True confession; I didn’t expect him to be so young. I mean, he is not a suckling infant or anything, but you just think certain things are meant to be achieved by older people? Maybe it’s just me then.
Ebenezer Wikina has donned many caps in his not very extensive lifetime, most recently as the Organizer/primary licensee for TEDxYouthOrdinanceRoad -the only TEDxYouth event in West Africa, a contributor for Huffington Post, a United Nations Online Volunteer, a Global Voices Contributor, and a blogger, famous for his strolls with famous folk like UN Under-Secretary-General Gyan Acharya , Mr Richard Wurman (Founder of TED, The CNN Freedom Project, Owen Bennett Jones (BBC World Service Presenter, Ndaba Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s grandson and more on Writeparagraphs.blogspot.com.
In this interview, we learn the genesis of this young man’s love for media and the impact that can be effected when media streams are properly utilized. Ain’t no mountain high enough for Mr Wikina- his future shines so bright we may need to put on shades to view them.
Don’t be like the old me-expect awesome feats from the very young. Africa is rising after all!
KA: How old is Ebenezar Wikina? Ethnicity? What does family mean to him?
Ebenezar Wikina is 22 years old. I was born on August 10th, 1992. I’m from Rivers State, Khana Local Government Area, Hometown; Kono. I’m an Ogoni man. I’m the first of 5 kids; 4 soldiers and one princess. Dad is a baker, and Mum is a horticulturist cum business woman. Family is special, very special, to me, and has contributed in making me what I am today.
KA: What are your present pursuits academically?
I’m currently studying Mass Communication at the International Institute of Journalism, Port Harcourt Lecture centre. Early this year, by the grace of God, I successfully completed a professional Course in Broadcast Presentation at the Alpha Institute of Broadcasting and Communication, Port Harcourt.
However, since I left secondary school in 2007, I’ve had much more informal education through the Internet, books, mentoring, etc, and that has gone a long way to prepare me for what I’m presently doing.
KA: You hope to be a Broadcast Journalist, do share a bit about that?
Yeah, first of all, I love to write. Same way Michael Phelps can’t survive for long without jumping into a pool, that’s how I can’t survive for long without holding a pen–Yeah, I’m that addicted.
My spell with radio started way back childhood. As the first child, I was rushed through school, and so at 9 or 10 in Junior Secondary School 2, I was already interested in what was happening not just around me but also around the world. Because of how passionate I was, I did something quite silly, and I encourage kids not to try this at home please… (Haha)
Suanu, a childhood friend, taught me how to save, and so at 9, I trekked back home from school for 2 full terms in order to save my transport. My parents didn’t know about this until later, and guess what I used the money I realized from trekking for?
I bought a really big Transistor radio from Mile 3 market. And every night after my homework, I would tune to the BBC World Service and listen to the news till I slept off. News was my own perfect bedtime story, and friends then were calling me “Aboki” because of how big the radio was and how I would have to raise the antenna so high, and place the speaker close to my ear so I could hear what was being said–even though I’m sure I didn’t know jack about what they were saying on the BBC back then. (Hehe) but I still listened.
I’m still an information junkie till this day and the internet even made it worse (haha), so I’ll like to be a Broadcast Journalist because, it’s what I was formed in my mother’s womb for. Between 2007 and 2010 I also discovered myself and God’s purpose for my life and it falls in line with the written and spoken word.
KA: UN online volunteer; why, when, where?
I learnt how to volunteer from the church by serving in different teams right from my Children Department days. At 10 I joined the Royal Ambassadors of Nigeria, a voluntary organization for boys in the Baptist family, and so all this contributed in building that volunteering culture in me.
I’ve been always passionate about the UN and global development and so in January 2013 when I got to know about the UN Online volunteering service, I jumped on it without thinking twice, and it’s been great ever since.
Leveraging on the Internet, an online volunteer contributes his own quota to the work of the UN around the world right from his home or room through serving as a translator or promoting UN causes online. At the time, I had a little Nokia phone that gave me some decent access to the internet and social media, and so I felt instead of just spending megabytes writing on people’s walls or following stars, why can’t I invest it into something worthwhile? That’s how my work with the UN started.
KA: Write Paragraphs…the birth, the mission, the impact.
Mary and I co-founded Write Paragraphs when we got bored with the traditional job description of an online UN Volunteer.
We felt we weren’t getting enough expression on the platform so we disrupted it in a way, and looked for a problem we could solve in the UN System through social media. We found out that the International observance wasn’t getting enough engagement in the online community, and “World Cancer Day”, “World Malaria Day”; all these days, people didn’t know or care much about it because they didn’t see how it affected them.
We started working on building the community, and raising the awareness through different genres of writing. Stories, essays, interviews, etc.
