In a nation where self-pity has gradually become a norm among the youth, with many thinking low of themselves, some Nigerian youth still defy all odds to up their potentials and make meaningful impact in the society. Importantly, government seems to have lost direction in its claim of diversifying the economy. Sadly, it is has consciously relegated the education sector through insignificant annual budgetary appropriations. But some youth have remained resilient to stimulate the development of a ‘knowledge-based economy’.
One of them is Olasupo Abideen, the brains behind and Executive Director of Brain Builders International (BBI), youth-focused non-profit organisation with speciality in areas such as leadership, entrepreneurship, good governance, democracy and public speaking. Nigerians have been said lately to be receiving expired education. However, BBI through its various organs has been preparing Nigerian and African youth to be at par with their counterparts across the globe. In January, he was ranked the eighth most influential Nigerian youth for 2017, according to Avance Media.
Abideen was born 24 years ago in Ifon, Osun state, and attended Grace Nursery and Primary School and Al-Mansoor Model College. He also graduated from the Department of Chemistry, University of Ilorin. He is a serial entrepreneur with investments in the Energy Industry, Consultancy, Technology and Agriculture. And he has over five years of experience as a Development Practitioner.
In this interview with Onifade A. Bello of The Transverse, Abideen gives insights into the activities and achievements of BBI, the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, among other issues. Enjoy the excerpts below:
TT: How was it like growing up?
OA: My early childhood environment was tough and rough. Consequently, I was quickly influenced by gangs. As early as the age of ten, I developed infamous habits beyond my age grade. Since, humility and discipline are the norms in my family, I always covered up my acts whenever I was with my parents. I dared not misbehave before my dad. This attitude continued until nemesis caught up with me, when I spent my school fee and the proprietor of my school had to send a teacher to my house to remind my parents of my school fee since it was unusual of them to pay late.
While growing up, one of my challenges was a lack of vision. I tried to know much about everything and that made it difficult for me to have a clear course of life pursuit. I learnt telephone repairing as a secondary school student, forcefully learnt how to operate a computer, and learnt shoe-making and mending for some weeks. Although I have failed many times, I am not afraid of failure and it keeps me going. Failure in assignments and projects, for instance, only motivates me to do more.
TT: Whenever the name Brain Builders International (BBI) is mentioned, it seems inseparable from your name. How and why did you found it?
OA: As a teenager, I was overwhelmed and surprised by the many bad news I was hearing about Africa. There was this ‘sympathy’ syndrome for and burden of emancipation on the African continent that was prevalent among foreigners. It made no sense to me when people spend billions on political campaigns, mansions, cars, etc., while foreigners send aids to help our fellow countrymen. I thought we have more than enough to cater for our basic and national needs if we choose to effectively manage our resources. This burden birthed Brain Builders International as my own way of correcting the wrongs in my society and creating a platform to engage other Africans in Diaspora for the purpose of contributing to the continent regardless of location.
Prior to the kick-off of the initiative, I prayed, read extensively and thought strategically about the project. I went passionately in search of knowledge and did a lot of reflection whenever I was alone. Despite my expectations, starting off was not a smooth ride for me. One of the challenges I faced was starting out at a relatively young age. I was 19 when I started and had a lot of issues explaining the name Brain Builders International to people, considering the two keywords “brain” and “builder”.
TT: Aside you, who are the brains behind your activities?
OA: I have the best team anybody could ever dream of. They are all awesome, determined and energetic. I am glad and proud of them today because all of them already know what they want to do with their future, courtesy of the mentorship and knowledge sharing. We also have a board of directors, admirers and volunteers, working day and night to ensure the success of the organization. The activities of BBI are grounded on teamwork.
TT: What have been your achievements and, perhaps, notable challenges?
OA: One of my major achievements was reaching out to over 20,000 young Nigerians last year through the Google Digital Skills training for Africa. To the glory of God, I have sat with different policy makers including the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have travelled out of the shores of the country 22 times in the last four years to contribute to global discourses and empower myself with fresh ideas. Through the support of our team, we have directly reached out to over 200,000 young Nigerians; photos evidences are available on our Facebook page and website.
