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Matters eRising with Olusegun Oruame

Those in the know already knew it was coming. Nigerian senators will bitterly grill ministerial nominee, Dr Bosun Tijani for calling them ‘morons’ in a 2021 tweet and interrogating if Nigeria as a brand was worth anything tangible and if holding a Nigerian international passport was not a credibility burden in a 2019 tweet.

Predictably, the senators came for him. The red chamber wanted to know why Tijani still deemed it fit to come for scrutiny before federal lawmakers he had condescendingly described as ‘morons’ and why he would want to serve in a  country he had written off as a sour brand?

Tijani apologised. The 46 year IT expert with extensive influence in the global tech ecosystem told the senators he had tweeted out of frustration and anger.

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He then went on to give the context for his tweets and a sombre red chamber asked him to take a bow and go.

“The interrogation in the red chamber innocuously opened a debate on whether Bosun Tijani, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub (CCHub), has invested more in Nigeria and promoted Brand Nigeria more than those screening him?”

More than anything else, Tijani’s screening exposed the “anger and frustrations” of a young generation of Nigerians who have invested everything they have got in a country that resents them. The screening afforded that solemnity even if rancorous to listen to a generation abused, undermined and killed for daring to carry the Nigerian flag high with their talent, passion and unfaltering patriotism.

The interrogation in the red chamber innocuously opened a debate on whether Bosun Tijani, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub (CCHub), has invested more in Nigeria and promoted Brand Nigeria more than those screening him? There was Tijani, standing and being interrogated as to whether he has truly given his entire functional life as an entrepreneur to a country that has given nothing back but resentments. Or even more contentiously, whether those interrogating him had given up to half of what he, Tijani, has given to Nigeria? When young people look at the National Assembly and the federal lawmakers, what do they see? Tijani tweets said they see vicious, roguish morons. He did not deny the tweets. He explained the circumstances subtly beckoning on the law makers that there was work to be done and they must make that sacrifice to work and change Nigeria.

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Bosun Tijani’s tweets are a mirror with which Nigerian leaders must look at themselves and decide whether the country needs a surgery beginning with federal lawmakers inside the National Assembly.

I have only met Tijani on one occasion. That was in 2016 as part of the NITDA delegation that came visiting the burgeoning Lagos tech-innovation ecosystem as part of the federal government’s efforts to work with that ecosystem. I do not work for NITDA. I came in as a media advisor.

The #EndSARS tribe – “Our story will be like Nollywood.”

Tijani’s statement was both assertive and emotional while welcoming the NITDA delegation. I will try and paraphrase his words: “Our story will be like Nollywood. Government has given nothing. But we will grow in spite of the government. We are a moving train. It is in government’s interest to join and support us”

In the last decade, Tijani’s efforts at CCHub and other initiatives in Nigeria and across the continent evidently tell the story of a man who is passionate about country and continent. And who has been screwed up for his commitment to his native country a thousand times over and more than he has been supported; and who despite the difficulties have still resorted to keep committing ideas and faith in Nigeria.

He is not alone. He is part of that tribe you tagged #EndSARS and whose investments in Nigeria are tangible, verifiable and credible. Go to Yaba, Lekki, Victoria Island, and elsewhere in Lagos and across Nigeria. You will see and feel their presence in sectors that include technology& innovation, real estate and agriculture; education and human capacity development amongst several others. These are the generations who have worked outside of government’s patronage, inspired new opportunities and built wealth outside of the rent seeking crowd in Abuja and the Governors’ Houses in Nigeria’s 36 states.

They make up the new Nigerian urban tribe that has worked itself to global reckoning and wealth without wearing that odious gown of ‘Nigerian tragic recurring experiment at governance.’ This group of young Nigerians, highly exposed, righty believe with that smirk of arrogance, that those who have wielded power and fed from power for decades deserve no respect. They tweet their conviction and determination to alter Nigeria for good.

