The young shall grow

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The title and statement of this column three weeks ago was on leadership. I stated and discussed the failures of present-day leadership and the near to total collapse of our leadership structure. Since this column was read by so many and it generated subsequent conversations, it has become clear to me that not only has the leadership failed, the followership and the young generation have also failed.

Therefore, there is the need to begin a serious conversation on how to remedy the situation before we become unable to govern and ungovernable. With all these in mind, I have chosen to borrow the operational name from the popular transport company that commutes major routes in the country as the title for this week’s article.
In almost all parts of the East and West, the name you give your transport company determines the caliber and class of commuters that you transport. Most of these names are written on the vehicle; in front, on the sides, and at the back. Examples of some of these very descriptive names are “The sea never dry”, “No condition is permanent”, “We shall return” and so much more. Some people believe that the name of the transport company you choose to patronise can influence the success or failure of your entire journey. To a learned man, this is simply a superstitious belief and not backed by concrete facts, but there are certain schools of thought who have sewed these superstitious ideologies deep into the fabric of their lives. To further drive home my point, I am reminded of a joke that was told to me by Professor Iweala, the husband of Professor Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at his residence in Washington DC. My daughter and I were invited to dinner and after we were treated to some delicious Nigerian cuisine and tasteful wine, he told a joke that went like this:

 “The average young Igbo trader transiting from apprenticeship to leadership position travels to Lagos on a regular basis to purchase his commodities for sale or distribution to consumers. Some of these commodities may be on the banned list but with hope of getting to Lagos safely to make these purchases, it is safer for him to travel with ‘THE YOUNG SHALL GROW’ transport company because it guarantees him the safety of the money he’s carrying and, on his return, he patronizes ‘OSONDE’ transport. Osonde in Igbo means ‘run for your life’ and, coincidentally, the Osonde transport system has a way of transporting the young Igbo trader to their territories without being harassed by security agents at checkpoints. When the young Igbo trader arrives safely in his territory, he will then patronize services of ‘EKENE DILI CHUKWU’ Transport Company, which translates to ‘Glory be to God’. Finally, when he crosses the River Niger to his home territory, he boards the ‘IFESINACHI’ bus, which means ‘God is Good’ in Igbo.”

There were days when there was a culture of succession. A culture that today’s leaders, especially in commerce, were developed in, unlike what we seem to have today, where the young are not prepared to walk through succession to leadership positions and the old are not ready to relinquish control of these leadership positions.
I have always been committed to succession as that is the real test of any leader. Leaving behind a path that others can tread on and go further than you could ever go is the real definition of success. With this realisation, following the awareness my three expeditions made in the area of climate change and the environment, we in FADE Africa decided that my fourth expedition would be different. We instead developed it into a reality TV show called “Desert Warrior,” where 44 men and woman would cross the desert with me into Agadez, Niger Republic. The show was mainly to test young men and women interested in making a difference in the environment by subjecting them to exercises that would test their endurance and prepare them for the difficult world that we all face today.

Prior to the fourth expedition, the third also ensured youth participation was at the forefront of the expedition. The actions of the Lagos State government at this time on greening the city and raising environmental awareness coincided with plans for my third expedition, which was in full swing. Governor Fashola sent his representative, Dr. Muiz Banire, the Honourable Commissioner for the Environment, to the launch the “Desert Warriors.” The expedition involved seven young men and women driving from Lagos through the Sahara Desert to London.

It was due to the success of the expedition and the impact it had on the youth in educating them about the dangers of desert encroachment and degradation of our green life that we decided to create a reality show to further propagate the campaign.

The Desert Warrior reality TV show in Agadez was a desert boot camp environmental protection task-based television show designed to educate and inform the viewing audience, as well as participants on the dangers of climate change, desertification and illegal migration from the North.

Our journey started on February 2, 2010. We were flagged off by Governor Fashola who was accompanied by the Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Banare and Dr. Titi Anibaba, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry. There were 44 contestants in total, 18 support staff (media personnel, medical staff, officials from the Ministry of Environment) and five FADE officials.

The contestants in the reality show were very hands-on and showed a lot of determination. They vigorously pursued their daily tasks, which included early-morning fitness training, search-and-find assignments, car handling skills and Man O’ War activities. Some of these tasks proved very demanding for the contestants. Others were downright dangerous and had to be scrapped or modified.

In addition to competitive tasks, the contestants were also engaged in some community services. Some of the tasks were: tree planting, land reclamation, and animal husbandry.

The Desert Warrior reality show was a huge success. My office received telephone calls for months from many interested Nigerians with all types of questions. Many young men and women were curious about when registration for next year’s show would begin.

Due to the success of the reality show, we considered making it a yearly event but due to the insurgencies that erupted across Africa around the period, we had to put it to a stop. Still, many of the young people who were a part of the show have gone ahead to begin their own initiatives: my dear friend, Kabiyesi Kosoko, who owns a museum in Ikorodu, Lagos State, where he preserves relics from the desert. Others pursue a career in the environment.

However, the same can’t be said of everyone, as some only participated for the thrill and adventure, which isn’t bad in itself but does nothing to advance the cause. Many young people I speak with are interested in becoming entrepreneurs someday and hiring staff to work for them. Yet some of this same group of young men and women are not willing to work for anyone or act very lackadaisical at their place of employment. Before the student becomes the master, the student must go through various phases of training to sharpen his skills and prepare him for the position of leadership. How can you teach if you have not learned? How can you walk if you have not crawled?

The young shall indeed grow. My hope is that the young are unapologetic about developing an insatiable thirst for knowledge and determined to be disciplined students through the process of growth.

The young must begin by taking a leaf from the recent writing by Bashorun J.K. Randle and his concern for the Nigerian project. He believes that the present generation of leaders has misdirected the population due to severe head injuries.

The young must, therefore, bring out their brains, have them examined and, if needed, cured of head injuries inflicted by years of misrule and bad examples.

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