By Demola Akinyemi Ilorin
The maverick Ibraheem Abdullateef, a native of Ilorin in his 20s is a writer and SDGs advocate with over 100 opinion articles on national and international platforms on Gender equality, Youths development, education, Human rights and leadership among others.
Because of his outstanding brilliance and his deep depth of wisdom and articulation many who have met him won’t believe, he’s currently a 300 Level student of Mass Communications in Kwara State University, Malete in Moro local government.
Ibraheem has been a global correspondent (7th cohort) for the Diinsider, a social impact magazine based in Beijing and a Writing Fellow at African Liberty, USA. Due to his love for community and leadership, he co-founded Kwara Rebuilders, a Pro-democracy group with structures across the 16 LGAs to champion Peacebuilding, Political education, and Community development projects in the state.
In 2020, he started Torchbearers Impact Network (TIN) to focus on facilitating mentorship and opportunities for young people on Education, Career and Leadership. He said one of the things that keep him going is his passion for state and country. “I fear that as a young man if I don’t do it, no one will build this country for us.”He said
He spoke in an interview with Vanguard Assistant News Editor, Demola Akinyemi in Ilorin. Please find excerpts of the interview.
Vanguard Why the Torchbearers NGO and what do you plan to achieve?
As the name suggests, Torchbearers Impact Network was founded to be a platform for discovering and building new world leaders. We set out to focus on facilitating mentorship and opportunities for young people in education, leadership and career. While that may sound really big, especially for a student, we have been making it a reality. Since its establishment in 2019, we have completed more than five projects with impacts on over 5,000 students across levels and institutions in Nigeria.
I got the inspiration to establish TIN from a book I read, ‘It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,’ written by General Colin Powell, former United States Secretary of State.
It was shared with me by one of my older friends to learn more about purposeful leadership. Instead of going away with just that lesson, I understood something more which is the power of mentorship.
I realised that I have largely been privileged with access to learning from many top leaders, bearing a great influence on my carriage and activities as a youths’ leader.
This access to learning shaped my view and belief. Then, it dawned on me I had to do so for many others. Why should youths take after the bad guys alone? It is not because we have fewer good guys but because we are not united in goodness.
I realised my dream was to build a network of young people with talents and values, partnering on change and impact projects. Well, those who believe that names are powerful may be right.
How I arrived at choosing Torchbearers is divine because it truly carries the essence of the organisation. TIN is a project to discover, partner, support and raise the next African leaders in 15- 20 years.
How far have you gone in achieving your goal?
Among all the things we have done, something stands out for me. That is the message my life passes across to students and young Nigerians that they can be and are in fact torchbearers wherever they dwell. Home, school, workplace or community.
They just need to realise and start making efforts to lighten others, and impacts in their communities. To have been an inspiration for someone, as little as it can be, is huge for me. And that is what is playing out now.
You see for a less than two-year-old organisation founded by a student, some say we are punching above our weights. Our first project was done in January 2020, a day teen workshop on career held for over 100 senior students of Government Senior Secondary School, Malete. Then, we organised training on writing opinion stories and reports, with close to 200 participants from various faculties in my university. What we did next was bigger.
As students were going on their 1st semester holiday, we designed a virtual platform for learning. It was called KWASULearn. About 1000 students registered to maximise the opportunity to learn about Community Development, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Science and Technology, Leadership and Activism, and Entertainment from accomplished persons in these fields.
The facilitators included Special Assistant to Vice President on Innovation Ife Adebayo, Special Assistant — Office of the SSA to the President on SDGs Rose Keffas, Chief Operating Officer Wootlab Innovations Chioma Okoro, and Deputy Coordinator Centre for Community Development, KWASU Dr Fatai Akosile. His Excellency AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq was the keynote speaker at the grand finale.
I am of the opinion that the COVID-19 pandemic is an eye-opener, the world must come out of it stronger, especially on health, education, and technology.
In partnership with University’s Centre for Community Development, I have also led the team to host a peacebuilding campaign tagged #OneMalete to foster peace and harmony between students and the host community, Malete. You see, peace is paramount to both students and the university community to achieve their aims.
Neither academics nor businesses can thrive without it. So when there were reports of a worsening relationship between students and indigenes, we floated that campaign to (re) orientate them. Peace has no alternative. We did it with the police, religious and community leaders, alongside the management for far-reaching effects.
Now come what many describe as our biggest project so far, TheWriteUp. It was a national essay contest we started in April and concluded in August. We received about 100 entries from universities across the country.
It was a three-legged contest including interviews graded by a four-man panel of award-winning writers and journalists.
In the end, the top 3 winners were rewarded with N200,000, N100,000, and N50,000 respectively. The last seven contenders also qualified for free 4-week tech training.
While I can’t be a judge in my own case, I am fairly convinced that we have promoted and impacted positively creative writing and literature.
Look, we marked International Youths Day 2021 with that project. The first-ever in my university.
We brought together over 2,000 students to learn from the personal stories and experiences of leaders from the public and private sectors.
The star-studded list included Deputy Governor Kayode Alabi, Speaker KWHA Engr Yakubu Danladi, Global energy Executive Chief Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Kwara Commissioner for Tertiary Education Barr Senior Ibrahim Suleiman amongst other dignitaries.
From KWASULearn to #OneMalete, and TheWriteUp, it has been a stretch of impactful projects on over 5,000 young people.
