by Wilfred Okiche
Chude Jideonwo is a writer, journalist, media entrepreneur and social advocate. His new book ‘Are We The Turning Point Generation?’ will be launched officially today at the Federal Palace hotel. He speaks with YNaija about his passion for the Nigerian youth, why this generation may or may not be the turning point as well as his business interests.
Enjoy excerpts from the conversation.
‘Are We The Turning Point Generation?’ is such a huge title. Does the book answer this question?
I hope that it does, I don’t even think it is a question that can be answered with one book alone. One of the issues I raise is that we are fond of looking for solutions and answers to questions that we have not asked properly. It is the most important question that our generation should be asking. Are we able to do anything different from those who have come before us? Do we have the circumstances to have different results? I do not think that I alone can answer that question. Any society with the will power and enough of an empowered citizenry can be. Nigeria especially can, because we are in a time of unprecedented change and power is now in the hands of young people in terms of the capacity to influence how leaders think or behave and in terms of the capacity to mobilize and organize without the traditional tools of power. The generation by itself will not change the country, we are not born with an anointing to do so. It is our readiness and capacity to take advantage of the tools that we have at the moment that will make the difference. Do I think it is possible, do I know it is possible? Yes. Do I trust that it will be done? Some days I feel very hopeful, other days I think not.
You have the other platforms of reaching out and making your ideas heard, why this book and why now?
First I did not plan to write the book, now this does not mean that I didn’t want to write it. I remember in 2010 when I decided to form EnoughisEnough Nigeria to demand good governance. Before then, my work with The Future Project and The Future Africa Awards was focused on leadership; breeding new generations of leaders and building enterprise. And before then, I had always assumed that Nigeria would develop in spite of Nigeria. I was sitting with my friend Chris Ihidero when he said that he did not see how we could change the country without government. So I became closer to the issues; big government, elections, accountability. I worked closer with government at different levels and saw how things were done, after that I stepped back a bit and it looked to me like even though there was a lot of hope from 2011, it looked like it would be hope deferred. I withdrew from the public space for about a year and started reading widely; Why Nations fail, Nelson Mandela’s Long road to freedom, Lee Kuan Yew’s From third world to first world, I read them all. I ended my reading with Achebe’s There was a country and after reading that I was just sober. I don’t know how people could read that book and rush to write clichéd articles repeating the same things because the book made me so sober for weeks and years. I wanted to explore some of the issues that Achebe dealt with as much as I could in my limited knowledge, but for a new generation of Nigerians so I began to write something called the New Leadership Series published on the country’s leading online websites. It was a very difficult series but necessary because nobody else in my generation was trying to grasp the big picture. They got some interesting responses and when I was about to give up midway, I got mails from Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Gbenga Sesan urging me to publish a collection of these essays. So I thought, maybe I have the responsibility to finish this and by the second half of the series, I had begun to think seriously about publishing. What I am doing is starting a more comprehensive conversation that will inspire other young writers to ask these questions.
While grappling with these questions, were there any topics or themes that you left out?
I covered everything that I thought I could credibly. Also I wanted to limit it to my own experiences in terms of my work in business and civil movements, I used these as insights. Having said that, one thing I know I wanted to write about is the influence of money in our politics but I did not feel like I had gotten enough insight to speak on that issue and I did not have any unique insights to bring.
The whole youth movement is pretty big now and in some circles, it can be a hot, sexy thing to be a young Nigerian. Do you feel like your work with the Y! brands, The Future Africa Awards, The Future Project and EnoughisEnough started the whole movement?
People who did not grow up at the time that I did forget just how impossible Nigeria was during the tenures of Babangida and Abacha. I have been struggling to write an article for a few weeks now titled Will God punish Babangida and Abacha? As a reaction to Abacha’s son’s latest rant. Under Babangida, you were almost not permitted to dream because it felt like Nigeria was closed; the rich people in oil and drugs, then the rest. Under Abacha I felt like there wasn’t even a country, you weren’t part of it, just exist along the safe lines. Obasanjo might have been an imperfect vessel for our aspirations but when democracy came, there was a profound change. Nothing that Sunday Ehindero or Tafa Balogun or Alao Akala or even Goodluck Jonathan has done in a democracy is half as bad as what these guys did to us, democracy changed all that. I wonder sometimes what I would have done if I came of age at that time. Would I be as brave as the Dele Momodus and the Kunle Ajibades? I am lucky to have come of age at this time when there is unprecedented freedom. Even after democracy came, for a while all you heard about young people were youth unrest, advanced fee fraud, youths leaving the country. If you listen to the national conference, they keep talking about youth unrest because they do not know that there is a Jason Njoku somewhere. They have never heard of Linda Ikeji or Gbenga Sesan. It was years later that Chimamanda called it the danger of a single story. It is true many young people were lined up to leave the country but it wasn’t the only story, certainly wasn’t the most important. I thought someone has to capture this narrative and drive it actively so it continues to inspire a generation of people. To see that explosion and hearing people like Seun Onigbinde, Japheth Omojuwa talk about how they were inspired by TFAA brings me to tears at times. I am very glad to see it grow, to see Nigeria like this. To see that ripple effect is so important and I am so glad for it but the walk isn’t even half done.
