It’s been an awesome time out with our Nigerian stars, the winners of the 2015 I Know a Nigerian Star (IKNS) writing competition. The purposeful trio that came, saw and emerged victorious- Somtochukwu Metu, Dina Yerima and Funto Koya.
The lovely and inspiring Funto Koya was the first prize winner of the IKNS competition. She told the story of Oluwagbenga Ogunbowale, a young and outstanding Nigerian leader who is creating solutions and impacting other young Nigerians through his many initiatives.
Sit back and join the conversation. Kindly share your thoughts/contributions in the “comments” section below.
Here’s wishing you a productive and joy filled February.
Kindly tell us a bit about yourself- family, ethnicity, educational background…
Proudly Nigerian, I am Oluwafunto Esther Koya, a native of Ogun state, and I reside in Ile-Ife Osun state. I’m in the midst of great company comprising a very funny father, a selfless mother, and the world’s most creative brother. I am an extrovert with great passion for public speaking, a 400level student of Economics department of the Obafemi Awolowo University.
How did you find out about the “I Know A Nigerian Star” Writing Competition and what was your motivation for entering?
Literally, I ‘stumbled’ on the competition. It was a sunny afternoon on the 18tth of October, three days to the “I Know a Nigerian Star” writing competition deadline, when I found out about the competition, and I took interest in writing. Well, I have this attitude of scrolling through the pages of the internet for opportunities; I’m a big fan of regular online surfing, and this habit has enriched me with information about internships, scholarships, and other opportunities.
This particular afternoon, I was browsing the internet for Public Speaking Opportunities, when I stumbled on the Konnect Africa website. I read about their past competitions, and I was particularly impressed with their aim of “Inspiring Entrepreneurship and Youth Employment in Africa, One Story at a Time.” That statement gave me all the motivation I needed to get started! And in 2days, I came up with a story, and I made my submission 3pm on 21st October 2015, the deadline date.
Guide us through your step to step approach in delivering the award winning story.
Coming up with a story was a really tough call for me (sigh). It was really difficult, and impossible. It seemed impossible, especially because I have NEVER written an original article before. At least, as far as I remember, I have never considered myself to be a writer, or dreamed to be one. I do not belong to any writing agency, I’m not a fan of reading novels, all I do and I have always done, is Public Speaking. And I had the notion that, that was all there was about me.
I have spoken on several platforms, and I have won trophies while representing my university in several debate competitions and oratory contests. But the vision of “Inspiring Entrepreneurship and Youth Employment, One Story at a Time” of Konnect Africa, gave me a really big push to try something new, something I have never done before. I remember telling myself, “If I get enlisted in the top 30, the achievement will definitely be on my CV, that the first article I ever wrote was selected among the best.” I told myself, “There is no harm in trying. I most definitely might not win, but I will give it a try.”
And trust me, my conclusions were very reasonable, because I was really naïve about writing. However, one strength I have come to discover about myself is that I am very imaginative. Okay, to tell the truth, as a kid, I used to day-dream a lot. I enjoyed painting pictures of would-be events in my head, wishful thinking, and fantasizing. Little did I know that my imaginative mind could help me create exciting stories.
Another great strength I have, which I think is the hallmark of all success in life, is that I love to learn. Despite the fact that I have 7+ years’ experience in debating, I do not go for any competition without learning something more, about “How to Debate.” Learning never ends, and quality research before going headlong in any task, whether or not one is specialized in it; will make such person stand out. So, being a naïve writer, I definitely asked Google: “How to Craft Great Stories.” I learnt as much as I could about writing, I read about introduction, conclusion, and how to give your story a Theme. Although I had limited time to do all that research, I made great use of the little research I could lay my hand on, and I gave my best to the work. Indeed, in order to be a good writer, you must first be a good reader. My attitude to learning made my First story, award winning.
What considerations did you use in coming up with the subject of your essay? Why do you consider him/her a Nigerian Star?
