As the first black American President, Barrack Obama, exits the White House upon expiration of his tenure on 20th January 2017, one question that lingers in the minds of many in Nigeria is: what is his greatest contribution to Nigeria? This question remains not only difficult to answer but generates multiple answers, which may all be right! Some may even argue if there is any contribution to write about. They too may be right considering the fact that there are always two sides to a coin. This latter argument, however, is premised on the fact that President Obama has not found it necessary, as it were, to visit the world’s most populous black nation in his 8 years at Oval Office despite the country’s relationship with America and Nigerians contribution to his emergence as President.
Truly, we may not know what the exact reason is. President Obama may not have visited Nigeria as a seating President,but his efforts towards restoring peace and stability in the West-African country is not in doubt. Also, his effort to transform the country’s relationship with America, boost democratic governance and promote human right cannot be questioned.
Important as the aforementioned contributions may be, the greatest of all is his contribution or his legacy to build and promote youth leadership. To empower youths to play strategic and fundamental role in nation building. The future of every nation lies in the youths. No country prospers without adequately empowering its youths through education and positively engaging them to provide solutions to the problems of their countries. What are these problems? In Nigeria, we have a myriad of them, ranging from unemployment, terrorism/religious violence, political instability, corruption, epileptic power supply, among others.
In 2010, President Barack Obama, launched the Young African Leadership Initiative otherwise known as “YALI”. The programme was birthed to ‘support young African leaders as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and peace and security across Africa”.
In July 28, 2014, in front of the inaugural class of 500 fellows, President Obama announced the renaming of the programme to Mandela Washing Fellowship, in honour of late Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, philanthropist and South African President. More so, he announced the expansion of the programme to double its size by 2016, to 1000, which would see African most dynamic young leaders between the age of 25 and 35 coming to the United States for six weeks leadership training, mentoring and networking at some of the best American universities.
By implication, Nigeria who had 86 delegates in 2014 would produce 100 by 2016 through a selection process that requires filling online form that, among others, asks for an applicant to state his work and contribution to his community, goals, greatest achievement or most innovative idea and how the programme is going to help or influence his activities on returning home.
While announcing this year’s winners sometime in May, the United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, was reported in the media as saying 100 Nigerians emerged as winners after scaling through a competitive process out of 10,000 Nigerian applicants and tens of thousands applicants across Africa. Said he:
“Our goal was to select a diverse group, both geographically and socio-economically, representing all that Nigeria has to offer.
“You today represent the best of Nigeria’s youth and the future of the country.
“Your selection says who you are as young leaders and the impact you are having on your communities as entrepreneurs, civic leaders, public servants, and champions of renewable energy,”
There is no gainsaying that this well-thought and packaged novel programme, has immense impact on African youths especially Nigerians. The programme, which acknowledges and rewards participants by way of training them in some of the best American institutions on, inter alia, community service, respect for mankind, selfless leadership skills, entrepreneurship and organisational skills, peace building, public service and fair-play political engagement in the 21st century, has as its core mission that after impacting or equipping the youths, they will return to their home country to help turn things around for good.
In a country like Nigeria where we fail to use our diversity to our advantage, where religious extremism and violence result in loss of lives and property, where politics have become profit-making venture, and massive corruption in government is threatening the survival of our economic life as a people, it is believed that the youths fully trained and inculcated with good values and ethics in both private and public life, will be able to redirect the destiny of the country toward reclaiming its place in the comity of nations and repositioning Nigeria as the Africa’s greatest in both economy and politics.
Interestingly, America recognises the fact that Nigeria occupies a strategic position in Africa, which cannot be ignored. Nigeria’s strength does not only lie in its over one hundred and fifty million population (it is the most populated country in Africa and most populous black nation in the world), but its human and natural resources, which are largely untapped, as a result of lack of vision of its past leaders. Nigerians play significant roles in many countries of the world, the US, Britain, Canada, Austria, South Africa, to mention but a few. For instance, Dr Philip Emeagwali is a Nigerian who invented the fastest computer and based in United States; Adebayo Ogunlesi is a Nigerian and Harvard law school graduate and entrepreneur, who bought Gatwick Airport in United Kingdom and based there, etc.
Mandela Washington Fellowship affords young Nigerians ample opportunity to acquire prerequisite know-how, experience-based training and wherewithal from one of the three categories, namely, civil leadership, public service and entrepreneurship/business. Besides the academic coursework, it avails them networking opportunities, skills acquisition tailored towards providing pragmatic solutions to problems bedevilling their country.
An umbrella body of the past fellows in Nigeria, The Mandela Washington Fellowship Alumni Association of Nigeria (MWFA), has been showcasing the programmes and activities of the past fellows in Nigeria on social media. The programmes/activities cover education, peace building, entrepreneurship, gender equality, medicine etc. Some have narrated their experiences and even challenges in helping provide solution to a specified problem in their community. It is believed that with this continued engagement of the youths in community service, Nigerian youths are gradually taking their destiny in their hands. They are gradually amending the wrongs and leadership misnomer of the past government. More so, they are breaking societal and parental shackles placed upon them by going forth to affect lives and challenge the status quo.
Indeed, President Barrack Obama is leaving behind a great legacy for Nigerian youths and by extension, Africa. This gesture by the first black President of America, has shown that he is still in contact and in love with his roots. He may not open the America’s borders for all Africans to freely move in or send several America’s ships full of various aids for young Africans but one thing he has done, which in the opinion of this writer, supersedes all, is empowering the young African leaders via academic coursework and leadership training aimed at making them contribute immensely to economic prosperity, democratic governance and in building peace and security in their countries.
Finally, President Obama promised to institutionalise the programme while answering a question from one of the fellows in 2015. It is our hope that the incoming President will not only make the programme a yearly event but will pursue its with equal vigour and dedication and even improve on that of the earlier administration.