So much is happening all around that it is a little difficult to focus on any one group of people. Lots of shiny, glossy cars glide past.
People walk really fast, they all seem focused on getting to wherever each of them is going. My eyes are drawn to the law enforcement officials stationed all around the roundabout perhaps because they are the few people not really going anywhere. There are LASTMA, KAI officials and policemen and policewomen.
Then there are a couple of ‘yellow fever’ traffic wardens and some guys in a towing truck. They all hang around waiting for their turn to benefit from the madness that is Falomo roundabout.
The LASTMA officials stationed in front of the tall Union Bank building lounge around, reading dailies and discussing either Nigeria’s future or the last match between their favourite European football teams. The ‘Yellow Fever’ police woman at the police market junction goes about controlling the traffic in a very relaxed, slow manner as if her mind isn’t really there.
There is this really large policewoman at the junction in front of Falomo Shopping Complex. She moves in a manner very unlike the ‘Yellow Fever’ woman. She is everywhere and soon two ‘okada’ drivers fall into her trap.
She seizes their keys and holds their bikes hostage whilst at the same time controlling the traffic. Voices are raised, there arguments from the ‘okada’ drivers. I find it a little strange that they aren’t begging her at all. Maybe they know her well enough not to mess with her that way.
I HEAR a scraping sound and turn around to find two jeeps that seem to be having a dance.
They got too close to each other and now those behind them would have to wait for them to disentangle from this embrace they were in. If we were on the mainland, the argument might take quite a while because they would first argue about whose fault it was and then the person who was considered to be the wrong-doer would then start to beg, then everyone around would join him or her, begging on his or her behalf.
After a while, if the ‘right-doer’ refused to agree or be appeased then they would have to sort out whose mechanic to use for the repairs but ‘Island’ people aren’t like that at all and within a couple of minutes things are sorted out and both jeeps zoom off.
I hear a scream and a motorbike rev its engine. I turn around just in time to catch one of the okada drivers, the more argumentative one, zoom off, weaving his way through the traffic. The now really upset police woman tries to run after him, realises that she will be unable to catch him and then stops and turns around. Apparently, the okada man had somehow gotten his keys from her and then escaped.
She bends down to pick something up from the floor. It is the okada man’s pair of slippers. She shakes them at him, shouting. He responds from his safe distance by raising his bare feet in the air for her to see! Everyone laughs.
I look around again. There is still so much happing but it is time for me to leave. As I get up to go the gardener (or is it landscape engineer?) waves at me. I smile and wave back as I wonder what he might having been thinking while I was there, sitting, spending time.
On Harambe, Tola Sunmonu stands
BY RICHARD ODILU
After two years of innovative projects and events to put a spotlight on agriculture in the country, especially among young people, Harambe Nigeria has moved on to a new level of engagement: providing young agri-entrepreneurs with the opportunities to build and expand their ventures. Project founder, Tola Sunmonu, speaks more on the project.
How did your study in the country prepare you for what you are doing today? Having completed a significant period of my education abroad and a few years at home, I now see the sharp contrast between Nigerian and foreign education. I must say that my education at home taught me the invaluable lessons of hardwork. That experience made me more hardworking and disciplined, which is why I think I have been able to balance school and Harambe so well.
Why not agriculture? Many will agree that the country ‘s economy needs to be more diverse, so that, more jobs could be created and more revenue realised. The beauty of agriculture is that it lays foundation for other sectors. When you look at most developed countries, they have agricultural base, but with a country like Nigeria, where there are so many resources, the agricultural sector should really be a priority for development.
What is the idea behind Harambe Endeavour Alliance?
The alliance is broad. It focuses on multitude of channels to engage students in the Diaspora with students across Africa. It is a wonderful network of African students and it has been a great experience getting to know my peers, who are all passionate about issues pertaining to their own countries.
Who are those eligible to participate in this project?
We are looking for young people between the ages of 21 and 35 with diverse backgrounds and experiences; you don’t have to be a university graduate, so far, you can clearly express your ideas.
What are the processes to follow?
Anyone can fill the application form available on Harambe Nigeria ‘s page on www.hendeavor.org. From the first batch of applicants, we will select those to go into the second round, where they will submit a more detailed business plan, after which we will hold interviews for the finalists.
What are the qualities to look out for in the finalist and eventual winner(s)?
We are really looking for innovative ideas. Innovative ideas do not have to be complicated and large scale plans; in fact, from my experience the best ideas are often the most simple. We are looking for people, who can look at problems in the sector and develop businesses that provide solutions. This could be anything from starting your own farm to starting your own mobile agricultural store. The main qualities we are searching for are creativity and drive, once they have these two qualities all other skills can be taught during trainings.
