People would rather listen to music than taking few minutes to read a piece like this in my country. In the same sense, though travelling is generally seen as a part of experience, where I come from, travelling abroad is a sign of achievement and breakthrough.
The moment one travels out of Nigeria, most people send congratulatory messages; although only few genuinely care about reasons behind his/her travel. People start sending best wishes laced with a reminder to bring back some gifts. Most times, the parents of such a person are elevated in the society while the wife and child(ren), if married, or his suitor is treated like royalty. The relative standard of living is expected to change within few months of exiting the country, or else, he is labeled a complete failure!
Although very few people care to ask what took him out of the country and what is he doing in that country? Everyone sings: “don’t forget to buy me gifts o!” The most amazing thing is when our people receive the news of your travelling to the US, UK, UAE and other ‘Uniteds’ - you’re crown king, instantly. In fact, your market share shoots up! Those who have severed the cord of relationship with you suddenly wake up to congratulate you. They quickly wish you success and rekindle the flame of kinship.
In Nigeria’s music industry, you are never a highly rated musician except you have travelled out of the country to perform. Crossing borders to a neighboring country makes you more successful, as a musician, than the ones that are yet to cross any border. You are a ‘star’ the moment you have the opportunity to visit United States. I respect the investment brilliance of our musicians as they make lots of money from our people at home by simply releasing albums about their adventures in the new land. They sing about the type of food they ate, names of streets, names of people they met, and their experiences with white men. They let their fans realize that “levels” have changed. Their enemies and competitors become the targets of the abusive parts of their songs. The struggling-to-survive fans then take from their hard-earned income to buy these albums and even fight themselves on the superiority of such musician over his close colleagues. A display of an absolute ignorance!
How I wish I could also make money from my people at home by simply telling them the few things I have experienced over here. With this, I could have at least made some savings to buy them the gifts they demand. How I wish I could make few dollars from telling them about the kind of warm welcome giving to us by Nick Cortina (my Program Manager) and his friend on arrival at the Washington, DC Airport. How we were taken on a tour around the White House, how some of us participated in the inauguration ceremony of U.S. President Donald Trump, how we had the opportunity of attending a Deloitte training, USAID training, and lots more! The sad part of it is that majority of my people would not read this piece before they start clicking LIKE! An evidence of this was the revelation that emanated from my article titled ISERH Executive Director Inducted as an Atlas Corps Fellow in Washington, DC.
Over 110 people read the article on our website. It presently has over 300 Likes on Facebook and Instagram, but among those who read/liked it, I still have them asking me: ‘Are you back to the country?’ Similarly, I remember my arrival from Accra, Ghana where I went to undergo 5-week training on Civil Society Leadership sponsored by former US President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Regional Leadership Center. Many expected me to come back richer, riding an exotic car, and even giving out money to everyone. They were disappointed. I only went to increase my competence and capacity in delivering development to the most vulnerable in Nigeria’s society.
The disappointment led many people to criticize me and even doubt the possibility of my ever becoming rich/influential in life. Some close allies questioned every local travel I wanted to embark on. And lots of people said to me: ‘I hope the Senate/House of Representatives/Federal Government of Nigeria that invited you gives you money this time around!’ What a world!
This time around, before I left my home country, a self-appointed counselor asked me to work my stay in the United States because age is no longer my friend. Without asking what Atlas Corps Fellowship stands for and what my gain would be after the program, another ‘counselor’ simply advised me to run away on arrival. But I simply asked them that: ‘if I ran away from my country’s challenges which I had been working tireless over time to solve, who would then fix them for us?’ I should run away from the Atlas Corps authority in the United States?! What would happen to the organization I founded and suffered for at home? The same initiative that cost me my job because I had to pursue my purpose: helping vulnerable young people in my state, country, continent, and the world at large. The Initiative for Sound Education, Relationship & Health (ISERH) that won me the ticket of being among the 23 Global Superheroes of Atlas Corps?! I think it is high time my people appreciated intellectual development over personal enrichment.
A lack or insufficient intellectual engagement for the purpose of developing our nation is what makes us retain a permanent seat among Third World countries. The United States does not have half the abundant natural resources Nigeria is endowed with, but we lack leadership and patriotism that Americans are blessed with. A perennial syndrome of getting rich to solve my family financial problems arguably occupies the minds of most people. Everyone wants to leave Nigeria blessed with favorable weather - to the land of snow and cold. But is this worth it?
Again, if this piece were a song, I might have made millions of naira. Seriously, picture this piece sung by Wizkid or Davido. I bet most young Nigerians will dance to it. They download and pay from their pocket to see me perform. However, it’s a piece from a selfless intellectual who desires growth and development, not just for immediate family, but for all Nigerians and the world at large. I bet, only a few will read past a few lines, let alone of dropping a coin for the writer.
I am not a musician but I am here to help America develop the more and also learn from them, then come back home to develop my beautiful country. Although, I am of less value to the present government of my state - Osun State, south western Nigeria - simply because politics overrules intellectuality in their philosophy, I can never thank the US government, Atlas Corps, Brightest Young Minds, and other NGOs for identifying the passionate intellectuals and great human resources Nigeria consistently neglects. The likes of Douglas Imaralu (Edo State), Jeremiah Agenyi (Kogi State), Femi Malachi (Kwara State), Idris (Kano State), Oyindamola Johnson (Lagos State), and me – Abdulahi Abayomi Abdulraheem (Osun State) that are presently serving as Atlas Corps Fellows in world-acclaimed nonprofit organizations in the United States of America. Other Nigerian Atlas Corps Fellows who have completed their service made me believe that our government continues failing us because they fail to tap from resources at their disposal. An example is Gbenga Ogunjimi, a Nigerian Atlas Corps alumna who has finally been encouraged to stay in the US after his fellowship. He has gained a lot from the Fellowship and is presently developing many Americans. Back at home, his unappreciated intellect and skills are actually needed. But politics says NO! How many of these young brains will continue to be neglected while other countries benefit from their ideas?!
I must point out to my people that I did not write this piece to announce that I won’t bring gifts for them when I return. I just want them to think beyond material and financial gifts. I want them to think of opportunity, networking, and intellectual gifts. Those are the things I believe I will have in abundance at the end of my service year in the US. All the same, I can still afford material gifts like pens and chocolates. May the Supreme Being spare our lives?
I appreciate everyone who wishes me well and prays for me daily. I am grateful to those who constantly remind me of my primary missions and challenge me never to forget my purpose. Those who persistently remind me of the young Nigerians I serve, and those who see me as the HOPE of a better today for the best tomorrow. And to those who see me as their PRIDE and SUCCESS, thank you sirs and madams
Finally, I strongly believe that Nigeria shall surely, in the nearest future, compete with the likes of the US in the global economy. We shall also compete in the areas of leadership and patriotic citizenry. This is my sole wish, Oh Lord!
Nigeria shall surely be great again…
Abdulahi Abayomi Abdulraheem,
Atlas Corps Fellow
Program Impact and Evaluation Fellow,
Points of Light/Generation On, USA
Initiative for Sound Education, Relationship & Health, Nigeriaaabayomi@generationon.org