180 Degrees: The Nigeria Story

Nigeria has received a lot of media attention for the wrong reasons, but that is changing – and the overall effect will be made evident over the next few years. Noting the fact that Nigeria is seen as a sleeping giant, and the fact that I was born and raised in Nigeria – and I live and work here – I understand what it means to be referred to as “potentially great”, “rich country with poor citizens,” and the many accolades that dot the Nigerian space in many foreign hearts. Four years ago, I began to think very seriously about the issues with the Nigerian nation and came up with a conclusion that things would remain the way they were until the country’s citizens took their stand to right the wrongs. Over time, I saw this same passion on many faces as I shared my thoughts with different young people.

My thoughts on Nigeria’s 180-degree turn-around is clearly articulated in the following words: “I see a new Nigeria emerging, one that will be built on the labours of our heroes past, hewn out of the debris of the present waste and engineered by the strength of the future leaders: the youth. These young men and women will adopt [appropriate tools] for the purpose of personal development, nation building, regional cooperation and global participation. They may be unknown today, but in the secrecy of their abode, they master the tool that will change their lives and that of their nation. They’re building the nation’s tomorrow today!” And as I continued in my efforts, I saw many other people expressing the same optimism and starting on the path of taking action. Of course, most of these people are of the younger generation, and we seem to receive inspiration from the words of the second stanza of the nation’s anthem: “O God of creation, direct our noble cause / Guide thou our leaders right / Help our youth the truth to know / In love and honesty to grow / And living just and true / Great lofty heights attain / To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” It is clear that young Nigerians who discover the truth are the proof of what the future will be, and that Nigeria needs a 180-degree turn-around from what is to what should be.

It is also exciting to note that when (not if) Nigeria does begin to see the fruit of today’s diverse labours and investments, the world will come to our doorsteps to ask, “how did you do it?” When the telecommunications sector was set right and the world took notice of its success, I smiled and said to myself, “just wait and see what will happen when we achieve a complete national (economic, social, political, etc) 180-degree turn-around. Then, the other nations who need to transit would learn from The Nigerian Story. This, and the knowledge of the role of individuals in nation building, informed the partnership between myself and my friend, Adeolu Akinyemi ( www.deoluakinyemi.com), which resulted in the 180 Degrees project (www.my180degrees.com) – beginning with a seminar series.

The 180 Degrees Seminar series are a revolutionary gathering of young minds intended to inspire and educate them on the need to ensure a complete (180 degrees) turn-around from their present shortcomings, and aim for a complete control of their lives – without the usual excuse-giving and blame-shifting tendencies that are popular among today’s students and young professionals. The seminar series hold in various locations across the country, and has held in Lagos, Osun and Ogun states (with many more to follow). Feedback from the impact of the various sessions has been extremely encouraging, and we are in the process of taking the 180 Degrees experience to the next level. This quarter, we will begin a 1-month intensive 180 Degrees (training) school which will focus on equipping fresh graduates and students with the appropriate tools they need to compete favourably in the New Economy. The 180 Degrees project deliberately focuses on youth, and looks at a 2025 timeline for the emergence of Nigeria as one of the most desirable nations on earth, because we know the importance of the role of young Nigerians in this much-needed 180-degree turn-around for Nigeria.

The average Nigerian youth – at the moment – may not hold so much premium on his/her nation, but all hope is not lost as more young people are beginning to realize that we are not leaders of tomorrow, but of today. Many of us now agree that darkness is an opportunity for the least of lights to illuminate its environment – and shine. I have often told the story of how my younger sister walked for the first time on her first birthday anniversary, and told a recent youth audience that:

“Just like my younger sister and every baby have a choice to make between enjoying the attention of being babies and choosing to walk, every young Nigerian may also decide to stay a victim or choose to be a victor. Tosin could sit still and say, “I really would love to walk, but it is more comfortable to crawl. Can you imagine how nice to be lifted by everyone. And to make it worse, the environment is not helpful. My parents were richer than this – and Nigeria was better – before they had me.” … We may all have reasons not to believe in the Nigerian system, and may all have good reasons to leave this ailing nation in its dying state and pursue our own lives. And you may not be entirely off track doing that, you have a life to live anyway. You will one day have a family to feed, and children to send to school… so, in their honour, you rightly make decisions today. Every great people-group, nation or region will have to go through transition. And in those days, no matter how prolonged (as it appears to be in Nigeria); there must be men and women who will stand within their spheres of influence to change things. And just like the ripple, waves will join to waves and produce a lasting wave; and like the biblical miracle of the “exceeding great army”, bone will join to bone, tendon to tendon, and lingament to lingament!”

The desire to change Nigeria – and any other nation at that – is a responsibility that rests on the shoulders of youth – and must be pursued as a critical mission. We are the proof that any nation will still be around, or that it will compete favourably with others on the global stage, in the next few years.

I say with pride that various young Nigerians are acting in their own spheres of influence, and I am glad that my own humble efforts (mostly with partners) have met with successes – even though some not-so-much-of-a-success stories are experienced. I believe that three major things that have worked include positive peer pressure, policy influence, and a paradigm shift! Fortunately, the story of the change process I have been involved with in Nigeria is told in the book, “Global Process, Local Reality: Nigerian Youth Lead Action in the Information Society,” but when I speak of positive peer pressure, I refer to the fact that many young Nigerians are now leading social and economic change processes today because there is a sense of holy competition that makes each of us strive to do all we can to influence change – mostly because they have been inspired by little efforts led by fellow youth. We have also been able to influence policy in the country as youth – coming from a nation where youth were almost banned from speaking about high-level issues to one where youth are appointed as advisers to the president on very high-level policy issues (not as a form of tokenism but respect for professional expertise). There is an obvious paradigm shift among youth themselves, expressed through the many young people who have gone beyond just being inspired to the level of taking appropriate action.

The journey of a thousand miles begins in a day, but I have a very strong feeling that Nigeria is quite some distance into its necessary 180-degree path.

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