Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nneoma Ike-Njoku: 17 Year Old Visionary

Our people say:
Yoruba: A ki i fi ojuboro gba omo lowo ekuro.
English: One does not easily or casually take a child from the palm-nut. - Yoruba proverb.

Why there's hope for Nigeria, II:

Nneoma Ike-Njoku is a vibrant, young Nigerian student who has already started working on an idea which she got in her teens. I interviewed her two weeks ago before she graduated from secondary school and she was very excited for word to go out about her project, The FreeFun Initiative. Now, she's a 5-day old graduate from secondary school; here's more about her and her project:

1.     Tell us who you are and your background.
  • I'm Nneoma Ike-Njoku, 17 year old CEO of FreeFun Initiative. I'm the second child in a family of six children and I’m graduating next week from Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja.
2.   What’s the FreeFun Initiative?
  • The FreeFun Initiative is an organization focused on linking talented young people in high schools with internship opportunities at renowned businesses and organizations for free. I've had the idea for sometime before creating my website in June this year. With FreeFun, young people can have fun while 'amp-ing' up their CVs and gathering experiences for college applications and thereafter! We are located at
3.   This project is quite unique and timely. Where did such a brilliant idea come from?
  • The inspiration for my business came after I was rejected from my first choice college. While comparing my application with the applications of those who were accepted, I found a crucial difference- a lot of them had impressive and varied internship and extracurricular experiences, and more opportunities than are available to high school students in Nigeria and Africa.
4.   FreeFun is still in infancy. So, what are your goals for the project?
  • I intend to get a hundred businesses registered with the FreeFun Initiative by December, and to extend our scope to Africa by June next year.
5.   Do you intend to eventually extend the audience of the Initiative beyond the shores of Nigeria and to college and university students?
  • Yes! We’re not limiting ourselves to secondary school students or to Nigeria only. Right now our main focus is on getting the business on its feet. One of our goals is to enter into other African countries within a year. Primarily, we target talented young people who are passionate about exploring their career options.
6.   Being this young and with such a young audience, how are you funding this project?
  • Luckily, the nature of the project means that it requires little financial input.
7.   What can Nigerians do to participate or support you?
  • I would like for young people to go on our website and register and for as many businesses as possible in Nigeria to register with the Initiative.
8.   What’s your publicity strategy?
  • I intend to get as much publicity as possible, in order to encourage more young people to join, and bring in as many businesses as I can. Blogs like yours are helping me achieve this. I am also entering my business ideas for a number of competitions, but primarily to get the word out there. From July, (after my graduation), I will be visiting high schools throughout Abuja with a few friends to talk about the initiative and encourage students to join. I've also began to contact a few businesses, also within Abuja. If we're able to meet the ''100 Businesses'' mark by December, we'll have a platform to reach other businesses and high schools in Africa by next year. Hopefully, the world won't be far behind! Accounts on online network platforms are also in the works.
9.   What’s the reaction from your family and friends?
  • My parents are really excited. Our family's piggery in Nassarawa state is already registered with FreeFun! My brother is presently my PR person. He's going to New York University in Abu Dhabi and is telling all his friends about FreeFun, getting them to join and participate.
10. What are your favorite movie, song, musician, book?
  • Oh my God, everyone HAS to read Maggie O'Farrell's incredible novel, After You'd Gone. It's a beautiful, incredible book. I'm totally in love with Bruno Mars, but my favorite song has to be John Legend's ''Best You Ever Had''. I recently watched Think like a Man, it is cool.
11. Do you have any mentors?
  • Oprah is a real inspiration to me, I love how she can take something she truly cares about and translate that into something that everyone can relate to. I also admire her strong business sense.
12. Tell us something fascinating or unusual or unique about yourself.
  • I speak English, read Spanish and write French, and I hold certificates in all three of them. I also bear an uncanny resemblance to Kelly Rowland, and eat more coffee flavored ice-cream than anyone I know!
To be part of this project or to register your business visit

As naked as beings come,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Loyola Jesuit College - Valedictorian Speech, 2012


Why there's hope for this country:

My little brother graduated on Sunday from secondary school. This child has brought nothing but pride and joy to us and on Sunday, as valedictorian, his speech was nothing short of amazing. After winning the speech and debate award, Secretary General of Nigerian Model United Nations (NISSMUN) last year, he 'bossed' the speech. Did I mention, he wrote and presented the speech impeccably by himself and he's 16!

None of our videos is clear and the official copy doesn't arrive until another couple weeks. However, I'll share the speech here. The effect is incomplete without the video but I hope you get 60% of what the entire hall felt for 18+ minutes on Sunday at LJC. And, as soon as I get the vid, I'll share it.

Congratulations to you, honey, and to the 2012 graduating class of Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja.

