Monday, September 8, 2008

As I Take a Bow

Gamaliel O. Onosode, OFR is one distinguished Nigerian I admire and respect a lot! Who does not? Here is a man synonymous with the most desirable essence of greatness, a wonderful mentor, father-figure and role-model extraordinaire. In fact, there is so much to say about Big Daddy Onosode! Little wonder I felt so humbled and honoured when on the afternoon of Sunday 7th September 2008, I received a phone call from this great man. But this was not the first time I would be receiving a call from Big Daddy? So what was ‘so special’ about this call? He was calling from far away United Kingdom to congratulate me in advance on the event of my 24th birthday which was barely forty-eight (48) hours away, and also, the end of my national youth service year. According to him, he would have loved to call on Thursday 11th September, 2008 (9/11) the day of my exit from youth service, but would not be disposed during the period in question. Indeed, it was fulfilling to hear from this icon of integrity how impressed he was with what I considered my ‘little contributions’ to national advancement during the service year. I was deeply touched by this show of admiration for youthful productivity coming from such an esteemed Nigerian of the older generation. I was happy, and it reinforced my conviction in the rebirth of a new order in our march towards national greatness.

Without doubt, my national youth service year was eventful. I was posted to Abuja when as a matter of fact, I was praying for Lagos, and hoping to be posted to a media house where I would have loved to serve and develop my budding potentials in media practice. It was never to be. Destiny had ordained it otherwise and Abuja came calling. I had to respond. But it was not a rosy affair as majority of my readers would probably want to believe. It was as rocky as the rocky terrains of the federal capital territory! First, I found myself at the Yikpata, Kwara State NYSC orientation camp. I was among a number of Abuja-bound corps members who were deployed to the Kwara State camp for reasons of congestion in the Kubwa, Abuja camp. So, after a three-week gruelling experience at the orientation camp, I received a posting letter addressed to The Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)! Alongside about nineteen (19) other corps members, I had just been posted to the EFCC. Now, this was one organisation that was always surrounded by some controversy over its epic performance in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. It was intriguing finding myself in such an unusual place of primary assignment. Perhaps I was lucky, I thought. But three (3) weeks later, the enthusiasm began to fade. After three (3) weeks of receiving and submitting our posting letters at the Commission, we were yet to be confirmed or accepted. What was the problem? Rumour had it that the Commission had just initiated a new policy where corps members will no longer be accepted to serve at the Commission. It came as a rude shock, but I remained resolute. I was optimistic something miraculous was going to happen, and it did happen. Finally, nine (9) corps members were accepted and I was one of them. Again, I thought I was lucky!

Having been issued a letter of acceptance, I began to pray about my deployment to a unit. My dream was to be posted to the Media and Publicity unit. I wanted to be in a place where I would be relevant and I thought the Media and Publicity unit of the Commission was the right place for me. But disappointingly, the Human Resources unit thought differently. I, alongside another corps member Ogechi Okoye-Oti, was posted to the Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI) unit and for the first time I was feeling unlucky. I wondered what it was that they did at FNI. Later I learnt it was the crime prevention and public enlightenment unit of the EFCC. It still did not sound interesting enough until I resumed at the unit and my eyes were opened to the great vision behind the initiative. Now, for those who don’t know, Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI) was initiated on the realization that the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies cannot effectively fight and eliminate corruption alone. Thus, FNI was created and positioned as a strategic brand that will enable Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the private sector to become active agents in the fight against corruption as well as seek to build partnership between the Commission and the media, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), public institutions, as well as the business community (including bankers, lawyers, manufacturers association, oil companies, and small and medium enterprises). It was about bringing the Nigerian people into the fight against corruption, and it was structured to engage the Nigerian society through the six (6) activity baskets (components) of Media, Youths/Gender, Professional, Faith based organizations, Labour, and Politics.

I was excited by the fact that there was something about media and youths in the vision of FNI. I discovered that so much had been done in those two (2) areas within the short period of its existence. FNI was launched on 12th October 2006. Under the media basket, anti-corruption media campaigns had been launched. There were TV and radio jingles, celebrity endorsements, capacity building for journalists, and the Wole Soyinka Investigative Reporting Award (WSIRA) among others. Youths were being actively engaged through the NYSC Integrity Clubs which were set across the country. Also, there were several fora such as the 1st National Youth Anti-Corruption Summit, a series of workshops on the dangers of cybercrimes and the enlisting of youth partners through the Cyber Brigades platform. All these and more were happening at the time we (corps members) resumed at FNI, and in no time, we had become actively involved in the whole process. We were given a free hand to work and garner great experience working. There was room for innovation and creativity. Ideas were always welcome and even the seemingly weak ideas were allowed a place of expression and then fine-tuned into brilliant concepts. We were not treated like corps members (except in the salary). We were allowed to travel on official assignments for the Commission, initiate and execute projects that furthered the crime prevention mandate of the EFCC.

Then came the idea of mainstreaming anti-corruption into popular culture. It was simply exciting! The popular culture programme was a total package of the things people see, hear and want to be part of. It encompassed musical concerts, reality TV, radio, fashion, graffiti, comedy, celebrities, sports, the Internet etc. It was a new way of thinking, thinking out of the box! I was assigned to handle this new vista of public enlightenment as Programme Officer, Popular Culture. Within a period of three (3) months, we had set in motion a chain of popular culture strategies one of which was the United Artistes Against Corruption (UNAAC) project. We were also talking with a number of celebrities for endorsement and had gone far with the idea of an anti-corruption reality TV show. How we flooded the Internet (Facebook especially) with this whole idea of the EFCC’s anti-corruption campaign is perhaps the most familiar to my readers who are ‘Facebookers’. There is so much I just cannot talk about here for several strategic reasons. But it was a great experience. You can imagine the feeling of nostalgia. How I miss those days!