So when you are doing such things that have earned you open commendation twice from the Governor of your state, you cannot say you are idle. You only need to know there is room for improvement.
I am on track to do more on the realisation of SDGs 4, 5, and 16 in Kwara and Nigeria.
What are the challenges facing your task?
I must acknowledge that I have enjoyed tremendous support from my university through the Centre for Community Development. They give me all the moral support I need to achieve our projects.
But finance has been an issue. Although I know that is generic. There is hardly any independent NGO that has enough money to run projects. But being a student, it gets harder when I have to use my upkeep to keep things moving.
We have been fortunate to receive support from Kwara State Government, The Hook, Gbenga Hashim Foundation on TheWriteUp maiden edition. But I have often had to spend at least 50% of my six figures monthly earnings on our humanitarian works.
I wish students and young people with credible NGOs get more support from governments and well-heeled Nigerians to prosecute SDGs.
Haahh…combining this with academics has not been rosy too. You know leadership is sacrifice. I have had to miss classes and tests a lot.
But really nothing compares to the feeling of touching lives. Regardless of whatever challenges I face on a task, I take solace in the success and impacts we make on the people and community.
As a youth, what’s your assessment of Nigerian youths in their struggle to survive in the current economic hardship?
Nigerian youths are beautiful flowers in need of space and time to bloom. To be frank, we have justification for the demands for a new lease of life.
We need to get that clear. It seems the system is just wired to make the young people fail or labour in vain. Although I know that is not true. Things are just hard. To change the story, governments at all levels need to be deliberate.
It is not enough to preach self-reliance. What about the plans and institutional framework to make it happen? It takes an average Nigerian youth 22 – 25 years of his/her life to know that education is beyond bagging certificates to look for employment.
Education is to be acquired to solve problems and create wealth.
It is overdue to review the curriculum. Why will the world be changing and our own education remain the same? The No.1 reason why Nigeria is what it is today is faulty education.
We are not maximising our human resources through investment in human capital development. Holistic education starts with instilling good values in the students from the basics.
Then, they get trained to think and create new things along the line. Look, if one is truly educated, he won’t be waiting for government jobs.
And that is one of the reasons young people are disenchanted with the nation.
We grew to learn that the government gives automatic ministry and parastatals jobs. Now that it is impracticable, education must reflect it. It is in the interest of all.
You also need to look at those who run small and medium-sized businesses. See, that is not easy. What anyone can do for them is to be kind and encouraging. This is where the issues of friendly tax management come in.
This is where you look at non-profit loans. You look at social amenities. When you realise that there are little or none of these to enjoy, you realise why the youths are struggling to survive in the current economy.
I must acknowledge that internet-related frauds are threatening and the security agencies need to rein in illegality.
In my own little way, I have always berated those who hide under technology and freedom of expression to wreak havoc.
For example, those who bastardised the #EndSars struggle with brigandage. But not everyone with laptops and gadgets is evil. Some sell soft skills.
Graphics designers, coders and web designers, social media managers and influencers, content writers all fit into this category.
As if the constant harassment by the police is not enough, many of them are writhing under the weight of the Twitter ban on their businesses.
I must also acknowledge the security reasons FG gave for the ban but I think it is dragging. They could have sorted that out within a week if there were no other issues.
Not only a medium of free speech is trampled, but a source of livelihood for thousands of youths is also blocked.
If we want Nigeria to flourish, we can’t continue to make things hard for women and the young population. I urge the government to suspend the ban now.
On the challenges of youths unemployment in this country, how do you think your NGO can help in changing the narrative, towards ensuring that Nigerian youths change their orientation and are henceforth self-employed?
It should not be news anymore. The country cannot give free jobs to the graduates it produces every year.
But how prepared are the youths to take opportunities in the private sector? How prepared are our graduates to think and create wealth? I have made some points about this above and I believe they are well-taken.
From our end at Torchbearers Impact Network, that’s what we set out to correct. When you look at KWASULearn, it gave participants exposure to the world of work and the opportunities in the new world.
Ordinarily, we should have students’ union governments across Nigerian universities organising workshops and seminars for students to learn about how to write resumes and CVs, business plans and proposals, digital marketing and other soft skills.
And I am urging them with this platform to look into it.
As an NGO, we won’t rest on our oars. Plans are already in top gear for a state-wide training/workshop for tertiary students to prepare them for life outside school.
I believe dearly that with the knowledge, skills, and certificate from the programme, they will be better positioned for opportunities in the new economy and also mentally equipped to create wealth.
We hope to get the necessary support from bigger NGOs and well-heeled Nigerians.
We shall also keep preaching self-development. The Internet is a limitless class. We have different platforms that are charging little or no fees with courses in project and social media management, leadership and co.
There are also credible groups to join for volunteerism. It is from such out-of-school activities I have collected about 20 certificates in the last two years.
Most essential is the purposeful mindset of impact and leadership. Young people everywhere must see themselves as torchbearers. Because that is who they are and they must reflect it in their doings.
In school, workplace and community, one thing I have always shown is the readiness to learn and the ability to lead.
It is because I believe I am a torchbearer and I am responsible for the development of my state and country.
When you have such a mindset, you will build and develop yourself so well you are picking choice jobs or you are creating jobs for choice people.
That’s what Nigerian youths need to know. A better Nigeria revolves around a better citizenry.