If we fix education, Nigeria will be a great nation – Toyosi Akerele – Ogunsiji

AT 36, Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji has achieved what takes most people a lifetime to accomplish. In 2016, Forbes, the respected American business magazine, named her as one of the 20 most powerful young women in Africa. Even earlier, in 2011, former American First lady, Michelle Obama, described her one of the young people who inspire her.

A woman of many parts, she is social entrepreneur, businesswoman, writer, publisher, activist and social mobiliser that dreams constantly of changing her society. In March, she was named the chairperson of the Victim Support Fund’s COVID 19 task Force, a rapid response vehicle in response to the outbreak of the pandemic.

In September, the graduate of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, sat down with the team from The ICIR comprising Dayo Aiyetan, Executive Director; Ajibola Amzat, Editor; Aanu Ogundipe, Head of Videography and Samad Uthman, an intern, to speak about her life, including her work, leading VSF’s humanitarian  effort across Nigeria.


What exactly is the Victim Support Fund all about?

On June 30 2014, the President of Nigeria at that time (Goodluck Jonathan) set up the Presidential Committee on the Victim Support Fund, VSF, as a rapid response private sector-led humanitarian institution to provide psycho social support, economic empowerment, education, rehabilitation and resettlement for victims of insurgency terrorism across the north east of Nigeria. President Jonathan appointed General T.Y. Danjuma as our chairman and Mr. Fola Adeola as vice chairman. Later, Alhaji Tijani Tumsa became the vice chairman of VSF.

In the last six years, the VSF has done incredible work in the Northeast. In fact, I make bold to say that apart from the United Nations and a couple of other international agencies, the VSF is, perhaps, the most prominent humanitarian organisation working in the Northeast.

If you travel from Maiduguri to Bama, Gwoza to Dalori in Borno or you travel in Adamawa, Yobe and other states in that region, you will see VSF boards… schools built and equipped by VSF, health centres and hospitals donated by VSF. These are not things I was told but things I have seen in these locations.

I remember in 2016, I was seven months pregnant and I went to Michika, Madagali to lay the foundation for the local government building and the police station destroyed by Boko Haram. So, we have done mostly humanitarian work in the Northeast.

But this year, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out… and on March 30 this year General Danjuma called an emergency meeting and expressed worry about the outbreak of the pandemic and observed that while a lot of attention was been placed on urban areas, he did not think the same attention would get to displaced persons in IDP camps and people in poor households across the country. He wanted VSF to intervene. We asked him if he wanted us to focus on the Northeast and he said no because though Boko Haram is in the Northeast, Corona Virus was across the whole of Nigeria and our intervention had to be focused so that the ordinary citizen across the country is not left behind.

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The moment the team was inaugurated, the first thing we did was research. Research and development are crucial in initiatives that have to do with resource allocation and distribution, especially to vulnerable persons many of who are not educated, who are extremely mobile, without skills to even provide the information we need. Many of our beneficiaries don’t speak English, for example. Our research team tried to determine who were the most vulnerable people, what would we need and so on in the middle of the pandemic. We started with a needs assessment to guide how we allocated resources to ensure that we met the needs of the people who required help the most.

So, what did you find out were the most essential needs of the people?

We found that food was the biggest challenge for Nigerians – pre Covid-19, during Covid-19 and post Covid-19, and it remains so.

How much did you have for this Covid-19 intervention and where did you start?

We had a budget of N1 billion, and we started from Abuja, which got 20 per cent of that budget. We broke the essentials into food, medicals and PPEs. For food, we said we would do rice, beans, maize, salt and 4 litres of vegetable oil – all put in a 50 kg bag.

For medicine, we broke it down into primary and secondary care. Under primary care, we gave our medicine for pain and headache – basic analgesics, anti-malarial and multivitamins. Under the secondary care, we focused on anti diabetes and anti hypertension medicine. We also donated hygiene and sanitation materials.

