… falling apart.
People are suffering .People are producing garri in the East and the South-South but have no one to sell it to because the transportation system has collapsed, textile and other industries are shutting down in the North, parents who earn N25000 to N30000 are expected to pay school fees of up to N250000. There is an overpowering sense of powerlessness, of hopelessness. And if anybody is saying anything different to President Jonathan and all of government, then they are lying.
Did you hear the first speaker, Aisha? People are homeless, people are jobless. People cannot afford meals, people live under the bridges – boys of 8, 7, 5. The guys that clean your windscreens, the girls you see still carrying bread and hawking it from 12pm to 1am. Suffering. Poverty. They are the generality and there are millions of them. And they are mad as hell. Let’s not even talk about Jos, or the Niger Delta. These are the people who wonder – “how do you bring back the book for people who never had books in the first place?”
It is this frustration that led me to gather friends, associates, partners and youths– on my 25th birthday last year – to say EnoughisEnough, When we got to the National Assembly and had the senators running through back gates and we raised our voices saying “we are not activists, we are young professionals who want to tell you how we feel” ,and that is“this is not the country we want!”It wasn’t just about whether President Yar’Adua was missing or thatthe promised 60000 megawatts was nowhere to be found, it was because we had had enough. The people on the other side are not listening! And they have to. Government, captains of industry, funding and international organisations engaged in this project called Nigeria, those who should facilitate the work of change.
Let me speak candidly. Because it is in the middle of these kinds of crisis that the governments of the Niger Delta seem to have come together and decided that the solution for this problem is to organize a Miss Niger Delta competition.
These are the people we go to meet to support our work to reach young people with skills, with knowledge, to build their capacity. We don’t want contracts, we have plans – proven to work – to train young people, we want to bring mentors for them, we want to bring this award to your state, this conference, let these young people meet the kinds of mentors that can change their lives.
Many are making effort and we are grateful. I thank you Access Bank, I thank you, I thank you Virgin Atlantic, I thank the Office of the Delta State Governor, I thank you MTN, I thank you Miccom Golf Resorts, I thank you HiTV, but it is not enough. If this country collapses, there will be no banks, there will be no telecoms companies, no Twitter, no Facebook. No clubs, no bowling alleys. No asoebis, no weddings. Look at Tunisia and Egypt, those tall buildings are tumbling down and tumblingfast.
And no, it’s not a role for government alone. We cannot be getting funding from international organizations like the World Bank, Omidyar Network, MacArthur Foundation and others and all our own organizationswant to focus on are reality shows and concerts, pageants and raves. They say that is what young people want. Are you kidding me? On the 29th of January, we had more than 2000 youths at our pre-awards conference, same as last year. We go outside Lagos for our Town Hall Meetings to engage the youth nationally on entrepreneurship, value creation and governance and people are standing like it’s a crusade. On Facebook, on Twitter, thousands of followers. This hall ,full. Are they not youths? We have a database of thousands of volunteers – we cannot even accommodate all – begging to do something, to be part of something serious and impactful;so be part of projects like ours, or those of organisations like Rise Networks, LightUpNigeria, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, BLING – just to mention a few – firms that have gained such credibility and influence and a tremendous following of young people. Why do Marketing Managers, Marketing Directors, MDs think that creatively and intelligently engaging these young people is a waste of time and money?
I ask when I see them: why is it so difficult to find the budget to support our trainings for young people in entrepreneurship, creativity – our Young Writers Network, our The Future Enterprise Support Scheme, our Do Something Seminars, but so easy to have money out for… you know these things.
Just last year, a member of our Board, an amazing woman, ObiageliEzekwesili called up a bank MD and said, look man, you have to support this, I have known them for five years, I have seen the numbers, I have seen the passionate young people they lead, support them. And hesaid,“Oh the young people are not our demographic”. So she asked “So who is your demographic – the aging, the geriatric?”Such irony, such disconnect, such a paradox.
This project – this event – is a gift of love, of passion. It comes from blood and the hardest of work. This project is not even where the income comes from. That comes from our business arm, our PR business, our management consulting, our project management, the magazines we edit for companies, our online media businesses. Any thing but The Future Awards… some of you here think we make millions from it?
Let me tell you… for all our Town Hall Meetings across Nigeria – visiting Abia, Benin, Yola, Ile-Ife, South Africa,the UK to listen to the issues and aspirations of Nigerian youthsetc –we were not able to get even up to half of our budget and subsequently ran at a great loss just because we are determined to make this happen. The amount we received for sponsorship is not up to the amount some of you spend on “Omugwo”. The only way we are able to do this is because partners like Cool FM, Wazobia FM, Miccom, YventKouture, Dtalkshop, Total Consult, Silverbird Tremor Perfect, MAI clothing, Saheeto, La Bash, Mass Media Partners and others you can see in the brochuresay “yes you guys have no sponsorship but this is a national project and it’s changing lives, it cannot die” – and they join their hands together and tell us “We will give you sound, we will give you stage, we will give you this and that – premium high quality, you don’t have to pay, and here we are.
It shows you the kind of generation that we belong to. Some of us, even in this crisis of nationhood,still want to do things for legacy, for posterity, for history. Not because we are so special, but because we saw what our parents did with our country and we don’t like it. And we declare… ‘wecannot continue like this!’
It’s not about government. It’s a general collapse in values. Our problems are not hard we just refuse to engage them. We refuse to join hands and repair the road where you drive your jeep in Banana Island.It’s not hard. To give a couple of millions that you spend on random parties to mentors the children of the Dustbin Estate, it’s not hard. To come to us, beyond words – beyond “oh you’re doing so well, oh I’m so proud of you guys, oh I am so impressed” – to saying, which of your projects can I fund, how many of your young people can I support, how many award winners can I structure sustainable investment for… it’s not hard. Is not hard to say one percent of my budget, as a company, will go to practically enriching the lives of young people. No, it’s not. Enough of lip service.Put your money where your mouth is.
Ladies and gentlemen, our country is not yet a great one. That’s the truth. How can you be great if your young people are so disillusioned, so angry, so tired? This nation can be great, it has its moments of greatness, but lets call this spade a spade; it is not yet even near greatness. And Ifwe don’t acknowledge how urgent this problem is, Egypt and Tunisia are just a few hours away.
The good news is: Our revolution does not have to be bloody if we all combine the clinking of champagne glasses with the rolling up of our sleeves. Find a way to get involved. Stop sitting in your house and complaining – do something, put your hands on the plough, add your quota. If you don’t know how to do your part then ask the many people doing real work, making real impact, adding real value, who actually understand the issues, understand the youths, and own that future. Ask us. There is no longer any excuse. It is no longer cool to be disinterested.
All of us must worktogetherand take active steps to safeguard this future in the NOW! We have no choice. We have no choice.
God bless Nigeria.