Sunday 13 July 2014

Nigeria Dialogue, London - The Next Generation of Nigeria Leadership

London, Nigeria
Yesterday the 12th of July, 2014, London was a busy city of events of which two were particular to Nigeria, down at Nigeria House was another #BringBackOurGirls protest on the 89th day of the #ChibokGirls going missing in the Cruciform Building at University College London was a Nigeria Dialogue shindig The Next Generation of Nigeria Leadership, and over at the British Library was a more generalist activity of the Royal African Society, Africa Writes.
I was in London to attend the Nigeria Dialogue (ND) for a particular reason, firstly, to meet Chude Jideonwo who had recently launched his book, Are We The Turning Point Generation?: How Africa's Youth Can Drive Its Urgently Needed Revolution (Available in paperback elsewhere and Amazon Kindle editions).
Ikhide Ikheloa, most affectionately known as Pa Ikhide on social media was visiting the UK from the US, he said he would attend, and we all started taking ‘selfies’.
According to the programme, this was going to be welcome address, a keynote speech and a book review session. The book reviewer was going to be Funmi Iyanda and other panellists included Ikenna Azuike and Humphrey Hawksley.
The time in Africa
The event was scheduled to run from 11:00AM to 4:00PM and one could easily notice that this was a slick operation of preppy interesting extrovert Nigerians with the clear optimism that they could do a lot for Nigeria, and I am met many Nigerian youths in other forums I respect for their ability, drive, activities, intellect and much more.
Considering my engagement in the Nigerian social media space, I was quite surprised that I have never encountered any of this team on Twitter, Facebook or through blogs before, it was almost as if, where have they been hiding? Unfortunately, despite the number of times came up during the event, I am either suffering mild amnesia or much else was quite forgettable.
The detail matters too
A few general observations, for an event starting at 11:00AM, much as the ushers and the team were quite welcoming, we arrived at 10:45AM and apart from signpost arrows to the Lecture theatre, the registration table was not ready, the event posters were not up and when I chatted to one usher putting up the signs, the location of the toilets was not known and nor the layout of theatre where there was both a front and back entrance – as signs only covered the front.
My view was once the session started, new arrivals were to be ushered in from the back, and it did not matter in the end. The UCL usually offers conferences in their buildings temporary access to their wireless network, but the information offered by the organisers was quite garbled that we all had many questions afterwards for a straightforward process.
When we took our seats, our desk tops were plain, over time as the ushers organised themselves, there was a pledge form (I turned it over as soon as I read it), then a sponsors pamphlet, a flyer of Nigeria Dialogue activities and then membership registration form in that order, but no programme schedule, that was on the main screen and unreadable from the third row where I say, besides, it was quite different from the schedule I applied to attend.
Not all are networking extroverts
In any case, when the event start and just a few minutes late, the opening remarks led to a 40-minute networking session, which for the extrovert is probably exhilarating though I do wonder why such people think extroversion should be the default temperament of Nigerian’s especially in settings like that, I am a naturally shy person and there were quite a few around like me, that I did extend myself beyond my comfort zone to chat to some of them.
Others were quite animated in their engagements and as that ended some of us were put on the spot to tell of whom we met and what we had learnt of them. I would rather not comment on my views of that kind of assertive domineering complex, but there were a number of times where from stranger host to stranger guest, the need to wrestle control of the attendees could have been done with finesse. Alas! Towards, the end, words failed me at the decorum from the speaker when he was seeking decorum of the audience. Anyway.
What they do
During the networking session, we were approached by one of the Nigeria Dialogue who in his introduction immediate assumed we might have been apprised of ND services. A list that included policy development, leadership and development, community development, data analysis, monthly newsletter and election monitoring tool.
For all the time I followed the recently concluded Ekiti State election, I saw no sign of this tool being referenced or talked about on social media and the process described was quite far from reality during polling.
I forget the detail and none of this stuff they seemed to be doing though laudable, I must say it is, had before the talk come up in my radar, but after an interesting torrent of policy wonk spiel, my friend and I glanced at each expressionless, nothing more to say about that.
Palm to face
The event started proper with panellists called on stage and another particular attention to detail missed, in ensuring all the panellist were really present and the proper pronunciation of names, these are little aspects of pedantry that I fear a person with very low-spectrum autism would notice and it grates.
The moderator said we were operating under the Chatham House Rule, which was to allow for freedom of expression without attribution, if information gathered from that event were to be used by any of the participants.
Then each of the panellists introduced themselves, and on prompting offered a view of their concept of Nigeria, what their hopes were, what their fears were and ideas as to how to tackle the issues facing the country.
Why I was there
Broadly, we engaged and interacted on issues of leadership, education, incentives, the common issues, the analysis paralysis that greets all things Nigerian, some ideas bordering on fantasy, others divorced from a historical context, yet in general interesting and useful if this all goes beyond people wanting to hear the sound of their voices.
The most interesting part for me was in the book reading and the book review, there was much more to take away from it than the rest as I saw it to the end.
Whether we had a proper dialogue is probably a matter of interpretation, but moderators need to be more attentive observing a broad eager audience to give more people the opportunity to speak rather than return to the same people in the audience to proffer on the different topics discussed, this happened quite a few times, very unfortunate.
We still believe
The event drew to a close and maybe what I took away from it was, regardless of how long we have been away from Nigeria, we are quite passionate about our country, if we had enthusiastic septuagenarians in the audience, there is much hope that we would not all be consumed with cynicism.
A poll suggested that our democratic experiment as it is presently composed and operating is not working for Nigeria. There is a need to focus on particular issues to tackle the Nigerian problem.
Nigerians no more take kindly to being fed solutions from global institutions, reasonable as the proposals were, I guess we have decided most of the solutions from before have never quite fitted to our problems and we believe we do have the wherewithal given the opportunity to create our home-grown solutions that would work and endure. We have a very strong sense of pride.
Much as I had opinions on many of the issues discussed I feared that a narrative had taken hold looking like group-think, the voiced opinions were rehashing the already made points, sometimes self-aggrandising and definitely, not fresh.
Maybe next time
On the pledge form landing first on my desk with me present, I guess that was a faux pas, all the documentation for the event should have been in a folder or already on the desks before the participants arrived.
There is much that would persuade me to support Nigeria Dialogue activities and I hope when I do attend another, these matters would have been addressed that I would have no hesitation in signing up to their cause. For this first impression, I have been informed, nothing more than that.

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