There is one great man I cannot fail to acknowledge here for providing a great part of the inspiration that gave room for all these innovation – Dapo Olorunyomi. Uncle D, as we fondly call him was the then Chief of Staff to the Executive Chairman of EFCC. He was also Director of the Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI). Uncle D is that perfect boss you see only in the movies. He remains one of the brightest minds I have ever met on the face of the earth! He was more than a boss, he was a friend that made you six (6) inches taller the moment you met and interacted with him. Today, Dapo Olorunyomi is no longer at the Commission. He has since resigned his appointment. Today, the Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI) is no more. There is a new thinking under the new leadership of the Commission. And as I reminisce, I wonder, must every good thing always come to an end?

Permit me to devote these next three (3) paragraphs to appreciating the contributions of all those who gave their support to me and to this cause in the last ten (10) months. The list is definitely a long one. But I will attempt a summary and if I missed your name, it wasn’t because I forgot you. You were just too special to be named among mortals! Gbenga Sesan, Fela Durotoye, Funmi Iyanda, Charles O’Tudor. I want you to know that you occupy a special place in my heart. Your support and encouragement cannot be forgotten. You are appreciated. One of the most significant things that happened to me during this service year was becoming a member of GOTNI - Guardians of the Nation International. Linus Okorie (Founder and President of GOTNI), I still remember the first day we met and how Fela Durotoye said to you, “Linus, I am handing over Godwin to you. Take good care of him.” Ever since, you have distinguished yourself as a wonderful brother, teacher and one of the leading lights of the emerging new Nigeria. Thank you so much. Time and space will not permit, I would have devoted an entire piece to Dele Osunmakinde, a great teacher of God’s word and my pastor at the Baptizing Church (TBC). You are just so wonderful sir! Joshua Awesome, Chido Onumah, Nduka Otiono, Obi Asika, Kenny Ogungbe, Yomi Odunuga, Nasir El-Rufai, Prof. Pat Utomi, thank you sirs for constantly exuding the inspiration. You have been great pillars of support. Meanwhile, I have deliberately left out some names for reasons best known to me. I hope and believe they will understand. God willing, my forthcoming autobiography will display the full list. That is a promise!

And thank God for Facebook. I met a few good men, and women too through this platform. Let me start with the RedSTRAT trio. Emilia Asim-Ita…I pause, because words fail me. You are excellent – one in a million! Chude Jideonwo and Adebola Williams, you were undoubtedly great pillars of support, especially towards the popular culture programme which I handled for the then FNI…thanks a great deal. Tosyn Bucknor, I remember the good old days, I hail and hope you don’t untag yourself from this note this time…lol! Now, there are three (3) gentlemen I met during this service year who have bagged my title of ‘Brother From Another Mother’. I am talking about Ferdinand Adimefe, Usman Imanah, and Uchechukwu Jerry Eze…you guys rock! I will not forget my cousin Chris (always aloof and afar), Oreoluwa Ladokun (Mr. Unusual), Kenny Adebo (he sparked off the Fix Nigeria revolution on Facebook), Lateef Yusuff (always there), Wordsmith Wellsaid, Aninoritse Odeli, Nwabundo Onyeabo, Messan Lanre, Awolanye Banigo, Ibrahim Sanusi, Sunday Ogidigbo, Kayode Ogundamisi, Godwin Odusami, Tolu Ogunlesi (Lagosians for Obama!), Ruonah Godwin-Agbroko, Denrele ‘Wenrele’ Edun, Martin Obono, Cosanna Preston, Anetor Irete, Qudus Onikeku (my partner in crime, you deserve a whole paragraph!), Tele Ogundeko, Chris Ihidero, Ofunneka Molokwu, Charles Alo, Emeka Okereke, Lee Ozwald Bronkoby, Muinat Atunise, Victor Gotevbe. Although I met a good number of you guys towards the end of the service year, I am indebted in thanks for making this whole experience worthwhile. Without you, Facebook would have been such a boring place to be.

I have a league of young friends and supporters who believe in this dream of a new Nigeria. Abimbola Fisher, Aramide Olorunyomi, Kofo Kego, Mustapha Atiku-Abubakar and all others too numerous to mention. I say thank you! To my over 1, 000 friends on Facebook, I say thanks a million! You guys are just so wonderful, though your messages and comments are sometimes flattering and most times humbling. My co-mentees at the Afrigrowth Foundation, Mrs. Dayo Keshi, and Mr. Jimmy Atte. I cannot thank you enough.

As I draw the curtain on this chapter, every time I cast my mind back to how it all began, it appears so distant in the past and so close it’s like yesterday। So much has been accomplished, and so much is left undone. During the service year, great ideas were conceived. Some were realised and some have been deferred. But here lies the prevailing paradox of life. You can’t always have it all done all the time. Sometimes we win, sometimes we let go to win some other time. Indeed, there is nothing to regret. For me, NYSC was a redefining moment of service to humanity. God bless Nigeria.

This is to the glory of God Almighty…to the memory of a friend – Henry Kalu who has been missing since June 17th, 2008, the editorial team at One Magazine...and to all emerging patriots of the new order.