One of the things we discovered was a low awareness among persons within our target area, which is low strata of society. I went into Maikoyi IDP camp in Adamawa State and we had to be preaching to them about social distancing. We realised that most of the messaging being done was in English because they targeted people in urban areas. We were the first organization in Nigeria to do CORONA Virus education in Hausa, Fulani, Fulfude, Yoruba, Igbo, Pidgin, Tiv, Jukun, Idoma etc.

We also found a lot of the messaging fragments. We are asking people to social distance, not factoring in the fact that in many communities; nine persons live in a room or in IDP camps where social distancing is impossible. We were asking people to wash their hands and run water for 20 seconds in communities where running water is a luxury. We forget that only 40 per cent of our population has access to running water. So what we did was to invest greatly in risk communication management cos we knew that people in urban areas would take precaution but the people in the rural areas …If Corona Virus breaks out in an IDP camp … if one person contracts COVID 19 in an IDP cam, you know that the next morning, 500 people would have it and you are going to have mass mortality. As we donated sanitation materials to the state governments, we engaged them strategically … we wanted them to build boreholes in the IDP camps so people can wash their hands.

So, apart from the Northeast, where else did VSF work during the pandemic and how did you determine where to go?

Well, we paid attention to the competence, capacity and the character of the governors and administrators in the state. We also focused on states that were really poor where the impact of the VSF intervention would be visible. So, you may ask why did we come to Lagos? Don’t forget that we had decided that the VSF task force was going to be in alignment with the federal government’s response strategy. And the federal government had declared a lockdown in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states. We understood that for the lockdown to be effective, people needed to eat.

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Institutional support is a very crucial component of the VSF Covid-19 intervention. We thought that while we were paying attention to the plight of citizens, we also needed to focus on supporting credible public institutions to empower them to respond efficiently and effectively to the pandemic.

We engaged the NCDC, which is saddled with disease control in Nigeria, to find out what its immediate, urgent needs were. They had requested tele – surveillance and some teleconferencing equipment basically to be able to facilitate meetings and make sure that from Abuja, the NCDC is able to coordinate the entire healthcare system and speed up Covid-19 response system from the 36 states of Nigeria remotely from Abuja. It was such a joy for us. This was on the 4th of June Monday when we did our official hand over to the director general of NCDC along with some of the directors and members of the executive leadership of the agency. Now, they are already using it.

 Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji
Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji

If you go to the NCDC Twitter handle, you’d see the equipment in all of their pictures and their pages, and we commented on the fact that we are very glad to have made the partnership happen.

We’re also supporting the Federal Ministry of Health with technical support specifically in the area of the covid-19 ministerial advisory committee that the minister had set up to continue providing advice and guidance to people from different sectors. We are doing this because Information is very important.

We are also providing them other supports such as laptops, printers, safety boots, face mask and setting up molecular laboratories in four to five states. I also wanted to mention that we give out several safety boots, suits, and face masks.

In fact, in Benin and Delta we gave out about 50,000 face mask each, 30,000 bottles of 250 mils hand sanitizers. In Enugu and Ebonyi we gave out 30,000 face masks and 30,000 hand sanitizers.

How do you determine which state to go?

We focused our priority on constituency in the Northeast of Nigeria where we have the predominant populations in IDPs and victims of terrorism. That’s a magnet. So, we immediately went to respond to the IDPs. We began from Borno, then from Borno to Adamawa, from Adamawa to Yobe, Yobe to Taraba. Then, we came to Ogun State and then Lagos. Ogun state suffers a very delicate challenge because of the proximity to Lagos. Ogun is the only state in the whole of the Southwest that borders by four different states.

So, with migration they could contribute to they spread of coronavirus. We provided food, medical items and PPEs. The items were received by the Deputy Governor of Ogun state, Noimot Salako – Oyedele, along with the first lady, the wife of the governor Mrs Bamidele Abiodun.

In Lagos State the items were received by the Commissioner for Agriculture. Mr. Abisola Olusanya and the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Olayiwole Olosoro .

