‘Creating opportunities for young Nigerians is what drives me’
Nigerian-born United Kingdom-based Sheun Onamusi is an entrepreneur and political analyst. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, Onamusi, who is also the head of the Nigerian British Business and Young Professionals Forum in the United Kingdom, speaks on how young Nigerians can thrive globally; how the country can leverage on it’s citizens in the diaspora; his plans for Nigerian youths and why young people must participate actively in elections.
As someone passionate about Nigeria’s restoration, what is your take on the forthcoming 2023 election?
The 2023 election is going to be very pivotal for the country’s politics and the general well being of Nigeria. From 1999 up until now, we’ve had several elections and often, we say that each election cycle is a very critical part of the history of our nation, but I think that 2023 is even much more important.
After we have seen the power tussle and exchange of power between the former and now ruling parties, all we have gotten from both is a huge decline in growth and a sharp increase in insecurity. Even though the current government claims to be progressive and has probably executed some infrastructural projects in their defense, we’ve seen a lot more regression, whether it’s in our economy or even in the morale of the nation and our people. This means that we have a huge work at hand as a nation and the next government will have a herculean task ahead of them next year. This is why the coming election is a very important part of Nigerian history.
Truthfully, we are also at a point that we must ask ourselves, should we return to the old way of governance under PDP or continue with the APC?
What drives your passion for young people?
When I look at my life and the opportunities I’ve been given, the blessings that I’ve received by living in the United Kingdom and putting them side by side with my background, I am convinced I need to give back to others and that’s what drives me. This is why I am committed to creating opportunities for young Nigerians to see they can become much more than what they are currently going through in the rough climes of Nigeria, as well as see the world as a global stage where borders are not a limit anymore.
I have always stated that I was not the smartest or brightest in school while I lived in Nigeria. I was always an average student and most of it was based on the environment that I found myself in. But the moment I was taken out of the environment and planted elsewhere and given the right opportunities, my life has never remained the same. So, my driving force is to create opportunities for inspiration and entrepreneurship. I thank God we have been able to impact many through our initiative. There’s also the drive to leave a legacy that my children can have the choice to come back to live in their motherland without constraint.
Are you satisfied with the level of your impact so far and what more would you like to do?
I have mixed feelings. If I will be honest, I would love to see more; I’d love to see us make much more impact. We’ve had the opportunity to support a young business that had no clue about its future; we put them in our incubation programme where we helped them understand the dynamics and the basics of business and business management. We helped them and they saw a 200 per cent increase in growth in their business. We’ve also been able to send some out-of-school kids back to school as part of our initiative.
So, we’ve seen some progress. We’ve seen national coverage and we’ve seen some level of impact being created so far. However, being the kind of person I am, I want to see more, I want to do more and that is still a driving force for me.
Politicians have begun to show interest in the presidency of the country come 2023, what is your take on this?
So far, some of the faces that we are seeing coming up are individuals that we already knew would be coming up for the position of the president, whether it is from the APC or the PDP. I am of the personal opinion that it’s all a recycling exercise, because the same set of people that have been in power controlling the nation are still the same ones coming up.
If I am to be unbiased, I’ll say they did well enough to be part of politics when most people refused to be part of the political discussion of the nation after the military government left the governing of the country to democratically elected representatives. They took up the mantle when many ran away. I, however, do not think that we should still have these men who are better at power broking and playing politics, rather than the administrative work that needs to be done as a president of a nation, in charge of intelligent individuals such as Nigerians.
Nigeria has one of the brightest and greatest sets of individuals worldwide, both in Nigeria and in the diaspora. To have individuals with questionable backgrounds, whether it’s in regards to their finances, or regards to how they have been part of politics over the years, in charge of things is just wrong. I think it is a thing of concern.
This is not a jab against any particular contender as most of them are cut from the same cloth. Nigerians deserve a hybrid of someone who has been part of the institution, and someone who understand the economics and the key areas of growth that Nigeria needs to concentrate on in the next decade, because if we don’t get this right, we’ll be worse than Zimbabwe.
So, my take is that whether old or young, regarding 2023, are you cerebral enough? Do you have what it takes to lead the nation? Do you have what it takes to lead a nation of really intelligent, diverse, complex individuals such as Nigerians?
Do you think age is a determinant factor in the coming elections?
As I’ve said earlier, I think age shouldn’t be a determinant as much. However, I’d like someone below 70, someone in his/her 50s, perhaps 40s. These are the sort of individuals we need to have, because you can see across the world, whether it’s in Sweden, France or Canada, they all have young candidates leading their nation. We will continue to be disadvantaged on the world stage if our presidents have to consistently deal with health challenges while running the nation. You need stamina to run a nation and we need a younger person that can do this.
What approach do you think Nigeria can take to start morphing into a developed country?
We need to look at our strengths and work on them as a nation. We need to look beyond crude oil as our major source of income; we need to diversify the economy as hundreds of people have said over the years. But much more than that, we must look at our strength as a nation. We have a growing population, we have really capable young hands that can push the nation forward. We have vibrant youths and a creative industry we can put to work. I think the creative industry allows us to position ourselves differently across the globe.
What is coming out of the entertainment industry is strong enough to position ourselves as a developed nation. We can do a lot more, and I’d love to see the next government take a very strong position in working with the creative industry. They should put in some resources; funds, time and effort into the creative industry so that we can position ourselves right both internally and externally.
America who we often look up to as a nation has mastered this. If we can master that as well, we can change some of the narratives we hear about the nation. I would love to see the next government work very closely with the Nigerian Diaspora. The Nigerian Diaspora is growing on a rapid basis with over 20 million Nigerians in the diaspora alone.
From your experience, is the image of Nigeria and Nigerians changing now?
There are diverse opinions about Nigerians generally. In some places, we’re seen as financial fraudsters, but to a large extent, which we don’t talk about quite often, Nigerians are respected for their tenacity, creativity, entrepreneurial mindsets, hospitality and much more.
Nigerians are doing exceptionally well in the diaspora and are seen as intelligent people. On a recent trip to the United States, I was with some African Americans discussing Africa and its people. I found out that a lot of them respect Nigerians for their intelligence, smartness, and tenacity through what they bring to the table regularly. You have Nigerians in every walk of life, whether it’s in sciences, arts, or engineering, you will find a Nigerian. Two in six black people that you meet in the diaspora are either Nigerian or married to Nigerians or have some Nigerian heritage and that puts us in a good position.
A lot of people are concerned that how can we have this pool of resources and great individuals doing well at the African Development Bank, WTO, WHO, and World Bank and still have a nation that is struggling? But by and large, Nigerians are perceived in a mixed light. Nigeria as a country is often perceived in a much dimmer light than actual Nigerians are.
What impact are you looking to create this year?
We’re coming back with our yearly Redefine Success Summit, where we are going to be looking at the future entrepreneur and ‘intrapreneur’. We’re going to be talking about how to thrive wholesomely in a post-COVID reality and also create an opportunity for interaction and engagement with Nigerian-based high flyers and international speakers later this year.
What is your advice for Nigerian youths going into 2023?
They should look beyond the status quo; they should look beyond the rhetoric that we have been fed with over and over again. When a younger candidate or fresh face seeking to run for any position at the state and federal level, or governorship or even presidency, we should not play the same rhetoric that we’ve played in the past.
We should ask critical questions; let us know their intention and their plans to genuinely restore this country to a better place. I would love to see us vote for new political parties in their respective states as well as vote for new, fresh faces in all political positions. Let’s do something different this time.