Conversations Series With Abang Mercy – A Web developer, Ife Adebayo building classroom blocks for school pupils in Nigeria Speaks
What comes to mind when you visit a primary school in Nigeria with hundreds of students confined in a classroom with leaking roofs and sandy floors? Do you just criticize government and walk away? Well, the conversations series with Abang Mercy for the week has Ife Adebayo, our guest who visited a dilapidated school in his local government area and that event left him with a heart breaking experience to build classrooms for the students.
You lived in England for some years and returned to Nigeria to contribute to the development of your country, what motivated you, Ife?
My motivation was based on the fact that I realized that nobody will fix Nigeria if we don’t fix it. The fact that I could walk on the streets of England without fear of robbery, I could get good healthcare, I had running water and electricity was readily available because some people worked for it, some people made sure these things worked. So why wouldn’t I be home to do same for my country? I just knew I had to come back at some point.
You saw 100 pupils receive lessons in one classroom at St. Micheal’s Primary School Epe, Lagos. What happened after that visit?
After that visit I couldn’t stop thinking about my primary and secondary school days, we sure had it better. And I wondered how Nigeria got to this stage. I told a friend of mine, Ronke Balogun, who is an architect to visit the school and take pictures. She also gave me a bill of quantities about how much it will cost to build a block of classrooms. I then had a discussion with my manager at SDL PLC, Mr Paul Harris, he asked me to apply to the company’s foundation SDL Foundation for funding; I applied with support from Mr Daniel Elombah, the convener of the Transform Nigeria Citizens Initiative of which I was a member, after applying, Mr Alastair Gordon, one of the Foundation’s trustees had a meeting with me and after a few months the funding was approved.
Did you leave England to set up the primary school in your community?
No I did not, St Michael’s Anglican Primary School has been in existence for many decades. The primary school building was just a contribution to the community and it was going to go ahead whether I returned to Nigeria or not. My return to Nigeria just happened to coincide with when funding for the project was approved.
You said you decided to build a block of classrooms for the pupils in Epe, at what point did you feel the conviction to go ahead and do it even when it was a public institution?
I am of the opinion that we cannot leave every thing to the government. Individuals and organizations must also do their bit to contribute to growth and development, so I did not need any conviction, this is who I am. The fact it was a public school was not an issue as I personally called the Lagos State commissioner for education who is incidentally from Epe and I told her about the project. She encouraged us and we even got a letter of support from the Lagos State Ministry of Education which was part of our application package to the SDL Foundation.
Your passion for education led to the building of Classrooms, do you think as individuals, groups and stakeholders in the Project Nigeria. If we all take steps to do what government has failed to provide, the political class will sit up?
I think the responsibility of political leaders to development in all sectors should be independent of external contributions. We must demand that our leaders become responsible and do what is right. They should not need the actions of others to spur them. We have to continue to demand for good and efficient leadership at all levels of governance.
At what stage in your life did you develop the passion for Education?
I think the zeal really developed when I first visited Germany in 2007. I saw their educational set up and how they supported both practical and theoretical education with properly laid out educational policies and structures. I could see the result on their economy and on the response of their population to social and political issues. This is really when I started giving education in Nigeria a critical look. An educated population is easier to govern but more difficult to oppress. Our political leaders are comfortable with an uneducated majority as it helps them oppress the people easily.
When you sought for funding for the company you were working for in England, what was their first reaction?
The reaction was very positive. Mr. Paul Harris and Mr. Alastair Gordon were very interested in the project and they both went a long way to ensure this was a success.
Your classroom project for the Epe Primary School was completed in April 2013, How do you feel when you visit the new primary school building in the school?
The first day I saw the pupils receiving lectures in the building it wasn’t even completed yet, but they had started using it. I was so happy to see that I could have a positive effect on the kids, I was happy that I could make an impact on people that will actually outlive me. I felt content, happy and grateful to God for giving me such an opportunity. This also made me realize I had to do more because there are many children that study in even worse conditions.
Tell us about your new project, the one with the slum2school team?
I met Mr. Otto Orandaam, the slum2school executive director at the TFA Symposium in Ekiti State. We got talking about education and I asked him if he can bring his project to Epe so that we will help children in Epe who do not currently go to school and we can get them in school. He said Epe was already one of the areas they are considering. So I contacted people on the ground in Epe who could take us round and last Thursday we went to Epe to do an initial survey of the slum areas. We discovered there are schools in most areas of Epe and attendance of primary school by the children was quite high. We are going back this coming Tuesday to visit a remote riverine area of Epe for further analysis.
What will you say to the Minister of Education reading “Conversations” about the state of the Nigerian Education?
Nigerian education needs a total overhaul. We need to reduce the focus on theory and encourage practicals. We focus too much on degrees and this needs to stop, there should be focus on technical colleges and other practical areas. Our colleges of education also need special attention as they produce the teachers who teach our kids. Every Nigerian child deserves to be educated to secondary school level, this needs to be enforced and not just on paper but in reality. Free education needs to become a reality and not just a policy statement.
Do you intend to return back to England?
To visit? Yes. To live? No. I intend to continue to live in Nigeria. There is too much to do here, I cannot afford not to be here.
