May 25, 2010 found me on my way to Lagos enroute Paris aboard an Air France flight. It was going to be my first trip in four years, and my second in all the seven years I had spent outside of Nigeria. My last trip in 2006 had been a business trip to deliver some training at the Lagos office of the energy company that I worked for.
Those seven years outside the shores of Nigeria had seen me always thinking and talking about Nigeria, spending every morning digesting the contents of Nigerian newspapers online, and weekends with friends lamenting the decline of the giant of Africa into the abyss of irresponsible leadership and a state of anarchy where nothing worked.
Every news item that came out of Nigeria seemed to bring another gloomy event, and I had gotten close to giving up on Nigeria when I received an invite early this year from the Nigerian Leadership Initiative (NLI) to participate in the May 2010 Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) Future Leaders residential seminar. The invite stated that “you have been invited to join 32 other highly motivated, high achieving successful young Nigerians from Nigeria and the Diaspora between the ages of 23-35 years who are believed to be uniquely qualified to influence the future development of the Nigerian society through values-based leadership. The 3-day seminar promises to provide an opportunity to sharpen your leadership skills and reflect on your role as a future Nigerian leader; as well as on the type of society you would like to see created in Nigeria. It will also, we hope, spur you to a commitment to action.”
As had become my attitude with all things Nigerian, I had learnt to take such promises with a pinch of salt. Every Nigerian leader in the past had promised heaven and earth, and had failed to deliver on their promises. Several programs had been spawned, with several visions, and they usually ended up as just talk shops.
Researching the program, I found that the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) was established in January 2006 by Mr. Segun Aganga, an M.D at Goldman Sachs U.K (now Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Board of the Bretton-Woods Institutes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)), while the founding Patron was Dr. Christopher Kolade CON, former Nigerian High Commissioner to the U.K and former Chief Executive, Executive Chairman and Chairman (non-executive) of Cadbury Nigeria Plc. On further research, the NLI prided itself as an international non-profit, non-partisan organization registered as a charity in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. It touted itself as a platform for credible, accomplished and uniquely patriotic Nigerians to develop and express values-based leadership skills with the aim of assuming a transformative role in the continuous development of Nigeria.
I was however especially drawn by its affiliation with the Aspen Global Leadership Network, which I was familiar with. I was also intrigued by its goal of blending the lines between citizenry and leadership to enhance engagement, moving Nigerians from “Thought to Action…Success to Significance“, so I had accepted the invite and decided to attend the seminar.
I arrived at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, the afternoon of May 26, and if anything, it appeared to be in a worse shape than I remembered four years earlier. On exiting from the plane, we were assailed with a blast of hot air, and I was horrified to learn that the air-conditioning in the airport had been out for a while. As if that was not enough, the escalators were not in working condition, and every one of us regardless of their physical condition had to drag their hand luggage down the escalator-turned-stairs. I did not even bother to ask if there were working elevators.
After an hour of waiting for my checked luggage, I finally left the airport happy that my luggage had all arrived in obviously good condition, which I had been warned not to take for granted. My mother-in-law was outside to pick me up ,and after some demands from some of the airport staff for what I had ‘brought’ for them, even if it was only chocolate, to which I replied I only had chewing gum, which to my delight was declined, we were off in Lagos traffic.
I had planned to spend the first night in Lagos with my in-laws as my seminar was not starting till the next day at noon. My in-laws had a palatial house located in the Bariga side of Lagos State. On our way home, I was able to confirm the good news that I had heard over the past 3 years of the wonderful performance of Lagos’s young governor, Babatunde Raji Fasola, and it gave me some renewed hope that things could still work in Nigeria. However, as we drove closer home, the roads around the Palmgrove-Ladilak route seemed to have missed the attention of the governor. I am not sure if the road is a federal, state or local road (as that can mean a world of difference in terms of what road is repaired), but I do know the ride closer home was really painful.
On getting home, there was no electricity, despite the promise to declare an emergency in the power sector by successive Nigerian leaders, but trust my in-laws; they were not going to allow NEPA (the electricity authority) to ‘disgrace’ them in front of their American son-in-law. They already had two generators lined up, and filled up with diesel (which had been procured after spending several hours in line)to ensure I did not spend the night in darkness, and had already taken precautions to ensure that my peaceful sleep was not interrupted by mosquitoes eager for all the good things in my ‘Texan’ blood.