This week, on October 1st, Nigeria turned 54. It is a time for celebration and, in my opinion, somber reflection on where we have been and what direction this country is heading to. This year has been marked with some important and baffling experiences for my country. From President Goodluck Jonathan’s suspension of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the country’s Central Bank Governor in February to the 2014 National Conference that has released a report detailing a new path for Nigeria’s development and the possibility of 18 additional states to the federation, and from the kidnapping of the Chibok girls in April who are still missing to tackling one of the deadliest diseases on the planet, Ebola. In just 10 months this year, Nigeria has taken the brunt of some of the hardest issues to ever face a nation, and yet standing tall and proud.
We are marching towards the next Presidential election since Independence in 2015 and there is much to do in preparation. Are we going to finally learn from the mistakes of the past and do better? Is there much to hope for, or are we simply too busy making it to the next day to notice if “change has come?” Would the Presidential election be yet another example of an empty exercise of democracy…something to check off so we can stand on the international stage among other nations whose citizens have bled and died for theirs? What are we, as Nigerians, prepared to stop doing so that future generations do not curse us for our neglect?
For me, I am doing my part to bring positive change to Nigeria. I am part of the growing trend of Nigerians in the diaspora who have decided to return home to work, to reconnect with family, and to put their efforts, no matter how small, into changing this country for the better. Coming home in January this year after 18 years away was a bittersweet experience for me; I had no real expectations for anything. As I packed my bags and said goodbye to friends, family, and work back in the United States, I gave myself permission to be truly open to Nigeria, to set aside lofty goals, to accept whatever challenges and triumphs may come my way, and to apply myself wholeheartedly to whatever I find myself doing here. I promised myself nothing and left open everything to chance.
I work in the development sector and this has given me the opportunity to experience first-hand some of the real challenges facing this country. Working directly with other development organizations has made me realize the tremendous gap in capacity and resources faced by so many organizations that want to do well but cannot. The development sector in Nigeria is one that is simultaneously blessed and cursed by the international aid industry. It is a vicious cycle where both sides are slowly realizing their mistakes and grudgingly making amends so that we do not kill the thing that we love by accident – Nigeria. And by this I mean aid organizations must make room for more home-grown solutions to problems and seek the opinions of those they profess to help more often, and for local CSOs working in the field, we cannot continue to gloss over our inefficiencies and weaknesses and yet demand treasures.
My work is focused on creating economic opportunities for citizens of the Niger Delta and in every community that I go to, almost everyone laments about the challenges faced by and created by the youth. The youth are at the center of the problem and also the possible solution to the problem, if handled correctly.
A recent report by Salon put Nigeria as one of the youngest nations on Earth, with a median age of 18.2. Of this segment, the majority are unemployed or underemployed. Writing for the Guardian last year, John Podesta, director of the progressive Center for American Progress, warned that youth unemployment is a “global time bomb”, as long as today’s youth remain “hampered by weak economies, discrimination, and inequality of opportunity.” He may not have been speaking directly about Nigeria, but the point still holds that unless we do something now about providing systemic and sustainable employment for the youth, Nigeria is headed nowhere good, fast.
As the new team lead for Vote of Quench, I cannot escape focusing on the challenge of addressing the question of what to do with the youth – if we can offer solutions, bring people together to engage diplomatically, and be a catalyst for change, then we would have done our part. Vote or Quench is, at the core, a virtual organization with a social platform of connecting like-minded Nigerians everywhere on issues that matter to them. Amplifying the voice of the youth is a critical strategic step for us, one that holds immense promise and a challenge I know we can tackle successfully. I am fortunate to belong to a team of young people who are passionate about Nigeria and committed to doing whatever they can, no matter how small, to effect change for the positive. Being around them and their energy gives me the strength to continue in my “day job” even when the challenges there seem insurmountable.
My first year back in Nigeria is almost over, and a big part of me cannot wait for next year. Despite the daily frustrations of living in Nigeria (and oh, there are many!), I have to admit that Nigeria has opened her heart to me and I must return the favor. I am putting on my armour and awaiting the challenges ahead because I am confident in the team here at Vote or Quench and there are thousands in the trenches in Nigeria fighting the good fight that need our support. We invite you to come along with us on this journey in shaping a better future for our great nation Nigeria.