Who do we have here? The young project management mogul, whose service to society in impacting the youth was acknowledged Pleasures Magazine and Kingdom Africa TV, organizers of the African Development Recognition Award (ADRA) on January 27 in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
The Kebbi-state born Mohammed Danjuma shared his views extensively on a range of issues concerning his career, Nigeria today, the Government’s initiatives in the North East, Youth empowerment and the way out of violence in the country, as well as the continent of Africa as a whole… Enjoy
It is our pleasure meeting you one-on-one to know you better as well as satisfy the curiosity of our teeming readers in Nigeria, Ghana and beyond about who this enigma is. With no further ado then, we humbly ask;
Who is Mohamed Danjuma?
Like you said, I am Mohammed Danjuma, I am from Kebbi State. I’m in my forties- my early forties to be precise. I presently work as the Head of Programme, Management and Coordinator of the Presidential committee for Northern East Initiatives (PCNII). I also chair several NGOs and one of them is Youth Empowerment Solution which I founded. It is an NGO dedicated to helping our youth discover their talents to depend on self employment instead of relying on government for white – collar jobs and train them so that by interacting with their environment, and with the situation prevalent they can adapt to all kinds of situations they may find themselves in. So it is a youth-based NGO that is solely dedicated to training the young to realize their capacities towards self realization and develop through self-reliance. I am also President of AREWA Transformation and Empowerment Initiative. It is a regional –based development NGO. It is an advocacy group that seeks to harness professionals of Northern Nigeria to redefine Northern Nigeria. What do I mean by redefining Northern Nigeria? You know, Northern Nigeria is 67 % of Nigeria in terms of population and in terms of land mass. And so with many of our natural resources but they have remained untapped.
Our advocacy’s attention is on how to explore these natural resources that God has endowed us with so that by doing so, we would help in deflating the mentality that everyone who has been to school should be in an office. In being able to obtain mass employment for our youth and teeming population through our efforts, we will have made our point. As you know, Northern Nigeria’s population is over 100 million, we have the land too and agriculture is our mainstay so why don’t we develop agriculture so that we can employ our teeming youth that make up 70% of the total Nigerian population? Of course, our philosophy is that if you don’t give the youth something to live for, definitely, someone will give them something to die for. So rather than have them indulge in vices that are inimitable to society, they are being harnessed to find life more meaningful so as to also contribute positively to society. So you see, it is an NGO that is all-encompassing. We have trained more than 5,000 people in the north through our flashy program called Arewa Youth Empowerment Programme, I have also been one of the panelists in the defunct “You Win” empowerment program of the former government which sought to empower the youth to stand on their own feet.
Despite its non-existence today, I have been consistently active on that idea and it forms the fulcrum of my activities. We are focused on deploying the youth meaningfully. Besides that we have sister agencies which we work with- an NGO that is prolific in youth empowerment. In a nutshell, this is the Danjuma you are talking to.
Looking at the cause you are championing, the cause of the Youth, how was your upbringing like? Yes, I can call myself one of the luckiest; why would I say that?
I was lucky in the sense that I got exposed to the realities of life at a very tender age. I became very independent when I was only 12 years old. Independent in the sense that I was sent away to a school that was about 400 kilometers away from my home all by myself. I went to the Military School of Zaria where I met a plethora of people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different natures and different religions and we were able to intermingle peacefully. The first thing we were taught was tolerance. You have to know about people and their differences to know how to live with different people. That is something I thank my parents and this country for. This is one school that has bred lots of leaders for this country, It was set up since 1954 and has maintained its philosophy so when you scan those who studied there in the 60s and compare them to those who studied in the 80s, even those who graduated only yesterday, you will realize the same pedigree.
From Zaria, I proceeded to the Ahmadu Bello University, I graduated, then I had my masters and of course, since then I was able to be on my own.
I have worked in different places as Assistant to honorable ministers, I have worked in the office of the National Security Advisor, I have been a pioneer staff that- we were those who bred and nursed this presidential initiative so it is a cause one has been championing for a couple of years- almost four years now.
I can see from what you are saying that you’ve been through a different kind of system, from one agency to another. You have contributed a lot to Nation’s building, but why is it that a lot has not been heard about you?
