Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Organising Nigerian Students In the Diaspora

Sure, you will remember Dr. Akanimo Odon. That is the young Nigerian who won the British Council’s yearly organised ‘Shine’ International Students Awards in 2006. Odon, the second born son to Mr. Peter Mathias and Mrs. Christiana Odon is back in the country dreaming big “for a new Nigeria”. The 29 year old has also written a book to that effect. He is a first class honours graduate of Zoology from the University of Benin. He has a Master’s of Science in Environmental Rehabilitation from the University of Wales, UK and then a doctorate degree in Environmental Management from the University of Lancaster, UK. He hails from Ikot Udom Village, Ika Local Council of Akwa Ibom State. Married to Ifeyinwa, and with a daughter, Ima-Abasi, the 29 years old Akanimo was at Rutam House office of LIFE magazine recently and spoke to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, about his dreams for a New Nigeria.

Your foundation, what is happening to it and why did you start it in the first place?
I Co-Founded an NGO, Xn Foundation in the UK some three years ago. It was co-founded together with a friend called Benedict Okhumale. It is going strong bearing in mind that the team of Directors that run the foundation do so on a voluntary capacity together with their normal full time jobs and one of them is Dr. Ifeolu Akintunde, who is the Executive Secretary of the Foundation. They are all fantastic men.
For the past three years, Xn Foundation has hosted the largest international conference of Nigerian Students in the Diaspora in a conference tagged ICONS (International Conference of Nigerian Students). It has become a high profile event now as UK Universities now bid to host the conference owing to the high recognition and profiling it gives the University that hosts the conference.
The idea sprang up when I realised together with some friends that there was no single umbrella body for the many Nigerian Students in the Diaspora. I got a fantastic team together and we set up things and hosted the first conference. For the past three years, British Council, Nigeria, the Nigerian High Commission, London, different UK Universities, private bodies and firms have been sponsors of the conference and very high profile individuals have been represented there. It is usually a two day conference made of a series of seminars, workshops, discussions, exhibitions from private firms and bodies and it culminates with a dinner and awards night to recognise the achievements of the best Nigerian students in the Diaspora for the year. The overall theme of the conference remains the same yearly and it is networking Nigerian students and Youth in the Diaspora towards national development. Currently, we are planning to host the fourth conference sometime in April, in the UK.

Your interest in youth programmes

My interest in youth programmes is extensive. I love anything that would develop the potential and capacity of the Nigerian youth. I have developed a few projects in the past and there are a few projects I have recently developed but would require some backing to bring them into fruition. I am only one man, so can only do so little at a time. But the kind of youth programmes I develop and that interest me impinges on developing creativity and entrepreneurship in the Nigerian youth. You would agree with me that there is a fundamental enterprise gap in the average Nigerian Youth and even when the passion is there, the enabling power isn’t. I have won a few enterprise awards and have been blessed to be trained in enterprise development in programmes organised by the very best schools in the world i.e. MIT, Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, etc. And in my opinion, one thing stands out, which I think is lacking in our universities and that is enterprise should be fully integrated into the core of every course or programme especially considering today’s economic climate. If you can get enterprising skills cultivated in the youth of a nation, then the future is bright. Currently, I am planning a book tour for my novel across different Nigerian universities but on the back of the book tour is a project to talk about youth and creativity development, entrepreneurship development, developing educational partnerships and finding research funding with UK Universities and bodies to mention but a few. I have a portfolio of first hand experiences in all of these subject matters and it will be a delight to share this with the Nigerian students. This is planned for the early part of the year 2010.

What motivated your project?

The project is called the Scribes Prize. To be honest, in an era where negativities, frustration and uncertainties about the Nigerian state abound, I felt it of great importance to project the Nigerian image in a positive light in the eyes of the world. The project was designed to project the ideals of the Nigerian state and to promote potentials of Nigerians nationally and internationally through creative writing. The motivation was to promote the art and culture of writing and to provide a platform for healthy competition amongst writers as they aspire to be recognized as award winning ‘Scribes’. I am a writer myself and each time I ask people, I am amazed at how many people do write. But you see; writing is a very hard thing to do especially when you are not doing it as a job or when there is no evidence of getting paid at the end of it. In Nigeria, we are at a time when the culture of reading and writing is gradually been eroded from the mental fabrics of many and emphasis on literary expression, creative appreciation and even logical communication, a thing of the past. That was why I conceived and developed the project to attempt to revamp the trends. It is simple, as the best poems and short Nigerian stories are published into an anthology in the UK and made available to a global audience.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Well, up till few months ago, I was the Local Content Adviser for BG (British gas) Nigeria, and then my day-to-day responsibilities involved developing strategies for their local content implementation portfolio, developing supplier development initiatives and programmes, market differentiation programmes to mention but a few. Now, I do quite a wide variety of things. I consult for a few UK Universities in developing some market entry programmes into the Nigerian market. I do some work for the Director of the Centre for Energy and the Environment, Dr. Lawrence Ezemonye under the Energy Commission in developing some environmental programmes in partnership with several UK environmental bodies and firms. I am also working in partnership with the CEO of Del-York International, Linus Idahosa in developing some very powerful media intervention programmes that would be launched not too long from now. As you may be aware, Linus was responsible for setting up the partnership with the New York Film Academy in running some film courses in Nigeria, which kicks off next year. We are working on ways of taking this to the next level.
On another note, I am working as the principal consultant and partner for a firm, Envirofly Consulting, in the UK and I am involved in developing some new ground breaking programmes that can give any Nigerian corporate firm, state government or body a green image while still proffering solutions to current environmental problems. This is my core competence. I am blessed to have been trained as an environmentalist under one of the most cited professors of environmental science in Europe and my doctorate degree was in one of the most reputable environmental research groups in Europe. These programmes range from waste management portfolios, to energy management and conservation models, to environmental education training programmes, to very simple low cost environmental initiatives that can increase the awareness, provide a good green foundation and project the image of any Nigerian firm in the international community. This is very crucial bearing in mind the constant global discussions on climate change and global warming and the very infant state of the Nigerian environmental industry, if I may say so.
On a much lighter note, when I am not too busy, I write songs for a record label in the UK. I recently just help set up some partnerships with two universities in the UK to shoot the musical videos of two Nigerian artists as a project under the record label. Finally I take care of my family. Quite a variety but I am grateful to God for every opportunity and I love everything I do.

