• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

‘Today’s youth can redefine Nigeria, Africa from past failures’

businessday-icon

Q:Lessons of life at 50

A:I would say that life’s greatest lesson for me is that with God, all things are possible to them that believe! It means that with the support of God, strong sense of fundamental life values and access to quality education, there is no limit to what the child of the poor can accomplish. That, after all, is my story. As the daughter of parents who had only modest means but both of whom were strongly anchored on God and went ahead to raise us to imbibe strong life values, my siblings and I grew up appreciating the necessity to place honesty above gold, to be sacrificial, to be diligent in service, to constantly thirst for knowledge and to cherish hard work. In so doing, I further learned that purpose, service, sacrifice and self-discipline are powerful weapons for building a life of impact. My parents’ life taught me that the greatness of a person does not consist of abundance of substance that they possess and gladly I have lived that way too. I am mobilising family and friends to sign up to become catalysts and partners of a new foundation that will take up the cause of helping to rescue public education in our nation considering how important quality public education remains the most effective means through which the poor can achieve economic and social mobility anywhere in the world.

Humility as the essence of humanity 

Being humble should be natural to anyone who has been raised in my kind of background. Never forgetting where I have come from, one goes through life recognising that without grace none of the modest accomplishments would have been possible. In addition, one must always have a sense of perspective. The key one for me is that for as long as there are still so many people without the privilege of the kind of education that helped me achieve social and economic mobility, I have no right to engage in self-adulation. We are, after all, only as strong as our weakest link. There are too many weakest links as symbolised by several millions of children and young people who, regrettably, do not have anything close to the opportunity that sound public education gave me when I was their age. That alone is enough to keep me sober and humble.

Women empowerment is smart economics

It is absolutely important for women to be empowered because, first, they constitute half the population and so except a nation empowers the women, it will be trying to achieve development with only half of its human resources. So, we say that empowering women is “smart economics”. When women are educated, trained and empowered, they become effective participants in decision making at the family, workplace, community, state, national and global levels. Research has shown that families, companies and societies benefit more when this happens because women will make the right choices and decisions to improve the quality of life of children in issues of education, health and such like. The human and economic empowerment of women helps to enhance the productivity of women and fosters more inclusive growth thereby helping to reduce the level of poverty in any society. The empowerment of the girl-child boosts her self-esteem and makes her a capable citizen who will improve on the standard of life that their own mothers were unable to attain thereby making our society ever more progressive. The participation of women in the political and governance process helps to ensure that policy issues that are important to women and children are fully integrated into the priorities of governments at every level. In sum, empowering women is the wisest and smartest thing that every society can do to guarantee its own rapid progress. It must be seen as boost and benefit to everyone in society and not the present wrong notion that it is some “kindness to women”.

There is a difference between being bold and being proud

The key to tell the difference is to live a life of purpose. When you live a life of purpose, you will hardly have the time for arrogance because you are constantly busy trying to fulfil your purpose. Pride is a negative value attribute that any woman or man who wishes to continue to grow should eschew. My dad always inculcated in us that the more a person knows and attains, the more they come to realise that there is still so much they do not yet know. That realisation should naturally keep 

 

a person humble. I personally do not consider anything that I have accomplished as a justification for pride because my constant cry is not to miss the will and purpose of God for my life. What if everything a person has done and proudly shows off is actually not what God purposed for their life? Pride is offensive and destructive. One effective antidote to pride is to always remember God who gave us life and purpose in the first place and that without Him, tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone of us.

Challenges

I have faced challenges of different variations at different stages of life – relationship, professional and financial. So, I have faced similar challenges that the average person contends with. Putting our children through their education was, for example, a challenge when I took a major salary cut in order to serve our nation for six and a half years in various capacities. Each challenge in life comes with its own uniqueness and all one needs is to define boundaries that you are not willing to cross in attempting to resolve them. For me, one of my core philosophies of life is that my integrity is not negotiable. So when faced with the problems of our children’s education, one thing that helped me in surmounting was to remember that my parents never compromised their core values of integrity regardless of the hardship they suffered raising us. Once I framed my solution along that line, it was easier to make tough decisions and stick with them.