The next step for Write Paragraphs is that we’re building a community of copywriters. We hope to build West Africa’s first digital copywriting agency alongside our UN Volunteering work, and our aim is to disrupt the advertising market in Nigeria and Africa. We feel the relevance of copywriting isn’t where it should be in the market, and we want to create a portal where a writer in Nigeria can do a promotional copy for a client in the UK for example, and make some decent money out of it from his room in Lagos or Port Harcourt. We are currently working on this, and believe by God’s grace when this is done, we’ll be able to generate funds to carry out some developmental projects of our own.
KA: Does non-fiction, journalistic writing come naturally to you?
I love fiction, although I’m drawn more to creative non-fiction. I tried Spoken Word Poetry with the Seaview Poetry Club for about 2 years on Rhythm 93.7 FM Port Harcourt, and it was a really great experience.
However, I’ve discovered I find it easier telling real stories creatively than making up stories from my imagination–I guess that’s where THE STROLL comes in. I “go around” the globe sharing people’s stories and ideas hoping someone somewhere will get inspired to do something to develop himself and his community.
KA: Getting noticed…how did your articles end up on Huffington Post?
Actually I didn’t get the articles on Huff Post. One of those days on Facebook I was chatting with Arianna Huffington as I wanted to get her on THE STROLL, but she was really busy–as you can imagine–and she asked that we reschedule the interview to another time. She also said she was impressed with the work I’ve done on the blogspot and that the Huff Post team will love my voice on the site.
“Ah”, it was really surreal for me because when I think of Huff Post, I think of Chude Jideonwo and Tolu Ogunlesi. Those are my big uncles in Journalism and the New media–if you know what I mean and apart from them I didn’t know of any other Nigerian that writes for Huff Post. I was scared. I didn’t know if I would be able to manage it, but by God’s grace I continued to learn and with the short surfing sessions I’ve had at the cyber cafe, I’ve done some great posts, like the Interview with UN under-secretary-general Gyan Acharya, Zuriel Oduwole, Mr Richard Wurman–the 79-year old founder of TED–just to name a few.
However, note that I didn’t get noticed by attaching a price to my writing–I’ve written a lot of free stuff and I still do till today. But I got noticed because I paid the price–and I’m still paying it. Many people want instant success, but like one of my role models, Mrs Koko Kalango, told me during a stroll with her, “There are no shortcuts.”
KA: Is it actually possible to change the world with words/writing?
Yes it is. In fact our motto at Write Paragraphs is; “Weaving Words, Weaving the world.” How did God create the world? With tractors and trailers right? Of course not; the bible says, “And God said…”. Words, either spoken or written, have more than paper-power and writers are generally seen as the mirror of the society because through their writing society views itself and corrects what needs correction.
It’s also not a co-incidence that all our 80s and 90s science fiction gadgets are now science-reality in our time.
Writers are masters of imagination and through their work, they can dream and inspire a better world for humanity.
KA: On your twitter chat with Malala and getting turned down by the White House?
(Haha), Malala is an incredible young lady, and I’ve long been fascinated with her bravery and brilliance. In September 2013 during the Social Good Summit, she made her twitter debut, and just like other Journalists around the world, I tweeted a few questions to her. To my biggest surprise I was the first person she mentioned and tweeted at when we started the twitter session. Why? I don’t know. Call it luck, chance, God?
I’ve always known she wouldn’t escape the Nobel Peace prize. No way. Especially considering the kind of media attention given to her story. I also believe there’s so much ahead she’ll do, and just like she told me in her first tweet, I won’t be surprised if she ends up in government.
I’m sure we’ll meet one of these days.
As for the White House, I think I was being quite troublesome otherwise, why would someone attempt to interview the president of the United States of America on a BlogSpot blog? Lately, I’ve gotten rejections from No. 10 Downing Street and the Russian Government when I tried to interview Mr Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, and President Putin respectively. The beauty of all this is, the access I’m getting to these places will not be possible if not for the internet. And the internet is open to everyone.
KA: On the limitless possibilities available via social media?
The possibilities for networking and sharing on the internet are truly endless and limitless. If not how else would some dude without a journalism degree, get the chance to interview CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera? I call them the ABC of Broadcast Journalism. How about getting the opportunity to interview Under-Secretary-General Gyan, and even getting an appointment with him at the UN Secretariat, New York?–which I couldn’t meet up by the way, because I was far away in Nigeria. But can you just imagine such possibilities without using the internet?
The best part of this all is that, after a stroll with these guests, we become friends and my network has expanded so much in the past year that, sometimes I’m amazed at the calibre of people I connect with on a daily basis.
The other time the International media wasn’t very sure about the feud in the Mandela family and there were contrasting reports from different sources, so I just messaged Ndaba Mandela, who had earlier been on the stroll, on WhatsApp to know what’s up and I got first hand info right at my fingertips.
Many people get on social media to rant about how bad the government is, or even worse post selfies of themselves… But I believe that’s really under-utilizing the power of this amazing tool.
Youths need to find more creative ways to use the internet. It’s much more than chatting, and it’s much more than creating a BlogSpot to copy and paste Linda Ikeji’s posts.
