In the last few months, a good number of the most brilliant, intelligent, brightest and hopeful young minds I’ve worked with in Nigeria, have relocated to Canada. Shortly after my campaign for the House of Representatives ended, two of the most impactful leaders on my campaign team—one a lawyer, and the other an IT professional/Tech enthusiast—got their Canadian visas in quick succession and took off. Not long after that, two of the best brand managers I’ve worked with in years followed suit. And then it was my favorite bank account manager and one of the most dependable members of the leadership team in my church—and those are just the ones who chose Canada.
A young fashion designer I know has given up hope on his dreams for his clothing line here and has opted to go and find a source of living in Dubai. The same goes for an artist in my football league and even as difficult as it is to get an American visa, we’ve lost the manager who handled all our sound, stage and lighting production requirements for most of the events we do at EME (Empire Mates Entertainment) to Atlanta. We also lost a Nigerian music business pioneer, one of the greatest artists/producers in the history of our industry, a close friend and frequent collaborator, eLDee The Don—he uprooted his family and moved to Atlanta as well. And just this morning, I discovered that one of the most loved and celebrated photographers has relocated to New York. The very definition of a brain drain is happening right before our eyes—and these are just the successful people.
The news has been rife with the attempts of less fortunate citizens who have tried to escape the country by any means possible. Sadly, some have ended up as slaves in Libya or prostitutes in parts of Europe while some have lost their lives by drowning in the ocean or starving in the desert. A couple of weeks ago, I read about some guys who hid in a ship they thought was heading to Spain and ended up in Ghana, and every other month, stowaways are caught at the airport trying to hide in the wheels or cargo sections of aeroplanes. As dangerous, absurd and insane as some of these attempts are, you can’t help but wonder how bad life must be for our people. A hungry man isn’t just an angry man, he’s a desperate man and this is how desperate some have become, that they’re willing to risk losing their lives for the chance to escape. For millions of our young people, the Nigerian dream now is one in which you survive Nigeria long enough to escape it.
Honestly, I can’t blame anyone for leaving. As a somewhat fledgling-but-mildly-successful entrepreneur, I have firsthand experience in the extreme difficulty any young person faces in trying to get a dream or business off the ground and keep it afloat in an environment where the odds seem stacked against you. But there’s a sense of urgency and responsibility that engulfs me, a certain burden and motive that drives me to keep going, grinding, and pushing and I suspect it’s the same for most of Nigerian small business owners. It’s no longer just about creating wealth or comfort for yourself and your family; you become acutely aware of just how many people depend on your success. When that dawns on you, and you realise how many lives are completely dependent on the success or failure of your ideas, you become more desperate for them to work. Most of us have become a kind of mini-Government-meets-Charity for our employees. You end up paying salaries and school fees, medical bills and rent assistance, car loans and pretty much anything else that comes up. God forbid that my businesses crumble today, over sixty salaried employees (and their families by extension) would immediately lose their source of livelihood, not to mention the hundreds of other part timers, vendors, suppliers and contractors who we interface with and give work to on a regular basis. Success in Nigeria has thus become much more than a want or desire, it has become a need—a responsibility.
Take a glance at our rapidly increasing population numbers, you will immediately see that the overwhelming number of young people, combined with a lack of jobs that would give them a chance to earn a decent living, means that unemployment just might be the biggest threat to our national security. It is the dominant obstacle—the biggest hinderance to our safety and stability as a country. I believe that the solution to unemployment lies in our ability as a country to empower small businesses. The reality is that “Big Business” can only hire so many people. If you put all the banks in the country together, for instance, that’s not going to equate to 500,000 jobs in a country of over 200 million people. But if we can empower entrepreneurs—and there’s an unlimited number of Nigerians with ideas for businesses—each small business owner can hire between 5 to 100 people and just maybe then, we would stand a chance at rescuing the country.
