Saturday, 3 October 2009

‘Hey, Youth, forget this country, start dreaming and working your way out of the rot ‘

Popular musician and entertainer, Charles Oputa alias Charly Boy, last week, brought thousands of youths to Abuja from all over the country to mark the third edition of the yearly Nigeria Youth Summit; a project originally conceived by the Golden Heart Foundation and Project New Nigeria. He spoke on various issues affecting the Nigerian youths at the event. ABOSEDE MUSARI was there; and spoke to Charly Boy.

What is it about the Nigeria Youth Summit?

It’s just to get the young kids who are frustrated with the environment and system together. Those who have great hopelessness hanging over them; to inspire and encourage them to pursue their dreams, for them to ultimately realize that nobody is going to do it for them. And for them to realize that doing it by themselves also require some kind of self-belief in their ability. The Summit teaches them that it is possible to live their dreams in this insensitive environment and in all of these rots. That they can chase their rainbow and succeed in life without necessarily going down the negative path; which a lot of youths have chosen to go because they don’t have the right kind of guidance, mentorship, leadership and environment. It’s really not their fault. It’s the fault of the insensitive leaders that we have.

What are the core messages of the Summit?

Simply put, the blame game should stop. We have to be the CHANGE that we are desirous of seeing in Nigeria. Nigeria doesn’t need all these people in leadership position. Nigeria needs a brand new message and a brand new people. All this recycling of people in the system is what is suffocating the progress of this country. Somebody is a governor. From there, he goes to become a senator, he goes to the House of Representatives. They want to become commissioners and local council chairmen. Is it their father’s thing? Then in all of this, you hear that the president has gone to commission one school outside Nigeria when all the schools here are shut down. It is obvious that these people are insensitive.
The message is that of self-reliance. If somebody like Charly Boy could come up from this rot to stay faithful to that vision, I don’t think there should be any excuse for failure. We are looking for every creative way to pass this message across. It’s not just going to be a classroom thing. We will do it through poetry, comedy, and music. I think this is the most effective way. There will also be a lot of workshops and training for young people to know that with what they have, there are people that are ready to help develop whatever they have in them.

You don’t seem to believe in our leadership...

First of all, they should have apologised long ago for what they’ve done, how they’ve battered our psyche, how they’ve destroyed the country. Look at a country like Ghana: at one time, they flooded Nigeria and at one time we asked them to go back to their country; they don’t have one quarter of natural and human resources as we do. But look at how stable the country is; look at their leadership and environment. What is our problem? Our problem is that of leadership. Nothing is going to change except we take possession of our future and our destiny. Except we fight to retrieve our golden future, we cannot change with kid gloves or with mere rhetoric. We have to do something. I’m not advocating violence now but what I’m saying is that there has to be some kind of revolution in our mindset and how we think.

What is the connection between the summit and the re-branding project of Prof. Dora Akunyili?

In whatever we do, we are finding ways to tell government that we can help them to help us since government is getting tired or they seem so confused. I believe in the re-branding thing but the methodology, I think is wrong; and I believe that if this re-branding thing will work, it is the youth who are going to take possession of that process. I give an example of what happened in Jamaica at a time that gangsterism and criminality were at the peak; it was people like Bob Marley and others that put Jamaica on the map. So, for all those negative things, there was still something good that Jamaica could offer. And Jamaica offered reggae to the world. When the government of Jamaica saw what was happening they decided to clean out their beaches and that was how they became one of the best tourist attractions. There is still gangsterism going on but what do we hear mostly about Jamaica? The lovely beaches, tourism and reggae music. With all this rot that they have here in Nigeria, there is still a lot of good going on here. But we are not promoting them. It’s the way we go about this thing (re-branding) that irks me. Even in countries like United States, there are serial killers there but what do we hear? We hear about Obama, technology and all the good things. The more we promote this goodness; we start to create another kind of ambience in our environment.
Do you think there is hope for the Nigerian youths?