I would not use the word ‘biased’ as such but then the reality on ground is the fact that most of the media houses are in the south and the hub of activities, whether political or economic or financial are in Lagos so you can understand why most of the activities of media are in Lagos. Of course, we have things that are happening in the north too. Am not saying nothing is happening in the north; a lot is also happening in the north and Northern Nigeria is also endowed with a lot. Basically however, my own philosophy is: You don’t do things to show, what you do will get you recognition eventually. Like you have come here, I hadn’t met you before but I believe you are here because either someone has informed you or you have done your research. I’m also a writer, I have written quite a number of articles. If you go online and google me, you will find some of my works. I have been a critic and advocate for good governance and social justice, so some of those things that I feel very strongly about, I do write. And I’m also active on social media and follow those mediums because that is the new age of communication but of course, like you said, it depends on what one is doing it for. If it is for show, I probably might be everywhere for everyone to see but I think there is time for everything. Some of the things we are doing concern foundation building. I first of all want to state that I believe in my country; I believe in Northern Nigeria and of course I am a very contrary person and I believe in my roots; I trust in Africa and of course, I am proud to be Nigerian and I believe strongly in the unity of this country and the diversities of this country which have rather made us strong as a nation and a people. Like I said earlier, I was lucky to have had the opportunity to have mixed with different kinds of people and therefore can interact comfortably with all kinds of people.
This spirit was bonded the more when I was in the spirit. I speak, Idorma, I speak Ibo; I speak Hausa and understand Yoruba so I think I’m qualified to call myself a Nigerian. So I believe that we are stronger as we are united than divided as individuals or as our ethnic or religious backgrounds may suggest. All such divisions are irrelevant because I believe the same God created us and it was in his higher wisdom that he created us all different. If God had wished it so, he would have created us all with the same height, same colour- as blacks or whites; all of us would have come from one ethnic and the same background. For a grand purpose however, he created us different, so why don’t we exploit that difference? That is my philosophy.
Let’s talk about what you are doing here. The Presidential committee on North East Initiatives, what is it all about?
If you see the devastation that has gone on in the North-East over the last couple of years…
Cut in,.. How many states?
We have six states in the north –east –the state of Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi. Gombe, Taraba. These are the states that make up Northern Nigeria. But of the six, these three are the most hit – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Borno especially has the second largest land mass in this country, next to Niger state and it makes the northeast to make up two-thirds of the land mass of the whole country. So if that region is troubled today with a population of 20 million people, then the whole country is troubled. Two local governments in Bono alone are equal to twelve states in Nigeria. Only two local governments so you can imagine that. You can put Lagos state four times inside Bono state in terms of geographical landmark. And the north east has not been the best of places even before the insurgency started. If you study the poverty indicators, you will realize that this state has suffered most in terms of poverty, medical care, hunger, employment avenues and all that. Generally, it has been lagging behind in terms of socio-economic development.
It’s been poor and it has not had the best of governance before now.
These are all the ingredients that have complicated the situation we have found ourselves in which is threatening to wipe out the young people of that region. At the last count, we had lost more than 20,000 people. If you look at that problem, it is not the kind that you could wish away. The Gambia who is just our neighbour here is made up of only 2 million people but it is a country. It is not equal the size of Borno state. Maiduguri alone that is the capital of Borno State that used to have a total population of 800,000 people now houses over 3 million people today. So people have been displaced from all the local government areas of Borno state all over the country. Do we now fold our hands in our comfort homes and assume everything is well? There is huge humanitarian crisis going on in the North-East of Nigeria. While we recognize the fact that it was not a problem that happened overnight and that it was something that had started sometime long ago, we must find solutions and build sustainable peace in that region. That place used to be the gateway to the Sahel where we have neighbours from Chad, Cameroun and Niger. We do trade with them. Look at Islamic education before. The bastion of Islamic education was Maiduguri but we have lost that. So we can’t just live in the situation like that. These were some of the reasons that motivated me into action. So I had been in this even before I designed this government initiative. I designed also that framework called “The Warri Plan” that is a very ambitious document that tends to ensure the sustainable development of the North-East. It is a region that will give a blue print or a post-conflict paradigm so all of us must contribute our quota and put our heads together, whether collectively or individually.