But is it something that you take credit for?
I always say two things. One is that the work of a change maker is never done. Two is that much can be accomplished if you do not care who gets the credit. When we started, we were just doing stuff. It is only when I try to look back to track my story that it even occurs to me, all the things I have done. Studio magazine in Italy hosted me recently and they called me the poster boy of Nigeria. I was sceptical, thinking it a rather big title but the editor began to point to me the reasons why. And I thought oh! yes that is actually my story and I am proud of it. I do not go around taking credit because things work faster when you live that way. But I am very proud.
You have achieved quite a number of things and are poised to do even more. What gets you out of bed every morning?
The fear of poverty. Poverty of influence, of ideas. I am a spiritual person so when I see people attack me, I know what they are after, my capacity to speak out, to influence. That ability to call people together to do things. I want to galvanise people to make things happen. The day I cannot do that anymore, that is a crisis, the worst poverty of all. I look at people like Pat Utomi, Gamaliel Onosode who aren’t necessarily the wealthiest people but can be called upon to achieve things and make projects happen. I want to be that person that has the influential wealth as well as financial wealth to do big things. Money is good and I want to make money, I am making money but it is not so much about the wealth but what it can help me achieve.
You have been audacious in your achievements – interviewing a sitting president, launching a pan-African brand, taking on ministries and blue chip companies as clients – all this before you’ve turned 30. Who do you think you are?
I am very impressed by people who find it easy to define themselves. I have never been able to do that, in fact, I don’t think of such things. What I think is that when I am 60 and have slowed down a bit, then I can define myself. I just like to do things that I think are right at that time. Everything that I have done has been to solve a problem, from YNaija to EnoughisEnough. I didn’t know where it would lead me. I know that I am a storyteller and people do not believe how that figures in all of the work that I have been doing but it does. So short of being a storyteller, I don’t think I can explain who I am beyond that. By the time I have finished doing a bunch of things, in the next 10 years then maybe I can define who I am, It is an ongoing process. I have never met Ashish Thakkar in my life, he is on the cover of Y! Africa magazine. Jamie Drummond just joined the global board of TFAA, he founded One.org with Bono. All of this is not a desire to be influential, but just to solve immediate problems. I don’t know where my story is going to lead me.
What are the things you want to do but have not yet come around to?
A television channel for young people discussing the issues that matter is on the top of my list but I don’t know how many years it would take. My career started in television and I never expected to be outside of TV today. I am studiously watching what Oprah is doing with OWN and I am learning from her successes and failures. It is not her most profitable ventures but I guess she is struggling with it because it is what she really wants to do. I also would love to open a newspaper so I can take my message to remote people who do not have access to the internet or YNaija.com. On a personal level, everyone in church thought I was going to be a singer, then a part of me wants to write a novel and I have been struggling with one story for 6 years now. A side of me also wants to be in Christian ministry but the thing is, I am never dissatisfied with the fact that I have not done them yet.
The Future Awards evolved into a continental affair last year and then Y! Magazine followed suit. How much of his expansion is organic and how much of it is you making smart business decisions based on the fact that in many ways, business wise, Africa is now a country?
Some of this is very practical and I have to think like a business person. I used to quarrel with those who group Africa as a country because it isn’t but I have studied these businesses that look at Africa as a market. What they do is extend their influence and build up a capacity to do more because many of our problems are interconnected. Having that network increases your capacity to influence people and places. How can we connect them and tell these stories? I want to capture these stories and build a network that can inspire people. I want a media platform that can connect these dots and enable more collaborations. I am inspired by imperfect vessels like Paul Kagame, Ellen Sirleaf or John Kuffour who are all Africans. I want to tell a different story of Africa to Africans. That is my angle.
Was it a case of the magazine following TFAA and are your other brands going to follow suit
All of the brands are basically African now. The communication arm Red Media was the first to do so and we have had international clients like BlackBerry. I have started to understand my destiny as an African and so it was easy for TFA to follow suit. Subconsciously this has been happening one after the other. We did not all go together because this is a business that has grown organically with no debts, no loans so this expansion has been gradual.