by Audu Maikori
My name is Audu Maikori, I hail from Kaduna state needless to say I am a Nigerian and I care about Nigeria for many reasons but the most important of them all is because I am a Nigerian –finish. Sometime last week I was invited for lunch with the President- this was not the first time- I recall that just before the Presidential elections I had received a similar invitation to dine with the President which I declined because I didn’t want to be roped into anything I didn’t quite believe in. At this stage I must also state that I had also been invited to speak with several aspirants to discuss youth engagement in the political systems which I declined because I did not believe in the capacity of any of the aspirants or their manifestoes (if any of them had) towards moving Nigeria ahead. So I declined.
Now prior to all this I was involved in the Enough is Enough staged youth march to force government to address key governance issues prevalent then from the Jos riots to the lacuna in Government during the ailment and absence of Late President Yaradua. On the day of the youth march, hundreds of Nigerian youth sat out in the hot pavements of Abuja, chanted songs and eventually overpowered and broke through the barricades of security men placed in front of the gates of the National Assembly to demand of justice, for accountability and also address the so called national representatives of Nigerians both in the Senate and the Junior house to no avail- they simply refused to come out of their air conditioned offices to speak to their constituents. People behind this movement were a cross section of some of Nigeria’s most intelligent, patriotic and hard working men and women. At a stage a mobile policeman threatened to shoot me if I didn’t stop moving towards the gates of the National Assembly and I refused to back down, i told him to go ahead and shoot, because frankly speaking I had lost my patience with the arrogance of government and its agents who use their position to “chance us” at any opportunity they found. You see I am a believer in standing up for your beliefs if you are sure of them. (Find pictures below) and no i wasnt trying to feel like a hero, i wanted to put my money where my mouth was.
People like Chude,Amara,Adebola,Alkassim, Yemi, Gbenga, and a host of musicians, actors and actresses were key to the planning and success of this protest which was repeated in Lagos a few months later with even larger numbers of youths in attendance. My point here is that aside from the huge sacrifice these youth made by using their voices, risking their lives, they actually contributed cash to print t shirts, accommodate some travellers, rent sound systems, mobilise young people for this great cause. The impact of that march was phenomenal because it was the first time we had public and private persons come out to speak with one voice against government and politicians. Ultimately the purpose of the youth march was for government to take notice of Nigerian youth as a force that had been ignored for too long and for them to take notice of our views and our opinions and stop the handedness. In other words we wanted them to HEAR US OUT!
Why am I going back to this? Because sometimes you need to know where one is coming from to get a sense of where they are going. Fast forward to a few days ago when I (among 400 or so other persons) received an invitation to have lunch with the President – the aim of the lunch was to share ideas with the youth on what they would like to see done during his renewed tenure. I was in addition asked to speak about employment a very important issue for any nation and I gladly accepted. many will ask why did you accept now and not then? My reason is simple this invitation was not to pledge my votes or alleginace but rather a rare opportunity to tell the President first hand our issues so i grabbed it.
My immediate thoughts were that at last we had a President who wants to at least hear what we thought- his implementing them or not is another matter- the key point is that at least he granted audience, which was in my opinion the first time that had happened since 1999.
So I prepared my speech and made sure it provided a clear balance.
On the first part I stated that employment can be better solved by making sure the environment for entrepreneurship bloom and not by creating ministries, agencies and parastatals. I highlighted Nigeria’s inbred entrepreneurial spirit and how collectively we can inspire more people to get out there and start off their business with support by the banks which would best be facilitated by the government through the right financial incentives and policies etc.
On Tuesday morning Amara informed me that I had to speak on two issues not one anymore i.e. electricity and employment because of a change in the program which led to them reducing the number of speakers at the lunch. Of course that completely threw off my carefully prepared presentation meaning that I had to reword it and I tried to do so on the plane trip to Lagos. My speech, its contents and how it was received by the public is another matter.