The three interesting facts about yourself
They might not be interesting but they are definitely facts. Well, the first thing is that I worked part time in the UK in a care home for the elderly and for those with mental and physical disabilities for over two years while studying for my doctorate degree. I loved it. Secondly, I have won several international awards including an Enterprise Certificate Award from the Enterprisers Programme organised by Cambridge University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Entrepreneurial Fellowship Award from Stanford University, the British Council International Student of the Year Award in the whole of UK to mention but a few. Thirdly, I have been privileged to work as a consultant to several reputable multinationals and bodies including British Council, Nigeria, European Union Development Fund under the Grow Creative Scheme in the UK, the British Government sponsored by the Department for Innovation, University and Skills, a few Universities in the UK and in Nigeria to mention but a few.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Well, thinking of past time outside of work, that would be watching movies and listening to music. And when I am not listening to music, I do some writing. I have finished writing my second book of poetry titled ‘Poetic Voice of Reason’ which would be published next year.

What do you like best about what you do?
What I love best about what I do is the fact that my creativity breathes without inhibitions. Whether I work as a business development consultant, a project management consultant, a policy development and strategy consultant, it’s about proffering solutions to intricate problems. On the light side, whether I am writing a book, writing a movie script or writing a song, it is bringing to be what wasn’t. I think I am fascinated about creation, the art of starting something new and innovative and developing it into a reality.

Three characteristics that describe you
Well, the three characteristics that describe me would be God-fearing, caring towards others and self-driven to succeed.

Kind of person: introvert or extrovert
I would say that I am right in the middle of the two. I can be an introvert when the need calls for it and yes, I can be outspoken and in your face if I need to be. Not in a rude manner though as I like to think I am very pleasant.

Philosophy of life
Dreaming is cheap and free, spend it ruthlessly. There are two ways to succeed, it is either you work hard or you work hard and God will bless the work of your hands.

Best practical advice you received
When you find a good thing, do all you can to keep and take care of it. My dad told me that long time ago.

What in human history do you wish had never been invented?
Well, that’s a tough one but my first instinct is to say nothing really. I don’t think it’s the invention, I think it is the use of the invention.

If you had been born in a different country and century, which would you have preferred?
Are you kidding me? I would have chosen Nigeria now and exactly when I was born, some 29 years ago. Don’t laugh. I believe in predestination and there wouldn’t have been any better than being born in Nigeria at the time I was. God made it that way. Besides, I do love my country.

What is your fantasy outside your job?

I think I struggle with that to be honest. I think I am currently living my fantasy as I am doing the things I love and enjoy doing even outside my job if that makes sense. You wouldn’t therefore call it a fantasy if it is already happening even if it is at its infant stage, would you?

Your favourite cause and books
Well, anything developmental and change-inclined, of course, change for the better, anything youth development and empowerment oriented, anything that hits at the heart of environmental and economic sustainability tickles my fancy. It drives me. As a motivational speaker, a strategy consultant and a positively minded individual like I would like to think I am, books that are inspirational and deal with strategy development are my kind of books.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a medical doctor. That didn’t quite work out as you might have noticed. But now I am grateful to God that it didn’t work out that way.

Person most interested in meeting?

Well, outside the shores of this nation, that would be Barack Obama. But back here at home, after hearing about and seeing all the good things he has done in my state, I would love to meet the governor of my state, Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Well, I have met the leaders in business I have always wanted to meet and those are the founders of Google.


That would be my dad and mum. They are the most hardworking people I know.


  1. Great Interview.
    Akan is a great guy with a great vision. And whats more he is working hard towards achieving it.

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