I feel proud of myself, each time I remember that I wrote such an exciting story about someone that I have never met before. Olugbenga Ogunbowale, who I made the subject of my essay, is someone I met online via the whatsapp platform. I saw an advert about a service his company was rendering, I was interested in the service, and I decided to call in. From there, we started communicating online, and I noticed great virtues the young man possessed. Olugbenga is a smart and tactful individual, and he displayed a high level of intelligence during our conversations.
When I came across the Konnect Africa competition, I decided to make Olugbenga Ogunbowale the subject of my essay. I asked for his permission to write about him; granted, he sent me his CV and a profile about himself. And with that information, I was able to put up a story about him.
In our short while of communication, I have noticed in Gbenga, a heart that yearns to solve problems. An excerpt in my essay about him states, “Gbenga is a proactive Nigerian: controlling situations by making things happen, rather than waiting for things to happen.” Gbenga is very passionate about rendering help to people, and he possesses great leadership qualities. He sure deserved being the subject of my essay, and I am glad that his selfless and impactful living creates such an award winning story. Congratulations Gbenga! Keep fulfilling purpose.
How did you feel when you emerged as the third prize winner of the competition?
I was really humbled to say the least. A quote says, “Aim for the moon, even if you fall, you will land among the stars.” But in my case, it seemed I aimed for the stars, and surprisingly, I landed in the moon. I could not have imagined that I would make it to the Top 5, especially when I considered that I might be competing with real-time writers, and people with great writing experiences. I was amazed myself, when I read my story and discovered how exciting it was. When I made it to the Top 5, I felt elated, and there, I came to conclude that there is nothing impossible for you to do, if you believe in yourself. I am most grateful to God, because I couldn’t have done this on my own. By the Grace of God, I am what I am. A quote I read sometimes ago, describes my situation: “Sometimes life takes us to places we never expected to go, and in those places, God writes a story we never thought would be ours.”
I was definitely under pressure with the public voting, but I am very excited to have the Electronics and Electrical Engineering students (Class of the Enigmas) of OAU in my life. I remember being on 4th position when the voting started; then I was on 3rd position as at Thursday night, preceding the Friday, the voting would end. The miracle started on Friday morning 7:00am, when I made it to the 2nd position, and by 11:10am on Friday, I scaled to the 1st position, leading with about 40 votes. Eventually, voting ended 12noon on Friday, and I emerged the winner of the competition. I owe this astonishing feat to Babafemi Aluko, who believed so much in me and gave his best in helping his baby sister win; my dear brother, Josh (Mcfursh) and his great friends; and my big families, NESA OAU and CWCR OAU. Well said indeed, “Your network will determine your net-worth in life.” The hallmark of my success began with these great families and friends in my life. The power of association can never be underestimated. You All complete me!
What major set-back/failure have you encountered in life and how has it shaped your outlook to life?
A major setback I encountered while growing up, was battling low self-esteem. I didn’t believe in myself well enough, because I felt others were better off than I was. But I have come to discover that, “to wish you were somebody else, is to waste the person you are.” We all have our individual uniqueness, and we must discover that peculiarity. I was usually afraid of trying something new or taking up tasks, because I was scared of failing. However, a person may never become great if he is always afraid to fail, because some successes are birthed from mistakes. If you are afraid to take risk, then you may be afraid to succeed. “The best way to overcome your fear, is to do that which you are afraid to do.”
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now
10 years from now, it will be 2026, and I see myself advancing my career as a Human Resource Management consultant. I should be a more confident writer by then, and I hope to have taken my Speaking and Writing career to the level where I motivate millions of youths and adults in conferences all over the world, to believe in themselves and do more than they think they can. I aim to proffer solutions to the problems facing governments of nations with these great talents. By 2026, I will have published my first book.
What is your motivation in life? What keeps you going?
