A non-governmental organisation, We Are the Future of our Nation, in its 2016 programme tagged ‘I Believe in Nigeria’, implored Nigerian youths to be resilient in their pursuits of realising a better country. Peace Obi writes
Ten years ago, the journey began. The journey into positioning Nigerian youths as solution providers to some of the nation’s identified problems. The dream which targeted young adults whose age and mind are most fertile for the plantation of right principles, leadership skills, among others sought to have final year secondary school students as its target audience.
However, the need to assemble and reach out to these young minds through a common platform where they are provided with the much needed information, exposure and inspiration by some role models gave rise to ‘We Are the Future of our Nation’ (WATFON).
WATFON’s maiden edition which took off in 2006 with the theme “The Nigerian of my Dreams” has ever since then remained an annual event that holds under different themes yet promoting its core objectives.
The 2016 edition tagged, “I Believe in Nigeria” pointing to the need for Nigerian youths to be resilient and indefatigable in their pursuit of realising a better country was aimed at leaving participants with this confession, “Despite all the issues, despite all our challenges, despite all the problems we face as a nation, I still believe that Nigeria is a great place to live.”
Speaking at the 10th edition of WATFON that held in Lagos recently, the WATFON convener, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, revealed how her encounter with some disgruntled youths many years back inspired her coming up with the WATFON project.
She said that listening to the conversation between the young people at the time revealed a people whose views and ideas about the country painted a picture of people who have lost hope and do not necessarily see anything good coming out of their own country.
According to her, these young people whose minds have been beclouded with some negative occurrences in the land as a result of their limited knowledge and exposure, saw them traveling out of the country as the best and only solution to the problems facing their dear country, Nigeria.
Disturbed by the mindset of the nation’s tomorrow leaders, the need to rouse a worthy successor generation became intense. And the search for suitable solution ensued. The solution among others was envisioned to leave the youths more committed to building the Nigeria of their dream, being solution providers and who after passing through WATFON can confidently say, “I am proud of being a Nigerian.”
Set out to review the country’s problems so as to come up with a formidable solution, Ogunde said, “We looked all around us and we saw a nation that has great potentials, we saw natural resources, we saw determined people, we saw so many positive things. But we also saw disillusioned people, corrupt leadership, distorted values, misinformed youth, crime, disunity, tribalism and many other challenges which we are all aware of.”
Speaking on some of the adopted solutions to the identified problems, the WATFON convener noted that her approach was to focus on young Nigerians with three key objectives of inspiring patriotism among them, promote unity and celebrate role models.
According to the Ogunde, through the WATFON platform, “we bring students together, set them thinking, make solution providers, create mentorship programme, get into their schools, link them with men and women worthy of emulation, expand it to the six geopolitical zones, keep the love for the nation burning in them,” Ogunde said.
A decade into what can be best described as a reformatory scheme for better citizenship, the vision has remained alive, inspiring, nurturing and empowering Nigerian youths into becoming major stakeholders in the Nigerian project. For the organisers of WATFON, it has been 10 years of touching the lives of those that matter most; it has been 10 years of teaching youths to believe in their country; to have a positive outlook about the country. It has been 10 years of teaching youths to dream and believe in their dreams of a better country, to occupy their rightful place as future leaders and empowerment through open and free access to the WATFON’s role models whose exemplary personal and public lives have become a huge resource the younger generation must tap from.
Reflecting on the response and results attained so far, Ogunde noted that the feedback has been formidable. “We have seen students who write their testimonies to us about what they are doing even in their universities. That they are having mini-WATFON even in their universities, that they are talking patriotism even in their universities.”
Ogunde, whose desire it is to extend the WATFON programme to other states of the federation, however noted that lack of funds has continued to hamper the spread even from hosting the event in the six geopolitical zones of the country. Charging government on youth education and empowerment, she said “we really need to get serious about what we do, especially about the education and development of our youths. I don’t want us paying a lot of lip service.”