                                The Vagaries of Jail

Throughout this speech, I expect you to listen, to laugh and to clap for me. If you obey these rules, I can assure you that you will be “touched” at the end of the speech. The chairman, Board of Trustees, the Board of Trustees, the Board of Governors, the President, Loyola Jesuit College, the Principal, Vice-Principal Academics, Vice-Principal Student Life, the Chaplain, Guests of Honour, Visiting Principals, Staff of Loyola Jesuit College, our parents and families, invited guests and well-wishers, the Graduating Class, the students, ladies and gentlemen; good afternoon.

My name is Oluwamuyiwa Benjamin Oyatogun.  To say that I am privileged to be here right now is nothing short of a gross understatement. I am honoured and more than grateful to be the Valedictorian of the Class of 2012. Putting six years- the joys, the pains, the sweat, the memories, the trials, challenges and lessons- in a fifteen minute speech is not enough, it is impossible, it is a Herculean task. However, it is only when we try to do that that all can learn the lessons we learned and have a little taste of what it has been for us.

The running joke is that LJC is actually a Local Jail for Children. It is no wonder that for the past six years we have been kept in here as prison “inmates”. We have also been on trial for six years. Can you imagine? Our parents, the judges and the jury, have adjourned this case for far too many terms. Alas, today has been chosen to be the last day of this court case. Today, I will tell you all we have been through while in custody at this prison. And we ask, today, to be given bail from Loyola… forever!

We started as a hundred and fifty-one sprightly individuals from different tribes, different backgrounds. We arrived here full of hope and too many possibilities, only you could not see it all on that first day. Kemi was crying, Uche was begging to go back, Bamidele was so excited, Okechukwu would not speak to anyone. Being the immediate set after a tragedy that had occurred in the jail a year earlier, we arrived as the largest set ever admitted. It was difficult for many of us adapting to a new style of life with new sets of people everywhere on the compound. Getting familiar in a place where all the buildings seem constantly to be running away from each other, where the food appears drab compared to home food, and bells rule the day, cannot be a walk-over. There were other “inmates” in this jail who helped us settle down and our teachers- or should I call them “prison wardens”? - And of course, Mr. Paulinus: the Disciplinarian or the chief warden. After the first year of the trial session, the judges - our dear parents- felt we were still guilty. Guilty of what?  Bad behavior, improper training for the future, and still being too fat. The case was adjourned and we were sent back.

The next year seemed better; the prison had begun forming us. We were still quite restless of course, but after a year here, we had gotten familiar with the terrain. Well, things went on fine, until tragedy was sprinkled in our story line. One of us developed a brain tumour and was away from jail for months undergoing treatment. We did not know what to do. We were probably too young to understand. We prayed, though and always had her in our hearts because she was, and still is one of us. It was very disheartening when on the 6th of May, 2008 Melissa Adele went to be with the Lord. It seemed unreal, but there the truth was, right in front of us. We submitted to the will of God although with so much hurt. Melissa remains dear to us. We believe that God wanted one more LJC angel with Him.

Still recovering from the loss, our third year came and back we were to LJC; The Local Jail for Children, Loyola Jesuit College. This was the year we wrote the Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination. We were fully part of the jail now, but we needed to prove the three years spent here already had been fruitful. From staying up late at night to read, to carrying notes everywhere on the compound, we seemed set for the examinations. The signs of success were already showing: Chisom Okafor came first in the NAFDAC National Competition. And so, we wrote the exams with high hopes which were not dashed.

What did we learn after spending three years in here? We learnt a lot. In this jail, no one settles for less than the best. What we felt was good now appeared here as okay. What we thought was excellent now appeared as good. The competition especially in this set is very, very strong. Everyone tries to outdo the other person. Furthermore, we learnt to relate better with others. In life, you can never achieve anything alone and everything that happens is a stepping stone unto greater achievements. So, when we went for the long court hearing; better known as the Jss3 holiday, we realized that we had not been fully formed. We had to return to finish our formation.

In SS1, the fourth year, we returned as more mature, intellectual individuals. Friendships were improved upon and new ones created. We began taking up leadership roles in different associations and groups. We also became familiar with new subjects, with electives, and physics, and chemistry and cyanide! Do you know what it means to climb the rocky mountains of Jos on cold mornings or to get lost in the bushes of Plateau State without food or water? You don’t? Well, we don’t either. For the first time in the history of the jail, we had our Man o’ War in school. Man o’ war is an intense and rigorous two week ‘’near death experience’’. Okay, the real definition. It is a Citizenship and Leadership Training Programme that helps to keep our brains active through activities like the initiative test. It makes sure we are fit through jogging, exercises, assault tests among others. News casting broadens our horizons on national and international issues and the songs are a very important source of motivation. By the end of the programme, we were stronger and more mentally alert. The judges were more and more impressed.

Among us in our team, we have the legendary family better known as the OKAFORS. They are siblings who have distinguished themselves while in the jail. Indeed, it was a feat they pulled when they became Head boy and Head girl at the same time. The race for Prefectship was very tight. As I said earlier, the competition in our set is so strong. People campaigned, and strived and ran for different posts. At the end, only 32 out of 142 of us were selected as prefects. Prefectship was a very big responsibility; there were some very stressful moments for us but also rewarding times.

