L-R: Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Bank, Dr. Demola Sogunle; lead speaker, Cobhams Asuquo; lead speaker, Member Feese; Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Holdings PLC, Mr. Yinka Sanni; lead speaker, Kechi Okwuchi; and Chairman, Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc, Mr. Basil Omiyi, at the inaugural edition of the Stanbic IBTC Youth Leadership Series dubbed ‘Against The Odds’ held in Lagos…recently

Several youths were recently inspired at the inaugural edition of the Stanbic IBTC Youth Leadership Series in Lagos, writes Peter Uzoho

What better way to inspire the young – a generation that believes so much in seeing and, by learning from people who have real life experiences in their plenty? They are more activated to act when they see role models share their life histories, especially telling those odd stories about them.

More and more, the youths get challenged and determined to succeed when they hear people in similar age bracket with them tell their success stories after all the hard times nature presents. They immediately fall in love. They follow and, become ardent disciples of such people. And, they begin to reset their minds and change their ways of doing things, with a view to succeed.

This played out at the inaugural edition of Stanbic IBTC Youth Leadership Series, held recently in Lagos, where the bank brought three exceptional Nigerians who survived different mishaps and became cynosures of all eyes.

The Shell Hall of Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos, was full to capacity. Attendance soared as if a blockbuster screen product was to be premiered. Youths from all walks of life, who were hungry for knowledge and real life experiences filled every corner of the hall. Some of them who had already known the speakers made sure they secured the best vantage position in order for them not to miss any bit of the discussion.

Apart from the youths, college students, bankers, captains of industries, investors, and the business community were in attendance. Ovation took an overdrive as audience clapped, shouted and waved hands in reception of these idols.

The programme was intended to show young Nigerians the indomitable spirit and resilience of humans which will in turn energise them and ensure they remain disciplined, committed, and industrious as they journey through life. By this, they would be able to exploit their talents creatively notwithstanding obstacles that may come their way.

The Youth Leadership Series was tailored to serve as a platform to engage the youth through knowledge and experiences sharing, mentorship and guidance by resource persons to shield them from distraction by life’s challenges.

Lead speakers, Kechi Okwuchi, a survivor of the ill-fated Sosoliso plane crash of December 2005; Member Feese, survivor of the United Nations Building Bomb blast in Abuja; and Cobhams Asuquo, a renowned music producer who was born blind, said if they could become role models by overcoming the grim challenges they faced, then nobody should give up the quest to succeed.

Living up to its theme, ‘Against The Odds’, the forum provided a platform where these uncommon Nigerian youths spoke on the imperative of resilience, hard work and perseverance to achieve individual, corporate and national goals.

In his welcome address, Chief Executive Officer of Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc, Mr. Yinka Sanni, said underlining the youth empowerment motivational series is a mission by the organisation to inspire the youths, who he described as “the leaders of today”, not tomorrow, to strive to achieve their potential, regardless of the odds. The three lead speakers, he said, symbolised when people imbibe the evergreen cliché – ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.

“The future of Nigeria and Africa is in the hands of the youths and there is no better time to arouse and deepen their knowledge and entrepreneurial skills than now,” Sanni said. According to him, Stanbic IBTC is constantly exploring innovative ways of expanding the scope of its coverage and focus on the youth segment, otherwise known as the millennials, given the importance of the demography to national development, entrepreneurship drive and economic growth and development of the nation.

“The Youth Leadership Series is tailored after the annual Stanbic IBTC Business Leadership Series, an annual event that facilitates the sharing of knowledge and information among local and international participants who are drawn from key sectors of the economy.

“The overarching objective is to stimulate deeper engagements and outcomes for the sectors as well as unlock investment opportunities in the country,” he explained.

The bank chief noted that the group decided it had become imperative for it to retool and re-strategise its efforts geared towards building the next generation of Nigerian leaders – the youths, in line with its commitment to growing that very important segment of the society.

“The popular saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow, as cliché as it may sound, for us at Stanbic IBTC, we believe that the youths are the leaders of today and because we understand just how easily one can get distracted or discouraged by the different challenges we face in our lives. Our youths therefore need to be aptly and constantly guided, mentored, inspired and motivated, not just to attain their goals but in order for them to actualise their full potential.

“Through the travails, experiences and achievements of these exceptional young individuals, in spite of the hard-knock life and the odds, we hope to inspire, motivate and provoke the can-do spirit of our youth community and imbibe in them the strength of character, and tenacity to never give up but to constantly aspire to attain their full potential in life,” Sanni added.

In her discussion, Member Feese who lost her leg during the bomb blast in Abuja in 2011, said the grace of God and prayers of Nigerians made her stronger and more determined to live and succeed, saying the easier option would have been to live with the pain and trauma of the experience for the rest of her life.

“The earliest I remember is on the 28th of December, 2011, when I regained full consciousness,” Feese said. She said while in the hospital, her case required a team of 20 specialist doctors working on her for months to save her life.

Determined to continue pursuing her dream, less than two years after the bomb, she completed her dissertation and graduated from the Institute of Developmental Studies (IDS), in the United Kingdom.

Feese who owns an NGO, TeamMember, which focuses on championing for improved services in hospitals in Nigeria, pledged to continue with her advocacy work to support and encourage people in similar situations.

Recounting her ordeal after the accident, Okwuchi said she has undergone over 100 surgeries, including skin grafts, since the crash. But notwithstanding the anguish, loneliness and trauma she experienced, she refused to give up. She was determined to pull through it all. Indeed, she has defied the odd and is making waves to the admiration of all.

“Finding the strength to do this thing is a surprise because I didn’t know I had it within me,” Okwuchi said. “Another huge part of my recovery was my support system. I live by a simple maxim now: “live more, love more, give more, pray more,” she noted.

Her maxim encapsulates the aspirational spirit of the human being for success and greatness which has no doubt, helped push her to achieve successes even when the odds were stacked against her.

On his part, Asuquo, the only blind child among seven siblings, said his condition gave him no choice than to live with it and find fulfillment. He said the first survival principle he learned early in life was “to negotiate,” which he said gave him the room to get what he lacked and to take control of his destiny.

He acknowledged the strength in having a perfect sight, saying “I was faced with the looming possibility of failure in my life as I grew up.” Asuquo, however, stated that as a dreamer he was determined to succeed in life not withstanding his inherent handicap. “Fortunately for me, a lot of things I have dreamt about in my life have come true because I do not excuse failure,” he noted.

He urged people to always bring something to the table, stressing that “nobody owes you anything. You must work until nobody sees your disability. What they will see is your ability and contributions to society. Your disability simply disappears,” he said. Asuquo is the CEO of CAMP (Cobhams Asuquo Music Productions), and has four officially released singles to his name.

A common thread with these three is their ability to find that inner strength so often missing in many, especially when faced with a challenge. Focus, hard work, learning, trust, and a strong desire to be relevant are key attributes that define these three enterprising youth. These are attributes cherished by Stanbic IBTC and which the financial institution hopes to unleash in the youth through the youth leadership series.

The bank has over the years courted and supported the youth segment through exposure, sponsorships and financial support. The Business Leadership series (SBLS) organised by the bank, after which the Youth Leadership Series is patterned, has consistently featured young people, such as rocket scientist, motivational speaker and innovator Siyabulela Xusa, who was 25 years in 2015 when he headlined the SBLS. It has also featured Vusi Thembekwayo, a South African entrepreneur and business speaker who was 28 years when he featured on the programme. Stanbic IBTC also sponsored TechCabal Battlefield, a showcase of technology startups promoted by young budding entrepreneurs, among many other youth-centric initiatives.