Dear President Buhari
GOVERNOR (S) OF THE 36 STATES
SENATE PRESIDENT LAWAN
In 2014, President Barack Obama despite his short-changing Africa or Nigeria in some areas dependent on which PENDULUM you HOLD unveiled a signature Leadership Development Program that identifies, trains and empowers Young African Leaders aged 25 – 35 years Old across the continent who have been exceptional in driving change and LEADERS who had largely never travelled or dream of travelling to the United States prior to their selection as Mandela Washington Fellows.
In the 1st year of the program, 500 Fellows from across sub-Saharan Africa were selected by the U.S State Department to attend a 6 weeks Leadership Development Program across United States in Tertiary Institutions where they are trained and equipped with knowledge and leadership skills that enhances the work they do back in Africa.
By 2015, the U.S State Department had increased the number to 1,000 (Nigeria always had a guaranteed 10% of the 1,000 selected across the continent). By 2017, the number had reduced to 700 Fellows from across the continent due to a Funding gap occasioned by the exit of President Barack Obama from office in 2016. Fast forward to 2019, the number of selected Fellows remains at 700 but Nigeria that was guaranteed a 10% of total selected fellows from across the continent saw it having just 56 Fellows selected from over 11,000 applications that emanated from Nigeria alone in 2019. The sad REALITY is that there is NO CAUSE without EFFECT.
I write to the BONE of my CONTENTION.
Every year since 2014 when the program was first initiated, Nigeria has produced the highest number of Mandela Washington Fellows across Africa, as at 2019, the number stands at 426. Of these 426 Mandela Washington Fellows, none has been found WORTHY to be hosted, recognized and celebrated by the Nigerian President or any high-ranking Nigerian Public official with real authority. It is a BIG SHAME that smaller countries with far less potential is leading the way in how Mandela Washington Fellows should be recognized and celebrated. In some African countries like Zambia, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Chad, South Sudan, the Gambia and Sudan – I can mention names of Mandela Washington Fellows who have being appointed as Federal Ministers in the Presidential Executive Cabinet. These are countries that recognize the place of these fellows having gone through Africa’s most prestigious non-academic Professional Development Program. The Mandela Washington Fellowships TOWERS tall as the most prestigious, most attractive and most impactful Professional Development Program that isn’t keen on educational level/qualifications or the social cadre of the individual applying.
To give a little context to why the Nigerian Government needs to pay attention to Mandela Washington Fellows, in 2018 when the application process opened for the 2019 cohort, more than 11,000 CREDIBLE Nigerians with excellent track records applied to be part of the program. Of the 11,000 that applied, ONLY 56 Fellows were selected having gone through an extremely RIGOROUS REVIEW AND SELECTION process that starts from the State Department before interviews are conducted by Nigerians and Americans that work with the U.S Govt in DC and across their several diplomatic outpost. You can’t influence the final outcome in anyway because of the several checks and re-checks made along the way and of course, the highest level and sense of responsibility is placed on how selected Mandela Washington Fellows emerge.
Everyone who has made it to become a Mandela Washington DESERVED it and has earned their place in the Fellowship through diligence, hard work and an increased sense of self-awareness. Mandela Washington Fellows never go through this exchange program and come back the same, they come back ANGRY but HUNGRY, HUNGRY and ANGRY to help drive policies/initiatives on how Government can effect changes and impact the masses through the lens of their areas of competence. Presently, 100% of Mandela Washington Fellows have a way they are driving change and impacting lives in their communities no matter what they do in their individual professional LIVES. They are a testament to the altruistic BELIEF that we can contribute our quota towards development even if our Government hasn’t done much for them in terms of realizing their dreams and ambitions. These fellows have asked, answered and applied themselves to the important question around what they can do for their society rather than what the society (Government) can do for them.
Here lies my PAIN and the IRONY of this situation – whilst in the United States; everyone including senior elected and appointed officials always wanted to hear our perspective on Africa and our respective countries. We practically talked about Nigeria all through the period of our Exchange Program. We become unwilling Ambassadors of a system that has largely failed to acknowledge or recognize us prior to venturing into the United States. Everyone courts Mandela Washington Fellows including Business men, Civil Society Groups, International NGOs and Government Officials who feel there is a synergy or collaboration that can be exploited to the benefit of both countries. Our Nigerian Government and its officials disregard Mandela Washington Fellows in painful ways we wouldn’t want to remember.