In Borno State we were received by the governor of the state himself and the executive Council and the person received the items from us was the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Umar Usman Kadafur

In Yobe state we were received by the executive secretary of the state’s management agency. In Taraba state was received by the governor of Taraba, the commissioner of health and several other people and the items were received by the SSG executive state government of Taraba state. In Adamawa state were received by the State Emergency Management agency chairman and executive secretary.

In Abuja, we were received by Mr. Idris who heads the FCT Emergency Management agency. From there we moved on to Edo state and we were received by Governor Godwin Obaseki himself. All the food items were handed over to the honorable Commissioner for Health and the First Lady of Edo state, Mrs Betty Obaseki. in Edo state we visited a very unique location Ohobua the IDP camp in Ohobua and there were about 3,000 people there, many of them came from Borno.
About 12 of the children that we supported to pay school fees were refugees from Borno state who had fled and resettled in Ohobua IDP Camp in Benue state.

In all the states, we paid attention to a few key things. First, we asked what existing measure the governors already taking to respond to the pandemic? Are these responsible state governments?  Do they already recognize the Importance of being in an emergency situation and taking concrete action to responding to the pandemic? Number two: What do the people actually need? Number three: Does this state need augmentation and consolidation of processes they have already put in place so that we can have something to build upon?

The other thing was also to pay attention to state like Ekiti where they already had one death at the time. We went on the 29th or the 30th of May. They already had one death and they had about 20 cases already and we know that Ekiti State is already on number 35 on the federal allocation chart. We already know that it is a 70 percent peasant farming economy, so they had really minimal resources.

I already told you the justification of the Northeast, I told you about Ogun, told you about Lagos. Ebonyi State has the highest number of cases in the Southeast, Edo has the highest number of cases in the South-South as well.

 Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji
Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji

How many states all together?

We have done 12 so far. We’re going to be doing about 19.

What mechanism did you put in place to ensure that the people got the assistance given? Did you just hand over the material to them?

No. In the Northeast we handed over the material to the government but going forward from Lagos to Ogun to Ekiti to Edo to Delta to Ebonyi to Enugu, we realize that it would help the accountability and transparency and monitoring process of the intervention if we partnered with stakeholders, including NGOs, all the existing structures within the states. We worked closely with NGOs, which were verified beforehand. We sign legal agreements with them, telling them to tell us the specific local government where they were going to be supplying and distributing our food items and medicals, we handed the medical equipment directly to the Ministries of Health. We made sure that we partnered with local NGOs because the end closer to the ground. They also work within communities. We also want checks and balances. The state government checks the NGOs, the NGOs checks the government.
What has helped us the most in this intervention is the fact that we are not just talking about one thing, we are breaking it into granular details. So where is the N1 billion? Where did it come from, what was it used for? To whom did it go? Who are the beneficiaries? If you asked me to provide you the data of the people that collected our food items in each local government, say those who collected our food items in Badagri I’ll tell you. If you also ask the people who got a food items in Borno, I have the numbers.

However, we understand there is a trust deficit in Nigeria and the citizens are right to not trust the people that are in positions of privilege because people have seen situations where they give, and they don’t get. So, they don’t trust resources in the hands of people because of their experiences with mismanagement. So when we do the official handover to a governor, we mention that the items donated are worth worth so so so  millions and specify that they include five thousand bags of 10 kg bags of rice, five thousand bags of 10 kg bags of beans and 50,000 pieces of face masks. The reason we do that is because citizens are watching; it is all over the media. If the government doesn’t distribute them, the citizens have the information to hold the government accountable and say that “but the chairperson said that this is what we got, why are you lying?”

The second reason why we also make sure that we do that is so that citizens can go and do the mathematics and say if facemask fifty thousand, hand sanitizer is so so amount, rice, beans, garri, vegetable, oil and this, does it amount to the amount we said we spent on each state?