What is key is that I said what felt needed to be said, in summary as follows:-
- Electricity is even more important to Nigerian youth than employment because as natural born entrepreneurs if there is power Nigerians will always find a means of making a living especially since electricity powered most operations of any modern society. When I asked the youth which they preferred they all shouted Electricity!
- That although government is doing a lot in terms of reforming the sector , the youth should not only be informed, they should be involved in the process so that they are kept properly informed and help to manage the situation. For example it takes about 4 years averagely to build a power plant so no amount of screaming will change that however alternative power sources can be explored which will in turn create jobs for the youth.
- That as an entrepreneur I have never been of the opinion that government should provide jobs for Nigerians- very few countries in the world do that anymore, rather government should focus on how to create the environment for jobs to be created by the necessary polices ,support and incentives
- Finally I stated that Nigeria’s should look within itself for the solutions to its problems because of it was united, we could collectively change our destiny.
Other speakers addressed issues like constitutional reform, entertainment, ministerial appointments and corruption/ the scrapping or reform of the NYSC program via a vis the recent unfortunate murder of corpers during the recently concluded elections in April 2011.
A day after the event i started seeing all sorts of reports online and social media that the speakers and attendees were bribed with N50,000 and Ipads and the first question that came to my mind was to what end? Frankly speaking the idea that I or any of the distinguished young person’s there could be bribed with 50,000 is as ludicrous as it is insulting, we keep complaining about the economy and politics and how government doesn’t involve the youth and the first crack we get, we seek to scandalize it for no sane reason. Maybe our generation is a generation of Facebook critics, we just sit down and type from the comfort (not to mention the safety) of our phones and laptops while some people actually took up the challenge. How many of these Typists voted during this election? How many of them ran for any office be it councilor or chairman or representative in their states or even campaigned actively for any of the persons they supported? How many of them would decline the privilege and opportunity (yes in that order) to speak to their President about issues affecting your community? How many of them would sell that opportunity to speak frankly in exchange for a mere N50, 000?
So why are people being castigated for attending lunch with the President? People said we were bribed, well I was not! I flew in to Lagos with no promise of anything but that I would get a chance to speak to my country’s President about issues that were critical for the growth of Nigeria and I did get the opportunity and I spoke my mind-i do not regret it.
I want to specially commend Chude for his rousing speech, it was bold, direct and passionate and his plea was genuine, Rita Dominic asked that access to the Entertainment fund should be made easier for practitioners in the industry, the President of the Youth Council asked that a “real” young person be appointed a Minister to truly represent the Youth and another spoke about getting more females involved in governance. I commend them all, they spoke in different accents, tones and pitches but they spoke what was on their minds.
The President made notes of all the issues the were raised and responded to all the matters with promises to covene more meetings with youth over the following weeks, thereafter the event ended. Was it the perfect event? No, but it was the first time some of us were able to hear him respond to issues that were not scripted, he answered with clairty and some display of wit some of us didnt know he had. most importantly, we spoke and he heard us out, whether he will heed our statements is another matter which i am not qualified to speak bout yet, only time will tell- what is key is that we should keep the pressure up in the words of Chude “we are watching you Mr President” and in addition i would say we will continue buggub you Mr President until justic is done and not before.
Finally I have always wondered why critics make the most noise and do the least- I have always been a doer, when I saw a need to defend and represent artistes that couldn’t pay for qualified legal services I decided to offer them services Pro bono, 10 years ago when I saw the need to encourage arts and creativity in Nigeria I started the Guild of Artistes and Poets, when I realized that the only way to encourage aspiring artists was not to give them handouts but help them become commercially successful ,Chocolate City was set up and that’s the story of my life.
So I say to the critics, I agree that you have a right to express yourself, it’s even enshrined in our country’s Constitution, however I insist that as a wise man once said “action always speaks louder than words”. So my word to them is don’t talk too much go out there and do what you can to contribute to the growth of our great country is whatever way you can!