It is PAINFUL to note that NO MANDELA WASHINGTON FELLOW has been IDENTIFIED by our Federal or State Governments. No Mandela Washington Fellow has been recognized by the Federal Government and no Mandela Washington Fellow has been fortunate to get appointed into any technical committee, board, ministry, agency or paratasal where they can have an OPPORTUNITY to share their BOLD IDEAS through POLICY MAKING in developing a New Nigeria.
What’s the POINT of discussing and planning for the FUTURE of a nation if worthy AMBASSADORS who earned their place in an extremely competitive process cannot be invited afterwards (Post Fellowship) to the table to contribute their quota towards national development?
If Nigerian Footballers or some entertainers were to be winners of some competition, the Nigerian Government will roll out the Red Carpets, Share monies, promise houses and ensure there is unlimited media coverage just to launder an image of supporting youths and young talents.
Why not do the same with Mandela Washington Fellows? – use us as an example and poster child to CATEGORICALLY affirm the fact that success earned through DILIGENCE, HARD WORK, CONSISTENCY and PERSISTENCE can still be heavily recognized and celebrated on a large scale in Nigeria.
As Mandela Washington Fellows, we are not saying come THROW MONIES at us AIMLESSLY – There are ways and methods the Nigerian Government can maximize and milk the benefits of the exposure and investment the United States Government has given to Mandela Washington Fellows – we shouldn’t allow the Millions of Dollars vested on our heads to go to ruins or waste.
The Government can do either or all of the following:
a. Set up a Unit within the Office of the Special Adviser on Diaspora Matters and another Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that celebrates and recognizes Nigerians selected for exchange programs, graduate studies scholarships and other intellectual oriented awards and programs that is extremely and usually competitive – this unit will ensure that a senior Government Official always recognizes and encourage them to make Nigeria proud and remember to have a mind-set to give back towards national development when they are armed with this western oriented skills and exposure. This will go a LONG way in telling these COUNTRIES that the Nigerian Government recognizes, acknowledges and appreciates the efforts they have made via investing in our young people. I and selected Mandela Washington Fellows can lead this charge by setting up the processes to ensure this outlives successive Governments in power
b. For the 56 2019 Mandela Washington, President Buhari, VP Osibanjo, the Nigerian Ministers, the Nigerian Senate and the Nigerian House of Representatives need to organize and host a national program where fellows will come share details and highlights of what they do and what they learnt and how the experience has prepared us to take a role towards national development. This is URGENT and the Nigerian Government through its protocol unit should set this in motion – a week of serious dialogue and festivities can be hosted in Abuja where we engage with the Executive and Legislature at the very Senior Political Leadership level. These will enhance the image of the Nigerian Government and endear the Nigerian Government to the heart of the U.S State Department in Washington DC, the American Diplomatic Mission in Nigeria and send a strong SIGNAL GLOBALLY that helps LAUNDER positively the BRAND Image of our Country and its present Government. Mandela Washington Fellows need to be hosted and showcased on the floor of the Federal Executive Council and also showcased on the floor of the National Assembly. As young Nigerians, we helped shape positively the narrative of Nigeria in the United States with everyday Americans who had a complete change of heart about the initial perception they have always had about Nigeria and her youths. I can categorically say that we are Nigeria’s biggest non-resident export to the United States. These moves will ensure Mandela Washington Fellows are well appreciated, not drawn to leaving Nigeria afterward as they get identified and celebrated on a scale unimaginable in Nigeria.