Those are the loopholes that we needed to plug and make sure that there’s no misappropriation. So, if we say we gave the state food items and medicals and PPEs worth 20 million, does it amount to the market price? Is it competitive? Can we publicly defend it? That nothing was manipulated at the back end in terms of the procurement during the allocation of these resources. These are some of the issues that we paid attention to. We were very conscious that this is an intervention that is supposed to be targeting poor and vulnerable people.

How do you collect your reports?

I could even share some with you if it will help your reports. All our NGOs sign legal agreements with us at the beginning when we select them. If you go to my Facebook page, you will see that I always write: If you have any NGO, and you can partner with us, please send me an inbox.

We partnered with so many NGOs. They sign legal agreements with us. We provide them some little financial support for the rental of trucks to come and pick the food from the warehouse to keep it in a particular place. We give them a timeline and all the items must be distributed within a specific number of days. So, I don’t want to come to your office in two weeks and see the food items there. They were given to you to donate. They were meant to be given to the poor. People can’t be suffering on the street and you are hoarding the food in your office.

So, we paid them to rent and fuel buses, buy airtime and those little expenses they may have, and there are no excuses such as “we collected the food, but we couldn’t move it around.

The Center reports the names of the beneficiaries they gave the food, their phone numbers, their address what they do and local government area. We also focus on specific local governments. There’s no category of society to whom we didn’t pay attention.

Do you have testimonials of the impact of your work?

Yes videos. We can share some with you a lot of them several we have videos of people crying. We have the video of a woman rolling on the floor rolling after we gave her a 50 kg bag of food. We didn’t just make donations and we were conscious of the dignity of our beneficiaries.
We checked the bagging of the food items to make sure that it matched specifications of the DSF.

Tell us some of these other stories, we saw you traveling all over the place

In Warri, we visited the Palace of the Olu of Warri and he said something instructive. He said that this is the first time anybody, apart from people who are indigenes of Warri and people who do oil and gas business who go there to do the formality of donations, that anybody has come into the Warri Community to donate anything. He noted that Warri was the place where everybody comes to take, nobody thinks of coming to give anything. The food items we gave to Warri was received by the palace chiefs of the Olu of Warri. We gave it to the people that know their people and they will not steal from them.

What about the Northeast, because we still have sorry stories from the Northeast

We have covered every state in the Northeast. But what we must factor in is that there is no single organization that provide everything for all the IDPs in Nigeria and this is where private sector collaboration and the sincerity of the people that are entrusted with the resources come to play.

 Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji
Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji

One billion is a drop in the ocean but it is something which why it is important to manage it well. That is the reason why the VSF takes data gathering, monitoring and evaluation serious because a lot of people also see this Insurgency as opportunities for them to enrich themselves.
So many of the women victims and so on depended on farming and so in what ways did you economically empower them in terms of variety in line of the Agricultural support?

VSF has empowered more than 150,000 farmers with farm inputs such as pesticide, fertilizer and so on. Borno State government has done a lot. But if you go to Borno and tell them that apart from the UN and international agencies which single organisation has done the most work with supporting local farmers in the Northeast, they would tell you it is Victim Support Fund.

 What exactly have you done in the area of agriculture?

We have given farmers fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, even seedlings. We do rain-fed agriculture farming. We do the dry season farming. We give them money to buy seedlings. Sometimes we buy for them as well. I mean we’ve given irrigation supports they need to make sure there’s water to help you. We even do livestock empowerment support. So, we give a household one male goat and three female goats. We give it to the women because the men will sell it. Yes, so we give it to the women. And once we give it to the women, they would raise the cubs and then, you know they call sell the big ones.

Still on IDPs in the Northeast, particularly with COVID 19, what kind of assistance did you provide? Did it include psychosocial support?

Before I talk about psychosocial support, let me talk about the fact that women are the hardest hit by the Boko Haram insurgency.

 Why do you say so?

A lot of them got killed. What Boko Haram tends to do is go to the committees and finish the man to take away their wives and they daughters, So, some of them became widows overnight. A lot of women got raped; a lot of girls got married off as little children. So, women are the hardest-hit victims of the crisis in the Northeast.

