‘I Call Myself A BriCaNig’ – Dr ‘Kunle Ojeleye

Dr ‘Kunle Ojeleye

Can our readers meet you?

My name is Olukunle Ojeleye. I am a graduate of International Relations from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) Ife Nigeria, and I hold a Masters and Doctoral degrees from Kings College London, United Kingdom.

I began a working career in 1988 at the defunct Standard Newspapers, Jos Nigeria, where I created and maintained a weekly foreign affair features page. I subsequently worked in the United Kingdom for over fifteen years – the last eight years in senior management positions with responsibilities for local government, social housing and urban regeneration projects. I was actively involved in business re-engineering apart from initiating, reviewing and developing public policies as well as procedures.

Currently, I work as a consultant, providing functional and subject matter expertise in e-government, business process improvements, change management, project management and procurement. I have simultaneously kept engagement in the academic/research community as a scholar with a published book and peer-reviewed academic papers. I teach African History/African Studies/African International Relations on a part-time basis whenever the opportunity arises.

What’s your nationality?

That isn’t easy to answer. I have a triple heritage. I spent the first twenty-three years of my life in Nigeria. Then, another twenty-one in England, and now ten years in Canada. So, I call myself a BriCaNig.

What was your childhood like?

Dad and Mum were teachers. I remember following my mom to school at a very tender age and sitting in the classroom with her wards. I remember clearly the early morning devotions, singing various songs with other students. My favourite then was: “Dodo ati rice, ko gbodo koja rara, won a jeun jeun jeun, …. “

Work transfers took my parents from our town Gbongan to Oyo, then Ogbomoso and back to Gbongan.

In Oyo, we lived on the premises of the then Baptist Mission, a well laid out massive estate with a few houses but plenty of tropical fruit trees. It was a joy to take a walk along many footpaths across the estate, climbing the trees to enjoy their blossoming fruits, and enjoying the company of one of our neighbours that became a very intimate family friend.

In retrospect, within the limited resource of my parents, I had a great childhood with parents who taught my siblings and me the values of honesty, integrity, hard work, responsibility and being God-fearing. In their view, education is the foundation for an independent life. They did not want anyone to become a burden or liability to them in their old age. As such, they laboured and did everything they legitimately could do to ensure we had a good education.

Where are you now?

I am currently based in Canada.

Why did you leave your country?

I guess you mean Nigeria in the first instance.

I finished youth service in 1989. Stupidly, I put my eggs in one basket in regards to graduate admission. Instead of applying to many universities, I chose to apply to the University of Lagos for a master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy. I was not offered admission. Later on, I realised the course, out of popularity with the movers and shakers of the Nigerian society, was very competitive.

Meanwhile, all my classmates that applied to our former Department in Ife were offered admission. It meant that I had nothing to do during the 1989/90 academic session whilst they were busy studying for their master’s degree.

During the youth service year, with prudent management of my allowances, I maintained financial independence and made some small saving.

After searching for jobs for one year without any success, I decided to head back to Kaduna and accept the offer by my Uncle to fund a trip out of the country.

Can you compare the various countries you’ve been to with your country?

Each country has its own unique set of challenges. As a scholar of international relations, I avoid comparing apples to oranges.

Nevertheless, the yardstick I will use to compare Nigeria to many other nations I have been fortunate to visit or live in would be how their leaders resolve the challenges of today towards a beneficial future for the generations to come. This is where Nigeria has failed and continues to fail, in my opinion. Our leaders are focused on pampering to their egos and self-centred interests rather than working to improve the quality of life for all and sundry.

Don’t you think people like you are needed to fix your country?

The question should be: Does my country feels it needs help, and does it consider me and others in the diaspora as critical to getting that help? If the answer is yes, then Nigeria should be the one looking for folks like me, convincing us of gaps we can help to fill and allowing us to render that help without obstacles being put in our ways.

In what ways are you impacting on the lives of the common man in your country?

I am a very private person. It would go against my principles to start enumerating what I do personally to help other Nigerians. It would suffice to say that I get involved in good causes by other well-meaning Nigerians, where I identify such as genuine efforts.

Do you have any plans of finally returning to your country?

I do, subject to the trajectory of Nigeria’s political space changing to encourage selfless, visionary, dedicated, honest and transparent leadership that is focused on development and making the country a place where each individual is proud to live, work and fulfil their dreams in.

What, to you, is the problem with Nigeria?

Leadership.

A leader, corporate, religious, social, traditional or political, must have around him/her men and women with whom he/she can conduct regular reality checks of his/her stewardship.

My father-in-law once told me that “for various reasons, a leader would always have many yes men and women around him. For a leader who wants to have an authentic feel of the pulse of his business, you must identify a few colleagues or subordinates from that loyal group who will be able to tell you their perception of events, folks who would candidly reveal what the mood on the floor is, provide you with what they consider as options, defer the final decision as well as direction to you, and go out loyally to implement the leadership directions you give, because they trust not just your judgement ability, but the fact that their views served as input into your decision.”

Nigeria has not been blessed with a leader that has a truly progressive vision for a country that is modern and developed. We have not had a leader who, beyond having a vision, would articulate it clearly to the people, persuade them to buy into it, and by personal example of walking the talk, get a majority of the citizens to commit to achieving that vision within a stipulated timeline.

All we have had as national leaders today can be regarded as failures given the enormous amount of resources God had and has endowed us with as a people.

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