The Ford Foundation Youth Dialogue Experience 2010

By Gbenga Awomodu

Claiming Our Future: Nigerian Youth’s Vision of the Next 50 years

The Ford Foundation, West Africa Office, Lagos, Nigeria

October 1-4, 2010

Dr. Oka Obono during a session with the youth delegates

It’s been 50 years of grant making in West Africa by the Ford Foundation. As part of the programmes lined up to commemorate this anniversary which coincided with Nigeria’s golden jubilee, the Ford Foundation organized a youth dialogue on the issues relevant to the future of Nigeria and I had a privilege of being a participant.

From Friday October 1st 2010 till the morning of Monday October 4th I was tucked away somewhere in Jibowu, a Lagos suburb. It was a rather busy weekend as I joined other young people from across the country to deliberate on the future of our dear country. With the rich resumes and profiles of all the other participants, albeit intimidating, there was no doubt I was in very good company. The first two days were filled with series of sessions fashioned to properly groom all the panelists before the actual Youth Dialogue on Sunday. Action Health Incorporated, Lagos hosted the preparatory process. From the welcome address by Mrs. Nike Esiet, the Executive Director of Action Health Incorporated, to the mentally stimulating drills and speeches-cum-lectures by Dr. Oka Obono, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, it was a wonderful ride. Some of the other distinguished resource people who took part in grooming us were Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi of the Population Council, and Dr. Uwem Esiet, a Director at Action Health Incorporated.

Dr. Oka Obono, as usual, mesmerizing us with his oratory

I felt Dr. Oka Obono was a knowledge drunk man! In a very good way, though. He had us all captivated as he swayed from politics to economics and leadership. In his spellbinding eloquence, he read from Paulo Coelho and copiously took us on several trips down history. He quoted from Deepak Chopra, Andy Stanley, JFK, and Malcom Gladwell. He drew lessons from the lives of Bayajjida, Wole Soyinka, Umaru Dikko, and Nuhu Ribadu, telling us what the four men had in common. If I took anything away from Dr. Obono’s sessions, it was the lesson that acquisition of useful knowledge and information liberates a man. Young people have to take the pain to study, not just what they’re being taught within the four walls, but everything possible about the world around and within them. A well informed mind is more suitable to lead a nation than an ignorant fellow!

On Day 2, he continued in his talks on Envisioning Nigeria, eventually helping us paint pictures of the Nigeria we desire in effective words. Mrs. Nike Esiet helped add necessary spice by facilitating a session on “The Place of Poise and Passion in Public Speaking.” Later in the evening, it was time for some social outing. Half of the participants chose to watch Ije: The Journey, a blockbuster Nigerian movie showing at the Cinemas while the other half, most of whom had seen Ije: The Journey more than once, decided it was time to “Eat, Pray, Love”. Altogether, it was fun having extended socializing time amongst other participants.

Ms. Ndidi Nwuneli, Programme Officer, Ford Foundation West Africa, moderated the Youth Dialogue

On Sunday, after dress rehearsals in the morning, it was time to depart for the Ford Foundation office on Banana Island. At the Ford office, Ndidi Nwuneli, a Programme Officer at the Ford Foundation, West Africa, who would later moderate the actual Youth Dialogue, introduced herself, helped us run through the discussions, and ensured we cut excess fat and unnecessary blabbing. At 2pm prompt, all guests and observers were seated and the discussion kicked off. It was a lively 90 minute display of passion for a better Nigeria. Vital issues in several sectors of the economy, including Education, Health, Power, Environment, Agriculture, Leadership and Governance, Media and ICT were raised and possible solutions were proffered.

L-R: Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi and Mrs. 'Nike Esiet

Some of the observers, including Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi of the Population Council, Luis A. Ubinas, President, Ford Foundation, and Kofi Appenteng, Partner, The West Africa Fund made some remarks and encouraged the young people to appreciate the positive things about the country whilst taking personal steps to effect positive changes in areas far below expected standards. Dr. Adhiambo Odaga, the Representative of the Ford Foundation (West Africa Office) gave the vote of thanks. Thereafter, it was time to socialize, pose for those memorable pictures and call it a day. It is hoped that the young panelists would harness the opportunity afforded by the Youth Dialogue to effect positive changes in their personal lives, their immediate communities and the nation at large. I am especially grateful to Action Health Incorporated for nominating me. It was indeed a memorable experience and I am ready to make it count.


Front row (L-R): Dr. Uwem Esiet, Kamal Usman, Theresa Okpa, Gbenga Awomodu, Chinelo Eleodimuo, Olumide Idowu, Mervis Emelife and Dr. Oka Obono; Back row L-R: Ferdinand Adimefe, Emilia Asim-Ita, Chinedu Ogueri, Kamal Hussain, Safuratu Abdulkarim, Femi Adesegha, Emmanuel Okodogbe, Afamefuna Titus Igwe and Mrs. Nike Esiet

Youth Profiles

Femi Adesegha graduated from the Community Life project (CLP) Youth Centre Programme in 2007 and continues to volunteer there, including with the Theatre Group. He hopes to study Mechanical Engineering in the near future. Femi was nominated by CLP.

