It is one thing to want to do something for your country and another to find an enabling environment to do it, especially if that country is Nigeria.
Where good things are easily corrupted or allowed to rot from neglect, carelessness and disorder, only the very patient and chronically optimistic will continue to try. Father Godswill Agbagwa is one of them.
He’s among the people who believe that a new Nigeria is still possible – a Nigeria where good leadership, hard work and merit will be the norm. A visionary, organizer and compassionate youth priest, the Amaimo-born cleric has a dream that one day, a new breed of honest and dedicated leaders will emerge in Nigeria. But he knows it won’t happen in a hurry. Yet such a dream is like madness to some Nigerians who have been forced by circumstances to give up hope. To such people, trying to clean up the country is like attempting to climb a mountain on high hill shoes- a waste of time and energy! Notwithstanding, Father Godswill and his team are willing to try.
The United States resident has assembled some like-minded people to help him in that herculean task and they have commenced a mentorship programme, embracing about 30 first year university students from across the country. One of those partnering with Father Godswill in his ambitious project is Father Vincent Arisukwu, a compassionate young, dynamic priest and seasoned journalist, among other reputable and well-meaning people.
Face2Face spoke to Father Godswill at the “Emerging Nigerian Leaders Conference” organized in November for the participants, at the Star Arrivals Hotel, in New Owerri, Imo-State. Calm and optimistic, Father Godswill explained his vision and chances of success with the youth.
“In 2008, I had a dream that if we want to reawaken the Nigerian social conscience, revive the spirit of entrepreneurship and nurture morally responsible leaders of social change, Nigeria will become one of the greatest countries in the world. Having been born in this country, having had my education in this country- primary, secondary and tertiary, I know we have a lot of potentials. Having travelled across the globe, I have noticed that there’s no secret to success except through hard work, responsibility and vision.
“So I started worrying and thinking about how things have gone wrong in our country, then I realized there’s got to be a missing link – that at some point we lost our social conscience, entrepreneurship and sense of morality and it’s because of this lack that things have gone really very bad in this country,” he said, sadly.
Father Godswill is convinced that no quick-fixes will work. Real and lasting change can only come if “we go back to the roots”, retrain minds and inculcate new morals.
“The dream kept on coming over and over until I could no longer ignore it. So I started to think seriously about how to realize the vision. In 2010, I started sharing the dream, feeling the pulse of people so I won’t be in a fool’s paradise. Everyone said, ‘father this is it, it’s a good idea but who will bell cat?”
Father Godswill doesn’t claim to have all the answers but he is willing to try. Having assembled a team and done all the paper work, he registered a Non-Governmental organization (NGO) called Centre for Social Awareness, Advocacy and Ethics, in Abuja and ran with his dream. The next major step was choosing the pioneers of the programme – a big challenge in a country where merit is only a word.
“Since the bottom line is how to reawaken the social conscience of the people, shun corruption and institute morals and ethics, the initial challenge was how to select the participants for the programme. We decided on an essay competition. We asked the students to write what they will do if they become the Nigerian president. We gave the essays to different people to evaluate and from there we were able to come up with the first 30 people who are participating in this conference today,” he explained, adding that the programme had been strictly sponsored by the board members – all Nigerians!
“The selection process was very tough and completely by merit. I don’t have any brother or sister among them. All was interviewed one- on-one and we spoke to their parents and guardians. Even their heads of departments (HODs) were contacted to ascertain their identity. We checked and rechecked information to ensure the candidates are who they say they are. It’s been a thorough process and we are completely satisfied that these 30 deserve to be here,” he added.
Some of the participants spoken to said they got to the programme on their own, confirming that the selection process was free of the usual bribes and “godfatherism.” Some had travelled five to six hours by road to be at the venue. But all had their transport, accommodation and feeding fully paid for by the organizers.
The three-day event was no holiday for the students, though. Instead, it was a time to think, learn and interact with themselves, sponsors and superiors in different fields of endeavour, including university vice chancellors, directors of banks, leaders of private and public enterprises and various intellectuals from across the globe.
The seminar began with a documentary film on Nigeria, the real Nigeria you may say, an eye-opener for the youngsters who also got tips on leadership, education, training opportunities, financial responsibility /entrepreneurship, ethics, Human Dignity, Law and order, from overseas and local speakers, specially drawn for the mentorship programme.
Although there was no monetary reward to the pioneers or any promise of such in the future, participants were still upbeat and enthusiastic about the initiative. Those interviewed scored the programme highly and committed themselves to its goals and aspirations.
“I have learnt so much from the programme and I’m anxiously going back to the university to share with my friends. For a start, I will let everyone know that the new Nigeria we are talking about begins with ‘you’ – each and every one of us. I sincerely thank the organizers for making it possible for me to attend,” said one of the female members, summing it up for her group.
Participants are expected to stick with the programme for at least three years and, more so, to put their best foot forward all through. Father Godswill did not mince words when he explained what lay ahead of the students – hard work!
“Participants are students and will go back to school. We will continue to work with them, every step of the way. Mentors will be communicating with them online, via the Internet. We have a website where members of this group and those who are interested can get resources. Members have been drawn strategically from all countries of the world so they will be able to provide resources that young people need,” he said.
“Every month, our team of mentors will come up with a book to be read by the group and discussed. We have gathered all their details and contact information. Our searchlights are all over them – no helping to rig elections, no joining of cults or secret societies at school. If any of them is moving out of the goal of this Organization, we will kick him or her out of the programme”.
That’s enough warning for any youngster who wants to be to an agent of change in Nigeria.