One of the things that we did is that we partnered with teaching hospitals across the Northeast to provide prenatal and postnatal care for a lot of women because many of them got raped and got pregnant and didn’t have anywhere to go. So, we get them hygiene kits in bags, some tutorials, toilet tissue paper. We did trauma counseling. A lot of them who couldn’t sleep at night, many were having nightmares. People were going to sleep on the rocks at night and coming down into the town into the community in the daytime. There were communities where Boko Harem people would come into their communities, eat with them, stay with them, marry their wives and go back.
And the people were powerless.

How did you navigate around the country in spite of the security challenges?

We have so much that we owe the Nigerian Airforce.

What kind of intervention in the area of education is the VSF making?

When you talk about education in Nigeria, there is a high-level focus on infrastructure. An infrastructure is not education. The instructional content that you give anybody is what makes that person, it is what determines the outcomes that you set out to achieve. What do I mean? Put two children under a mango tree? With breeze blowing their brains, teach them Mathematics and English, constantly, consistently, give them the right content and put them in the class to write WAEC. They will write it and pass. The infrastructure is important, but it’s not as important as the content. However, Nigeria politicians believe that you need to build schools for you to show that you are working in education. So, you build schools, you don’t furnish it. So, the kids are sitting on the floor. So, you build schools, you don’t train the teachers or teachers, you don’t provide extracurricular opportunities for children so that they can learn through alternative means, no technology, no computer laboratory. There’s no way you can you can build an educated population like that.

In the VSF, we don’t just build schools, we put furniture in the schools, and we train the teachers. We buy school bags for the children. We partner with Macmillan that produces textbooks buy books for the children in millions – exercise books, pencils, biros.

If we do not raise better (educated) children, we won’t stop building prisons. But you cannot deprive children and young people of education. And then when they go and engage in criminal activities, you shoot them down with guns that are bought with taxpayers’ money. If you gave them education in the first place, then their mindset would be in a particular direction. You cannot give anybody education and skill and the person would choose terrorism and crime as a viable alternative. Of course, there are very, very few exceptions to the rules.

How involved is the Chairman of the VSF in its operations?

Extremely involved, for an 83-year-old military general. He is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. One of the things that fascinates me the most about him is how meticulous and calculated he is. I like the fact that he doesn’t talk very much. That’s what I have learned a lot from him working closely within the past few months, the fact that you must focus on the results without bickering about it so much.

But what we also need is in Nigeria is a situation where people give you an assignment and they provide the support for you that legitimizes that assignment. When you have challenges, your principal provides you the support that demonstrates the legitimacy of your position and the decisions you are making. You will be encouraged, even in the face of those adversities to keep it going, to go on to achieve specific outcomes because you don’t want to disappoint someone who believes in you so much. We need leaders like that. General T.Y. Danjuma is like every other human being, not imperfect, but as a young person working with somebody of that generation, which is like two or three generations before me, there’s a lot of lessons that we can learn from him.

But he also belongs to the old generation that young people like you blame for our problems.

I’m one of the people that criticize old people in this country a lot. But I also think that our media and our academia have done a great disservice to Nigeria. There’s no sense of history in this country. So, for example, generation after generation Z, 25 downwards don’t know anything happened in Nigeria, pre 1999 or pre 1990.

So when they see certain things on Twitter, they are wondering what this is about or that they don’t know anything about the Civil War. And we haven’t done a great job with giving these young people a sense of history because the people without history will be lost. People have to know where they’re coming from so we know how to right our wrongs. So, when we talk about Boko Haram insurgency, it is symptomatic of a failed system. Boko Haram, did not rise overnight? You can’t compare the level of education and privilege in other parts of the country to the North. But the northern leaders are also responsible for that.

You are involved in so many things – VSF, business, youth and women empowerment, activism, even publishing. Where does the energy to combine all these come from. Won’t you burn out?

