In this interview with Rebecca Ejifoma, Founder/President of the African Children Talent Discovery Foundation (ACTDF), Noah Nuhu Dallaji, an engineer and a leading light from Bauchi State, speaks on his vision in setting up the foundation, the need for individuals to develop their natural talents to meet life expectations and the challenge of development especially among the youths.
Let’s start by looking at your concerns which informed the formation of the African Children Talent Discovery Foundation?
Well, first of all, it has to do with nature and my abiding passion for this kind of thing. NGO is all about passion and if you have a passion for an issue, you will go all the way. So it has to do with the passion I have long ago informed by the way of life of the people in the country. This made me to conceive the idea of the African Children Talent Discovery Foundation. And I believe it is going to be a driving force that will change the mentality of the people from the young generation to everyone out there. This is important because until we change our mentality, we would continue to have problems, disappointment and misunderstanding in the nation, particularly on individual development. So we must change our defeatist mentality for us to move ahead in our individual pursuit of transformation, development and happiness.
What do you mean by mentality, changing our mentality? Can you address that?
When you talk of mentality in this regard, it refers to the wrong perceptions and warped psychology of so many which had invariably stunted their individual growth in life and that’s what we want to correct. Being born into an environment with obvious limitations should not necessarily be an end of the road for you in life. But you find out that a lot of people believe that for you to become somebody in life or to make it as they say out there, has to do with the kind of family you were born into or it has to do with the community you’re coming from or the family you’re coming from. So such mentality is what we want to change because you don’t need to come from a rich family or buoyant economy or community or state to become somebody in life. I mean a successful person in life. Rather it has to do with your passion in life. It has to do with your focus—where you’re going to and determination to make a difference. You see, a lot of people who were born poor may just probably rise to the middle class, if they do at all, settle there and accept defeat but this is not good enough.
So when was ACTDF formed?
ACTDF was formed in 1996 but became functional in 2006 because the idea started as Nigerian Children Talent Discovery Foundation and I started it all alone before it morphed into African Children Talent Discovery Foundation with a mission for a continental renewal. So the administrative work and activities began in 2006.
What are the core objectives of the foundation and would you say these objectives have been realised?
Our objective basically is to discover the natural knowledge among the people particularly the youths, that is, their natural abilities and help to develop them to move along the path of progress in life. You sewe many people don’t know what is inside them that nobody else has. You see, nature does not make mistake; nature is never a failure. So until you recognise who you are, you will never walk on the right path. When you were born into this world as a nature, you were not born a failure; you were not born to be a spectator. You were born to participate in what is happening in the world. But for you to participate in what’s happening in the world, you have to ask yourself what do I have inside me that I can contribute to human civilisation? God didn’t create much of the things we are using in everyday life today. God only created living things. So ACTDF is out to discover the talent in you and develop it in order to become beneficial to yourself, your family, community, state, your country and the rest of the world. That’s the main objective of the ACTDF. About the whole objectives being realised, well that is still work in progress.
Then what is the foundation’s strategy in harnessing these talents?
Well, the strategy is that we go to different parts of the country from urban areas to the rural areas and organise seminars, conferences and debates and sporting activities. At times, we go to primary schools and colleges to identify individuals who fit into our scheme. Or just by introduction and after finding out such persons have what they claim to have, we accept them into the scheme of the foundation. You know talents differ, they fall into different categories. Some have academic talents, sporting talents and all manner of creativity. We have experts in different categories who are working with us and I can tell you that the foundation has done a lot by encouraging and supporting young people in this country. And that’s our major goal. We have discovered a lot of talents in the arts with great creativity.
Any outstanding performance by the talents so discovered in their schools or current engagements?
Oh yeah. We have so many of them living up to expectations that informed their choices by the foundation. I told you we monitor them and get their performance record straight from their schools or in their creative engagements. We are quite satisfied with the feedback we get but one specific example of top performance is that of Joel Marks. He won an award in America, he’s our foundation’s beneficiary. We discovered him, nurtured him and indeed won academic award at the University of Maryland —the first time a black man won that particular award in that campus. That testimony encourages us because the glory does not come to ACTDF per se but to his family and the African continent.
You mean ACTDF discovered him here in Nigeria?
Yeah. We picked him up in Abuja. We discovered that he has tremendous ability in science and he told me specifically that he wanted to study medicine and I personally went to America, got admission for him and we sent him to the school where he won the best student award, the first time a black man won such award at the University of Maryland. So am encouraged by that feat, why we would continue to do what we are doing in order to make things happen in this country and indeed in the African continent.
At the 10th UN Assembly, you canvassed for the infusion of technology in education of African youths. Are you impressed with the situation so far, any serious changes?
You see, technology is now a global issue and the youths are the leaders of tomorrow where technology will continue to make a huge difference. If you look at it, only few things can we do now without technology. I was actually given that topic and I emphasized that the African youths must embrace technology and must work hard to identify every angle to technology because that is the future for us to grapple with development. Therefore, this important aspect must be a core issue in their education. You can imagine how e-book is changing our world, the world of students, getting access to all you want to read from just a device. You can imagine the world without internet, now in our pockets. So technology has made things easy for us but I discovered that the African youths are backward; many do not have access which is a serious issue. But this does not mean they do not have the innate ability or talent because I know that when the African man gets in there, with the right orientation, environment and facilities, you know the sky is the limit. I know we have bundle of talents in this continent though I must state that we are still far from the ideal I envisaged when I made that presentation at the UN. Computer literacy among youths in schools across Africa is still low, we need to do more.
So far, what are challenges facing the foundation?
Every nation has challenges and limitations and also every organization has its challenges. So when you’re doing something of this magnitude, you expect a lot of obstacles. But the important thing here is the focus. You have to focus on what you’re doing to abide by the rules and laws of the United Nations because what we are doing started from the UN and has alignment with some core values of the United Nations. So if you’re focused on what you’re doing propelled by passion, the sky is the limit. Afterall, success is all about obstacles, about determination, it is all about yes, I can do it. Importantly, we are enamored by our passion for what we are doing which is not for profit but advancing the cause of humanity. It is the joy to realize that we have not lived if we have only lived for ourselves. And this is really great. So in a thing like we are doing, the major challenge is finance. We need money to do so many things. We travel out of the country so often every year since 2006. Add that to logistics and the financial requirements of scholarship for beneficiaries locally and abroad. You know, I also have to engage the services of top Nollywood stars to work with us in promoting our values and each time we travel, we travel together so that we can do the work of ACTDF. So when we are talking about challenges, we are talking about finance and logistics. But we always tell people that if you have passion for what we are doing, you’re free to join us intellectually, financially or you can give advice to the organization for which other people have been doing and we have gotten good words from good contributors which made us to be more encouraged. You see, everybody cannot be a leader or president or governor but I believe everyone has something to contribute and we must do so. May be this is my own contribution and I am so happy doing so.