Wisdom Jacob is a Future Africa Leaders Foundation (FALF) ambassador and a 2016 Future Africa Leaders Awards (FALA) winner. In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus, he shares his unique explanation of success, his inspiration for influencing young Africans and his passion to cater for indigent children.
In Nigeria, and Africa at large, young people blame the government for its inefficiency and few opportunities for the youth to excel. You don’t seem to subscribe to this school of thought as you emerged one of the winners at the 2016 Future Africa Leaders Awards (FALA). Tell us about FALA and what inspired you to achieve the feat that fetched you the award?
While the government of any nation should care about the future of the young ones and plan for their future; I think it is unfair to blame the government as an entity, because the government is a representation of the governed. It’s a reflection of the entire society. Often times, you find individuals who hold the government responsible for their misfortune or for little or no opportunities for excelling. It’s normal to want to blame others as your reason for failure or lack of opportunities and I quite understand the government’s role in the development of societies, providing basic amenities and providing opportunities but every individual should also assume responsibility in nation building.
Government can help to provide information about how to make better choices, but people would eventually have to make the choices themselves. I don’t subscribe to blaming the government for its inefficiency and availing few opportunities for youths to excel particularly in Africa because success in life is personal. It’s a conscious and deliberate decision the individual has to make, if you are passionate about success, you’ll certainly reach for it and see to it that you attain it.
I believe success is when preparation meets opportunity. When you are prepared and take advantage of the little opportunity available to you, by doing so, you make a success out of life. Africa is in short supply of problem solvers and that’s what we need today. We need individuals who can rise up to solving problems beginning from their immediate locality.
Over the years I’ve been greatly inspired by Rev. Dr. Chris Oyakhilome (DSC, DD) in one of his teachings, he said; “success is looking out for a human need and reaching out to fulfilling that need.” One could keep blaming the government for the misfortunes in the nation but, you can choose to realize that the challenges around you today are actually your opportunities.
When I was age 16, I was inspired to wanting to make big impact in my community, like I said earlier the impact of Rev. Chris Oyakhilome in my life made me rise up to the challenges confronting our nation. Then I began going to several high schools in my community to talk to young people about how to be successful even though I was still a high school student too, but I knew I had something within that they needed to know because I realized, we cannot build excellent physical structures until we first build excellent mental structures and this has to begin with a grass root penetration in high schools.
I reached out to several hundreds of students on the school’s assembly grounds and the more I went out the more inspired I became. During those times organized success motivation seminars and conferences bringing together hundreds of high school students. Worthy of note, in 2015, working with a team of young individuals, we had our largest gathering that brought 2,500 high school students together and it was a sight to be behold as we talked about the students role in nation building.
When I was done with my high school education, I got to meet a colleague who was into Cat Fish Hatchery and I got interested in it and I decided to work voluntarily. I learnt the basic techniques in Catfish Hatchery from him. Through the knowledge gained, I embarked on a quest to visit different high schools organizing agricultural seminars because I saw the need for economic growth and youth employment and little by little the impact of the various programs began to unfold as young people began to understand their roles in nation building, entrepreneurship and self development.
In 2016, I got to an opportunity to know about the Future Africa Leaders Award which is aimed at exploring and expanding the leadership potentials in Africa. It is for identifying, celebrating and supporting young Africans who have demonstrated exemplary leadership by impacting their generation positively through education, youth empowerment and mentoring to build young people and prepare them for a positive future. I applied for the Award that year and I was nominated and made it to the list of 28 individuals from across Africa out of the several thousands that applied. God being so gracious, I was selected amongst the top 10 winners of the Award in 2016 and I happened to have been the only Nigerian winner for the award in 2016.
Since I emerged FALA winner, I’ve had the opportunity of reaching out to wider audience in Africa and the entire globe. It has amplified my voice, made me a source of inspiration to many young people around the world and I’m forever grateful to the FALA Foundation for the huge platform it availed me. It’s important to understand that the youths are the torchbearers of the future and they must seek to harness the wisdom and vitality deposited inside them. Quit thinking about what your country can do for you; rather, think what you can do for your country. Remember, today’s challenges are your opportunities.
What were the challenges you faced and how were you able to overcome them?
Some of the challenges I encountered before making it to limelight through FALA was the challenge of getting others to be a part of the vision I had. I had a passion to reach so many but I had limited workforce. Most people actually thought it was a waste of time and effort. They considered it a humanitarian project with no pay so this was a huge challenge back then because not many believed in what I was doing.
At the earlier stages, I had to do most of the walking and talking all by myself. Even though, I had such deep passion for impact there were opposing circumstances but I didn’t consider them a factor. I kept pressing on regardless of the difficulties. At some point too, I needed more resources to carry out the vision of changing lives but I had very few resources. The journey for me wasn’t all rosy at the initial stages but commitment and consistency kept me going. I kept setting new targets, blazing more trails and heading towards new frontiers. As time went on, I began getting financial supports from individuals and colleagues and it added a great deal to my work.
Several young people in Africa have become drug addicts; and adopted several other illicit vices. Is there hope for such people and what advice do you have for them?
The problem is much bigger than we can imagine, and we are probably waking up a little late but certainly not too late. It may not be too much to speculate that there is not one of our tertiary educational institutions or even the primary/secondary schools, which is free of drug addicts. We will be deceiving ourselves to think or believe that the situation is limited in geography or age. Young people use drugs either because they want to change how they feel or they want to feel better or different. Other reasons may include socializing with friends, peer pressure or the need to feel part of a group, relaxation or to escape from psychological or physiological pain. Whatever their reasons maybe, addiction to drugs or adoption to illicit vices doesn’t help in any way rather it makes them much more vulnerable and it destroys them. Adolescence is a time for developing a person’s sense of self-identification, a process that involves separating from parental attachment and values thus establishing new social ties, values and ideas in school. The effect of drugs and alcohol influences social relationship, ideas and self-identities.
It decreases cognitive operation, making it difficult for youths to develop a functional set of values and ideas. These actions also place their education in danger which may affect the economy of the country in future, since they are physically and mentally dependent, accompanied by violent behaviour and aggressive acts. It’s best they desist from these acts because it doesn’t guarantee them a successful future. It’s high time they come to understand that their life is measured by their time, if they are wasting their time; then they are evidently wasting their life. There’s so much they can do positively with their life. Don’t join the bandwagon of fools. Be wise, utilize your time and be an asset to your nation.
You are currently running a food drive project to cater for the less privileged in the society. Tell us more about this project?
To a large extent, it is a realistic project designed with the aim of availing free meals as breakfast and lunch to kids in line with the Zero Hunger goal of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which has resulted in improved attendance and less tardiness; better concentration, alertness and energy in school; better overall academic performance; better comprehension, learning and memory; and higher math, reading and standardized test scores of our beneficiaries.
The project has availed us the platform to rise against hunger at its peak and advocacy has been the pillar of my pathway to end hunger. It’s important to note that 160 million children around the world suffer from chronic under-nutrition, leaving them permanently impaired and vulnerable to diseases. Recognizing that nutrition is critical in the fight against hunger; through this project I am committed to ensuring that sure all people – especially children – have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round.
By Kenneth Jukpor