Ferdinand ‘Ladi’ Adimefe has a degree in Anatomy from the University of Port-Harcourt and a Masters in Media and Communication from the Pan African University. He is the initiator of Interface Africa, an NGO whose mission is to inspire young Nigerians. Ferdinand was nominated by the CLEEN Foundation.

Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju is a graduate of the Insurance Department of the University of Lagos and is completing a Masters in Media and Communication at the Pan African University. She began her professional acting career in December 2005 and has featured in more than 20 stage plays and 60 productions. She serves as a drama instructor in schools and on reality television shows and is popularly known for her role in “V-Monologues – The Nigerian Story,” (2008 & 2010), and “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” (where she played a South African man). Kemi was nominated by the FATE Foundation.

Gbenga Awomodu is a final year Chemical Engineering student at the University of Lagos. He is a freelance writer and editor and created “Egbe’s Diary” (, a repository of his thoughts and other works. Gbenga was nominated by Action Health Inc.

Chineloma Eleodimuo is currently a student of Biochemistry at the University of Benin. She was recently elected Student Union president by an overwhelming majority of students. During her tenure, she has led the fight against the indiscriminate victimization of student activists on campus and fought for the renovation of hostels, reduced cab fares, and a hygienic environment in the bukkatarias. She has also advocated for, and achieved, free and fair elections on the university’s campus. Chineloma was nominated by WHARC.

Kamal Hussain El-Yakub has a National Diploma in Accountancy from the Nasarawa State Polytechnic, Lafia. He has been an AHIP Peer Health Educator (PHE) since 2006 and he currently works as a teacher. Kamal was nominated by AHIP.

Mervis Ifeoma Emelife is studying towards a degree in Mass Communication. She is a writer, poet, public and motivational speaker. She works with the Young Visionaries Initiative of Nigeria, a youth based organization focusing on changing the negative mindsets among Nigerian youth and is also the editor of a teens magazine in Lagos State. Mervis was nominated by Action Health Inc.

Olumide Idowu is a graduate of Statistics from the University of Abuja. He established the Youth Alive Initiative (YAI) and Friends of the Environment Nigeria (FoTEN) and is engaged in a range of projects including the Computer Literacy Project, Answer Solution and Knowledge (ASK) around HIV/AIDS, Young Entrepreneurship (YES), Switch ICT Project and projects on environmental issues. Olumide serves as an ambassador for Microsoft Nigeria’s Microsoft Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative (MISSPIN). He also works as Communications Manager (National Support Team) and project director, AIESEC Abuja and is a founding member of “One Magazine” and “Integrity Magazine.” Olumide was nominated by LEAP Africa.

Afamefuna Titus Igwe is currently enrolled part-time in a Business Administration degree programme at the University of Lagos. He started Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen, a registered food and services company that cooks and supplies food to schools and organizations. He is also a guest columnist for The herald newspaper where he teaches development and self-improvement programs for Nigerian youth. Afamefuna was nominated by the FATE Foundation.

Emilia Asim-Ita is a Mass Communication graduate from the University of Lagos. She is the Managing Partner of Thistle Praxis Consulting, a management training and CSR consulting firm and runs A’Lime Media, a strategy, production and advocacy company. She is also a television presenter and anchor and has produced and presented “YouthTalk with Emilia” on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) (2003-2008); co-presented “Rubbin Minds” on Channels TV and anchored a book review segment, BOOKED with ‘Milia’ on Silverbird TV’s breakfast show, “Today on STV”. Emilia was nominated by LEAP Africa.

Safuratu Abdulkarim Mahmoud has a Bachelor’s Degree in Law from Bayero University Kano and is also a graduate of the Lagos Law School. She is a legal practitioner and a member of Youth Advisory Group. Safuratu was nominated by AHIP.

Chinedu Demian Ogueri is a graduate of the University of Ibadan with degrees in Botany and Microbiology. He is the author of “Youth to the Rescue of a Nation,” published by Hadassah Publishers and was recognized as the winner of “Young Achiever Award” by Action Health Incorporated in 2008. He is currently the Director of Demian Ltd, a business development and property marketing outfit in Port Harcourt. Chinedu was nominated by CLEEN Foundation.

Emmanuel Okodogbe joined the Community Life Project (CLP) Youth Centre programme in 2005 and has since continued to play active roles as a youth volunteer. He plans to study International Studies and Diplomacy in the University in the near future. Emmanuel was nominated by CLEEN Foundation.

Theresa Isu John Okpa is currently enrolled as a student of Mass Communication at the Cross River University of Technology. She serves in a range of roles within the Girls Power Initiative (GPI) including as a youth facilitator, the deputy head of department, Youth Development, and as coordinator of the GPI Theatre Group. Theresa was nominated by GPI.