The primary responsibility to rebuild Nigeria falls squarely on the shoulders of those of us who—whether by destiny or by decision—have remained here. The Nigeria we have is the only one we’ve got, so we should either do our best to make it work or accept things for what they are and watch it all burn. However, the latter isn’t an option for me because while I can live with trying and failing, I can’t live with not trying. Over the years, that’s what some of us have done. While many are content to talk and tweet, we’ve tried our best to improve the situation of things in the country, whether by protests or by participation in politics. I’ve spent every year since 2009 trying to play my part in the country I’d like to see. In 2009, it was the “Light Up Nigeria” campaign, in 2010, it was the “Enough Is Enough” protest. In 2011, we began the RSVP (Register-Select-Vote-Protect) movement, which is still ongoing until today. We were at the front lines during “Occupy Nigeria” in 2012, not because fuel subsidy wasn’t an issue, but because we were trying to seize the moment and draw the country’s attention to wasteful spending in government, and a host of other issues with our national budget and politicians in power. Over the years, we’ve held numerous voter mobilisation rallies and toured the country to encourage young people to resist being used for electoral violence. We have led campaigns to inspire our generation to resist selling our votes and mortgaging the future. The countless initiatives, speeches at conferences, activism attempts and issue-or-policy-driven protests I’ve been involved in over the years, all culminated in what I personally consider as my greatest act of protest—spending a significant amount of my time, money, energy and resources to run an independent campaign in the 2019 elections, for a seat in the National Assembly—knowing fully well the almost insurmountable odds that stood in our way.
I knew what it would cost me, and I knew our chances of winning, by most accounts, were slim-to-none. But I needed to prove a point. We may not have won the race, but we came pretty close. We may not have won that battle, but we gave the status quo a bloody nose. With no political pedigree or backing from any major party, we won in polling units and wards where it was previously unimaginable and I say this with the greatest sense of humility and responsibility, we pulled in greater numbers in our local constituency than some presidential candidates did nationwide. The goal was to show that it IS possible, that young Nigerians can get on the same side, punch above our weights, and disrupt the business-as-usual mindset that most of our political elites have. I said this many times on the campaign trail: “the problems in Nigeria are from the top down, but the solutions are from the bottom up.” Now more than ever, if we can just get a critical mass of young Nigerians, in select areas of the country, to bond together and make a pull for better representation in the legislature of our country, then maybe we would finally stand a chance to shift the needle and change the narrative for the better.
Mark Twain once said that, “Patriotism is loyalty to one’s country all the time, and loyalty to the government when it deserves it”. I stumbled upon that quote many years ago, and it immediately hit home. It resonated deeply within me and helped to inspire many of my decisions and actions over the years when it came to Nigeria. Whether it was by protesting policies or participating in politics, for me it was never about being on the side of any particular president or political party, it was always about attempting to be on the side of Nigeria.
I may not have won a seat, but I hope, and I believe, that we succeeded in planting a seed. I pray that the seed will inspire this generation of young Nigerians to shake off decades of apathy and try again to get involved, to restart and rebuild.
I hope I leave you, the reader, with the dogged determination that in every aspect of your life, and in your area of influence, you will do your best to try. I hope you realise that in this country with over 200 million people, you are the answer to someone’s prayer and the solution to someone’s problem. I hope you recognise that you were created to do something special and specific and I hope that you find out what it is, go after it and never give up on it. That has been my story, and as I close, I hope I leave you determined to do as I did.
May you find joy in your journey and a reward in your reaching.
May you never stop learning, and as you do, never stop teaching.
In life, or in love,
In school, work or society,
In visions and ventures,
In the pursuit of purpose, and the rebuilding of nations…
Inevitably, you will win some and lose some.
On some days you’ll find that you’re falling, and on other days you’re flying
But until that fateful day when you know that you are dying
I pray that you never stop trying.
God bless Nigeria. God bless us all
- An excerpt from an upcoming book on EiE – Footprints: Past, Present, Future.