My motivation in life is to provide inspiration to people. Every day I wake up and go through the day, what keeps me going is the desire to influence others. I am moved by talents and gifts I see in people, but I am equally depressed when I realize these people have no idea what they carry on the inside of them. So, I sort of think it’s my duty to help them find that drive. Helping people see themselves gives me great joy; it helps me see myself better as well. The various public speaking activities I have been involved in, counselling and consulting services, all have the underlying theme of Motivation: helping people find and be their better selves; inspiring them with the will and courage to carry on.
Any mentors or role models?
Oh, yes! I do not cease to read books of great men, and learn a lot from their lives. When it comes to writing, I love Stephen King. But overall, I learn from lives that have made great impact, irrespective of their nationality.
What advice would you give young writers and future entrants in the “I Know A Nigerian Star” Writing Competitions
Believe in yourself. You are more equipped than you think! Ever since I achieved the success of the “I Know a Nigerian Star” writing competition, I have not ceased to keep writing; I have consistently found passion in crafting great stories that inspire people to be better than their present selves. I wrote yet another story, “NAKED” which was awarded in an international competition. 2016 just started, and I’m on my way to finishing 7 stories in February. I will say to young writers, the most important thing about life is finding and creating your niche.
We may not all be poets, we can’t all write science fictions, and not everyone of us is great with journalism and report writing. The world of writing is such a big community, and we may not have the luxury of living on two streets at the same time. For some people who are so rich in writing, they have an estate on every street, some others become successful in one street, and gradually move on to building empires in other streets. My advice is, keep writing the way you love to.
The greatest enemy of stardom, is comparison; when you begin to compare your achievements or strength with others, you tend to lose out on your own uniqueness. Ask yourself the most important question every writer needs to answer, “Why Do You Write?” For me, the answer is, “I write to inspire” little wonder, I have great interest in story writing, and my stories sometimes start out really sad, and may even make you cry; but you will feel more inspired than you were before you started reading. For some other people, the answer is, “I write to educate” and these people are great with reports and articles on government public policies.
As a guide, I will suggest, once you have discovered your writing niche, read great stories or articles in line with your interest. The more you give yourself to reading, the more inspiration you get. And, a caution here is, don’t wait for competitions before you write! I have learnt this in my later writings. Let the words naturally find expression in you, and pour them out in writing; and be very original about it, there is nothing more demeaning than being a second rated version of someone else, when you could be a first rated version of yourself. Don’t try to be like the writers you read about, try to be better than they are, by discovering your own uniqueness. Do yourself a favour by asking yourself the one big question, “Why Do I Write?”
If you had the opportunity to take just one socio-economic problem in Nigeria, which one would you focus on and what would you do?
The socio-economic problem in Nigeria that I would love to tackle, is unemployment. I am especially interested in this challenge because of the root cause behind it. I recently carried out a research on unemployment in Nigeria, and it is saddening to know that quite a lot of Nigerian youths do not have the requisite skills to function effectively in the work place, and employers term them as ‘unemployable.’ This is a really sad state. And I will implore Nigerian youths to stop blaming the government, their grades or the education system for their unemployment.
Be so good, they can’t ignore you! Companies employ certified individuals, and not just individuals with certificates. The certificates may open the doors, but individual skill keeps one in, because performance is essential in the workplace. Two strategies I would consider in tackling this problem is; to provide a source of employment, as well inspire potential employees with leadership and work-related skills, to function effectively on their jobs. I have a jewelry making business that provides employment, and I hope to employ more youths via my business platforms. On the other hand, with my public speaking and writing career, I aim to inspire youths to discovering their innate abilities, and also pioneer initiatives that will create employment.
Inspire a young African in one sentence
Discover who you are, and don’t let anyone talk you out of your passion.
It’s been a great time having this interview, thanks to Konnect Africa for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. I am open to questions, and I would love to hear your story.
You can connect with me on LinkedIn: Funto Koya, or contact me on 08159099517.
Don’t stop believing in yourself! The best way to tackle your fear, is to do what you are afraid to do. When you fall, don’t quit; take your next step carefully. Every step in the right direction is a goal in itself.
God bless Nigeria!
© 2016, Lovelyn Okafor. All rights reserved.