Speaking with one of the WATFON’s foundation role models, Dr. Leke Pitan, who commended Ogunde’s efforts and commitment in affecting the lives of Nigerian youths, described her efforts as helping government to do its work. The former Commissioner for Education in Lagos State who called on the Federal Government to take over WATFON noted that its effect in uniting the nation goes far below National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
“I am calling on Federal Government, especially Federal Ministry of Education to see this as an effort by a CSO or an NGO to help it do its work, to inspire the youth and to also celebrate role models and to also unite Nigeria, even below the level of National Youth Service Corps, that is key. I want to call on the Federal Government, the Presidency as well as the Federal Ministry of Education to start thinking on how to take over this kind of event.”
Speaking further, Pitan noted that “when I was a Commissioner for Education, I struggled and requested that the Spelling Bee should be taken over by the Lagos State Ministry of Education and it was taken over.
“I think this should be a national event where schools from Ogun, Kwara, everywhere come together to share ideas; role models teach them what to focus on, what they should emulate, what they should reject. The students interact, get united, they know what to aim for. The Federal Ministry of Education must start buying into this. That is the way governance should be, that is what government is all about,” Pitan recommended.
In his message to the youth, Pitan urged them not to lose hope in Nigeria, but that they should continue to have faith that the Nigeria of their dream can still be attained. Stressing that they need to realise that they don’t have any other place they can call their own, no matter what money their parents may have to sponsor them to outside the country, they still have to claim to be Nigerians.
The former First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, speaking on the topic “Patriotism in Unknown Places: Ripples Impact of Personal Social Responsibility”, noted that WATFON has created an avenue to catch Nigerian youths young adding that the platform has offered a wonderful opportunity to ‘catch’ Nigerian youth to prepare them towards being better citizens.
Fashola described WATFON as a wonderful programme that provides a platform for Nigerian youths to be brought together at the most appropriate age to be mentored into being patriotic citizens, solution providers, and stakeholders in nation building.
According to her, “The WATFON convener is doing a great job because this is the right time to counsel you on the things that are expected of you as a Nigerian, as a great person and as a great individual. It is really a thing of joy when you have students like this and you are able to catch them young.”
Fashola who charged students to rise to the responsibility of building a better Nigeria added that they must become stakeholders in what Nigeria becomes in the nearest future. She said that possessing and manifesting such qualities and values as honesty, discipline, integrity, responsibility, accountability among others would make a difference wherever they are.
“So, your personal social responsibility depends on your principles in life. Imbibe the culture of serving people, of being a selfless person, caring for others. So, you yourself can make a difference wherever you are. Your future depends on your actions,” Fashola admonished the youths.
The WATFON 2016 chairman, Sir Newton Jibunoh, who in his opening remarks told Nigerian youths that the country belongs to them, said that they should rise to the responsibility of taking charge. “We are borrowing a country from you, the younger generation, it does not belong to us because we will all go, sooner.”
Speaking on the place of WATFON in attaining national unity and building a country the older generation can be proud of handing over to the younger generation, Jibunoh said, “If I have my way, a session like this should be repeated every month in different parts of the country, because inspiring patriotism, promoting unity, is a difficult one, but we have to start somewhere. This is a major step, and to think that this is the 10th event, it is unbelievable.”
Speaking on one of the topics slated for the 2016 edition, “Staying Patriotic in Difficult Times”, Mr. Tonye Cole noted that real patriotism is driven by purpose and not by the state of the economy.
“Real patriotism is not driven by the state of the economy, because when it is good, you are in and when it is bad, you walk away. Patriotism has nothing to do with the conditions of your school, it has nothing to do with the conditions of the hospitals. It has nothing to do with whether your president is good or whether the leaders are corrupt or not? It is driven by purpose and without the knowledge of your calling and purpose by which you are created the level of your patriotism will be suspect,” Cole said.