Sooner or later, ordinary Nigerians are going to take a stand. Better still, they’re going to take a risk.
Last week I received an incredibly inspiring message from a 21-year old student friend of mine – Charles Oben – about his application for an internship at an international communications agency. He had initially sent his CV with a cover letter two months prior but when he didn’t hear from the company for a month he sent a polite reminder. However, another three weeks went by without a response – so he decided to take a huge – albeit calculated risk.
He wrote a long email directly to the CEO in the guise of the so-called ‘resident behavioural psychologist’ at his university, saying that their student (Charles) was suffering from ‘longing syndrome’: a rare condition where the patient loses interest in all activities, including basic personal hygiene, as they expectantly await the arrival of an important event or thing. The letter, which was sprinkled with tongue-in-cheek humour throughout, implored the CEO to get in touch with Charles and end his suffering. Three days later, he was invited for an interview.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this story. An English proverb goes: “A hero is a man who is afraid to run away.” Simply put, here’s a young man who refused to give up, proving that going out on a limb does pay. With countless decades of Africa’s irresponsible governments fostering a continental attitude of mass resignation, taking risks is something most of us have forgotten how to do.
It’s sad but it’s true. For as long as we can remember, both in Nigeria and right across the continent, our so-called leaders have used a heady mix of despotism, dictatorship, greed and corruption to constantly lower our expectations and make us feel impotent about our lives. We have been bullied into accepting that no matter how hard we try, things will never change. We’ve been cajoled into a complacent corner, utterly unwilling to complain about a situation or to try to alter it, even when things are clearly wrong.
However, a story like Charles’ reminds us that our fates are in our own hands, and that if we really want to succeed or make a difference we will have to do a Rosa Parks – even when the outcome is unexpected. Just think about some of the most successful stories in recent years and the lesson is clear: we need to rediscover our daring side.
Take 28-year-old Toyosi Akerele, the brain behind RISE Networks that organises the largest youth conference in Nigeria. Her willingness to thread paths few of her peers would (her philosophies include “hard work doesn’t kill” and “be persistent in getting what you want”) has taken her all the way from humble origins to Michelle Obama’s dinner table.
Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee led a women’s peace movement that brought an end to the second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Chinua Achebe, broke the mould by writing his first novel in English, he is now one of the continent’s most celebrated authors. Jay-Jay Okocha, used up all of his savings to travel to Germany in order to train with a third division club, today, he is known as one of Nigeria’s biggest sporting stars. “The Protester” made TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People 2011, the late Wangari Maathai defied a whole government to protect the environment and who hasn’t heard the tale of Nelson Mandela’s prison stint to presidency? In business, literature, sport, politics… in every area of life, those who succeed are those willing to take risks, to dare, to challenge the status quo.
This is why I’m heartened to learn that a second wave of the Occupy Nigeria movement is starting to gather pace. In January, a shared sense of injustice brought the masses out in protest against the rise in fuel prices, but these protests were predictably crushed by the heavy-handed tactics of the powers that be. However, for once, it doesn’t look like those powers will have the final word – sooner or later, ordinary Nigerians are going to take a stand. Better still, they’re going to take a risk.
Somewhere in Lagos, I listened as 27-year-old American millionaire and entrepreneurial icon Farrah Gray said “you should be ashamed to die without leaving a legacy…” and finally understood why doing unusual but amazing things is mandatory. Because fortune favours only the brave.
Over to you.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.