Stewards of ideas whose time has come

by Oluseun Onigbide

This powerful paragraph from Autobiography of Martin Luther King, one of my favourite books creates leaps of joy in me:

“O God, help me to see myself in my true perspective. Help me, O God, to see that I’m just a symbol of a movement. Help me to see that I’m the victim of what the Germans call zeitgeist and that something was getting ready to happen in history; history was ready for it. And that a boycott would have taken place in Montgomery, Alabama, if I had never come to Alabama.Help me to realize that I’m where I am because of the forces of history and because of the fifty thousand Negroes of Alabama who will never get their names in the papers and in the headline. O God, help me to see that where I stand today, I stand because others helped me to stand there and because the forces of history projected me there.And this moment would have come in history even if M. L. King had never been born.”

In the quote by Martin Luther King, I deliberately boldened some parts so that it can truly resonate with me regarding the work we do at BudgIT. There was a time when I worried a lot about the future of BudgIT. I wondered: Where are we going? If someone disrupts what we do, will we end up as another footnote in the history of civil society in Nigeria?

Yet, one thing has always been clear to me: I am only a steward of this idea.  Someone else would have done this if we did not do it or we stopped doing it well. Just as God humbled Elijah with the evidence of 7,000  prophets in Israel when he was feeling fly that he had not bowed down to Baal.

Many times, during the highlights of our journey, when we feel that we have struck gold with our sole efforts and network, we ask: how does a simple idea become so huge? How did this fellow try so hard and it never happened? As Mochievous aptly noted in a tweet: “When you realize that a lot of things in this life are about time and chance, you’ll be more at peace. Yes, hard work is important but being at the right place at the right time is much more important in your success story.”

If we see ourselves as stewards, we will understand that everything is just kept in our care for the service of other people. This thinking will help us approach life with a lot of humility and understand that we are just playing our role in the theatre of life. Martin Luther King believed that if he was born 50 years later, he might not be the torchbearer of the non-violent movement. I believe new ideas are produced through a combination or reinvention of old ideas or context and while it floats in the air, we have just been gracious enough to be chosen to set a new path. It is the wisdom crafted in the words of Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart,“those whose palm-kernels were cracked by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.”

Like this, BudgIT won’t have existed if Tesla did not build alternating current or the Internet did not emerge in the 1990s. What if there was no social media – Facebook, Twitter – to propagate our work or Abubakar Abdulsalam held on to power with cruelty and did not allow democracy to thrive? Where will we find the budget data that was only part of Sani Abacha’s New Year routine broadcast that began with Fellow Countrypeople? What if there was no Co-Creation Hub as Bosun Tijani chose to settle with a good life in the United Kingdom?

Ado, seeing things this way, always reminds me that I am just filling space in a  big pipe, that I am a “victim” of the Spirit of the times – zeitgeist. This whole idea would have existed without me. I should be more grateful and humble, it was an idea whose time came and I was just there, an available willing steward. I cherish the opportunity because, as a steward, I would be fully held to account.


Stewards. *Oluseun Onigbinde is the co-founder and Director of BudgIT, Nigeria’s civic organization. He is a recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship, Future Africa Awards, Quartz Africa 30 Innovators Award, Aspen New Voices Fellowship, Archbishop Tutu Fellowship, Melvin Jones Fellowship, Stanford Draper Hill Summer Fellowship and a 2018-19 Obama Foundation Scholar at Columbia University.

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