For Tim, the future is a new horizon
Africa is in need of dreamers that will transcend national boundaries and transform the lives of its people. It is a sober fact that Africans remain the poorest humans living in the richest portion of the earth. We are not benefiting enough from the amazing progress of mankind in science and technology that has transformed many societies. It is no longer tenable for us to give the excuse that we faced slavery for 200 years; we were oppressed under the colonial system and we faced crisis in the neo-colonial apparatus that dominated African politics in the immediate post-independence era. Now we have run out of excuses. Africans need dreamers that would transform the lives of Africans. It is time we join the rest of the world.
It is this breathtaking vision and limitless courage to think the unthinkable that has drawn me closer to Tim Akano, the Managing Director of New Horizons, Africa’s leading information and new technology company. Akano is the initiator and the chairman of the One Africa Initiative that is bringing in leaders and thinkers across the continent. As of now, he has participants, including top government leaders, industrialists, journalists and intellectuals from 54 African countries. He is doing all these while running his company from Ikeja, Nigeria, which is involved primarily in training mostly young Nigerians on how to survive and thrive in the brave new world of ICT.
For this assignment, New Horizons is present in more than 30 Nigerian universities, helping to train students in computing. Yet he is not a politician, and has never been invited to the plenary of the African Union nor has he ever joined the Nigerian delegation to the United Nations. He has no army and does not possess the panache of a radical revolutionary. Yet from the belly of his computer, Akano is brewing a revolution.
Akano was born on April 2, 60 years ago in the town of Olupona, near Iwo, Osun State. For many generations, Olupona, despite its ancient pedigree, has been under the shadow of Iwo, a provincial capital of old Oyo Empire, sharing boundary with ancient Owu Kingdom before the Yoruba Wars of the 19th Century.
The world had changed dramatically when Akano was born in 1963, but Olupona remained virtually unchanged. But not in all ways. In 1955, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had introduced the Free Education programme in the former Western Region (which is now Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Ondo states).
When Awolowo left government in 1959, his successors, starting with Chief Ladoke Akintola, the second and last Premier of the West, kept faith and Free Education continued at the primary level. That made Akano lucky, and us too.
It is remarkable how a little moisture can make a plant grow. Akano attended both primary and secondary schools in Olupona where he had to read with hurricane lamp for there was no electricity in that town in those days. Then he gained admission to the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife. From then on, there was no stopping him. Now he wants to change the world.
After his compulsory national service, he worked with Coca Cola Nigeria and got introduced to the power of vision and singularity of purpose. One single man had ignited a revolution in world consumption by bringing the coca cola drink to the world.
By the time he started New Horizon in 2005, he was a driven man in search of new frontiers. Today, he is employing about 300 staff and last year alone, more than 60,000 Nigerian youths benefitted from training with the New Horizons. His dream was to connect Africans into the information highway.
By going into the primary area of training, Akano is able to bring in youths to share in his dreams and participate in his success. Africa is a latecomer to the Information Age. It is the idea that Africa should not be left behind that was at the roots of the pan-African movement of the 20th Century. Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican pan-Africanist, who was born in 1887 and died in 1940, believed that for the Black man to hold his own, there was a need to create a pan-African government. If the United States could be a single country under one single government, there was no reason why Africans too should not work for the establishment of a United States of Africa.
For many young people of his generation, Garvey was a magnet. His idea was grand for he envisioned a great Africa with a single government ruling from Cape Coast to Cairo and from Dakar to Dares-Salaam. He started the campaign that African-Americans should return to the Mother Continent, Africa, and thousands of them heeded his call. At a time in Nigeria under the colonial government, it was a grave offence to share the writings of Marcus Garvey.
Garvey was the inspirers of men such as Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré and Patrice Lumumba. They believed, as pan-Africanist, that Africa in other to catch up with the rest of the world need to create one continental government.
This was the argument in Nkrumah’s seminar book, Africa Must Unite! Nkrumah’s thought set off alarm in the Western World and in the end, the dream of a continental government died.
Since then, the Organisation of African Unity has given birth to the African Union, yet, there is no proper continental structure to take care of the interest of Africans even in football.
Not that we have not tried. About 20 years ago, the United Nations toyed with the idea of expanding the permanent membership of the UN. Africa was offered one slot, but expectedly African leaders could not agree, which country should have that one slot.
In 1973, West African leaders, especially General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria and General Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, spearheaded the creation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Part of the dream was that West Africa, just like the European Union, would have free movements of goods and people. Since then, the European Union has adopted the Euro, but Africa remains a jungle with more than 50 different currencies, each of them incapable of international transactions as the next. Try the slogan of free movement of peoples and goods by embarking on a road journey from Lagos to Freetown then you know the true meaning of checkpoints.
Akano is trying to leapfrog the handicaps of Africa by embarking on a journey into the New Age. His company is training young Nigerians in competence in computer and information technology and today New Horizons is at the forefront of changing the narrative. Akano believes that science, especially information science and the computer, provides a level-playing field where our young ones, despite our challenging environment, can find their mettle.
It is this knowledge that he is transporting to the rest of Africa. He believes Africa can change for the better if we embrace the panacea of real education and the liberating theology of science. He is reaching out to every country on the continent.
He is showing us that Africa needs to embrace private initiatives beyond the doubtful competence of politicians, to discover another future different and better than the current nightmare.
Akano is showing us that private people can be the drivers of change on our continent. This may open a new horizon for Nigeria and Africa. Akano’s achievements and impact has shown that dreamers, even in Africa, can change the world.