On the third day which was also to be the last day, we opened up with the theme of “The Role for the Future Leaders”. Starting with a December 2009 speech by another former US Ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa, Ambassador Princeton Lyman, titled, “The Nigeria State and U.S. Strategic Interests”, Lyman suggests that rather than continually emphasize Nigeria’s strategic importance, it would behoove us to consider elements that might eventually lead to Nigeria’s irrelevance on the international stage.
He questioned the importance of the oft-repeated assertion that one in five Africans is Nigerian. To quote Lyman, “What does it mean that one in five Africans is a Nigerian? It does not mean anything to a Namibian or a South African. It is a kind of conceit. What makes it important is what is happening to the people of Nigeria. Are their talents being tapped? Are they becoming an economic force? Is all that potential being used? And the answer is “Not really.”
Debate around Lyman’s speech was animated, with most acknowledging his assertions, while some though agreeing that Lyman touched on several truths that we Nigerians ourselves continually rehash, saw his definition of a country's "relevance" as largely being limited to such country's relevance to the US (and the West), which is naturally to be expected from someone who has spent most of his productive life promoting US interests.
A 2008 article by Dele Olojede on a trip he took across Nigeria on his return from the US after spending 21 years away from Nigeria epitomizes the decay in infrastructure that Nigeria suffers from, as evident in the bad roads, and an abandoned railway infrastructure.
The Seminar ended with participants pledging to undertake a group project that will have a meaningful impact on Nigeria's future. Some of the projects that resulted from the 3-day seminar include Standup Naija; a grassroots election education campaign using impactful videos to highlight the expectations of average Nigerians in each state of the federation.
I elected to join the SGB Network which is a programme where NLI Associates partner with Government’s entrepreneurship scheme (and other credible partners) to provide a network of skilled business professionals who offer technical services to entrepreneurs. This aligned with my oft-repeated belief that Africa's problems are not going to be solved by governments or large multinationals, rather the solutions are going to come from the new wave of young men and women, armed with a burning resolve, and enabled by global networks developed through ICT; these are the people I refer to as Afropreneurs.
I left Lagos, eager to leave the power blackouts behind, with more questions than answers, but I left with a renewed sense of hope, a new network of young and passionate Nigerians, with whom I had developed a strong bond over those long hours of discussions and debates.
Though most of the participants were products of Ivy-League colleges and mostly from the USA and the UK, we all shared the common traits of having made great impacts in our various fields, we had all touched lives in our different locales, and we all had a burning desire to do right by Nigeria; we had all become part of the NLI family, united by shared ideals of values-based leadership.
As I fought my way through Customs at the Muritala Airport , explaining why I would not dole out some naira notes to avoid them screening the food I was carrying back to Houston, and why I had more than five pieces of the local attire, I felt a renewed sense of commitment to continue the process of envisioning a positive future for Nigeria and to wonder if rather than moving towards the brink ,like Ambassador Campbell had predicted, we had laid the foundation that would move Nigeria to join the BRI(N)C countries (Brazil, Russia, India, Nigeria?, China).
As I finish writing this, it is almost midnight, October 1 in Nigeria, and my country of birth would be turning 50. I have decided to follow the advice of my friend, Tolu Ogunlesi, 2009 CNN Africa Journalist of the Year, and also a graduate of the Future Leaders class in commemorating the 50th anniversary. I will offer one minute of silence in memory of the great things that Nigeria could have become, followed by one minute of applause for what she has overcome.
Idris Ayodeji Bello, a Social ‘Afropreneur’ (social entrepreneur with an African focus) with extensive experience in agriculture, technology, project management, consumer goods marketing (Procter & Gamble), and energy (Chevron USA) resides in Houston, Texas, where he is a 2011 MBA Candidate at the Jones Business School, Rice University.