We are offering training at Fate Foundation and the Centre for Enterprise Development Services of the Pan-African University as well as financial awards. There’s no cash, we are just looking to support creative ideas.
You hope to empower young agro-entrepreneurs in Nigeria, but with young graduates taking to white-collar jobs, is this not a tall dream?
Well, it’s all about incentives, they go for white collar jobs because majority of them pay well. These companies have done a great job in creating the right incentives for young people to work tirelessly, to get interviews at their companies. We are all human, we all respond to incentives, the issue is that there have been very poor efforts to create and illustrate the incentives that exist within the agricultural sector. Many young people don’t know how profitable it could be and the opportunities to create not just private but social values. Our job is to make these incentives very clear and to create new ones. You should see the way the students in our incubator talk about the sector because they now understand that they can turn this into a profitable living; many of them don’t even go home during the holidays anymore because they prefer to stay on campus working on their business ideas. You see young graduates rushing for jobs at banks, but I see young graduates who are unemployed because there is limited number of people to employ.
Having had part of your education abroad, is it safe to conclude that the model you plan to use here is alien and may not be suitable for our economy?
That’s the beauty of Harambe Nigeria; it’s about the people in the Diaspora and Nigerians working together. A lot of models fail because they are taken directly from abroad and thrown into a different context; we don’t plan on doing that here. Everything from our incubators to our conferences is planned in conjunction with from Nigerian youths, so that, both perspectives are on the table. The west did it their way, but we must do it our own way, if we are really going to succeed.
Having studied some world proto-types, what is the margin between theirs and ours?
We actually didn’t study any world proto-types. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for one. All our projects are developed by us; the incubator for instance was fully designed by us, as far as we are aware there is no other incubator like it. We really try and encourage creativity and so, we try and embody that firsthand, it is great to learn from successful sources, but merely copying something and hoping that it will work is usually not the recipe for success.
What have you identified as some of the causes of the country’s setback in agriculture?
Well, unfortunately the discovery of oil shifted government attention away from a lot of things. High amounts of oil revenue and lots of loans during the 70s meant that government engaged in a lot of lofty projects and neglected the nonoil economy, which is catching up on us now. With neglect came more imports and gradually our farmers just could not compete with heavily subsidized goods coming in from countries such as America. All of this has taken a toll on the nation’s agricultural sector, but there have been positive improvements in recent times, which indicate that the sector still has the potential it had in the 60s.
What are the roadblocks in the nation’s agricultural sector? There are a number of factors; I could talk about poor policies and poor investments, but I think one of the major issues is lack of interest in the sector by majority of the people, particularly youths. It’s like we are sitting on a gold mine and don’t know it.
How do you think these should be tackled?
More investments in the sector, to make it more attractive and lucrative for the youths. I am glad that there are a few companies and institutions that are focused on getting more involvement in the sector.
How do you source your funds?
We have been very successful in our fundraising strategies. A number of companies have really bought into our mission and have been very generous. However, our mission cannot rely on grants forever and in the future we hope to develop ways of generating revenue that will support our current and future projects.
Do you have government support?
Well, they have given us their blessing and the National Poverty Eradication Programme has been particularly supportive, but majority of our support come from the private sector and non-governmental organizations.
What spurred you to take up this project?
I think joining the Harambe Endeavor Alliance. Since then, my passion for this has just grown in a way I couldn’t have imagined and I can’t see myself doing anything, I’m not even trained to do anything else!
So far, are there challenges that made you almost question why you took this path?
There have been challenges, but there is none big enough to make me question why I took this path. It’s hard juggling school and family and friends, but that’s all a part of the job and those closest to me have come to understand that this is a part of me. Honestly, most challenges I face give me more strength and I think that it is very important to face challenges.
If you’re given N10m, what would you do with it?
That’s easy, invest it in Harambe Nigeria.
Why should young people go into farming?
There are a number of reasons for that. First of all, look at the markets; the next major investments are definitely food and water. The agricultural sector is really about to take off, the global market is recognising its value and if you invest now, there are definitely gains to be made. In this light, the fact that the sector is untapped and unsaturated makes it a good thing, because it means there are so many opportunities to be made within the sector. I will encourage young people to get creative and think about how they can carve a niche for themselves. Aside private gains, the sector is one of the few that allows you to also have a social impact. The role of the rural economy cannot be denied in the agricultural value chain and a thriving agricultural sector has the capacity to increase income and employment in the country.
You know, I get that question a lot and I don’t think there was one particular thing that inspired me; I would like to say I heard some amazing speeches that changed my life. There are little things along the way that have inspired us to keep going, when we see the progress our fellows are making in the farming communities in Ile-Ife and when we see hundreds of youths from around Nigeria gather in Lagos to hear more about the sector; we become more convinced that we are serving a real purpose.