By Charles Busari
I was part of a delegation that recently went to Nigeria as part of a pilot program titled ‘Africa Gives’. The aim was to go to Africa and find ways to contribute in more ways than just money; in other words, look for ways in which to contribute our skills and also develop businesses.
I was particularly interested in the business development opportunities and I was also looking forward to engaging with the youth on ground. I had a few ideas coming in that I wanted to implement and this was a perfect opportunity to survey the market.
On getting to Nigeria the first thing that struck me was how much the country had really changed since the last time I was there in 2002. I don’t know why but I had somehow formed this idea that Nigeria would be in total darkness and I was coming in to shine a small light of knowledge on the nation that would illuminate so bright that I would be celebrated. Instead what I saw in Nigeria was a nation that was really progressive. It can’t be said that it had made giant leaps since I was last there but what impressed me most is that the nation has not stagnated. In some ways, we as Africans in the diaspora are as much to blame for the negative images and false propaganda about the development of African nations that we see in media stereo types in the West. I remember listening to friends and families returning from recent trips to the continent giving the same dread accounts one after the other that I never felt encouraged to go back. The pictures they painted always made it seem that the nation was the same state that I had left many years ago so I wasn’t in any particular hurry to go back. So whilst much can be found about the negatives in Nigeria I chose to focus on the positives that are not as celebrated or highlighted in the Western media.
For the duration of our 2-week stay we were hosted by an extremely down-to-earth and humble Senator, Babajide Omoworare of Osun East Senatorial District. He pretty much opened up his personal space and quarters to us and took time to answer every single one of our grilling questions. I must confess I was very sceptical at first (those who know me well will not find that surprising), but he was able to win me over with his honesty and forthrightness. I like that he was very knowledgeable and candid about the political state of things in Nigeria; from the widely speculated question of “Who really runs Nigeria?” to the questions that I had about political oversight and election fraud. He even went as far as to give us an account of his personal experiences of election fraud and showed us all of his election ‘gadgets’ and extreme measures (which I will not divulge) he had to go to, to ensure there was a fair election. I was particularly impressed to learn that he is an accomplished barrister also undertaking PhD studies whilst balancing Senatorial duties and family life. Although he couldn’t accompany us on every outing we were in the very capable hands of his family and staff which included the Senator’s older siblings, his sister Ms Nike Omoworare and brother, Mr Segun Omoworare among others.
Due to our affiliation with the Senator, he saw to it that we were granted full access to the House of Assembly in Osun State as well as allowed to attend a sit down session with the Deputy Governor of Osun State, Otunba Titilayo Laoye-Tomori . I found her to be very eloquent and articulate and she handled us with a great deal of respect. She again was very knowledgeable about her field and was able to highlight and detail key policies that were being implemented in Osun State under the guidance of Governor Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. A program worth mentioning is the ‘Opon Imo’ project which basically handed tablet pc’s to 150,000 school children in order to tackle the disadvantages faced by children who cannot afford school text books and course material. Each tablet comes loaded with all text books and study notes including practice exam questions for both Jamb and Waec (the first of its kind). This really blew me away because I think it will really revolutionize the current education system particularly as some of the main issues have been that in the past children simply learned the theory of things without ever having access to the actual products. I remember growing up in Nigeria in the 80’s and learning about computers in school, I knew all the computer parts from keyboard to disk drive but I never got the opportunity to touch an actual computer.
Another one of the most memorable experiences I had out there was during a small youth seminar that was organized as a way for us to directly engage with the youth of Osun State. This event was held in Ilesha and we had the opportunity to engage the youth there in some dialogue and found out firsthand what some of their challenges were. I liked how articulate and most of all passionate they were about the nation. It was then it struck me! Much has been made of the so called ‘Brain Drain’ from out of Nigeria and Africa as a whole but there still exists on grounds brilliant individuals and talented minds ready and willing to play a major role in the reconstruction of the country. At that youth conference I saw highly educated young folk frustrated with the start-stop nature of education establishments and the arduous process that one has to go through to get things done in the nation and these are things I feel can be readily addressed and corrected. It was particularly encouraging to see because there is a general belief that it will take Africans in the diaspora to return to implement changes in Africa. While this is already happening, Africa lies in danger of inheriting all the ailments and the shortcomings the West portrays as it simply reinforces Western ideals, values and culture at the expense of its own.
In fact, one of the topics covered in the symposium was the differences between culture and religion. This was a particularly prickly topic and also one that is very relevant in Nigeria. The majority of Nigerians are either Muslim or Christians with a few that still practice traditional African religions. The trouble is religion and cultures are deeply intertwined and it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Hence, the question that remains to be answered is “How do we promote our African culture without being at odds with our modern choice of religion?”
This trip was really an eye opener for me; it demonstrated that there are progressive governments in the nation. Yes the problems still exists and are well documented. But rather than sit in the comfort of our houses in the West enjoying what the Western founders have worked hard to develop for their descendants while we continuously highlight the negatives we need to collectively come up with solutions to fix the problems in Africa. This is how I feel ‘Africa MUST give’.