Interview with Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu – Social Entrepreneur, Agricultural Advocate & The Future Awards Young Person of the Year 2011

Born on 29 May 1982, Nnaemeka Chidiebere Ikegwuonu, has risen from obscurity to become one of the most decorated young Nigerians his age. A 2007 Fellow, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), and 2008 Fellow, Ashoka – Innovators for the Public, he has spoken and facilitated sessions for the World Bank and the United Nations. Some of his numerous awards and fellowships include: 2009 Caux Scholar, Initiatives for Change International Switzerland; 2009 Outstanding Commitments Award, Clinton Global Initiative University; 2009 Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Awards; 2010 Winner, UNDP Equator Prize; 2010 Laureate, Rolex Awards for Enterprise; 2010 Laureate, World Innovation Summit Education (WISE) 2010, Qatar Foundation; 2011 Architect of the Future Awards Waldzell Institute; 2011 Young Leader, BMW Foundation 1st Europe-Africa Young Leaders Forum; and 2011 New Leader, Cran Montana Forum. I recently had an exclusive interview with Nnaemeka, who emerged Nigeria’s Young Person of the Year at the Future Awards, the country’s most prestigious Youth Awards, where he talks extensively about his very impactful work in transforming the lives and vocation of smallholder farmers in Imo State through a local radio broadcasting service and field practical demonstration. Read the full story here: “What You Need is the Passion, Determination and Commitment to Excel in any Profession You Love” – Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, The Future Awards 2011 Young Person of the Year

The Amazing Story of Tolulope Iroye, the Man who could be ‘Our Thomas Edison”

Tolulope Iroye

Two Sundays ago, I was at the Lagoon Restaurant, Victoria Island, Lagos, to interview Tolulope Iroye, a 28-year old young Nigerian inventor and technology enthusiast who has, despite not having any formal training post-secondary school, has risen beyond obscurity to clinch the Best Use of Technology Award at the last edition of The Future Awards, Nigeria’s most prestigious youth awards, in January 2011. Calm and unassuming, this talented young man has refused to allow a family tragedy take him down. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and blaming other people for whatever misfortune and challenge life has tossed at him, he believes that a man is never a failure until he accepts it. Click here to read the full story on BellaNaija.com. Your comments are highly welcome! –GN!

Best Use of Science…& Rap? Meet Debo Olaosebikan: The Rapping Physicist

25-year old Debo Olaosebikan, aside from being a finalist in the Young Person of the Year Category, won the Best Use of Science award at the 2011 edition of the Future Awards, Nigeria’s most prestigious youth awards. Graduating Summa Cum Laude from the Illinois Wesleyan University with concentrations in Physics and Mathematics, he embarked on a PhD programme having been selected to the Cornell Nanophotonics Group and assigned to work on developing the world’s first electrically operated Silicon Laser, a project supported by a $6 Million grant from the United States Department of Defense. His research interest dates back to 2005 when he worked at IBM on record-breaking magnetic memory storage technology. He has also built an application centered around improving education in Nigeria, which made the final cut in a $100,000 USAID/Western Union Competition (2010) and he is currently in advanced stages of discussion with the Lagos State Government for a state-wide implementation of the technology. In 2007, he founded CATCH AFRICA scholarship competition for gifted Secondary School Students. This young Nigerian scientist who also doubles as a rapper won at a nationwide rap competition hosted by B.E.T. Hall of Famer and ex-Ruff Ryder member Jin in 2006, under previous moniker – “D2dbo”. He has also performed at the Nigerian Consulate in New York (2009) and in D.C. with MTV-featured artist, Phil Ade. In 2010, he released a 17-track Mixtape “Next Level” (2010). In this interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, he discusses science research, rap music, and Nigeria.

Please let us into your world.
I am Levelz/Debo, a 25 year old rapper and scientist – currently completing a PhD. in Physics at Cornell University in New York and at the same time working on music for fellow Nigerians to fall in love with and relate to. On the way to this point, I lived around a very supportive family that had no problem with me ripping my trousers while doing the splits to MC Hammer songs, right after learning my ratios and proportions from a loving grandfather. This diversity of interests is at the root of who I am and I think it has been encouraged (probably unwittingly) for as long as I can remember. The most exciting days for me, however, were my days at Kings College, Lagos – the laughs, the jokes, the Q.C. girls I bought chocolates for, the night-long study sessions and the boarding house pranks somehow molded me into the person I am today. It still blows my mind to think that I and people like Cobhams Asuquo (producer) and Olumide Adewumi (Gidilounge) were in the same 1995-2001 set and that back then we were just kids having fun, eating our NASCO cornflakes and generally trying to do well in school. I remember my time in K.C. very fondly and I will continue to shower praises on that school even when I am old and grey.