One of the major challenges I have is getting to manage my time. I am involved in a lot of things and hate disappointments. But I learnt how to say no the hard way last year. Another major challenge is getting to manage with the level of corruption in the country. I lost a consulting contract recently because I couldn’t present a blank receipt and get lower than the approved budget for the project. I am always happy rendering selfless services to humanity. I count it as a privilege for me to serve and it’s such a great achievement getting rewards from it through meeting and networking with like minds and building my capacities through local and international conferences.
TT: You were nominated sometimes last year for an award; could you please tell us about it?
OA: I was nominated by Avance Media alongside other productive young Nigerians like Toyosi Akerele, John Obidi, Freeman Osonuga, Prince Omolayo, Babatunde Oladosu, Jamiel Pajoel, Wale Olajumoke, Simi Fajemirokun and David James in the “Personal Development and Academia” category. The nomination was made known to the public after a thorough background check of our activities in the last three years. I was announced the 8th Most Influential Young Nigerian after a public voting. I must say that I am inspired by this giant stride to do more.
TT: There seems to be an electrifying euphoria among Nigerian youths about the #NotTooYoungToRule Bill. Do you quite agree that Nigerian youths are really ready for the burdens of leadership?
OA: I will say yes. Absolutely! The #NotTooYoungToRun Bill is a timely intervention which has come to correct the ugly trend of a voiceless Nigerian youthful population. The bill came as a megaphone giving voice to the voiceless leaders of tomorrow. If this bill is passed, the Nigerian youths, who constitute the country’s largest constituency, will have the opportunity to change the course of the nation by bringing to bare their virility and brilliant ideas. The campaign is beyond age reduction to pave way for youth inclusion. It is also about rediscovering our citizenship and readdressing the age-long inequality that has plagued Nigeria’s democracy.
It is about ending corruption, crisis and everything that is bad in the polity so as to rebuild the country for common good. Hence, it is a silent revolution to rebuild the country.
Having got a two-third of the state assemblies, as we now have 31 state houses of assembly who have voted yes attesting to the power of constructive engagement, strategy and advocacy, I see the President assenting to the bill soonest. We have prepared a “ReadyToRun” campaign to build the capacity of young Nigerians willing to run come 2019. I am urging the President to please assent to the bill as we warm up for our National Day of Action to the villa come March 14.
TT: Where do you see yourself 5 years to this time?
OA: Well, I have not been here by my power. With God, I see myself establishing a Leadership and Youth Development Centre where we can groom and nurture young leaders for the growth of Nigeria and Africa. I see myself being listed as one of the “Forbes Under 30”, while leveraging on my network to reach out to more youths and invest in multinational brands.
TT: As a budding leadership enthusiast, what can you say about the effects of the BBNaija show on Nigerian youth?
OA: While I so much believe that nobody is a saint and nobody is being forced to watch the show, I have never watched it. My time is so precious that I can’t afford to waste even a second. From the reviews I read online, the regulatory agencies ought to have called the attention of the organizers to the upsetting display of nudity. There are better ways to appreciate the innate talent of our youths than stylishly making them sex workers. The programme should be reviewed to give the needed result that will benefit the youths.
TT: What advice have you for the government of the day, especially with the recent occurrences by and against the Fulani herdsmen?
OA: One of the major challenges affecting us as a country could be attributed to having weak institutions. I will advise the PMB-led administration to tackle the issue of the herdsmen headlong brutality before it aggravates and gets out of hand. Our peaceful co-existence should not be compromised for anything.
TT: What advice have you for youth out there?
OA: We are a generation of noise-makers without action. Enough of the talk show; we need to start acting. Not until we start taking responsibility with our lives, nobody will take us serious. The best time to have started is yesterday and the next best time is now because if you start now or not, the next ten years will still come and you will regret not starting today. I will also advise that we collaborate and not compete with one another. We should also cultivate the habit of reading and networking. Lastly, we should learn to start small and think of how we can be patriotic, compliment the efforts of the government and ethically press home our demands.
TT: Thank you for your time.
OA: Thank you too.