Still in our set, we have those that get into higher jails like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; yes we do. Izunna did it; an achievement that earned him the respect of many inmates in our jail. We have someone among us who skips every single activity there is, is she even present? Oh, there she is. We also have someone who can run faster than Usain Bolt, there are fashion icons, the writers, even someone who owns time!

The years we have spent here have actually been stressful. Yes, stressful. From dodging Mr. Paulinus incessantly to having 101 assignments due at the same time, sometimes we felt like we would break. But we did not break. Somehow, there was always a solution. Loyola has taught us to persevere. We have come across and overcome many challenges in our set and also experienced the vagaries of school life. I mean, everyone was almost distressed when we realized we were to have our prom in school and wear skirt suit for the graduation, or how about all the times we have felt like all the odds were against our class. We have simply persevered. Entering into our final year was both exciting and challenging. With all the examinations, we felt overwhelmed sometimes but the rewards of our hard work came.

From the beautiful SAT scores to wonderful TOEFL results, we began to realize that the seeds of our hard work were bearing fruits. We achieved excellence in Cowbell, NAFDAC, essay, arts and science competitions. Kenechukwu Nwosu, one of us, came out with the highest Jamb Score in the nation for the year 2012, one of the only three people to garner a score above 300 this year. At the Model United Nations Conference for the year 2011, for the first time in our history, one of our inmates claimed the most coveted post of Secretary General. From all these successes and many more, we became conscious of the fact that omelettes are not made without breaking eggs; there is always a test before every testimony. Through hard work, determination and risk taking, we can assure you we will always achieve excellence. Yes, not all of us will be presidents, or find the cure to HIV/AIDS, but once we strive for the best in whatever we do, our toil will never be in vain. These achievements we boast of are our “exhibit A” to prove that now, we are no longer guilty, we are innocent.

It is no credit to the teacher whose student remains at his feet forever. Therefore, we must go forth in the world now because this is not the end, it is just the stepping stone to greatness. We must take all we have learnt here so we can go and make our difference in the world. We must graduate! A wise man once said: “Praise the bridge that carried you over”. In that light, we want to thank all those who have been our “bridges”:

First of all, I would like to thank everyone in the graduating class. Being together for six years, we formed a bond. It has not been painless and trouble-free, but we did it. Thank you. The administration, who has tried her best to harness the talents evident in these young men and ladies, who has made us obey every rule to the last letter. The administration who has strengthened us through the fun and trying moments, caused us joy and happiness, also pain and tears, we say a big Thank you. Thank you to our teachers who have striven to make us fantastic. Mr. Paulinus who seems to always be in our faces, we are grateful for all your discipline. Thank you. Thank you Matron for your good advice and for your support.

All those, who have, in their big or little way, made an impact in our lives, we love and appreciate you. Our guests and well-wishers, can we forget you? Of course not! Thank you for taking out of your time to come here and celebrate with us. Our parents, our judges and jury, who sent us back every year to be moulded and fashioned by Loyola, thank you. And now we ask you: Are we ready to go? To God, the Author and the finisher of our faith, He who has kept the ‘Local Jail’ in shape, the One who has given wisdom to our administration and leaders and guided us every step of the way. Thank You God. THANK YOU.

Finally, I would like all of you to all to perform a little task for me. Raise your right hand, everyone please, now when I say go, put it on the shoulder of the person to your right for three seconds. Go! 1…2…3. You can drop your hands. Now, I know that you have all been “touched” in my speech.

Ese, Dalu, Mwense, Tega, Sosoghon, and of course, Nagode. Thank you and God bless!

The post I planned for today was about another LJC student, Nneoma Ike-Njoku and her fantastic project. Coming next week.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Naija Mode Activated.

Our people say: "God dey" - prayer for the lazy or prayer for the poor or prayer for the Nigerian.


It's a frustration-love relationship in this alley. But I love it every time.

Today, a mallam in my estate said to me: "half-bread is better than none" because I wore almost knee-length shorts to buy credit. I laughed for 7 or 8 minutes. He was laughing too.

Today, I got hissed at by the boy at the 'Indian shop' because I asked for oranges when he only bananas and watermelons. He hissed at me because 'I no see sey e no get orange for table?'

Yesterday, praise, hymns in church and other important things/people were great!

Yesterday, I accidentally said 'one hundred dollars' while buying something instead of  'one hundred naira'. Before the seller finished saying 'ehn', I corrected myself.

Saturday, my mum made breakfast of moin-moin (with fish and eggs) and yellow pap (a.k.a akamu, ogi, etc).

Saturday, the lady came to the house to braid my hair. She brought her radio and overshadowed my music with her Sonny Bobo music. Too cool.

I'm sure I belong with these people but I'm not sure whether I belong here or now. Or is it the other way around? Until I go away again, I am like a familiar stranger who always overstays her welcome.