Increasingly, the consensus is that Nigerians like to talk, everywhere, every time and mostly about Nigeria. Whenever a few Nigerians are gathered for more than a few minutes, the discussion almost inevitably turns to the state of the nation and at times, being a Nigerian feels like an endless rant, with bits of life in between. For this reason, an event tagged ‘Conversations for Change’ immediately gets a roll of the eyes from those who feel like we should be acting, instead of talking. One person on my Twitter timeline even called it ‘another gathering of ranters and rantees’.
Except that it wasn’t. Guests at the event listened to young people who are busy trying to make change happen in their own way who came to share, and inspire others to action.
For instance, Bayo Omoboriowo went from wanting to end up in Shell or Chevron, to teaching during his youth service, and eventually taking pictures that tell compelling stories. Orondaam Otto left his job in a bank to get over a hundred children from Makoko into school. Tolu Sangosanya’s work at Ajegunle’s ‘Dustbin Estate’ may be more well known, and is just as powerful. Tosin Jegede plans to put a book in the hands of every child.
All the speakers have a few things in common: They became passionate about a cause, they moved from talking to doing by overcoming initial trepidation and fear of failure to make a difference to those around them, and they started with what they had.
Indeed, there are lots of initiatives started by young people all over Nigeria, but there are a lot fewer young people in politics. That’s why the presence of Pastor Kemela Okara, who was the Action Congress of Nigeria’s governorship candidate in Bayelsa in February, was important. He casts himself as an outsider who is getting involved in politics because of his passion for Nigeria. He asks more to do the same, and to move beyond conversations for change, to mobilising for change.
I put to him my opinion that the youth might need an alternative political platform, instead of joining existing structures. His response was that the platform does not matter, only that a person needs to get involved on his/her own terms, and bring something to the process that no one else can. He comes across as very knowledgeable, approachable and down to earth, and he seems to have his heart in the right place. May it remain so.
Timi Dakolo is one of those who uses the gift of music in the service of change, and he gave another amazing and passionate performance that got everyone on their feet. Few things have the power of music to stir the soul, and after he was done, the compere said he would love to hear Timi sing the national anthem. I couldn’t agree more. He is a blessing to this country.
Change comes in different forms, and Chude Jideonwo said it best: ‘pick a spot and start digging’. It also takes resources, and another key observation was how these young people got help from unexpected quarters, once they had made a commitment. The world stands aside for, and gets behind, a (wo)man who knows where (s)he’s going.
The best thing about Conversations for Change is that it brought together young people making a difference, connecting them to others in the process. As more bonds are formed and collaborations entered into, the chance of achieving even greater impact increases.
The Future Nigeria was a collaborator in making Conversations for Change a reality, as a lead up to The Future Awards in August. They have done a lot in the last 7 years to showcase all that is good about Nigeria, that all hope is not lost. Probably more than ever, we need this hope now.
In his book ‘A people’s history of the United States’, Howard Zinn wrote about the ‘countless small actions of unknown people’ that are the foundation for ‘those great moments’ that enter historical record. These small actions are happening all around us. May many more occur.