Well, it is not easy. I burned out in 2015 and I just said, you know what, I need a break from this country. And I went to school, I came back and I said, I’m going to take it completely leap from youth development. I’m not also very young again. I’m 37. So I cannot be the one doing everything. My priorities are slightly different now. In Nigeria if you protest on the streets. It does not have any result, you will be arrested I have two little children, I could take those risk 10 years ago during occupy Nigeria, maybe not 10 years but during occupy Nigeria. In Nigeria, if you write articles nobody’s reading. If you are on the TV and you are granting interviews, nobody is reading it, those strategies do for me oh.

 Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji
Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji

And so I don’t have the energy, I don’t want continue to dissipate energy, and see very little results because half of the friends I had 10 years ago have all gone to Canada. My account officer has gone to Canada. Most of my husband’s friends have traveled abroad.

And, of course, I don’t take drugs. I take my multivitamins, I do not joke with them. I eat well, I exercise, I read, you know, everybody has their own fetish. I’m very obsessed with finding new knowledge. I’m obsessed with breaking new ground and I don’t measure my existence by being comfortable in my own skin. So somebody else’s accomplishment is not the standard for me. I simply leave my life at my own pace, but I’m not the first woman to be able to juggle all these things. There are many successful women who juggle a lot of things. For example, Okonjo-Iweala. She has a husband and children and look at her international profile and work.

What role does your husband play in your hectic life?
You need a clear head to make a difference. You need a home to go to where somebody is willing to listen to your idea and laugh at your crazy jokes. I’m going to be traveling to the Northeast in the middle of a pandemic, Boko Haram territory … we have two little children 4 and 2. My husband could have said, sorry, if you go don’t come back. But my husband said these are things that give you joy, so go but be careful. So you need a man who’s secure and grounded in his own substance. About my husband, I always say he is 10 times smarter than I  am. And it’s true. If you read through our chats, you know, my husband teaches me a lot. Maybe because he’s much older than I am. As a woman who wants to be the type of person that I want to be, you must be teachable.

How did you meet him?

In church, through his mom. I met my mother – in l- aw before my husband, so my husband didn’t need to take me to momma said I was one. She thought I was a nice, small, smart young girl and I used to visit her at home, so one of the occasions my husband came visiting and that’s how we became friends. He’s a very intelligent man and I’m very happy he is my husband.
But there is a perception that successful women intimidate men and so do not find husbands easily

Intimidate weak men. Nobody can intimidate my husband. When I’m on TV you have to remind them because again, you see for women like us, maybe what we need to also do well is to make our spouses comfortable, because the work I do puts me in the eye of the public. It means I have a lot of male colleagues, male friends, male bosses. Yes, my principal knows that I respect and love my husband. The last time I went to visit General Danjuma, my husband called and the General said, pick it, let me talk to him, and he thanked my husband for releasing me. He said “thank you for borrowing her to us at this time”. You see, no man wants to be the appendage of any woman. I as a woman don’t want to be an appendage. Our marriage is a marriage of equal opportunities.

Nobody is better than the other but I recognize that my husband is the head of our home. I’m not contesting my husband’s position and my style of feminism is not to query the position of men or to compete with men. It is to understand my power as a woman and stay in my lane.

So you are a feminist?

In many ways, my husband knows that. I’m very passionate about women and girls but I draw a line between my passion and my career, my family and my home. In my house, my husband is the head of our home. Our marriage is a place of equal opportunities, but we understand that we have a leader here and I’m not contesting my husband’s position.

So what does feminism means to you?

Feminism means you uphold a certain type of values that protect, that support, that recognise the presence of women as legitimate members of society. A culture that does not say that women are second-class citizens to men. I am not a second-class citizen to any man or woman. I’m assertive as they come and I cannot be cheated. I cannot be put in a box everybody who has encountered me knows that, but I also do not allow so many of those things to stand in the way of reason
So I cannot have a male boss and be contesting vigorously with him because I’m trying to show him that I’m a feminist. That is not what I mean.
Feminism and respect go together. Feminism and reason go together. Feminism and basic common sense go together. So for example during the pandemic, if I have to come to work my husband and I split roles. When I am not traveling, we split responsibilities taking care of the kids. He will go to work three days a week and I will come for two days to work.

