By Bello Bala Shagari

In September 2019, I was the President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria when I received an email informing me of my nominations for an award by His Imperial Majesty’s Global Outreach.

The message was contained in a letter signed by one Dr Ayobami Oyedare. I didn’t take it too seriously until I received a call from Tomison who is an aid to the King, he is a young man just like me so we related very easily.

I was completely surprised how I made it through the selection, but Dr Abayomi reassured me that “Baba is watching all of you and he is following everything you’re doing”. At that point in time, I was perceived as a troublemaker, an embattled youth council President who had refused being removed from office after so much controversy. So I thought he shouldn’t want to associate himself with my troubles because at that time people were avoiding us at the youth council.

Well, I packed my bags, bought a ticket and flew to Ife through Ibadan. I didn’t announce my plans fearing that someone might go and jeopardize the whole thing. On arrival at about 5pm, we were lodged at the Royal Resort, which is a vast accommodation with all the amenities one would need. At night we went to the palace to have a dinner with the King (Ooni of Ife). There I met many young people who were to be my very close friends and allies. I became friends with a lot of Lagos boys and others who I only knew on TV, from comedians to tech gurus, journalists, young politicians, successful entrepreneurs etc. The energy in the Ife palace was very euphoric with the aura of young great achievers.

As the President of the National Youth Council at that time, I had always dreamt of having a gathering like this where successful young Nigerians would come together to form a forum, but I’ve always thought it was impossible. Because we don’t usually have the kind of cooperation that will allows us organize in such a way. But here it is like magic, for the first time ever we came together under one platform. I have always lamented that young Nigerians are successful individually but not collectively.

The gathering was humbling! The environment says to everyone there that “you may be good at one thing but someone here is better in another”. It is a gathering of the who is who among the young people who have made their mark in various endeavors. A Hundred of us were selected and invited to be awarded under the Royal African Young Leadership Forum (RAYLF). We were the pioneers. At that dinner, I had the privilege of sitting second next to The King, just after my dear brother Prince Godswill Edward, the famous son in law of President Goodluck Jonathan. It started with an introduction by the 100 awardees on the table all whom are people of different background from all over the country and members of the diaspora. There was no discrimination to the selection. There were people from all walks of life. We enjoyed good food, music and entertainment during the dinner.

Before then, I had never met The King (Ooni of Ife), I had only heard about him in passing and how highly people speak of him. One knowledge that is common though is the fact that he is a young and modern monarch. When I greeted him for the first time, he easily recognized me and said “Shagari, you’re doing well my son, carry on, we are with you”, and I felt flattered and appreciated by someone of such a high standing. During his speech that night, he told us how much he was willing to work with us in building a new Nigeria. This thrilled me but I also thought to myself, how genuine were his utterances? We were in wonderment because it was just too good to be true. Some of my friends were even suspicious that he may be after something. He further encouraged us to network within ourselves and stressed on the need for unity and support between ourselves. He was humble, majestic, energetic and authentic.

Meanwhile, some months later, it was with great surprise to learn that The King had selected me to manage the newly formed RAYLF, to the envy of 100 others. How did he skip all those Lagos big boys including some of whom he had personal relationships with, the likes of Sujimoto, Seyi Awolowo, Rt. Hon Ogundoyin Adebo, Hon Seun Fakorede, Temitope Ogunsemo amongst others who were all of yoruba descent and selected a full bred fulani boy from Sokoto? How did he skip entertainers like Davido, Woli Arole, Adedimeji Lateef, Pamilerin Adegoke and Olumide Oworu and their likes? This left a profound mark on me.

That should tell you how honored I felt! I was no better than any of them and he didn’t even know me well personally. But it is a gesture that holds a deep meaning to those who fathom. As for me, I thought no one had ever considered me for an appointment throughout my life, everything else I’ve become was either contested for or self initiated. So I felt entrusted by someone high up for the very first time, and even more strangely, the father of the Yoruba nation. It was the moment I made up my mind that this was a man worthy of my fidelity and dedication. He has since never disappointed me. He is always pushing me to do better and work harder. He just wants to see you succeed. I wonder sometimes if he wants my success more than I want it for myself. Is it possible? Well, at least he triggers that thought within me often.

The King remains a mystery to me and many of us. It is two years and counting and he remains consistent. If he was pretending, two years were enough to expose anyone putting on a facade especially if you have continuous close contact. This and more are the virtues of the king who has now turned to the “EL PATRON” of all that have come across his grace and generosity. I struggle to think of anybody else who is more welcoming and excited by the successes of young people. He is especially interested in local contents and their potential, perhaps why he supported traditional medicine to remedy Covid at the height of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, this year, RAYLF organized its annual award for another impressive set of 100, and it will continue to do so. It was a forum of 100 powerful young people which is now 200, how many would it be in years to come? I believe that in the nearest future, no one man in Nigeria would be able to assume the kind of authority and influence over the next generation like that the King, Ooni Of Ife, Oba Adeyeye. Simply because he is nurturing young people who will definitely turn to be the movers and shakers of tomorrows Nigeria.
As for me, I hold him with the highest respect and it is not for anything material.

However, he has continued to offer many of us priceless mentorship, guidance and opportunities that have sustained our livelihoods.

Bello Bala Shagari, MD RAYLF-AFRICA

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