Bankole Eniola is our feature for the week and he is a Nigerian policy advocate based in London- He is passionate about developing economies and most especially the nation of his birth, Nigeria. Bankole’s ideas about policy advocacy and communal participation in nation building led him to initiate Nigeria Dialogue in 2011. Bankole talks about the Nigeria Dialogue platform which serves as a hub for progressive intellectuals who intend to challenge systemic and institutional realities in Nigeria, his organizations target to get 40 million young Nigerians and plans ahead of the 2015 elections for this weeks Conversations with Abang Mercy among other issues.
Tell us about Nigeria Dialogue
Nigeria Dialogue is a hub of progressive intellectuals who intend to challenge systemic and institutional realities in Nigeria. The goal of this initiative is to serve as the conduit to facilitate the effective transformation of Nigeria into a developed and prosperous nation. It is a platform where forward thinking Nigerians proffer inputs into sustainable economic, infrastructural and social development through meaningful dialogues and measurable actions.
You said Nigeria Dialogue is a hub for progressive intellectuals who intend to challenge systemic and institutional realities in Nigeria. What’s your definition of Progressive?
A progressive is someone who feels our villages should be a bit better, someone who when he does simple things like going to the toilet always makes sure he is able to flush, thats a progressive. A progressive is someone who looks at structure or a society and says, ‘I want to make it better’. So a progressive is anyone who wants more from an existing system. So anyone who is discontent with the way Nigeria is will fit into the build of people we want to attract to Nigerian dialogue.
You are a group of intelligent Nigerians, with the idea of bringing change to Nigeria – one person at a time. What about the unintelligent?
I don’t think there is anybody who is un-intelligent in Nigeria, and i will quote Albert Einstein there. He said: ” If you judge the ability of a fish by its capacity to walk, every fish will be called foolish, but when you put it to water, you see its genius”. Everybody when they find their place in society is intelligent, so every Nigerian is intelligent, we just need to create enough opportunities for them to thrive.
Should I say your group is a gathering of Young Nigerians only in the Diaspora?
This question come up a lot. I know people who have accused me on Facebook, of living 6,000miles away and trying to change Nigeria. But the truth is, you just have to think of some of the greatest advocates of change ever. Moses was a prince in Egypt, he was an Isrealite, a Jew. Joseph was a Jew he was in Egypt. Basically at different times, life will be transient you need to go to different places. So that you can see what is available, and the you can come back to your people and say, this is the new frontier, this is where we need to go. When you read the Nigerian Dialogues mission statement you’ll find out that we have the Nigerian dialogue in London, we have in New-York, we have in Lagos. The whole idea of 2014 is to galvanize the Nigerian arm of Nigerian Dialogue to be able to start working within the communities in Nigeria. Because i think it is until the rubber hits the road, that is when Nigerians will begin to feel the impact of the benefit of the dialogue we are having.
In fifteen years, you intend to get to a point to generate the needed momentum to drive change. Can you outline what you will be doing when you have the desired number, assuming you already do?
Forty million is not a lot. I want you to think about life the way i see it, or the way i think Kwame Nkrumah will see it, or Nnamdi Azikiwe or Awolowo and Tafewa Balewa. We see life as a place filled with possibilities. First, why forty million? This figure is a critical mass within Nigeria, because we have a population of about 160million and we have a population of about 60million that can vote at any point in time. If you have 40million of that, that means you have about 60 to 70 percent of the voting population and when they become educated and enlightened, then they can make informed decisions. So thats where the forty million comes from.
Why do we need 15years to get 40million, because we know that we cannot get forty million people in one day, but if we build a structure, if we keep working hard in everyday and putting in the grind, we will convince them one after the other, and get the forty million mark.
Now what does that forty million mark do for us? That forty million gives us the leverage that we need on the political class. Just think about it this way, if a politician is pushing a bill for education like ‘every child in Nigeria should go to school’ and this forty million critical mass can galvanize themself and begin to say we want it to be a part of our constitution that any parent who does not allow their child to go to school will be prosecuted. Because of that mass we now have, we can make it law.
So the question is what we want to feed this critical mass, do we want to feed them with facts, do we want to feed them with information to help them make informed decisions? that is the real question facing the dialogue. I was speaking to Okonjo Iweala, and she said the future of Nigeria is already with the youths, because we have over 70million Nigerians under a particular demography. That is where it comes from, we already know what the United Nation says about this figure, so the question is, what do we do with this figure.
Nigeria Dialogue aims to be a platform to generate conversations that will shape the future of our nation. How can a nation future be shaped through conversations?
Because that conversation is a conversation of the future not a conversation of the past. So for instance, you will never catch a Nigerian dialogue session where we are talking about like tribalism, like ethnicity or so on. We want to talk about future cities, the future of our education, how are we going to develop our education in such a way that we can compete with kids growing up in other parts of the world. This is a classic example i always share with people, the kids that are going to school today in Singapore, in England and Ghana, all of them will grow up at the same time with those currently living in Abuja, in Maiduguri or Abia and they are going to compete for the same jobs in the future.
Now we are talking about schools where we don’t have loops. People are talking about building new technologies to compete in the future. How do we want to have a balanced discussion in the future? How can we structure a society like this and not be a slave in the future because we are not well prepared for it? So our conversation is about the future, its about where do we go from here? How do we plan for Nigeria in 30years? What would our federal system look like in 30years? What would our education look like in 30 years, what are the goals we are setting for healthcare in 30years? What would the infrastructure look like? Are we thinking about new cities? What are the plans? So those are the kinds of conversations we are having in Nigerian dialogue.
