Why there is so much poverty in Africa –  experts

Dr Tunji Abayomi, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Dr Rose Oriaran-Anthony

By Nehru Odeh

When Comrade Victor Cletus, the founder Impact Mission initiative, was an undergraduate, he was not just a student union leader, he was also the President of the National Student Union of Akwa Ibom students. That was, indeed, where his romance with leadership started. Six years on, that romance with leadership remains strong.

“I found myself in school and became the students union leader. So I discovered I had a lot of young people who listened to me and would like to talk to me about their issues. So the whole thing started from there,” Cletus told TheNEWS/PMNEWS.

Five years after he founded Impact Mission Initiative, a non-governmental organization, he and the members of his team have been preoccupied with not just showing good leadership but also organizing an annual lecture series aimed at enlightening the people.

Dr Tunji Abayomi and Prince Yemisi Shyllon

The sixth lecture series, which was sponsored by Prince Yemisi Shyllon,  lawyer, philanthropist, pan-Africanist and world-renowned art curator, was held recently at Oriental Hotels, Victoria Island, Lagos. The theme of the lecture was: African Leadership and Economic Development: The Gaps, Opportunities And Way Forward.

Still, a significant feature of that lecture was that awards were given to distinguished Africans who had impacted positively on people. The awardees included Professor Patrick Lumumba, a popular Kenyan lawyer and public speaker, who was one of the speakers at the event; Prince Yemisi Shyllon, the Chairman of the occasion: Dr Rose Oriaran-Anthony, seasoned administrator cum visionary leader and Secretary of Independent National Electoral Commission, who was also one of the keynote speakers; Mr Sonny Irabor, seasoned broadcaster; Chief Sigimond Fernandez, management consultant and public sector management expert;  Pastor Umo Eno, Grassroots mobilizer and bold leader: Professor Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management, Lagos Business School; and Evang. Albert Iyang is a humanitarian as well as a visionary leader.

In his welcome address, Cletus, the convener of the lecture series and founder, of Impact Mission Initiative expressed his appreciation to the distinguished guests present and those who have supported the organization over the years.

“We are going to be looking at African leadership and economic development. As you all know, one of the problems we have in Africa has been poor leadership. And we cannot fold our hands. We have to do something.

Dr. Patrick Ijewere, Chief Binton Famutimi, prince Yemisi Shyllon, Comrade Victor Cletus, Mr. Sonny Irabor & Chief Sigismond Fernandez

“That is why a team of young people came together six years ago. We said what can we do. That is how this initiative came about. We believe that whatever we do now is going to go a long way to put Africa in a global perspective,” Cletus said.

Shyllon, on his part, gave a brilliant speech, backed up with statistics, x-raying the reason Africa remained underdeveloped and her people languish in poverty despite her numerous natural resources, land mass, favourable climate and pedigree.

The technocrat hinged the problem with Africa and indeed Nigeria on the kind of leaders they create as he lamented the tragedy the continent where the first human was discovered and civilisation started has become. According to Shyllon, the African leadership crisis stems from one major problem: the terrain and the structure for evolving leaders. “It evolves the wrong people since we have not Africanized our terrain and structure,” he said.

“The problem with us is that we all tend to talk about African leadership, forgetting that we have to do something about it, the way we evolve our leaders. Our leaders evolve through a process that times are hijacked from us the followers.”

Dr. Rose Oriaran-Abthony

Shyllon believes that Africa can produce good leaders if they evolve out of the indigenous culture of the people. He cited China and India whose leadership evolved out of the Confucius philosophy and Hinduism respectively as examples.

“Every continent has bad leaders. But again leadership that evolves based on the indigenous culture, based on the values in the culture of the people, and based on the attributes of the culture of the people tends to evolve good leaders. A typical example is China. The leadership of China evolved out of the Confucius ideology.

“The leadership in India evolved from Hinduism. And they are getting it right. But in Africa, we are evolving the wrong people because our terrain and our structure are not built on the foundation of our own primordial or indigenous culture.

“Apart from what I said earlier, we are not promoting knowledge. As a continent, we do not emphasize the importance of knowledge. The world is knowledge-driven, knowledge-based on science, knowledge-based on technology, knowledge-based on engineering, and knowledge-based on economics, and finance.

“So where lies our leadership? Where lies our economic development? Economic development can best be obtained with knowledge-based leadership. Leadership that emerges on merit, and competence and not where you come from. Africans are presumed to be the first civilization in the world Indeed, it has been found by archaeologists that the first human was discovered in Africa. The world’s two biggest religions, one of them evolved from Africa – Ethiopia.”

Dr Tunji Abayomi and Dr Rose Oriaran-Anthony

Shyllon also said Africa needs to produce the likes of great past leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, and Kwame Nkrumah to make the continent, with its vast human and natural resources great again.

“Africa has pilots as political leaders who assume power without the commitment that Africa needs, without the knowledge-base that Africa needs, without the competence that Africa needs. This same Africa evolved some past leaders that gave their all. Where are those people? Where would we produce them again? Where are the Julius Nyereres? Where are the Kenneth Kaundas? Where are the Kwame Nkrumahs? Because they died does not mean we can’t evolve people like them again to lead this continent to greatness and bridge those gaps, those opportunity gaps.