When the ministerial nominee, Tijani, narrated his frustrations at the Chinese Embassy in London as an entrepreneur operating in Nigeria seeking to go to China for business, he was expressing the pain of being a legitimate Nigerian entrepreneur operating in a business environment where government has failed to provide the prerequisite policy cover for young, honest entrepreneurs to thrive.

I am a living testimony of that pain. In nearly two decades of being a media and tech entrepreneur, I have come to accept the limitations imposed upon me by my Nigerian passport. It is just convenient to have the passport of fellow countrymen and business associates with dual passports use their UK, US or even Saint Kitts and Nevis passports fill in the trust gap my Nigerian passport invokes. Millions of young Nigerian entrepreneurs cannot legitimately prosecute their businesses offshore without having to hang their ideas, even as originators of the ideas or initiatives, around the international passports or foreign citizenship of others because their own country-passport has been so compromised by decades of bad leadership.

  • Tijani’s CCHub in 2016 when govt came visiting

The world does not trust us; Nigerian passport commands no honour

The world does not trust us; and our Nigerian passport commands no honour. The Nigerian passport brings limitations not opportunities. Isn’t that what Tijani aptly expressed and we want to condemn him for the sad truth? Do not be persuaded by that narrowed thinking that majority of Nigerians abroad suffer for the misdeeds of a few compatriots. No, sir! We do not have more criminals than China or India or Russians in the global business or diplomatic space, the foreign countries and institutions with which our citizens must engage to navigate their dealings outside of Nigeria do not have any iota of respect for our political leaders and the government institutions they lead;  quod erat demonstrandum: Q.E.D.

Today, Emirates Airlines has closed shop in Nigeria. There is visa restriction not because some Nigerian criminal elements have been exposed or caught in Dubai but because our government does not respect international obligations and act with impunity in respect of its financial commitments to offshore businesses. They have zero regard for whatever we call government in this country and extend that resentment to every citizen carrying a Nigerian passport. It is noteworthy that President Bola Tinubu in his inauguration speech acknowledged this problem and expressed commitment to address it, urgently.

Therefore, accepting to become a Nigerian minister means Tijani acknowledges that there is work to be done on Brand Nigeria and that the task is do-able. President Tinubu that offered him the job of a minister also recognises that Nigeria needs to be reworked on a model that instigates developments by addressing the international trust gaps on Brand Nigeria. I dare say, the likes of Tijani will do more to that image rebranding than most of the folks in the National Assembly. If things do not get addressed, it is only a matter of time for the diplomatic passport under which those assembly members hide to become as hazardous to wield as a Nigeria’s standard international passport.

Every minister, irrespective of whatever ministry he/she leads, has work to do bring progress and end sordid years of living as a Nigerian. The blatant visa restrictions; country perception issues associated with Nigerian passports forcing travellers with a Nigerian passport to face skepticism or additional scrutiny at embassies or immigration checkpoints; and even reported instances of stigmatization or profiling due to negative perceptions associated with Nigerian travel documents even when traveling for legitimate purposes are drawbacks that will vanish if our government and institutions earn some international credibility and respect.

There are plenty of lessons to take from what young Nigerians and indeed, Nigerians in diaspora, have achieved in the last decade whether in the technology or entertainment sector. In spite of the challenges we face as a country, millions of Nigerians have remained at the forefront of promoting cultural diplomacy; showcasing Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage, music, arts, literature, and cuisine at several international festivals, exhibitions, and events; all helping to create a positive and diverse image of Nigeria beyond stereotypes. They have given counterbalance negative narratives and provided a more balanced perspective of the country more than those in the red or green chambers will ever be able to do.

Bosun Tijani’s tweets are a mirror with which Nigerian leaders must look at themselves and decide whether the country needs a surgery beginning with federal lawmakers inside the National Assembly.

When young people look at the National Assembly and the federal lawmakers, what do they see? Tijani tweets said they see vicious, roguish morons. He did not deny the tweets.

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