Kamal Usman has a degree in Biosciences from the Bayero University, Kano. He currently serves as the Assistant State Programme Officer for AHIP in Jigawa State. He is the author of the campus motivational “YOU CAN DO BETTER.” Kamal was nominated by AHIP.

Cross-section of youth delegates at the Youth Dialogue

I got a cool shot with the Ford Foundation President, yey! (Never mind the height difference :))

Another cool pose with Ndidi Nwuneli

Movie Review: Ije – The Journey

By Gbenga Awomodu

So everyone has been talking about Ije: The Journey. With at least seven awards under its belt, I was convinced I would enjoy, and I sure did… both times!

Ije: The Journey is a story of two sisters, Anya (Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde) and Chioma (Genevieve Nnaji). Growing up in Oku Village on the hilly countryside, they learn to fight and watch each other’s back. Anya loves to sing and years down the line, she leaves Nigeria in pursuit of fame, glory, and riches in Los Angeles, refusing to heed warnings from her father and her younger sister. But then, life deals her an ugly blow. She is held in custody for allegedly killing her producer husband, Michael Michino, and two other men. It is Chioma who receives the call and comes in to save her only sister. “Don’t let Papa know about my troubles… he was right…,” she tells Chioma who turns to Jalen Turner (Ulriche Que) a young unproven attorney who has just lost a high profile murder case.

Ije brings to the fore some important themes in today’s world, including love, racism, culture, stigma and life as an immigrant in a foreign country. Chioma is irked and embarrassed as the immigration officer at the point of entry into the US asks her “Madam can I see your passport … bag please.” Later on she admits, “They say America is the gateway to heaven; how many see the other side?” She also displays some occasional bouts of stupidity when she visits Anya in the prison. There she is so excited and begins to speak to Anya across the glass partitioning, oblivious of the telephone device she needs to communicate… But Nigerians are a tough breed, we are smart and can survive anywhere in the world. After wrestling her bag during a mugging attempt on her, she educates the Asian inn keeper “You think these streets are tough, come to Lagos, wa riran!”

This movie also highlights the culture of shame and silence and the stigma attached to rape and rape victims. Indeed a clash of two cultures, social attitudes towards rape and rape victims in the Nigerian society threaten to banish Anya to the American prison for the rest of her life. Chioma acknowledges, “Once a woman is raped, nobody wants to touch her again…”She admonishes Anya: “Stand and face your fears tomorrow, just like you did for me the other day…”

Ije showcases brilliant cinematography. The perfectly timed sound effects arouse one’s sensitivity with no excesses. The acting is exquisite and the cast did an excellent job of interpreting their script. The two girls who acted young Anya and Chioma, and the international cast including Hispanic sensation, Odalys Garcia, Ulrich Que, Jeff Swarthout, Odalys Garcia, Kenny Joh, Diana Yekinni, Russia Hardy and Anahit Setian Que, put on a convincing show.

The costume design, though not overly elaborate, was just adequate in celebrating and representing Nigeria’s rich culture. The Nigerian cast don colorful and beautifully made Ankara gowns and skirts. Jalen Turner, seeing Chioma in a patterned blue, red and yellow gown alongside the matching circle of red beads says: “So this is what Nigeria wears to dinner… I have to visit your country.”

Ije is also not bereft of punchlines and occasional philosophical sayings that are hard-to-find in most Nollywood movies. When Rachel, a little girl from the Michino neighbourhood asks Chioma, “Why is your hat so big?” she appeals to the curious, innocent mind: “Because I keep all my ideas underneath it.” When the girl later sees her without her turban-esque Ankara scarf, she quizzes again, “Where is your hat?” “I guess I’m running out of ideas… Maybe you can help me out,” she replies. In another instance, when Turner comes back to find his otherwise rough and disorganised apartment neatly arranged, Chioma tells the surprised lawyer, “Everything is still in place… The difference is that you can actually see it now…” She claims her banking job makes keeping track of information her business. “I have to do something, I have to help somehow.” Perhaps, this underscores how a (Nigerian) woman often brings order into a man’s life. Even when Turner says, “there was nothing that could have been done until this morning,” she quips, “I could have worried.”

So, are there any flaws in the movie? I actually went all out to enjoy the movie so I could hardly spot any. But I remember a friend with whom I watched it the first time pointed out at the scene where Chioma and her lawyer go for dinner that the lady performing  live music was lip-synching. The sound and the movement of her lips were some milliseconds apart. I liked the way the movie ended though, and I was convinced it indeed was a good movie when the full-capacity audience rose in applause twice at the Ozone Cinemas in Yaba, Lagos where I watched it! In homage to the movie’s insight and wit, I leave you with my favourite quote by Anya Michino (Omotola):

“This man says I would have gone back home and lived like a queen… In Nigeria, there are no queens, only kings… A woman is given to him by her family and herself… He becomes her protector… Husbands are not fathers; mine was not even a man.”