It is a sad commentary that in our society 90% of teachers don’t know what dyslexia is, not to talk parents
In this second part of the exclusive interview with Emmanuel Akaolisa of The News Chronicle, Mr Oladapo Akande, founder of MINDS Reform Initiative, an NGO that focuses on Manners, Integrity, Neighbourly love, Discipline, Success; author of two books “Shifting Anchors” and “The Last Flight” and a weekly columnist, throws light on issues in Nigeria, ranging from leadership, to education, his forthcoming movie ÌTÌJÚ and others.
TNC: The continuous advancement of technology is also having a telling effect on education; from online study to the focus of studies and even to the complete abandonment of formal education by young people who make fortunes online. Is this a good omen for Nigeria or should it be approached with caution?
Oladapo: Technology will advance and societies will always have to adjust accordingly. If some smart individuals before this time hadn’t come up with innovative solutions that would make it possible for people to take classes and learn remotely, what would the world have done in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, which grounded everything globally to a halt? Technology is what we all turned to when societies the world over went into lockdown. Technology allowed businesses to conduct important meetings remotely and schools to hold classes virtually.
Finding themselves with plenty of time on their hands, a lot of people, myself included, used that opportunity to take courses online – acquiring new skills and gaining useful knowledge. So, technology is definitely a good thing. I don’t think Nigeria has quite gotten to the point of people abandoning formal education in their numbers because of the allure of making money online. It depends on the type of money that we are talking about. If it’s the illegal type, then of course that’s a big “no no”. It may be true that such illegal activities have increased quite dramatically in the last few years but the root of that can be traced to poor governance leading to unprecedented levels of unemployment and underemployment and the accompanying widespread poverty in the land.
However, still on the advancement of technology, it is no secret that some of the world’s richest and most successful people didn’t complete their university education but instead decided to pursue their technology based dream squarely. Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Michael Dell of Dell Computers, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and the late maverick Steve Jobs of Apple just to name a few. Don’t get me wrong, I am indeed a firm believer in education but I don’t believe in someone going to university just for the sake of it or just because “lagbaja’s” child went to university.
The meaning and essence of education is broader than that as it’s not limited to what you might learn within the four walls of a tertiary institution. Truth is that we are all wired differently with diverse natural gifts, talents and areas we naturally gravitate towards. The important thing is for us to discover what they are, be true to ourselves and pursue them because that is where our strength lies and it is through that, that we will be able to make the most meaningful contribution to our society and humanity in general. I remember a radio advert by one of the major players in the Nigerian telecoms sector a couple of years ago which said that in the near future, a significant percent of jobs will be jobs that do not currently exist. I could not agree more. Technology will continue to evolve how we do just about everything.
TNC: The political atmosphere in Nigeria today is filled with campaign rhetoric for the 2023 general elections, what kind of leader does Nigeria need at this moment and how can we go about getting this leader?
Oladapo: I will answer the latter part of this question first by saying we will get the sort of leaders we desire when more Nigerians, especially the youth come to the realization that they need to become more actively involved in politics. It is only then that more agreeable candidates will emerge. As long as we all remain aloof and limit our participation to making remarks and sharing messages on social media, nothing will change. It’s good for all people of voting age to get their Permanent Voting Card (PVC) for the general election but for as long as the people have little or no say in who the parties produce as their candidates, we may be left with no option but to vote for “bad” or “worse”. Except a miracle happens.
As for the sort of leaders that Nigeria needs at this moment, they are no different to the ones we have always needed – selfless individuals who genuinely love our country. To be honest, we have never lacked leaders but what has been so visibly absent is leadership. I founded an NGO called MINDS Reform Initiative. In addition to connoting mindset, the MINDS part of the name is also an acronym for Manners, Integrity, Neighbourly love and Success. These are some of the most critical qualities and virtues that a true leader should possess. A person of manners is someone who concerns himself with the feelings of others and that’s why he says his “pleases”, “thank yous” and is always punctual.
Our leaders are notoriously bad at keeping to time, thereby setting a terrible example for everybody else to follow. The only thing that you can never regain in life is time. An individual of integrity is not only honest but is also dependable and reliable. He says what he does and does what he says. Neighbourly love means that the leader will love others as he or she loves himself or herself and because of this, the individual will always do what is best for the generality of people. A disciplined leader will run a tight ship, brooking no nonsense from appointees and will possess the courage to take tough decisions, even if it means heads will roll. Last but not least, Success in this instance takes a collective or common good interpretation rather than the selfish one, more associated with our politicians. Add to this, diligence, vision, a sense of fairness and justice that gives every citizen a sense of belonging and such an individual would utterly transform our country and it would finally evolve into becoming a nation. That is the sort of leader we need.
TNC: Nigeria’s overdependence on oil revenue has become a stale song and it appears we have surrendered to this fate. Is there any way out of this old song?
Oladapo: The government needs to provide an enabling environment for businesses to succeed. Suffocating policies have prohibited commercial enterprises from thriving. We have so much more to offer than crude oil but visionless leadership has thwarted all efforts by an incredibly vibrant, innovative and enterprise people from succeeding. You only need to look at how Nigerians thrive abroad but struggle in their own country. It still comes down to leadership. A leader is not always the smartest person in the room but he knows how to make the best use of the best people. To put it very simply, that, and a large dollop of sincerity by our leaders, is all we need to turn Nigeria’s non-oil sectors and the economy as a whole around.
Where is the sense in spending scarce foreign exchange to purchase exotic foreign vehicles for government officials when governments can easily patronize our local manufacturers? Where is the patriotism in that? How is that sector expected to grow when government cannot even take the lead? This same mentality of government explains why we remain an import dependent country and why so little has been done to catalyze growth of most sectors. Even in the Fintech space, where several $1 billion unicorns have proudly placed Nigeria on the global map, they are starting to reel from unfriendly government policies. Leadership, leadership and more leadership!
TNC: Your movie ‘ÌTÌJÚ’ holds great promise as can be seen in the reception of its awareness campaign thus far, probably because of the total package message it has – healing and hope – offering light without denying dark realities. Can you elaborate on the ÌTÌJÚ project? Is there any project you are currently working on?
Oladapo: Thank you, ÌTÌJÚ is a project very close to my heart. It is yet to be released as it’s still in the making but yes the awareness campaign has been well received by Nigerians. Like you rightly said, it’s a movie that offers healing and hope to people battling dyslexia, the learning difficulty that affects reading and writing; and those who suffer from one mental health issue or the other. It is a sad commentary that in our society 90% of teachers don’t know what dyslexia is, not to talk parents – whereas studies have shown that 10%-20% of every country’s population has it. Only God knows how many potential Thomas Edisons and Sir Richard Bransons (both known Dyslexics) have fallen through the cracks to end up as road side carpenters or even area boys just because our society remains ignorant of this condition.
Equally sad is that 1 in every 4 Nigerian is said to suffer from mental health issues according to the World Health Organization (WHO) but we only have 300 psychologists! I’ve said that quite often it’s not the initial cause of the mental health problem that ends up destroying people but the fear of stigma that prevents sufferers from seeking the professional help they desperately need. Just in the last couple weeks, we learned of a 47 year old female accountant who committed suicide and a man who was thankfully talked out of jumping off the Ikoyi-Lekki bridge at the very last minute. Certainly, ÌTÌJÚ is a project whose time has come. What we need now are corporate sponsors who align with this vision and who will partner with us to make the movie a reality and a huge success.
Which other project do I have in the pipeline? All I will say regarding that is “watch this space”.