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The programme I had in the US reshaped my thinking! – Toyosi

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She is one of the phenomenal young people doing great things in Nigeria. The Coordinator of RISE Networks, Miss Toyosi Akerele needs no introduction;especially when her contribution to youth and national development has attracted the attention of Mrs.Mitchell Obama, wife of the US

President Barack Obama. Among other activities, twenty-eight year old Toyosi has since 2007 organized the annual RISE National Youth Forum in several states across Nigeria. The grand finale of the event which has been staged in nine cities since this year will be holding at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos this Saturday. A graduate of Law from the University of Jos, Toyosi is an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, youth leader and a teacher. Today she talks about the Nigerian educational system and her upcoming Lagos national youth forum, among sundry issues.

Hear her:

This year, we’ve had some very great achievements at RISE. Personally also, I was nominated for the


United Nations International Visitors’ Leadership Programme. I was sponsored by the United States government to go understudy the US. Within that period, I had the chance to visit and understudy the World Bank, World Trade Centre, the US cabinet, the memorial home of Dr.Martin Luther King Jr., among other places. I also got the chance to visit some secondary schools and also understudy the US educational system as well as its economic system.

When I returned to Nigeria after this study, I was invited again as the only Nigerian amongst 76 young African women(other countries had like 2 or 3 representatives) to participate at the Young African Women Leaders Forum holding in South Africa with Michelle Obama, the wife of US President Barack Obama. While in SA, I got the chance to visit the Nelson Mandela Memorial Museum and to also actually meet his wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Graca Machel! I was quite elated by this visit! I mean, it was a call to action for me as a Nigerian to do more work! I thought I had done enough! These visits actually reshaped my thinking. Even the humility of Mrs.Obama did something to me.

The first thing I learnt while studying the US educational system is that it is a performance driven environment. People are driven by passion. When I walked into the Principal’s office in one of the high schools there, I noticed she had a board in her office called ‘Take Out the Red!’.

The idea was for them to motivate their students to do very well because as a teacher there, if your students are not doing well, you are taken away from the school to probably a low level school because they do not want the psyche of the students to be negatively influenced! The teachers know they have to be abreast on new techniques in the trade and they must be computer literate, and must research!

This is not to say that the quality of children in the school does not matter. Parents too need to reorient their children to be willing to learn. In Nigeria, we find cases these days in which some influential parents go to harass teachers for beating their child! These teachers do not have autonomy because of this, and the student become the ones in control. We at RISE believe that certain forms of informal education could help reshape lost values such as this. Hence, we have decided to continue to organize our annual national youth forum.

There is indeed a crisis of values in our generation. I was speaking at WIMBIZ forum recently and I talked about how simple little things like the way you greet your elders matter. I call those older than me ‘aunty’ but you find the young ones coming behind me trying to call me by my name! It shouldn’t be like that, and I think that’s a failure on the part of parents who have relinquished training their children to teachers, Facebook and blackberry!

There’s no home training anymore! This is affecting our educational system because even children now feel they can sleep with or pay their lecturers for good scores and grades. And this will continue to affect the quality of graduates that we have.

That’s why we are passionate about ensuring that young people are taught what is correct by people who are the excelled and established of our time; not necessarily just anybody who is famous. We look at the moral antecedents of people before selecting them to speak at our national forum. This year, we’ve organized our forum in Calabar, Uyo, Port-Harcourt, Abia, Kano, Ado Ekiti, Abeokuta, Akure, Benin and this Saturday, we’ll be in Lagos.

This year, we’re launching a documentary video titled ‘Tears, Testimony and Transformation: An Inspiring Journey of Impact’. The documentary will be featuring all that we’ve done over the last five years in our youth forum, as well as the testimonies of young people who have benefited from the forum. The next level for us is to be able to create real time empowerment. We are going to begin by organizing quiz competitions in campuses across the country.

Our theme for this year’s national youth forum is ‘Super Young Stars Made in Nigeria’. One fantastic thing we’ve done is that we’ve chosen most of our speakers from amongst young people. The idea is based on the fact that when a 40-year-old is telling a 25-year-old that he could be great in life, that person is preparing that 25-year-old for a journey of the next sixteen years. If a 26-year-old comes to tell you the same story, you begin to ask yourself: “What have I been doing all my life?” You begin to probe yourself because of the closeness between your age and that person’s age! These speakers are full-blooded Nigerians! I for instance was made in Nigeria! I went to the University of Jos.

All the certificates and degrees I’ve had outside Nigeria are just extras. Last week, I received the Success Digest Award for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2011. On the 25th of November also, I’m being honoured by the Pan African University as an Outstanding Alumni of Business Venture. You see, that’s why we would be showcasing young stars made in Nigeria. Other young people need to know how we have made it. Nigerian young people are not all about 419 as many think!

There are young people making more impacts than government with the limited resources they have in their own local communities. These are our own super stars! Our super stars are not people who have had access to stolen public funds. We should begin to redefine the concept of success in Nigeria.

You need to witness our national youth forum which we organized in Kano recently! Come and see the way young people articulate issues! In fact, our focus next year will be mostly the north because we’ve seen that there are brilliant young people over there. A lot of people think the young people there are backward and unenlightened, but I’ve found out that that’s not true! At least I went to a university in the north and I have young brilliant friends from there.’

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