My last birthday was 13th of January. Do you know where I spent it? I spent it in an IDP camp. I gathered my friends and we went to an IDP camp, I told my friends, “You don’t need to buy me any gifts; if you want to, then buy them for these people so we took over one hundred bags of rice, over 50 or so cartons of Indomie, other food items and medicines to them. We went with doctors and they took good care of them. If individually we can contribute our widow’s mites, it will go a long way to encourage those of us in distress, let alone collectively. So collectively, there is a lot we can do to better the lot of our brothers and sisters who are displaced all over the country and across even neighbour Africa. There is a lot that we need to put together to help people. That is where I got the idea from about the work we do today. I am in it because I believe in serving humanity.
What are the basic needs at these IDP camps?
We have people in the camps. These are human beings. We have to recognize the fact that they are human beings who had something going on in their lives before finding themselves in this situation. Whether they were famers, whether they were traders, whatever they had been doing. They had had something doing. Nobody wants to live in camps. Yet these people have been dissociated from their livelihood and now have to depend on general good will, generosity of others and government for their needs. Their urgent needs are food, shelter and medication. Government is doing a lot as it must be appreciated that we have about 2.4 million displaced people all over the country but of this number only about 10 or15 percent are in IDP camps. Most of them are living on friends and relatives in the towns, villages and cities.
The problem is huge and it cannot continue forever. The North-East itself, being agrarian is suffering hugely on account of the fact that there has been no farming there for two or three years and over. This is telling very much on even them as a people since no one wants to live on charity all life. It is not even sustainable. Resettling them therefore is the main goal of this committee especially as the military government has stepped in and secured considerable peace in some of the affected areas.
There was a report of some diverted supplies, about 12-15 trailers for that matter. What has your agency done about it?
You know whenever challenges and situations like this arise, some people like to take advantage; you know there are deviants everywhere. We are aware that there are some leakages and are working hard to fix them. Nonetheless, the supplies have reached the people they were intended for and I think we have succeeded to a large extent in ensuring the affected are reached. Of course, there are exaggerations here and there in some allegations because a trailer cannot just disappear. We are on top of the situation. But the truth is, these are our brothers and sisters in distress so if somebody has been given the responsibility to get what they need to them, the one is under moral obligation to do so.
We are fixing all the loopholes that pop up. Even some of the IDP members are themselves a threat to the system because when you give them food and other items, some go to the market and sell them. So you see, some of the allegations have not been verified but those that have been verified by us, we are fixing anyway.
Aside the north-east initiative program that you are running here now, as a youth ambassador and a role model, look at what is going on in Nigeria. Youth unemployment. The morale is down and when you go to social media now-facebook, there are a lot of insults, there is crisis within the youth. What is your take on this?
First of all, we have lost a great percentage of our values. The value system has completely eroded. Start from the family because that is the basic starting point where we insist on these values. Because you are poor, because you do not have it, that is no justification to go into vice. For a country that is endowed as we are I am one don’t believe in government job. Believe me I have never applied for a job, I don’t know what an interview is. I have only been referred to from one office to another as someone one needs to work with; I get the job and do the work. I have been an entrepreneur all my life. I know opportunities can arise wherever you are. If you build your capacity and add value to your productivity, you will be able thrive in any situation you find yourself. First of all whenever I meet young people, the first question I ask them is how you are interacting with your environment. Do you know the opportunities that your environment provides? What are the challenges? What are the needs? What do you need to build in yourself that will make you relevant to that environment? You understand? That can be a starting point. I have an entertainment centre in kaduna where I employ about forty-five people. And what we are doing there is based on the need. I realized that there was none in the whole Kaduna state. People need good food, people need a place where they may go and relax and I decided to use the little that I have to se that up and it is employing people. I have some young people that have come to me and said, “Ah, I need a job, these are my certificates” “I read agriculture.” “I read IT”. I tell them why do you won’t to work in somebody’s office. I gave advice to some of them. I know they have organized themselves into a group. About 10 of them are doing very well now as agricultural entrepreneurs. Some are in Kano, some are in Kwara, some are in Kaduna State.