Passion for the youths and need for mentorship

My passion for the youths of our country and continent stems from my own personal sadness at the failure of mine and our senior generations in building a just and decent society that offers opportunities to our young people. I know that the protracted failure of our nation and continent to harness the exceeding human and natural endowment for development progress has stunted the growth of the youthful segment of our population. The collapse of our value system manifested in the endemic scale of corruption that reduced our nation to lowly performance. Our poor performance has in turn cost us the opportunity to rise like other nations and lift the living standards of most of our citizens. Yet, I believe that the youths of this generation have the best possibility of reversing this insalubrious record that they have been handed by generations ahead of theirs. This generation has the advantage of coming to adulthood in a world that is much more interconnected and guided less by national standards of what is fair, right, decent and just. Theirs is a generation that understands global competitiveness and the importance of knowledge in staying ahead. They are driven and ever striving to stay ahead. This generation has the tools of information and communication technology to aid their clamour for more transparent decision making in families, communities, corporations and the nation state. They were born into a season when Africa had begun to grow out of its colonial history, its several decades of experience of totalitarian military governance, its massive poor governance and corruption. This means that they operate as children of freedom – as people not encumbered by any of the previous crutches that help ours and other generations suffer. They are a strongly opinionated generation and frankly very irreverent to authority except when it is earned. All these suggest that they have most of the variables needed to redefine Nigeria and Africa from their past failures. If they stayed true to critical core values of purpose, service, sacrifice and hard work, they could actually be Africa’s Turning Point Generation. Those in the older generations that they respect for their values, excellence in profession and enterprise are the mentors that can complement their efforts at becoming the leaders of a new nation, a new Africa, a new globe in which an African child can also be the best in any field of endeavour like those of other continents. Being one who adores the ‘can do’ attitude of youth, I am passionate about them and glad to be a mentor to so many of them across the continent and beyond.

What I would like to change about Nigeria if I had the opportunity

One thing I would change is the current pervasive embrace of negative values in our nation. I would mobilise our citizens to agree to define a new norm for our nation. We are all less than all we can individually and collectively be simply because we permitted those without an iota of respect for essential fundamental values that built all decent societies around the world to tragically redefine our values toward all things negative. We over time became a society of people that celebrates and rewards what used to be called bad. This perversion has cost us our greatness as Nigerians and Nigeria. We therefore need a new Nigeria with a new set of core values, shared vision, ethos and beliefs. It is urgent for our society to terminate the current climate of national acceptance of corruption and celebration of ignoble riches. It is urgent to bring back the culture of hard work; the value of honest effort and the celebration of those who have achieved only through honest work. It is urgent to enthrone public accountability and for citizens to demand transparency and good governance. Other key things like policy, investments and creation of credible institutions can easily be assembled for our development once we can, as a people, lay down a strong value foundation for our new Nigeria. Once we can agree as a family of people that we will all only embrace good behaviour, that good behaviour will be rewarded and that bad behaviour will be sanctioned so that it no longer pays to engage it, we would have repositioned ourselves for rapid development and progress.

There is hope for Nigeria

To everyone who is despondent about the future of Africa, lift your chin and allow the juice of optimism to flow in them. This is because I am confident that this will be Africa’s century! Yes, Africa will claim this century and this is not a mere wishful talk. The evidence is there that the continent has actually in the last decade started to turn the corner from its previous protracted failure of the many decades after independence in the 60s. It may not yet be evident that Africa is growing economically and doing much better considering that every year 7-9 million young people join the labour market in Africa and only less than 10 percent of them will ultimately find jobs in economies that are not rapidly expanding as they are growing. Yet, one thing is clear: African countries that will strike out from the pack and enthrone democratic traditions, place economic governance and accountability at the centre of decisions on the economy, pursue sound macroeconomic and structural transformation policies and build credible institutions will achieve real economic development that benefits a large number of their citizens.

What I would want to be remembered for

Perhaps to be remembered as one individual who never rested from doing all she could to support others less privileged than her to have the same or better opportunities to realise their potentials. Though, I prefer to place more focus on ensuring that I am fulfilling the purpose for which I was created. The reason is that I was brought up to never worry about human validation because it tends to be based on incomplete information. My dad made us realise that the validation that should matter to us is the one that God who sees all that we do, both in private and in public, will give us when we approach His throne of accountability. I am therefore constantly depending on grace to help me fulfil purpose and please God. In the course of fulfilling God’s purpose for my life, it is quite possible that my acts would have impacted on different persons in various ways. Now, they, and not me, will determine how I am remembered. This belief system freed me from bothering about what people think of me but to simply always strive to do what is right and fair. For example, some of the people who have worked closely with me or close family friends have a better sense of my personality than those who barely know me. Over the course of my professional life in private sector, civil society and public sector, people say they remember my strength of character, discipline, candour, fairness, justice, sacrifice, public-spiritedness, courage, humility and modesty. On the negative side, I am considered to be very tough, impatient, too direct and too blunt! Truth is that I am, like most humans, a work-in-progress, and that means I never forget my dad’s counsel that we must focus on building our character instead of wasting our time trying to build a reputation. He said that character is the real you and reputation is what people think you are which may not necessarily be correct. So, for now I will keep giving of my best in multiple ways to help improve opportunities for those who deserve the kind of access to education that gave me, the child of a poor family, the meaningful life I have had as I recently turned 50

 

interview with KEMI AJUMOBI,