QUESTION:It has become a norm for young people to clamour for youths and the younger generation to get involved in leadership, but no one really does anything about it. What would you attribute this complacency to?
SP:There has been no sustainable platform or initiative for their voices to be heard. I believe this problem is being solved with the existence of the Lead Generation Initiative
The truth is that youths in Nigeria have lost interest in national matters. The belief is that they have continuously been sidelined in the political circle and that there is nothing they do that can change this narrative. This explains why they take solace in the entertainment industry and spend most of their time gluing with reality shows like Big Brother Naija and others.
The situation is quite unfortunate. While many may argue convincingly that it is our system that doesn’t encourage active participation of the Nigerian youth in politics and governance, the unwillingness and unpreparedness of the majority of us (the youth) to get involved in active politics, decision and policy-making has further worsened the situation. Many of the young Nigerians who possess the required leadership skills and qualities to move our country to a greater height have refused to join politics on the premise that the system isn’t encouraging. Rather, we have continued to sit on the fence and lament endlessly about bad leadership and maladministration of our country. Let us agree that truly our existing political system isn’t encouraging, does this mean we have to keep watching as things get deteriorate? The best approach is for us to join those running the system, and then make our impact and influence count in a way that we are able to normalize the system. Like I always say, if the capable young ones refuse to make themselves available to govern the country, people will have no option than to settle for the available which may not be capable and whose outputs may remain undesirable.
QUESTION: You recently partnered with YIAGA Africa on the Get Involved Leadership Training (GILT) organised by the Lead Generation Initiative (LGI), an initiative to get young people involved in politics and leadership right from the grassroots. How long ago did the idea start, and why the choice of YIAGA as anchors?
SP:The Get Involved Leadership Training (GILT) that you just mentioned is one of the numerous programmes of the LGI targeted at engaging and galvanising young people to take up the task of rebuilding Nigeria through the next decade and beyond, and it will hold in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.
It is a train-the-trainer leadership training, being contracted to YIAGA Africa to deliver. The choice of YIAGA Africa as a partner is the due to the fact that the organization has carved a niche for itself as one of Africa’s frontline non-profit organizations promoting participatory democracy, human rights and civic participation. Also, the founder and the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo was the convener of the Not Too Young to Run campaign and played a significant role in making the Not Too Young to Run Act a reality. So, the LGI engages the services of YIAGA Africa to train the participants adequately on effective leadership skills, strategic communication, active citizenship and nation building. Thereafter, the trainees will return to their various local governments to replicate the training for the larger participants at the local government and ward level.
The first edition of the GILT took place in Ibadan, Oyo state on 4th and 5th September 2020 with 68 participants drawn from each of the 33 local governments of the state. Second edition took place in Osogbo, Osun state on 7th and 8th October 2020 with 80 participants drawn across all the local government areas of the state.
The next edition will be in Gombe state, and then Bauchi this month.
The noble idea of the Lead Generation Initiative started on 21st January 2020 when a set of young concerned Nigerians came to my office to approach me to be the lead driver of the Initiative. This is why we plan to officially unveil the LGI on 21st January 2021 when it will make it a year that I accepted to be the driver of the initiative.
QUESTION:You started from your home constituency, Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Kajola and Iwajowa. What has the response been like, and how many youths would you say have been willing participants?
SP:I am impressed with the level of participation so far. It has been quite overwhelming, and this is a clear indication that with the right channel and platform like the LGI, many young Nigerians will make themselves available for the task of driving the desired developmental changes in their various immediate communities and the country at large. So, we have had over almost 200 participants trained on effective leadership skills, strategic communication, active citizenship and nation-building. This is just from the two states, Oyo and Osun, that we have done. Like I have mentioned earlier, we are taking the GILT to Gombe and Bauchi this month, and the would-be participants from the two states numbering about 150 are already undergoing final selection process. In terms of membership strength, thousands of Nigerians from all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT have registered with the LGI online via www.leadgenerationng.org. Every single day, people keep registering their membership with the LGI, which means they are happy with what the Initiative is doing and are willing to be part of it.
QUESTION:Do you honestly believe that this initiative is a sustainable one, seeing as most initiatives in Nigeria tend to die out over time?
SP:Going by everything I have been saying regarding the activities and uniqueness of the LGI, you will agree with me that this initiative, which is quite different from others, is on the right track and has come to stay in creating opportunities for a new generation of leaders who are willing to get involved in the nation-building task.
I am convinced the LGI is a sustainable initiative as that was the only thing missing before the 2019 general elections. I wish we had a sustainable platform that young Nigerians can relate with in order to achieve a paradigm shift. The opportunity is brighter in 2023 as there won’t be an incumbent president contesting. However, to achieve this, young Nigerians need strategic positioning in all the state and National Assemblies. This is where laws and policies that affect our lives and the system are being made. So, to change the narrative for good, we have to start occupying vital positions at the State and National Assemblies.
QUESTION: Some may believe that this is simply a PR stunt to further an agenda by Shina Peller the entrepreneur, entertainment stakeholder and politician. How passionate are you towards change and development in this nation, and what is your response to these set of skeptics?
