Monday, 22 June 2009

‘I Play Like A Man, And Win Like A Woman’

THE atmosphere is tensed. The sun is above the head and slowly emits heat. A lot of people are walking on the long stretch of road leading to the popular Ladipo Market, Oshodi, with concern in their faces. Toyosi Akerele sits behind the steering, fuming. Her face is grey with anger. She comes down from the car and shouts: “You?… Deflate my tyre? No…You can’t try it!”
For close to five minutes, Toyosi looks in bewilderment, as the policeman makes to deflate her tyre. “I say it again, if you try that nonsense, you’ll regret ever doing so.”
Her anger still standing on edge, she barks out in Yoruba, “O mo nkankan — You don’t know anything…”
After some minutes, the charged temper returns to normalcy, as some other policemen and passersby intervene.
After some minutes, Toyosi, a development strategist and founder of Rise Network, a youth concern drives away. She had visited The Guardian to discuss her network’s forthcoming youth forum, which holds on Saturday before the encounter with policemen over where to park or not.

THIS afternoon, she is more relaxed as an earlier interview could not hold. Having had two successful youth discovery fora, Dare To Be Different, this year’s theme has been tagged Our Time Is Now.
“This year’s forum is targeted at increasing the level of awareness among corporate organisation on the potentials of young people, inspiring a higher level of self-esteem and confidence, re-branding Nigeria, and changing the ’wait for your time’ mentality of Nigerians,” she says with a bright smile.
Toyosi heaves, pausing for a moment to bring out a flier from her drawer. She retorts, “Dare To Be Different is a forum where young people from different disciplines come to hear from those who have excelled and established themselves, wisdom nuggets, which will birth in them, a greater vision for life.” She adds, and “inspiring them to greater heights as they ascend the ladder of success.”
She mops the bead of sweat that encircles her face. She says, “the forum begins on June 20 and ends on October 24. Due to the level of response of young people from around the country to the past forum, this year’s event will hold in eight cities across the country. They are National Stadium, Lagos on June 20, Owerri will host the forum on July 4, Enugu is July 18, Benin will be August 1, while Kaduna is August 15, Ibadan (September 5), Abeokuta (September 9) and Abuja on October 24.
The rotation of the sessions is to re-kindle the vibe in every section of the state visited. She demurs, “the issues to be discussed at the forum are those that affect the young Nigerians such as sex, prostitution, internet fraud (yahoo-yahoo), re-branding of Nigeria and future plans for Nigeria.”
She says that action is a natural consequence of knowledge. “To ensure that Nigerian youths act better, it is pertinent that they know more. To this end, we aim at informing and generally educating the majority of Nigerian youths on such potent issues as the wider implications of sexual, political and economic exploitation on their development among other salient issues; we seek to draw up strategies to address all such problems that militate against youth in all ramifications; to make necessary recommendations to appropriate quarters such as corporate organisations and government in ensuring adequate and timely recognition of the highly effective role of youths in nation building and leadership structures and to inspire a higher and considerable level of self esteem, determination and confidence in the Nigerian youth.”

WEARING a smile, which glistens, she says, “the major achievement of the forum is that it has increased the level of awareness and self-discovery on the part of the young Nigerian.”
A strong aura wraps her, as she speaks. “I’m a passion driven lady. I’ve never seen myself as a second class citizen. So, I’ve always had the ‘I can do it’ spirit. I play like a man, and win like a woman,” she says.
The 25-year old lady says that finance has never been challenge for the forum. She explains, “RISE is not an NGO, it’s a business, a marketing consultant for youth development. Now, we have a new scheme called ‘RISE Business Skill Academy’, which currently has trained over 500 people in various programmes conducted by the academy; they are currently partners with ‘KARROX’, a leading Indian company in computer training.”
Toyosi says in a husky voice, “an analysis of Nigeria today will surely spotlight the youth as comprising the major driving force of the economy, when adjudged in both lights of skill and consumption. The essence of Dare To Be Different national interactive youth forum is one of the ways we are projecting more than just helping them.”
She adds, “we are like minded young people making sincere efforts to distance ourselves from the urban blight and the everyday drama and trauma in our communities. We are trying to distance ourselves from situations that are ready to rob us of the true opportunity to develop our natural potential. A country where the energies and dreams of the young generation to change the world is summed up and channelled towards purposeful endeavour in an atmosphere that encourages the free flow of ideas.”

BILLED to inspire the participants this year are top business executives, corporate giants and public servants such as Prof. (Mrs.) Dora Akunyili, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe, Mr Gamaliel Onosode, Chief Michael Adeojo, Dr. Erastus Akingbola, Mr. Tayo Aderinokun, Dr. (Mrs.) Cecilia Ibru, Chief Cosmas Maduka, Mr. Ben Bruce, Dr. John Momoh, Mrs Ibukun Awosika, Mr. Bola Akingbade, Mr. Foluso Phillips, Mr. Fela Durotoye, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Dr. (Mrs.) Doyin Abiola, Mr. Mitchell Elegbe, Mrs. Iquo Ukoh, Mr. Toyin Subair, Dr. Balarabe Musa, Hon. Farouk Lawan, Hon. Abike Dabiri, and Mrs. Eugenia Abu, Tara Fela-Durotoye, to mention just a few. Also, Alibaba and Austin J.J. Okocha are guest speakers.
She says, “the aim of inviting this calibre of speakers is to inspire young people with their success stories because these people worked hard for their money and are qualified to be role models.”
The masters of ceremony are Funke Akindele, U.C. Ukeje (winner of Amstel Malta Box Office 2008) and others, while sponsors of this year’s forum are MTN (lead sponsor), First Bank, Interswitch, Macleans, Nescafe and Nigerian Bottling Company.

THE first of four children, Toyosi was born on November 8, 1983. She attended Ebun-Oluwa Nursery and Primary School, Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos and Lagos State Model College, Kankon, Badagry for her junior secondary, and Egbado (now Yewa) College, Ilaro, Ogun State for her senior secondary education. At 19, she was the Deputy Speaker of the Student Union Government (SUG) of the University of Jos, during, which she organised a programme called the Unijos Female’s Day, the first of its kind in any Nigerian university. She is a trained lawyer.

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