The way out of the quagmire Africa has found itself in, according to Shyllon, is for her to invest in education, and industrialization, increase production and harness the potentials in agriculture for which she has a comparative advantage.

“The way forward is for us to evolve a system based on merit. We should look for merit and run away from where we come from.  And we should learn how to fact-check what politicians are telling us. We should fact-check and make sure that we bring forward the best leadership for us in Africa.

“Finally Africa needs to integrate beyond trade but also a political system. Why must I get a visa to go to Ethiopia or go Zambia? Why can’t I get an African Union visa? Why must the flight ticket to Senegal be more expensive than  the flight ticket to Dubai?” Shyllon averred.

Though Professor Lumumba was not present at the event, he spoke on Zoom albeit on a note of optimism. He believes the African continent can be great and charged the youths not to drown in the sea of lamentation.

“I do not doubt in my mind that the mother continent of Africa can be great. Indeed, she has been great over the years but her greatness was undermined by foreigners who came and abused her. But, we can’t allow ourselves to drown in the sea of lamentation.

“You can do it. You can do it in politics, you can do it in economics, you can do it in technology, you can do it in agriculture, you can do it if you take a solemn vow and ensure that you are moving in the right direction.

“So those of you who are gathered here today, I hope that this gathering will energize you and this is a gathering that will allow you to ask yourself difficult and uncomfortable questions, in the hope that once you answer these questions you will be change agents.

The audience

“You can change the world and you must change the world and it’s only in doing so that you can tell this generation and the generation yet to be born that you came, you saw and you conquered, ” Lumumba exhorted.

Dr Rose Orarian-Anthony also shared the same views with Shyllon as she said the challenges and opportunities for growth are built around the kind of leadership that exists, adding that there can be no economic growth and development without good l.eadership

“No doubt leadership remains on the front burner of our national and international discourse. it is a very significant factor in any nation’s growth and economic prosperity. There can be no economic prosperity, no growth, and no development if there is a dearth of leadership. The challenges and opportunities of growth in Africa, in Nigeria, are parallel. They all require comprehensive and proactive calculus for a better nation and continent.”

Orarian-Anthony, toeing the popular view Chinua Achebe espoused in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria, said Nigeria’s problems lie in bad leadership.

“I want to align myself with our very own Chinua Achebe in his 1983 lamentation The Trouble With Nigeria. ‘Frustrated by seemingly intractable, socio-economic and political challenges facing Nigeria, a nation blessed with abundant human and natural resources including its oil wealth, the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.

“‘There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian character. No. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria’s land or climate. No. There is nothing wrong with the water or the air in Nigeria or anything else. The problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.

‘”The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or the inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility,  to the challenge of personal example, which is the hallmark of true leadership. Leadership that is shying away from leading by example  is not the leadership we desire for our country.”

Orarian-Anthony, however, bemoaned the sorry state of the nation’s economy as well as the insecurity that stares everyone in the face.

“Life in Nigeria has suddenly become short and brutish. No compassion, no feelings. Unfortunately, this is a country which once produced the likes of great people. What we have now all over the place is abject poverty, violence, unstable regimes and governments, poor infrastructure and infrastructural decay, lack of access to credit facilities, poor health facilities, poor education, insurgency and civil unrest plaguing the nation and the continent of Africa,” she maintained.

Orian-Anthony concluded by saying that the solution to the country’s socio-economic and political problems lies in education. She also charged Nigerians to make sure they elect men and women who are selfless and of proven integrity and sound character in the forthcoming general elections.

“We have to invest more in education for the progress of our dear people. Because if we invest in education, if we have a leadership that believes in education,  then all other indices will begin to fall into place.  Our attention as we prepare to elect our leaders should focus on selfless people, people with integrity, men and women of proven and sound character, who would act wisely by acting by wisdom and fortified sound judgment, who are open to new ideas and technological innovations.

When Cletus was asked in a chat with TheNEWS/PMNEWS what his brainchild, Impact Mission Initiative was about, he said:

“Impact Mission Initiative is a non-governmental organization. It was established in 2017. And the vision is to look at the African youths,  and how we can impact them positively through skills-acquisition programmes,  leadership training, and conferences like what we had today. And we take charity work seriously.  We go to needy communities and we see what we can do to add value to  humanity.”

Asked again how it has been in the past five years, he said: ” It has not been easy. But you know, when you have a vision and that vision is so dear to your heart, no matter what you will ensure you keep that vision rolling. I have some challenges, quite a number of them. Even the team that you’re working with you see people that are coming with huge expectations and then when those expectations are not met, they leave.

“So we have people who just care for themselves. They are coming for what they can get. They don’t care about the people on the streets there. That is one pf the challengesa. And then we also have the challenge of funding. We don’t have proper funding,

“That has always been the case. But we just have a few people who recognize what we are doing and from time to time they just key into some of the projects we want to do. It’s not been easy. But we keep pushing with the hope God will make us realize our dreams,” Cletus maintained.