Advocates for Positive Change
In a world where young people are increasingly influenced by the pop culture that glorifies the self above the good of the collectives, four young Nigerians – Ayodeji Osowobi, Olumide Idowu, Seyi Oluyole and Timi Olagunju are oiling the wheels of humanitarian advocacies with their sweat, time, commitment and personal finances.
Guardian Life recently had a chat with them about their lives and why they have decided to commit themselves to be the light for others.
Ayodeji Osowobi: Surviving advocate
Many survivors of rape today have to deal with self-blame and other mental frustrations despite being victims. Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi is one of those survivors, but she has outgrown the problems. “I don’t deal with self-blame anymore. As a matter of fact, I’ve embraced it. I no longer blame myself for it because I didn’t ask for it or cause it to happen.”
While undergoing the mandatory NYSC programme, Osowobi was raped by election touts during the 2011 elections for not compromising on her values and collecting a bribe. She has turned her tragedy to a testimony by helping other rape victims.
In fact, she thanks them “for giving me a voice I never thought I had [and] making me a better person for myself and other people I am assisting or working with.” She also admits to still having tough days where she cries, breaks down and has regrets about what happened. “Those days remind you that you’re human [and] are in a process of healing.”
She uses the Stand To End Rape Initiative (STER) to campaign against sexual violence, support rape survivors and educate people on the factors that contribute to rape culture in order to eradicate it. After years of advocacy, rape is becoming a more-approachable subject, yet taking appropriate action on it is difficult. “People just want to receive social support and move on. They don’t want to name-shame their rapists and those who do are either banned or stigmatised by society. And out of fear or stigmatisation, they want to just let it go.”
In spite of the mounting advocacy against the crime, little success has been recorded. The fault, Osowobi says, lies in the weak judicial framework. “The judicial system is not helping because cases are taking long in court. Thank God for the special courts in Lagos state, but Nigeria has 36 states. Can we spread this initiative across the board so that everyone can benefit from it?”
Concluding this, she says, “I want men to stop feeling that their power must come from abuse, to understand that our bodies are not waste bins for you to dump your semen in. Women are not instruments for you to use in exerting your power or dominance.”
Olumide Idowu: Sustaining the environment
Nigeria has started witnessing some climate-related disasters, from increased health risks and social unrest to declining agricultural productivity, heat stress and extreme weather events. At such a time, Olumide Idowu is targeting issues relating to environmental health and using the new media to stir up progressive interaction.
Idowu has represented Nigeria and Africa at over ten high-level global governance meetings on sustainable development.
Passionate about changing individuals, Idowu found inspiration when an intern, who worked with him in AISEC (Association of International Students in Economics and Commerce), which he formed with a team while in school, cautioned him about proper waste management. “I was shocked and I decided to put it into practice.”
From there, he started giving lectures on environmental sustainability awareness. He did more research and it was during that journey he met Esther Agbarakwe with whom he founded International Climate Change Development Initiative in April 2013.
Popularly known as Climate Wednesday, the NGO aims to “amplify the voice of young people in the areas of health, education and environment.”
He says, “#ClimateWednesday started off as a way to identify the problem of young people,” Idowu says. “We talk about the health implication of climate change. Teach Recycling Early, [one of our mini programmes], deals with how we can make students more recycling conscious.”
“We are working with the special assistant to the president on Sustainable Development Goals, Adefulire Adejoke, a former deputy governor of Lagos State. The plan is to incorporate SGDs into every course in the university and hold workshops every month to ensure that students will understand the SDG goals.”
According to him, the enormity of the waste generated in the country is not the problem but the culture of improper waste management people have imbibed over time. “The problem of waste in Nigeria is not the problem; it’s the people,” he says.
Idowu believes that Nigerians have to be the facilitators of the change they want to see in their environment. “Climate change affects everything. When the environment is conducive, then everything around us will be conducive for everyone.”
Seyi Oluyole: The dream catcher
“Every child deserves a right to succeed irrespective of their background.”
A graduate of English and Literary Studies from Covenant University, Seyi Oluyole discovered early in life that not everyone had it as easy as she did. “We had financial issues where we were on the streets for a couple of months. I realised that my parents were able to come out of it but there were children [whom] that was going to be their reality for the rest of their lives and I just wanted to use that opportunity to help other children.”
That realisation gave birth to her non-profit organisation, Dream Nurture Foundation, which is committed to bringing life and hope to children in communities tortured by poverty and despondency. It is from this foundation that the well-known Dream Catchers arose. The dancer chose to use what she loved as an incentive to getting the kids to go to school and keeping them there.
“It all started was when I was 14 and we had just moved to a new place. Our house was near a slum. I met a couple of kids at the slum there and I was just randomly teaching them [how to] dance. But then I realised how much they wanted to dance and I used it as a way to keep them in school.”
Her passion has been her motivation. Yet, catering to the welfare of children single-handedly is daunting. She funds the foundation with her salary and donations from colleagues and others.
From sceptical parents to broken promises, Oluyole battles obstacles while dealing with the children. “Sometimes it’s fun, [but] sometimes I meet children who really want help but their parents are a little sceptical. There are some parents that would say, ‘Oh my child is helping me sell [or] needs to take care of younger ones,’ while there are children that have potential but are so into their street life that eventually they say that they want to leave.”
For Nigeria to be a better place, one attitude Oluyole says people have to embrace is charity. “I’ve actually had people condemn me like you’re wasting your life and some people are not supportive. Nigerians [can be] very sceptical, so I think that we should just be more open to helping others.”
Timi Olagunju: The youth-mover
When Timi Olagunju, as a young child, had to move from a private school to a public one because of the hardship his family faced, he learnt that a person’s environment and opportunities available affect them more than their physical appearance. “So I decided subconsciously that I was going to be someone that was focused around providing opportunities for other people irrespective of who [or] what they are. That was very key for me.”
Youths In Motion (YIM), formerly Nigerian Youths In Motion (NYM), was founded in 2009 during his final year at the University of Ibadan. Through the organisation, Olagunju promotes institutional opportunities for young people.
Much of Olagunju’s work is intended to provide access to young Nigerians, including aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs, and to engage in first-hand tours and training on law-making, advocacy and public governance.
As a cyberspace lawyer with significant experience in internet policy, Olagunju believes Africans can leverage on the opportunities that the internet offers to develop their potentials. “I noticed that technology can be a level playing ground for persons irrespective of background, ethnicity and religion. It is one area I feel Africans can really tap into and develop technical skills that will serve the world and build entrepreneurs.”
He preaches volunteerism and sees the positive in collective efforts. Unfortunately, the noticeable individualism among Nigerian youths is a sore point.
“There’s this sense of individualism that the educational system promotes which is good but we’ve not balanced it with a structure in the educational system [that] provides an understanding of what teamwork can do.”
He identifies mentoring, support for innovative ideas and positive reinforcement as very important in exiting the vicious cycle that produces bad leadership in Nigeria.
“I believe that, even if society does not give us the mirror that we need, we as individuals can create a programming and activities that can take a few persons out of it.”