You recently won the Best Use of Science award at the Future Awards. How did you feel, receiving the honour?
It was a very humbling experience. Winning in the Best Use of Science category and being a finalist in the Young Person of the Year category gave me a strong sense of value and appreciation. It felt very good to know that one could do science and technology research and be valued and recognized by one’s people. I also felt that by winning, I represented a whole school of people who would undoubtedly be recognized in upcoming awards. There are many extremely talented Nigerians doing good work in the sciences and because of our tight-knit social network, I felt like in my own little way I would help get more of these people aware of and involved in The Future Project. In addition, getting to meet people like Chude Jideonwo, Adebola Williams, Demola Adesina, Rick Nwanso and Kenneth Oliko, was probably the most enlightening part of the whole experience. I got to see a strong sense of community and dedication to a noble ideal. I saw people working with assembly-line perfection in the sweltering heat of Surulere in order to ensure the success of The Future Project. There aren’t that many twenty-something-year-olds that would spend their golden years spear-heading an effort to change their country in a way that is stripped of vanity and aggrandizement. I applaud these men and I applaud their vision.

Why study Physics in the university?
It is impossible to overstate how important the transistor is to all of modern electronics: from computers, iPads, iPhones, radios and televisions to your MTN, Glo, and Airtel mobile phone lines and your ever-so-special blackberry! Physics and physicists play a very fundamental role in advancing the kinds of radical technologies that push the world forward. They help advance the basic understanding of the principles behind technology and so they tend to receive a very broad training that can be of use in many fields of the physical sciences and engineering. Because I like to be able to solve problems in multiple fields and like to be able to work at the fundamental levels of potentially ground breaking technology, I decided physics was the way to go.

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Agriculture Advocate, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu emerges as The Future Awards 2011 Young Person of the Year – Photos & Highlights from TFA 2011

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu (Young Person of the Year)

It was an evening of celebration and advocacy at the Landmark Village, Oniru Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Sunday 30 January 2011 as the crème of the Nigerian youth converged to celebrate their peers who have excelled in their respective professions. It was the 6th edition of the Future Awards, the most reputable platform for recognition of the brightest and best of young Nigerians working tirelessly round the year to make laudable impact on humanity in Nigeria and the world.

BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu was at the event and tells us about his Future Awards 2011 experience.

The red carpet event kicked off some minutes past 5PM and had a colourful parade of latest fashion and diverse personalities; from the strictly formal to the casual native and the utterly weird. It was altogether a mind blowing experience with a rare opportunity to meet up with old friends and those virtual “friends” you perhaps had only met in online chat rooms and stalked on social networking sites. There you got to put a face to popular names and shake hands with those faces you mostly see on the TV and on the glossy pages of magazines – Tosin Otitoju (Young Person of the Year 2006), Esther Agbarakwe (Climate Change activist) and Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu (Rolex Laureate) made my red carpet experience worthwhile.

After about two hours of networking and interviews, it was time to go into the auditorium for the main course. The troika of Ego, Tunde Obe and ChiDynma, started off with a powerful upbeat version of the National Anthem. ChiDynma’s strong vocal power stood out along with the live piano accompaniment, which made my day. I felt proud to be a Nigerian and the ovation that enveloped the auditorium proved me right. It also felt cool being on the VIP section. Other highlights of the evening include the presentation of awards, the keynote address by Olusegun Aganga, the Minister of Finance, Chude Jideonwo’s passionate speech and Adebola Williams’ deft handling of the presentation of the Young Person of the Year Awards. I think he did a good job at making every finalist feel like the winners they truly are! In his speech, Olusegun Aganga, a former Managing Director with Goldman Sachs and Founder of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative, appreciated the efforts to make a difference exhibited by the youths awarded and entreated the others to continue to work towards personal achievements and nation building. He affirmed that he had been impressed as already promised by Oby Ezekwesili and Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, who had spoken on the same platform in the past.

Mr. Olusegun Aganga, Honourable Minister of Finance

While the seemingly impatient young audience murmured and even clapped their hands (as to send a signal to the articulate technocrat), they embraced the Creative Director of The Future Awards, Chude Jideonwo’s highly dramatic, yet earnest and heartfelt, speech. It underscored the awareness of the grave consequences of colossal failure in government and misplaced priority in most Nigerian companies’ CSR drives vis-à-vis the overt materialism which continues to impede many wealthy Nigerians from strategically giving real hope to the less privileged (youth) in the society. He gasped, he sighed, but he never stuttered a bit in a tenacious and evocative, yet fluent and charismatic, style. “It is no longer cool to be disinterested,” he said as urged leaders to realize the pertinent challenges of being a youth in Nigeria. “Put your money where your mouth is!” He had made his point! I and many other guests could not but stand after such a piercing rendition of truth! A lady sitting across the table exclaimed: “This guy is the future!”

All the winners are aged 18 to 31. “Every year, we continue to make the point that we are not one of those people who say Nigeria is a great country as a cliché,” says Adebola Williams, who is the event’s operations director. “We are ready to show anyone that there is a new generation that has integrity, that is not corrupt and that is ready to build this nation. We are proud, immensely proud to present a group of scientists, artists, entrepreneurs and others who are ready to make contributions towards the development of their country.”

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