I’m an entrepreneur. My husband works for a company so he had to go to work. But he also negotiated his work in a way that is easier for him to stay at home with his family. These are things that I want young women to learn – being respectful to your husband doesn’t make you subservient.

Looking back 10 years ago, what are those lessons in life that you have learnt as a young that you can share with young girls today?

Do not run faster than your shadow. One of the things that I like to tell young people is that it is okay to be different. A lot of young people do not know that. The very early years of my career as a fresh graduate from university, I was already working in the largest indigenous oil company in Nigeria. I resigned my job to go and start Rise Networks. On the way you make mistakes, you face challenges but you’ll definitely make it good. Don’t measure your existence by the standards of other people. Our journeys are different.

You speak with so much passion about making change. Have to using the pedestal of politics to do that.

Good question. I used to say that I would run for office, for the president of Nigeria but that was until recently when I started rethinking it… because of things I have seen and experienced.

Have you given up on Nigeria?

I haven’t given up on Nigeria. I just think that the Nigerian system favors only a type of people. I’m done with the politics of Nigeria. I’m interested in governance, but I’m done with politics.

You can’t get into governance without politics.

I agree. There are two ways to get into governance – by elected position on or by selective position, by appointment. I would settle for the latter right now so that I have an opportunity to demonstrate competence. I want to learn about the system and decide whether I want to go further in the system. But the composition of Nigeria today … Nigeria is a country with multi-level complexities. It’s not something that I’m willing to confront yet. We don’t celebrate our heroes. The peoples who do great work for this country are rarely remembered. This is a country where thieves get chieftaincy titles and former governors who stole money get doctorate degrees. It is a country without consequences for wrongdoing.

 Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji
Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji

I don’t know if I have the strength and emotional balance to superintend over such a system and continue to maintain my sanity.

What is your ultimate goal in life? Where would you get to and you would be satisfied that you have succeeded in life?

I want to be able to metamorphose into an inventor. I want to build something and endow it to the world. I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to create things. I want to be able to put something together, for example, to check breast cancer in women so that we can reduce the number of women that die from it because we found out early

The world belongs to people that solve problems, not the people that talk about it. And so I don’t want to be forgotten. One of the ways that you can really change the world is to build things that solve people’s problems that change their lives. So we won’t forget Christopher Columbus. We won’t forget the three women that wrote the mathematical frameworks that send the first American to the Moon.
We won’t forget many of the inventors who gave us electricity. So that’s how I want to be remembered.

Finally, if you were Nigerian president, which area(s) would you focus on and deal with?



    A significant component of the budget of this country will go to education… education and human capital development, security, research and development. If we fix those things we’re good.

    What makes America a great country? CNN Forbes, Fortune, Ford. You say that Ford is building cars; a 31-year-old Nigerian boy just built Norde. Go to Twitter and look for it. He is a 31 years old Yoruba boy. Innoson Motors is Nigerian. You say Nigerians need to build cars; Jelani Aliyu designed the best version of Chevrolet? He is from Sokoto.

    We’ve moved on to a time in the world where the wealth of nations is calibrated by the human capital.
    What you perform is what you become. For us to be a great nation our people must be educated. Look, people always say Nigeria is a rich country. Nigeria is not a rich country because we have oil, oil is just one resource.
    Countries are not rich because of what they have; countries are rich because of their technical know-how.
    What is America known for – the best education, best inventions and all of that? What is China known for – production and vocational skills building. What is Japan known for? Building the best cars engineering around, you know the manufacturing engineering
    What are we Nigerians? What are we known for? What is our stock in trade?

    So, one thing that I know is that, if we fix our education, if we fix our human capital, if we invest in security architecture and if we focus on research and development across sectors: agriculture, oil and gas, energy, deep technology, renewable energy …those are the things that make a nation thrive.


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