• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Three lessons from Ndidi Nwuneli’s rage for change talk


As a young graduate, I understand the importance of mentorship. But mentorship doesn’t have to always be hands-on and in-person. Some of my biggest role models have indirectly mentored me from afar with their articles, books, talks, works and personalities. I would consider Ndidi Nwuneli to be one of them. I am an avid watcher of Ted Talks and I believe that within certain spaces in Nigeria, it is so easy to miss out on thought-provoking conversations and positive life-changing ideas. This is because many people in those spaces do not read and have not developed the habit of constructive dialogue and engagement. It thus goes without saying that the long-term effects of this way of living on leaders and the next generation of citizens will be detrimental to the project of nation building and civil society development.

For those who haven’t had the chance to watch Ndidi Nwuneli’s Ted Talk on change or Chimananda Adichie’s recent talk on feminism in Nigeria, I challenge you to search for those videos on Youtube, watch them, and then share with your family members and peers. But for the benefit of those for whom watching Youtube videos is almost impossible because of internet connectivity issues, I will share my biggest personal takeaways from Nwuneli’s talk with you:

1) Entrepreneurship matters

With vast experience in non-profit work, Nwuneli has seen its value in our society. In Nigeria, NGOs have proliferated at an unprecedented rate. This should not be a bad thing in and of itself but as Nwuneli mentions, for-profits are equally and if not more integral to our economic growth as they create wealth and create jobs and through those twin acts help to tackle poverty and unemployment. Furthermore, with excess profits, one can then go on to fund more non-profit initiatives. As someone who has worked in various non-profit spaces, I have seen its limitations firsthand and took Nwuneli’s words as a wake-up call to all of us who want to serve humanity with our words and time and ideas, by assuring us that it is within our potential to also create sustainable wealth and that we owe it to ourselves and our country to realise that potential.

As an agricultural enthusiast, I was very excited to hear Nwuneli talk about the state of agriculture in Nigeria. She talked about visiting Guatemala – which was supposed to be a developing country like Nigeria – and being shocked to find that there were “no potholes, no police check points” and there was constant electricity. Interestingly enough, Guatemala is reportedly doing really well in the area of hunger and malnutrition as my article last week showed. This goes to show that better governance can make things happen for agriculture and development in Nigeria. As Nwuneli mentioned, one of the areas of growth is the area of local consumption. To this end, this inspiring woman is campaigning for a local food content bill, which will mandate farmers to buy local if they can find high-quality suppliers.

2) Anger fuels passion

This was perhaps the overarching theme of her talk – that anger is not always a bad thing and that we have to be angry enough about certain things in our country to get up and do something about them. This confirmed my belief that there is no substitute for engagement. I remember listening to my parents talk about Nigeria when I was growing up and share some of their frustrations with the system as well as ideas on how things could be improved. Needless to say, I inherited some of that passion – which became even more acute when I lost friends and classmates in the Sosoliso plane crash in 2005 – and went on to study the politics of development in the university. But there are many people with little interest in the Nigerian situation because they have been shielded from most of the disappointments of development; and they never learned about our national history in school; and their parents never sat down with them to talk about Nigeria or life or bought them books to read; and they have not done any independent exploration on their own. Nwuneli shared an anecdote about the time she asked a group of teenagers from well-to-do homes what made them angry about Nigeria and one of them answered, after a period of silence: “Man U fans make me angry.” It was evident that the point of her talk was not to point fingers at busy well-to-do parents or question the legitimacy of European sports teams but to emphasise that we must engage our teenagers more, at home, in schools, within the media, and with books, in order not to rob them of a more fulfilled and informed life, a life that can lead to leadership and creativity but most of all, to anger and to change.

What this means for those in the agricultural sector is that it is okay to talk about challenges and frustrations because that kind of interested anger can be translated into advocacy, engagement and even venture creation. So let us keep the conversations going but let us challenge ourselves to see that anger as a fuel for something better and then harness that energy into tangible results. For Nwuneli, that anger has led to many initiatives including the creation of AACE foods, an agribusiness and agro-processing company which seeks to displace imported food products with high-quality substitutes produced in Nigeria.

3) Teamwork/networking is important

At some point in her talk, Nwuneli alluded to the saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together”. If you are like me and are always racing against deadlines, going alone is sometimes the most efficient way of doing things as you don’t have to coordinate or convince anyone else to get a job done and only need to work with yourself. But at some point, you will get burned out and lose motivation and be sorely limited in your ideas and efforts. You will need the support ideas, efforts, expert or informed advice, stories, connections, and resources of others. And others will need yours as well. For this reason, it is important for us to be there for one another. No one individual has all the answers but together, we can really make big things happen.

So while we struggle with short-term goals, we must always keep the long term in mind. For farmers, cooperatives are not always a bad idea, especially when we can manage them, knowing that they will provide us with the most benefit. For big-time stakeholders, consultants, entrepreneurs, writers, students, people like me, networking is a must, and balancing that with individual responsibilities should be one of our short-term goals.

 In the end, our race will not be to the swift but to the committed and engaged, to the ones who believe in possibilities, to those who carry others along and to those who are angry enough to change the status quo for the better. 



Obasi is a syndicated columnist, co-founder of the Youth Consortium for Progress and one of the program managers for the Harambe Incubator for Sustainable and Rural Development (HISARD).

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