A Weekend in the Sunshine State

“Come over to Macedonia,” were the exact words of the coordinator of Ondo State Information Technology Devenlopment Centre (SITDEC) after I finished speaking. It was during this past weekend while I spent time visiting family and discussing how I can help improve the lives of young people in the state I have inscribed on my birth certificate, Ondo State — aka Sunshine State.

The journey began with various eMails with ‘Tunji L’ght Ariyomo, the governor’s Special Adviser on ICTs (who also doubles as the coordinaor of SITDEC), an award in recognition of my contribution to the development of ICT in the state, and an earlier interview for a government publication hinting about the State’s interest in my input. I was born in Akure and spent the first ten years of my life there before sharing my time between Idoani and Akure while I grew from 11 to 16. I visit my family in Akure but also spend a few days speaking at selected meetings every year, especially due to the comradeship I feel within the state at large, and the thought of my opportunity to inspire other young people with my now almost-popular story, “From Akure to the World.”

Sometime towards the end of last year, I was in discussions with my brother and friend, Praise Fowowe (who also happens to write “Ondo State” each time the popular “state of origin” question comes up). We stumbled upon a few names that are strongly related to Ondo State either by birth or “origin,” or both. Titi Akinsanmi, Fela Durotoye, Joshua Awesome… and the world-famous Philip Emeagwali. These individuals’ link to Akure are a major source of inspiration to any young person who’s growing up in that state today (or grew up there a few years ago). While location has nothing to do with success or failure, the fact that people you can identify with are seen as heroes is a great way to know that your excuses for vailure are limited. You probably see their parents drive around the city, or you walked past the house he grew up in just a few weeks ago. Somehow, we draw inspiration from the fact that there are people who grew up under the same circumstances with us, and are now seemingly doing well for themselves!

I arrived Akure on Sunday night after spending some time alone with my parents, and seeing my nieces and nephews again! Irawo has grown up so fast, wow! Thanks to Celtel, I had access from every location, including the unforgettable moment while I was enjoying the best delicacy from this side of Nigeria, pounded yam, and now as I post this blog. My mum rose up to the challenge of proving that red carpets and airport pick-ups are nothing compared to time spent with one’s family! Watching a movie with my cousin, along with the lifelong act of sleeping off and refusing to retire to my room, brought memories. I called up the team that has been helping me with the background work towards my planned projects in Ondo State and we agreed to meet up at 10am on Monday, at the newest eatery in town.

By 11am on Monday, we had done more work than I possibly could have imagined done from a rather unconventional location. The usual introductions added flavour to the meeting as each person kept giving me the “wow, he has changed a lot” look. We made our way to the SITDEC office and arrived about 15 minutes early. An earlier call from the office to confirm that they were expecting me planted a smile on my face because I must confess my displeasure with the bureaucracy associated with government establishments. I had just handed my card to the receptionist when Engr. Ariyo, my host, arrived and took over the job of welcoming the team and introducing us to the staff of the centre and his other guests. After a few minutes, arrangements were made to take us round the state’s ICT projects — ahead of a feedback session during which I was to tell them what I thought, and how resources could be best maximized. “This is Mr. ‘Gbenga Sesan, an Ondo State indigene and Nigeria’s pioneer IT Youth Ambassador. We must get as much as possible from his ICT expertise during his short visit…” Then we set off for the tour.

At some point during the tour, I turned to Ayo Ojeniyi and said, “I can change the world with the ICT infrastructure that this state has put up.” And I meant it. I visited three facilities outside the imposing SITDEC office itself and each facility (though yet to be put to effective use) whispered to me, “‘Gbenga, we’re here when the state decides to use us towards a grand ICT vision, and to produce some of the best ICT minds in Nigeria!” I hear you, infrastructure, I feel the need too and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves.” There were 295 PCs, about 40 laptops, numerous accessories and enough bandwidth to set Ondo State on eFire! And the little chat I had with the staff shows the readiness to line up behind a grand vision the moment the whistle is blown.

We returned to the briefing session after lunch with the team, and it was a really charged moment. While I was a bit concerned that government officials may not take kindly to my blunt assessment, I was surprised when the coordinator responded with some huge warmth that melted the side of me that was scared of bureaucracy.He went as far as sharing some documents (when are we going to finally have the FolI bill so I can ask for more documents) and explaining how they’d been on my trail for a while. Well, the next steps are clear: official report back through the relevant process, returning for the initial planning session, commencement of the long-term work and hosting the Ondo State Youth Empowerment Summit (OSYES).

With the duo of Bayode Atandeyi and Ireti Adesida at the driver’s seat, the OSYES will debut sometime in July 2008 with the vision of connecting young people with life changing opportunities through an annual summit that will focus on three themes — ICTs, Entrepreneurship, and Self Discovery. I will be asking my friends, brothers and sisters that share the same state of origin to join me as we fix as many lives as possible before they give up on their future. The summit will clolse with a dinner on Sunday, where relevant stakeholders will be tasked with the responsibility of sustaining OSYES and the many follow-up activities that will take the lessons beyond conference rooms. Each year, I will do all I can to get my mentors to keynote at the closing dinner. Ondo State? Yes! OSYES… Is there someone thinking that this is a huge marketing opportunity for the bank that claims to say YES to all dreams?

It was, for me, a weekend of sunshine even in the face of the harsh harmattan. I am on my way back to Lagos and look forward to briefing the PIN team, and to resume our evidently busy 2008 calendar, but think it’s time for each of us to redouble our efforts towards improving the lives of other young people, especially those within our visible line of influence. The best of life is not measured in duration, but in donation!

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