If there is no hope, I will probably be the first to check out. I won’t be in this neck of the woods, I have options. But I know there is hope. I know it is a challenge. I know it is a battle. That’s how I’m wired. I’m wired for challenges and battles. I have never taken an easy route in my life. My story tells of one from a certain kind pedigree to starting life afresh from the streets. So, I know that everything is possible if only you believe. There may be a lot of hopelessness hanging around but I am glad that I have also met exceptional people in this country, young people. And if I can affect maybe 20 lives, I should expect that those 20 should be able to affect 200 lives. By so doing, we can form a wave. By forming a wave, that change that we are desirous of will come. I know it will come. Part of my role, which I think is divine in its essence, is to make sure that I keep digging out those exceptional youths and that they keep connecting to one another. When its time for that big bang of change, we’ll be ready.

You are a Peace Ambassador and a role model to the youth. Now, considering the whole issue of the Niger Delta, what can people like you contribute to influence the youths?

We still haven’t heard the last about Niger Delta. I think it is over exaggerated. I think it’s just a bunch of criminals and those in power who are doing oil business, bunkering and other businesses. But the government has not bothered to find ways of engaging the youth. Not everybody must be in school. Not everybody has the capacity to get degrees. God has given us different talents and opportunities. If the system was more conducive and creative, those boys would rather be engaged in more positive paths than allowing themselves to be used by politicians. Niger Delta militancy is not the only problem we have. If you go to the North, the youths have problem with drug addiction, early marriages and homosexuality. If you go to Delta State it is prostitution. Our youths are leaving in droves to foreign countries, and not in honourable ways. They go through Sahara desert. You see how badly they want to leave their country. They go through the desert on foot, they go through Tunisia in canoes, on the ocean, half of them dying because they are struggling to run away from what they think is their doom as Nigerian, only to arrive at the other end and they face the worst kind of future than they can ever imagine. Why? Because the leadership has not offered any kind of direction for these young people. Sometimes I don’t even blame them because I know that not everybody has that will power to resist everything negative. And that is what people like me should devote our lives to doing; to show that it is possible to walk in the right path. I want to believe that my life should be an example for the Nigerian youths. I have never done anything criminal. I walk on a very righteous path. I have all going for me because of my faith in myself and the dream I had. If I can do it, that means it’s possible to still be positive and make it. What is the role of Ministry of Youth Development in giving direction to the youth? Do they have any role? Look at all of them, what are they doing? This is the third edition of the National Youth Summit, do you know how many times I have gone to the Minister and how many times they have been jerking me around? I even told them that I knew they didn’t have the funds but that I would bring all the creativity. I told them they would only have to partner with us. That we would go and get the money. This one we are doing, we tasked ourselves. No cooperate body is on board, no government body is on board. If we can do it by ourselves, can you imagine if government teams up with us? But I see they are not interested. The Minister comes and talks grammar and that is it. I sent proposals there not even asking for money but for partnership and they were not interested. It is so sad but I will always say one thing. Since all these leaders are making our lives impossible, if they think that their security in the future will be guaranteed, then they are the biggest fools.

Tell us about your childhood. What was it like growing up?

I have fond memories of my growing up. There was so much warmth in my family. At a time, the uncles, aunts and cousins used to think that our parents spoilt us rotten but I think that we were blessed with exceptional parents who encouraged us to be ourselves. We never were asked to leave the sitting room whenever there were elders around. We shared in the conversation even though three quarter of the time we didn’t know what they were talking about. We were allowed to be creative and adventurous. Though once in a while I got some spanking from my father who I didn’t like at a time. I thought he was too rigid. He would always say things like ‘remember whom you are’, ‘remember I have given you this name, you have to protect this name’. It’s only natural, in the beginning I didn’t know what was special in a name but now I start to see. It’s also as a result of my background and pedigree that I’ve turned out the way I did. What inspires you and who are your role models? My environment and all the young people I associate with inspire me. All the great young Nigerians that I’ve met so far inspire me. The environment that keeps throwing up all the challenges inspires me. Because I’ll never want to go under, I want to survive. I want to rise above the rots and the only way to do that is to face it headlong. My pedigree has inspired me most of all.

What is your advice to the youths who are out of school at the moment?

Let them forget about the country and start with a reason to believe in themselves. You can walk the right path. It might take some time but it is still a wholesome path. If we have a role model like Charly Boy and we’ve seen from his life that it is possible, then let’s try that. If you do armed robbery or fraud, you will be caught. But if you decide to walk in Charly Boy’s footsteps, one day you will be respected. Try and walk that positive path when everybody around you is negative. I have chosen to walk the positive path and I hope that the youths will join me because I can show them how to become great people in the future.

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