With the 25,000 pounds funding you got, you were able to build a block of classrooms with a staff room and toilets, running water tank for the Kids. Would you advise that Civil Society Groups take to infrastructural development?
Absolutely. Civil society groups have to come in and assist government. The Lagos State Ministry of education is currently building new classrooms in the same St. Michael’s School, the building we erected is going to serve as a support to these. I have also given a scholarship to the best 3 primary 5 pupils in the school in this academic year, next academic year I will be paying for their school uniforms, sandals, books and socks all through their primary 6 education. This will let the kids know that there is a reward for excellence in academics. I also part sponsored the last inter house sports competition for St Michael’s Primary School and was invited as a guest of honour to the competition, it was on February 14th which was a work day, I had to take that day off work to attend the occasion and cheer on the kids as they participated in various sports activities. We cannot expect government to do all these alone.
You are a web developer, do you see your humanitarian work conflicting with your carrier?
No I do not see any conflict. I need my career in order to make money to meet my immediate needs. There is no conflict of any sort. The humanitarian work is strictly done on the side.
A lot of young people of your age, in Nigeria and abroad have resorted to the various social media platforms to criticize government. What do you make of these category of people?
Without critics you do not know where you are going wrong. I think the young people have a right to air their views on whatever platforms are available to them. I encourage more people to speak up about things that are not working for them. I also encourage them not to just criticize but to also contribute in their own little way to development. Government also has to listen to them and make necessary amends.
As a young person who has been able to walk the talk, what do you say to young Nigerians living abroad with same passion for change?
One mistake people make is to think those living outside Nigeria cannot make a change or they can only talk on social media. That is not true. If you are outside Nigeria you can also make changes positively from abroad. For example you can get funding for humanitarian activities like I did while I was still in England, you can form groups that come up with policy papers, you can do a lot from abroad. So I encourage Nigerians in the diaspora to find ways in which they can contribute to the development of Nigeria.
You were a member of the UK Branch of the Action Congress of Nigeria, what value the diaspora branch offering to the Nigerian ACN.
The diaspora branch of the ACN is very effective in pushing the policies of the party abroad. For example we have presented papers to the members of the UK parliament on various issues affecting Nigeria. We were very influential in the protests on the streets of London when the cabal brought the Nigerian government to a stand still when Late President Yar’adua was sick, and all these things that were done working in conjunction with the National Office of the party in Nigeria. The chairman of the UK branch back then, Chief Ayo Owoade is currently a senior special assistant to a governor in Nigeria, we also have many members of the party in England who have come back home to contest political office.
You are the interim Lagos State Coordinator of the proposed All Progressives Congress Youth Forum, what are your contributions to the newly constituted APC as it affects the youth?
I am working with all the members to begin a mass mobilization of Nigerian youth to join the APC Youth Forum. I am constantly in touch with the central working committee in Abuja as we forge forward. The aim is to set up a vibrant youth section of the party and to be a force to reckon with. This is going to be a platform for service and not a platform to be serviced, we need to send this message clearly to every party member, that the youth are coming together to demand for good governance, come up with policies for the party and be a vibrant branch of the party. The APC is a coalition of progressives, people who want the good of this country. This is why we are choosing this platform to push forward our message that the politics of temporary belly filling and ankara buying is coming to an end. This is a new era, an era that heralds the dawn of good and efficient governance, and we will be actively involved in it because we strongly believe that the only politics that can survive the test of time is the politics of good governance.
How effective is the role of a young Nigerian ahead of the 2015 elections?
The importance of young Nigerians ahead of the 2015 elections cannot be over emphasized. Young Nigerians make up about 60 to 70% of the population depending on what statistics you are working with. This means we are the majority and democracy is the rule of the majority. This means 2015 actually rests in our hands, the power rests with us, we have to decide to use it efficiently so that we do not have to suffer what we are currently suffering in the hands of this canker-worm called PDP.
Former Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) has reaffirmed his determination to contest the presidential ticket of the proposed, All Progressive Congress (APC). As a youth leader in the APC, do you support Buhari’s candidacy?
I think it is still too early to discuss candidates. The APC is bigger than any one individual. We are building a party based on ideas and not individuals. When the time comes the party’s presidential candidate will be elected using the party’s laid down rules. General Buhari is a well respected Nigerian who has an enviable track record of performance and integrity. If he is elected as the party’s candidate he will be promoting the party’s ideas and policies towards the growth of a new Nigeria. The type of Nigeria that we all pray to live in one day. But like I said earlier, the APC is a party of ideas and not individuals.
What do you make of a President Goodluck Jonathan 2015 Candidacy?
President Goodluck Jonathan is a Nigerian and can aspire to run for a second term as the constitution allows, however there is no way he will win a free and fair election in Nigeria given his disastrous performance in the last few years. Since the inception of democracy this country has never witnessed such a high level of insecurity, economic uncertainty and unemployment, the government has never been so uncoordinated. With every year of the PDP things only get worse. President Goodluck and his party members lack the ideas and ability to move this nation forward. They need to be voted out in 2015 to forestall the inevitable shipwreck they are leading this country towards. Come 2015 we need a party and candidates with ideas and policies that can move our nation forward.