What is Nigeria Dialogue doing differently from Enough is Enough Nigeria? I want to believe you know EiE. It is a coalition of individuals and youth-led organizations committed to instituting a culture of good governance and public accountability in Nigeria through advocacy, activism.
There is a difference between activism and policy development. Activism talks about the issues, policy development cracks the issue into a systemic process that can be implemented. That is what we do. We develop policies, we work on blue prints, we work on white papers, we work with the people in government to implement them, that is the different thing we do. But we also have relationships with Enough is Enough. We work with organizations within Nigeria that do work we consider progressive, which is good. But much more importantly we are focused on developing what we consider a topical issue into a policy that can be delivered to the people of Nigeria.
Eniola Bankole, you are the brain behind Nigeria dialogue and you are based in the UK. How can you change Nigeria outside Nigeria?
You cannot change Nigeria from the Diaspora? At some point i have to come back.
When are you coming back to Nigeria, and how do you think what you are pushing from the diaspora is accepted in Nigeria?
What we are doing is already affecting what is happening here. This year alone, we have worked with Honorable Abike Dabiri, who is in charge of Diaspora affairs to talk about the role of Diaspora in Nigeria’s constitution. We are doing work at the moment, but you see that is probably 1% of the work. The real work is when we go into the Nigerian communities. When we go into places in Borno State, where there are no roads, because the truth is that this forty million people we need must come from every geographical location within Nigeria. So its important and we are looking at doing that.
Can we change Nigeria from the Diaspora? No. Am i coming back? Yes, 100%. Are my team members in London, or New-York come too? I’m not sure if the whole team will come. Because i am thinking about developed cities like India, i am using India as an example because it is very similar to us in terms of ethnicity, Brazil too. What we have realized is that the hub of Brazilians who are moving Foreign Direct Investment into Brasil still reside in US and Europe. So i wont say every Nigerian when Nigeria becomes what we hope it will be, should just ship and come back, because there will always be a need to have these people in those places.
How can young Nigerians change the system when status quo is still in place, with the continuous recycling of political characters.
We will break that point when we get that forty million. At the moment, those people control the forty million. I will take a quote from Game of Thrones where a character says: What is power? If power were to be on the battle field, people will worship generals, but they dont even those generals bow their knees to kings. Why? Because power is where people perceive power to be. At the moment, people like IBB or Obasanjo control Nigeria, because they control the forty million Nigerians who will change policies to their favor or to do whatsoever they want, and i dont have a personal problem with people like that. But if we do what we are supposed to do, we would have succeeded in generating a new power base, and that will be the future of a developed Nigeria.
Many believe young Nigerians will never take to revolution, no matter how tough it gets, the people will adjust.. What do you say?
Mercy where are you from?
Abang Mercy: Cross River State.
I want to say you are not 35 years of age yet.
Abang Mercy: Not yet.
So you did not see the civil war. Do you know what wars does to young boys? It makes them men. The people who advocate for a revolution have never seen war, they only see it on television. Wars are not things to joke about.
The real question is how can we progress Nigeria without a revolution? We can do this by changing the power base of people who make decisions. If we change our politics from the politics of sentiment, of tribalism and religion, to one of issues and Mercy comes to me to campaign, and she says: This is how i am going to govern your state when i become governor, this is how i am going to get my funding, this is how i am going to deliver, and makes promises and after four years, she doesn’t deliver, but we have this forty million people in place, guess what will happen we will vote her out of power.
What in your opinion will be that “breaking point” for Nigerians?
The point is when we re-draw the political map. If you say the breaking point as the point for change, because am quiet careful about using words like breaking point, because somebody will read this and take breaking point as saying we want to break Nigeria, but no thats not what we are talking about. If we are talking about the moment where true change will come to Nigeria, it is the moment when we suddenly realise the power in the people of Nigeria. That moment when our votes begin to count.
Nigeria dialogue is a non-profit social Advocacy platform for young minds. What are your plans ahead of the 2015 general elections?
Ahead of 2015, we are going to start a campaign called ‘The Politics of issues’. We are also going to do a road tour to 25 higher institutions acrossNigeria. I have people who have told me this is elitist, how come you are going to higher institutions? What is going to happen to the brick layers, the barbers, the shoemakers and people who dont have access to that level of education. My advice to them is that it will trickle down the set. Let us start from the institutions. Let us start from the next generation of young Nigerians who are coming out of institutions. Who are going to be the next generations workers.
Your team is made of Bankers, lawyers, branding and communications expert, philosophers, scientists, social entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers. What are the practical things you will do differently if given an opportunity to govern Nigeria?
To govern Nigeria the first thing we need to do is what some of my senior friends who have worked within the government, did to get the job done. They brought expertise to work. There is one woman i won’t mention, they call her ‘Due Process’. I am sure by using the word due process you may know the person i am talking about, because someone brought her expertise to bear in the position of power
When you think about the capitalization of the banks, it was a professional that sat on top of that and made sure it happened. What i am saying is, when we give people who are trained to do the work, what we give ourselves the opportunity of delivering quality, and you cannot understate the importance of excellence when people are committed to it.