c. Secondly, for the 56 Mandela Washington Fellows, the Nigerian Government needs to set up a special purpose committee that will help all Mandela Washington Fellows share and fine-tune their ideas then help them scale their social enterprise and for-profit-businesses to ensure sustainability in the LONG RUN. The Nigerian Government should SET ASIDE an ANNUAL 5 BILLION NAIRA from the Mandatory PROFITS Nigerian Banks contribute back to the Central Bank of Nigeria every end of a financial year. This money should be called SOCIAL IMPACT INVESTMENT FUND and a model that can ensure sustainability should be adopted to ensure continuity after the Government that initiates the process hands over. This can be done, Nigeria has the money, imagine the impact this will have on those to be employed, businesses that will provide services and the ripple effect of keeping our young, vibrant and sharp minds here in Nigeria. I will say it again; the Nigerian Government can do this. Like before, I and other Mandela Washington Fellows can help set this up to ensure continuity.
d. Beyond providing funding to enable Mandela Washington Fellows build sustainable enterprises that integrates structures and processes, the Nigerian Government needs to IDENTIFY the EXPERTISE areas of each Mandela Washington Fellows since inception and get them appointed into Federal or State Ministries, Parastatals and Agencies where they can be a part of the decision making process that affects young people. The Federal and State Government offers LOADS of opportunities and employment to a very large reservoir of political party loyalist – the Nigerian Government will not get HURT if it decides to absolve 426 Nigerian Fellows and scatter them across several Ministries, Agencies and Parastatals where they can help identify modern day policies and solutions that can drive sustainable change for Government Programs. It can be in a Special or Technical Adviser Role or as Board Members or Director Roles where they have clearly historical comparative advantage and experience. Like I said before, the Nigerian Government can do this, there are opportunities everywhere.
e. For all I have shared above, our Nigerian Governors can do same and more for Fellows who hail from their respective STATES, as Governor, this is an excellent PR opportunity to align with young and intellectual professionals who have been identified and recognized by the United States. Governors are meant to embrace and support Mandela Washington Fellows prior to their Journey to the United States and after their return from the exchange program
f. Lastly, the Nigerian Government can also DECIDE to FUND all Mandela Washington Fellows irrespective of their educational degrees on well paid post-graduate scholarships to American Universities where they can earn a PhD. in 5 or 3 years. – The program will be fully paid up with living allowance at the time of admission to the University. The funds can be managed by an Investment Company in any modern economy. The goal is to ensure we can come back better prepared, empowered and ready to contribute our quota as Technocrats helping to create and drive policies that ensure our long term sustainable growth as a nation.
In all of the ideas shared above, I specifically speak for my 2019 cohort who returned recently but the bigger picture for me is to see how this can be done for all Mandela Washington Fellows across all cohorts. The Nigerian Government doing this will send across an IMPORTANT message to young people that hard work pays, that hard work is recognized and that hard work can be appropriately celebrated. It will also teach and reinforce the spirit of resilience in the hearts of our young people despite our national shortcomings.
Young people will appreciate the fact that it is very possible to work hard, apply for an opportunity, compete on the strength of your personal achievements and get recognized globally and get recognized nationally by your own Government without been the son or daughter of a Politician or stooge to some godfathers.
In writing this open letter, I am not even CERTAIN if all the newspaper outlets, blogs and social media platforms I am sending this to will PUBLISH it – I am positive they will because it will mean that you are seeing this in the public DOMAIN.
We have a lot of unheard young people doing GREAT and AWESOME stuffs in Nigeria, the Nigerian Government only needs to validate, pat and recognize the efforts these young individuals make in our communities – that feeling alone is enough to ensure we are not losing our best hands, brain and head to more developed economies.
In conclusion, Nigeria still remains the giant of Africa seeing our true potential, smaller African countries shouldn’t lead the way for us, they should follow after Nigeria has led the WAY. Everywhere Nigerians that know their stuffs and onions go to, we always create a UNIQUE impression and experience for those from other African Countries. Let Nigeria get this right, play it right and see how other countries will begin to SCRABBLE to IDENTIFY and celebrate its own MANDELA Washington Fellows.
Let Nigeria do this. I know the Nigerian Government knows how to reach me via email when this comes to the public domain.
I dey my EMAIL DEY WAIT!!!
PS: My name is EldaDavid Kehinde Samuel, a U.S. State Department 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, Public Policy Practitioner and Social Commentator who writes from Lagos, Nigeria. All opinions expressed are solely mine and I take responsibility for statements that might pan out to be unrepresentative of the true turn out of events.