For those of us from the West who aren’t better informed, when we think of Nigeria we think of the place where all the email scams come from. Where corruption is rife. And where Boko Haram is wreaking havoc.
But maybe there is more to this country than what the headlines pump out. Maybe Nigeria is on the brink of something amazing.
Nigeria has millions of highly motivated, well-educated young people who are forging ahead to create a country to be proud of. In my dozens of trips to Africa I have rarely witnessed a society that is so intentionally giving its young people the tools to making a lasting impact on society.
I spent 10 days here in Nigeria working as a volunteer engineer for a university to help them plan infrastructure for a new satellite campus. The locally educated engineers I am working with have amazing technical capabilities. They are providing at least as good a job as consultants I work with in Canada. In many ways they surpass what we expect out of our western engineers.
This private well-respected university that I am visiting started up 10 years ago, currently has 3000 full time students, and has demand for many times this amount. They have bought new land and are planning for 10,000 more students within a couple years. This school is having an incredible impact on society by providing quality education to Nigeria’s next leaders in an educational environment that exudes integrity, demands hard work, goes out of its way to hire quality professors, and knows the importance of each individual being an entrepreneur.
And there are thousands more schools like it in the country. Nigerians have been starved for higher education and millions, yes millions, are taking up the journey to MBAs, law degrees, engineering degrees, and medical degrees.
The graduates don’t all find relevant work and many leave the country for better lives elsewhere, but there is an exciting future for a country like this. Young people don’t have to follow in the footsteps of their leaders. They don’t have to say that this is just the way it is in Nigeria. No, they can be the catalyst of change. They can be the shining examples of integrity, hard work, family values and entrepreneurship.
And entrepreneurs are everywhere. Large multinationals are investing like crazy. Innovation is on every street corner. And young people are taking advantage of this entrepreneurial attitude to better their own lives and the communities around them.
They often look to the west as models of how to succeed personally, as a country, and as a society. But the west isn’t necessarily a good role model on so many different levels. Nigerians are challenging themselves to look within their own traditions and draw out the greatness of their various cultures.