by Kemi Lanre-Aremu
In this interview, media entrepreneur and youth leader, Chude Jideonwo, talks about his latest work, ‘Are we the turning point generation?’
What inspired you to write this book?
The book is still a powerful medium, despite the perception that the audience has dwindled. It still does have the unique capacity to influence minds, especially the kinds of minds that make big changes happen. There was really not much debate about it because the kinds of thoughts that I wanted to communicate in a wholesome and efficient manner could only be done through this timeline vehicle.
How did you determine the focus of your book?
I didn’t initially plan for this to be a book. I wrote a series of essays called, ‘New Leadership,’ and they were published in the nation’s most influential online platforms. It was in the middle of the series that I got remarks to turn that into a book, and that sounded very appealing especially after the publisher liked it. From the start, I had known what the focus is- issues and ideas young leaders must confront if we are to truly change our countries and continent. I was inspired by two very important books, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’ and ‘There was a country.’ They overpowered me and began a process of deep reflection that led to the central theme for this book.
How long did it take you to finish this work?
It took me four months to write the nucleus. But when I submitted to the publishers at Farafina, they decided to extend it by including pieces I had written over the years that fit the same theme.
Did you face challenges?
The challenge was writing the nucleus. I was accustomed to the discipline of 600 word count on editorials which I wrote in NEXT newspaper. I believe in saying all that need be said, and not a word more. Therefore, confronting essays that ran into 3000 word count challenged me. The amount of research I also had to invest personally to allow my thoughts blossom was a challenge. Also, I still have to, amongst other things, run our three businesses. At the middle of the essays, I was giving up. The time and mental investment was too much! But by some stroke of serendipity, it was around that time I received the two emails that strongly advised me to make this into a book, and when someone said ‘someone needs to profile our generation’s stories’, that was all the convincing I needed. It gave me the burst of energy to conclude this, difficult and tasking as it was.
How prepared is the present generation?
It is prepared and then, it is not. There are many of my peers and contemporaries in business, civil society, public service and elsewhere, who have taken it upon themselves to administer systems and processes with competence and character. Also, these processes have led to transformational change. That’s the task those who are young leaders must confront.
Do you concur that this generation is being spoon-fed?
Spoon fed by whom? Where? When? The truth is, this is an oppressed, repressed, disappointed generation. I was born in 1985, under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), a regime defined by its celebration of corruption as a way of life. I came into understanding of the world under the late Gen. Sanni Abacha (retd.), one of the most repressive, closed-minded governments any generation could be unlucky to confront. I grew up not believing in my own capacity to create and seeing a country that only got worse instead of better. You can’t imagine how depressing it is to grow up seeing your own country as a limitation. We only began to believe when democracy returned. In fact, it is a miracle that many of us still believe in this country so desperately and are prepared to work for it.
What are some of the salient issues addressed in your book?
Leadership and how it is, perhaps, our most urgent problem. How effective it is, and how it is our most urgent imperative. Then, the youth and how it is both powerful and deceptive. But above all, it’s about Nigeria.
What is your assessment of the present day government?
This government hasn’t necessarily viewed criticism in constructive terms. It appears to be fighting too many enemies across lines that even the friendliest suggestions and critiques are taken as fights. That being said, there are bright spots – road construction; movements towards the revival of rail services; the foundations of communication technology growth and the prudence from finance despite the corruption around it; and the sense of freshness in power. Perhaps, in praising the government rightly for those strides, it will take it in good faith when one says it has failed on security; failed on Boko Haram; failed massively on our Chibok girls (no peace until the girls are back alive). Its record on education is a continuing failure and it’s terrible that Polytechnic students have been abandoned because their lecturers are on strike. On healthcare, we have not made significant improvement. More urgently, for a country where over 54 per cent of its employable population is out of job, the record is abysmal.
In activism, what are some of the sacrifices you have made?
I don’t need to be an activist to demand better from and for my country. I am not just a businessman, I am a Nigerian citizen, and I believe that in a country with so many urgent problems, we should be part of solving them beyond our silos. We should all be active citizens; we should all be demanding better from the government and from ourselves. In doing that, I have made sacrifices in terms of friendships, relationships, finances and so on. But I don’t complain about them. You can’t make important change happen without making sacrifices, and I do the things I do with my eyes wide open and my instincts clear as to what I have to suffer. We try to count our cost and do what we believe is the right thing to do. The rest, we leave to God and time.
Is this a one-off publication?
This is my second book, even though there is a 14-year gap between the two; maybe, that gives a hint that there will be more. I have a very strong feeling that as long as I still feel strong about issues that concern my generation and the continent; and as long as I continue to work on those issues including media, creating jobs, active citizenship and good governance, I will inevitably come to put those thoughts into a book. If a book can generate an important conversation about a country, continent and the future, then it is a worthy to-do.
How can we revive the dying reading culture in Nigeria?
People are reading- blogs and church material. They certainly read Chimamanda’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ in record numbers and ‘There was a country.’ The question is what is the public angling for at the moment? Moreover, how are publishers and those custodians of art and culture going to meet that need? As we answer those questions, and locate their intersection with evolving technologies, the culture will rev up.
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