SP:PR stunt to fulfill a political agenda? This is far from being true. Personally, I do not need the LGI for me to be relevant in politics. I believe that for a politician, especially an elected person like me, to remain relevant, he/she has to continuously be relevant to the people whose mandate he/she enjoys. One does this by ensuring that the people enjoy selfless and purposeful representation, dividend of democracy and that the trust reposed in him/her isn’t betrayed. By God’s grace, I am presently a member of the House of Representatives representing Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Kajola/Iwajowa federal constituency, and this is a mandate handed over to me by my people even before the LGI came into existence. Also, if truly I want to use the LGI to achieve a political gain, then I should have restricted it to my constituency or Oke Ogun or even Oyo state where I hail from and do politics. In that case, it means making LGI a national thing is needles and waste of resources. The reverse is the case because the LGI is beyond politics of partisanship, it is strictly a non-political organization targeted at creating opportunity for young Nigerians, who are desirous of a better Nigeria, to channel their creativity and skills to adding value to their immediate communities. As the largest black nation in the world, we remain the pride of Africa, and I strongly believe that things will soon start working out perfectly for us in Nigeria. We all just need to rise up to the task of building a greater Nigeria that will put on the world’s map in terms of development. We have to role up our sleeves and be ready to get our hands dirty as we clean the mess in the system. What I mean is that we should be prepared that we may get stained in the process of cleaning the mess.
QUESTION:In many cases, a lot of youth initiatives get sidelined in their vision and don’t have a long-lasting impact on the youths they were created for due to change in agenda, or the initiative being hijacked by unscrupulous agents. What is the guarantee that this initiative won’t be one of those ‘youth empowerment’ clichés?
SP:The LGI is not a political party but a plug to catalyze change in our diverse communities. If we are able to impact one community at a time we would in turn be building the whole nation. Every community has its own peculiarity and we are putting a structure in place to correct the anomalies in the system which make the change we desire so difficult to achieve.
We are building a solid structure for the LGI (from ward representatives to local government and state coordinators, to zonal and regional heads) across the states of the federation and FCT. All these people are undergoing thorough screening to ensure that we settle for the right people and not partisans or unscrupulous elements. This is very important because we don’t want to engage anyone who will deviate from the main goals of the LGI which are national development-driven.
QUESTION: A lot of people would ask ‘where do you see this initiative in the next five years’, but I think the real question is, are these goals realistic and have there been signs to show that these goals would one day become a reality?
SP:In order for us to achieve a paradigm shift in 2023, I see the LGI coordinating the strategic positioning of young people into all the state assemblies and the NASS through constant engagement into active participation in political process.
So, the goals are very realistic and this is evident in the feedback we have been getting from our members, GILT participants, corporate organizations and individuals who have continued to applaud the LGI for its unique activities and events. Those local government coordinators who were participants at the Oyo and Osun states Get Involved Leadership Training have all replicated same training to the larger participants at their various local governments and ward level. This is a module put in place by the LGI, and it’s working perfectly. This is one of the numerous signs that we have been getting which indicate clearly that set goals of the LGI are very realistic.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Nigeria has been adequately prepared by its current leaders to welcome and accept a new generation of leaders?
SP:Nigeria is a great country with great potentials both in terms of natural resources and human capital endowment. Ours is a great country with the ability to adapt enduringly to every situation and cope. We have witnessed different kinds of leadership from different personalities since we gained independence. We have experienced both the good and bad leadership, but Nigeria still survives. So Nigeria as a country is ever ready to welcome and accept a new generation of leaders. On the part of Nigerians, I can tell you confidently that majority of us are tired of the status quo style of leadership and governance, and are desirous of a desirable paradigm shift that will lead us to a fulfilling Nigeria that everyone will be proud of.
However, we must not forget that power is not served a la carte, we have to fight for it. Young Nigerians occupy the largest part of our population. 65 years and above are less than 5%. And elections are won by the majority. So it’s a no-brainer that the atmosphere is ready and conducive for the youth to take charge. Also considering the orientation of the Nigerian youth, what we need is strategic positioning into all State Assemblies and National Assembly. I don’t believe we need a youth president for now. Focusing on setting the right policies within the next 8 years will prepare the country for a youth president come 2031. We have to be strategic with our approach
So, to achieve this, from this very moment, we have to be actively involved in the political and democratic processes in our country, we have to get involved, and this is what the LGI exists for.
QUESTION:What other locations or cities do you have in mind to host this initiative?
SP:Like I have said earlier, the GILT will be done in all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). We are set to hold Gombe and Bauchi Editions this month. This will be followed by Ondo State, Ogun State, Lagos State, Anambra State, then Ekiti State. We intend to cover all these states before the official launch on Thursday 21-01-21.
QUESTION:How confident are you that this initiative would spark the change that Nigeria needs?
SP:I am very confident that it will spark a desirable change that our country needs. By the time we train all our participants from the 36 states including the FCT, and they replicate same to the larger participants at the local government and ward level, then the world will begin to see the LGI as a powerful tool for human capital development.
QUESTION: Apart from the prevalence of political decadence that surrounds our nation, what other thing drives you to see that this initiative yields fruit and inspires lasting change?
SP:If you have been very conversant with my antecedent, you would have noticed that I am ever driven by the desire to make a positive change in the society. My desire for a societal growth and change drove me to politics, and I have been trying as much as possible to make my impact felt positively. It is this same desire for a positive change in our society that makes me throw my weight behind an organization like the LGI. Simply put, the LGI is about human capital development, societal growth, community development and nation-building; this is what Shina Peller represents and stands for, and this is why I stand firmly with the LGI.
Questions and responses as published in National Independent Newspaper.