The other day, I met some and told them I had some job openings at my place but they said, ‘No, how much can you pay me when am earning more than a million naira monthly from what am doing? They have become serious agricultural entrepreneurs and I believe there are a lot of opportunities all across the country wherever one finds oneself., for the youth that want to be realistic enough to expunge from their mind, the mindset that once you’ve been to school, you must work in government office or someone else’s office. Also it has to with what we grew up to see and what they grew up to see. Aside, the get-rich quick attitude which they have imbibed from those ahead that had the best of everything. It is all about mindset and this is one aspect we need to, and are working on.
Those days one had it easy any way. Those times, one was sponsored to school, one had a job awaiting even while one was yet to graduate, and on coming out, there was a car and a house. That old situation has also contributed to forming the mindset of the youth and is contributing to their frustration. Worse so, those who benefitted from that system and were eased into positions of leadership rather killed that system and left the youth wallowing in frustration. There has been little or no mentorship programme to bring the youth up into leadership roles tomorrow. You understand what am saying?
Also there are people who want to be in power forever. In other countries, some people retire even as earl as 45 so that they can have time to do other things for themselves and allow other people to take over. Do we have that here? No. You know the best time for the peak productivity of anyone is between the ages of 20 and 40. That is the best period in terms of intellectual prowess, physical prowess and all the other ingredients inherent in the social being. We must be able to strategically target our young people to be productive and do a social engineering, they must have this mindset changed and believe in this country, If you don’t believe in something, there is no way it will work. So indeed when you go on the social media you find so much anger and frustration. People are bitter about each other. People will insult you for just saying your name is Mohammed, people will insult you for just saying your name is Emeka. Why? We are all one. Are we not? We can all learn something from each other. Or? I know I’m from the north but my best culture is from the east. I am more at home when am in any Igbo setting because of the way their culture is so rich and so different from what we have in the north. You understand? And that is the mind’s colour, I have friends in all divides; I have been given a traditional title in Igbo land but I haven’t gotten one in the north so you can imagine how that is. I think our young people are our vital assets; the earlier we give them something to live for, the better for all of us, if not, we will continue experiencing our young ones blowing themselves up over the myopic fantasy that you have six virgins waiting for you in heaven
Now that the fight against Boko Haram is being won. As you said, the productive years of one are between the ages of 20 and 40. These Boko Haram fighters are within that age. Now that the Boko Haram menace is going down, how can it die off when there is no job, no education? So how can we put the people together, or what can the government do?
This is why we are saying every solution that we offer must be sustainable. It must be strategically geared towards engaging our young people and building new economies, building new societies. Look, we have an opportunity to engineer the whole cultural setting in the north so that we do not have this thing happening again. It could have happened anywhere else but because the north-east is provided with the enabling environment for it to thrive, it is happening there. We have poverty everywhere, but because of the unique nature of the problem in the north east, where you have lesser people educated- Education is very key. We must educate our women, we must educate our young people. We must build our industries, we must build our systems and good governance is very important for all these things to happen.
Once you have a society that is functional, that is meaningful, inclusive, that thrives on the new economy, it is not easy for somebody to come and say he is coming to introduce something that is completely alien. Bu when you have the larger number of people falling or living below the required poverty line and educationally they are more backward, it is easy for anyone to come and sell to them any warped ideology. And when they are not hopeful about tomorrow, thinking about life hereafter will entice them because what are they living for anyway? Hope is something that you should not allow to die within any kind of population so we must make sure that in rebuilding the north –east, we are not just building infrastructure but we should engineer our social welfare and well being and exist as a people to specifically change the mind-set of our young from going into such things.
To wrap up. Your advice to young people in the north, in the south, Ghana. Mali, Senegal and beyond.
Africa is rising. And we must rise with Africa, Africa’s song is just rising and we must be the one to sing that song of Africa. We must be the ones to lead the torch to say Africa is an ivy because it is in only Africa now that we have untapped resources and our major asset is our numbers because even for those that have the most developed economy, they need someone to consume it. Why is it that everybody is running to Africa? Because everything is in Africa. We have everything, yet we are sleeping in squalor, so we must begin to re-organize and that must start with the young people to be able to build our values and ensure we make it our own, not borrowed things that will not augur well for us. Things that would unite us not which would divide us because nobody will do it for us so my advice is let’s begin to organize to unite because Africa is just rising.
PLEASURES: Thank you
ALHAJI; It’s my pleasure.