KA: Getting the license for TEDxYouth is a huge feat; do share the idea behind TEDx Youth and the process of birthing that dream.
Yeah right? I didn’t understand how big the TEDxYouth license was until I discovered our license was the only one in West Africa this year and we were one of the youngest TEDxYouth organizing teams on the continent.
I watch TED videos every day, and the other time I was telling a friend that I might soon create a world record for seeing the most TED talks. I think I’ve lost count. I tried to apply for a license in 2013 before I got to know Donald Okudu and the fact that he already had a license for TEDxStadiumRoad. I quickly agreed to volunteer on the team to gain more experience, and that event was a success. Sometime this year after Donald returned from TED 2014, he suggested that I apply for a TEDxYouth license.
I didn’t know if I was ready, but again I just did it. By God’s grace the TEDx team seemed impressed with my work on the blog and the stroll, and the content of my application, so they gave me the License.
One main reason I and the team fought to ensure TEDxYouth@OrdinanceRoad was a success is because, the global perception of youths in Nigeria and the Niger Delta is of restless people walking the streets and creeks breaking oil pipelines and running around with ballot boxes. Many of my interview guests get blown away when I tell them I am Nigerian. In fact a couple of them don’t believe it till this day.
So, like the biblical rhetoric, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?…” We tried to prove to ourselves and the world that something good can come out of Nigeria and the Niger Delta, and that we are good enough to compete with our counterparts in the west.
As for the process, maybe I’ll leave that for another time. In summary, it was quite rough trying to get sponsors for this event because people don’t seem to see much gain in supporting intellectual initiatives. Thank God for the sponsors he brought our way this year and for how everything turned out. We believe by God’s grace next year will be way better.
KA: You are young, yet give off an aura of supreme confidence; how do you remain undaunted by the challenges and disappointments you encounter?
God. He has also blessed me with great family, friends, and mentors whom I can to run to and whine about stuff when it gets rough. For every 3 “big” interviews I’ve had, just know I sent about 9 or 10 requests and got like 6 rejections. But it’s all in the process.
In this information age we are very product-oriented. But the truth is, without the process there’ll be no product.
I’m not some spiritual stereotype. The truth about my life is that I draw my strength, ability, inspiration, and support from my relationship with my maker, God, and that’s the reason for everything I am today. It’s all about God, and I make sure everything I do is for his glory.
KA: A decade onward; plans, hopes, dreams.
I’ll love to teach Biomimicry. I’ll also love to establish Biomimicry Nigeria to inspire Nigerian Scientists to look to nature and God’s designs in nature to find solutions to Nigerian problems. The Bible says in Proverbs 6v6, “Go to the ants you sluggard, consider her ways and be wise…”
I’ll love to also have a spell at the UN, maybe as a diplomat or as a media personnel. Of course, move forward with volunteering; Mary and I hope we can gain more support from the International Community on most of our projects and also create a more sustainable online engagement for the UN Observances. Maybe establish a Department of Observances at the UN? Who knows?
In a decade, I hope to see a better Educational system in Nigeria that will give students more experiential knowledge than book-knowledge.
In Nigeria we only refer to the Public and Private sector. There’s a third sector which already exists in other countries, the Non-profit sector. This is the sector that keeps the balance for every society. The third sector also helps to fast track the corporate growth of nations because, it encourages citizens to give back. If Jesus tarries, by His grace I hope to work on establishing or should I say, organizing this sector in Nigeria.
KA: 5 principles you live by.
I don’t think I have up to 5 principles, I just have one. “Jesus at the Centre.”
I always make sure everything I do has Jesus and the glory of God at the centre of it. For example, I’m doing this interview not because I want people to see my face, but because I’m excited about sharing this testimony of how God helped us to achieve the few things we’ve done in the past year with the simple tools at our disposal.
What shall it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? As good as these accolades are, I try my best not to dwell on them because, in the end all this will pass away. My insurance in eternity is what matters most; more than my ATM pin or my Facebook password .
KA: The kind of leadership you desire in African nations?
This year I completed a leadership course at the Life Leadership Academy, Newlife Baptist Church and for 3 months we learnt about what leadership should be, and how the core purpose of leadership is “For the Saving of Many Lives”.
The kind of leadership I desire is the kind of leadership Jesus showed when he was here on earth. He rode on palm leaves into Jerusalem, yet he washed the feet of his disciples. We need more servant leaders in Africa. People who will not just say, “Hey, go there”, but “Follow me there.”
People with entrepreneurial minds, looking out for problems facing the society and coming up with sustainable solutions that will outlive their tenures; Africa is really blessed, and I believe we need to find that balance between the outgoing generation and the incoming ‘smart-age’ generation.
KA: Inspire other young Africans in one sentence.
Find God, and discover yourself and purpose in God. The truth is everyone is a star; you just need to find your sky.
I guess that’s like 2 sentences .
- Thank you for the opportunity, it’s refreshing to take the other side of the hot seat once in a while.