Gbenga Sesan is an Advocate extraordinaire, not an Advocate of the Supreme Court, but an Advocate of good governance, accountability, better living conditions for the Nigerians, and Africans at large.
This energetic young man is also a Tech person, an Information and Computer Technology (ICT) Consultant. He runs the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN), a social enterprise that connects individuals, people-groups, institutions and communities with the socio-economic opportunities that ICTs provide. Their projects include Ajegunle.org, ISSPIN and TENT. He has worked with government, civil society, private institutions and international organisations.
KonnectAfrica.Net caught up with him and he shared his views on Success, Advocacy in Africa and Making a Difference. Grab a seat and enjoy this hot interview.
You chose to make a difference in Nigeria and Africa because…
It wasn’t that I chose to make a difference. It is just that I am living my life as a Nigerian. I want a better Nigeria for my children when they come. It is only natural that I demand for things that should be.
Thankfully, my generation and the generation before have the opportunity of exposure, but this generation have the opportunity of exposure even without travel, you can see what is happening. All our countries are online, so you can demand for a better life.
If somebody is saying ‘You must be thankful that the Presidency has moved life expectancy from 47 years to 51 years’, you can reply and say ‘51 years is not a benchmark, 51 years is still an insult to humanity’. So I am just living my life as a Nigerian and demanding a better life for my wife who I love dearly and my kids when they come.
What would you consider your biggest achievement?
That is not for me to decide. Personally, my biggest achievement in life is choosing the person to marry.
But seriously, that I think is one of the best decisions I made because it helps in my work today, the fact that she holds a PhD in Sociology means that she is like a mentor to me, who challenges me.
She understands technology, she applies it in her work, so it makes it natural for me to be on my toes, so that I would call an achievement because we are able to review other things that we want to do together.
She understands what I do. I understand what she does, so it makes a lot of difference to have that.
Your biggest achievement in the advocacy space will be…
Two things – One happened much earlier, in the late nineties, in 1999, when people were left out of the room as far as technology discussions were concerned, and with friends, I started making efforts to make sure that our voice was heard, because we were not just young people who didn’t know anything.
We knew something about the future because the future was tech and ours was the future. That was one. The second one was a group of activities that eventually lead to the emergence of Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria.
I still sit on the Board of EiE and that is the platform through much of my advocacy efforts are expressed now. So I am glad that we were able to pull that off and I am glad that we are still working in that space as far as Nigeria is concerned.
Most important tip for remaining successful?
Find what you should be doing and by what you should be doing, I don’t mean guesswork.
Find what hurts you the most. It is most likely a pointer to what you should be doing. I understand perfectly when people say that there are no opportunities to start because there are no resources, but what I say to people is when you open your eyes, you will likely see opportunities that those who are looking elsewhere won’t see.
And I say that you need to start early. If you have been working at something for a while and become a master at it, and people can identify it as your specialty, when an opportunity comes for that thing, you are the one that they will call.
So my advice is three things – 1) Passion – Find out where your passion lies and develop it. Fan it until it becomes pure fire. 2) Skill – Pick up skills, don’t assume that because you can sing, you can wake up anytime and go to the stage without preparing, you must pick up skills. 3) Value – You must add value. Whatever you do, no matter how much passion you have, no matter how much skills you have, if you don’t deliver value, you are as worthless as the figure zero.
If you could change one thing about your life/past, what would it be?
A lot. Not just one thing. But to narrow it to one, I wish I started earlier. I wish I wasn’t 24 (years old) when I becameNigeria’s first Information Technology Youth Ambassador ambassador. I wish I was 14 (years old.) I wish I was 4 (years old) when I started using a computer. If I started much earlier, I will probably be a better person today.
How do you keep motivated in the face of failure/disappointment?
I am not de-motivated because of isolated events. I am not de-motivated because I know it is a continuum. I know it is an expression of corruption fighting back, so I know that the war is still on, one or two casualties might be along the way and people are prepared.
I am sure Sanusi (Lamido Sanusi) is prepared. He knows the price he is going to pay. If I am taken up by this government today and I am killed or anything happens to me, of course they are not looking for me, but if that happens, it is a price to pay.
We all knew when we started advocating for a better Nigeria that vested interests will fight back, and when they do fight back, whatever price we will have to pay, we will pay. So there is no time for discouragement.
We can see the horizon, We can see where we are going. It is called the new Nigeria. Till we get there, there is no discouragement.
Very simple. I make sure that everything comes down to email. I try to avoid as many physical meetings as possible. Physical meetings means people will tell you ‘Oh, Let’s meet tomorrow’. But even when that happens, I make sure that my calendar is tight.
Everything I am told, I put it on a calendar. Everything that I don’t have to do myself, somebody in the office does it, I delegate like a mad man. Gone are the days when I would have to do everything.
Right now, we have got a sizeable team that helps do many of those things, so I don’t have to kill myself to do them. But I maintain a strong calendar. I have done this since I was in Secondary School by the way.
I wake up in the morning and everything that I have to do that day is written on a list and at night I check the list. Now it is even much better because at times, I have it maybe a year in advance. I know where I have to be.
If you tell me, ‘Oh, come to Australia for this meeting’, I am telling you ‘Sorry, I have to be in Pakistan at that time’. So that is it.
Best way to translate dreams to reality?
This was the question I got from a group of Babcock University. The question was tilted a bit towards money, that is ‘how do I get the resources to make my dreams become reality?’ I said, You don’t need money.
First thing you can do is to look for somebody who represents that dream. Let them endorse you. Not endorse in terms of ‘Ah, I know Gbenga. He is a big boy”. Let them believe in you. Show them something.
Everybody wants to be mentor to somebody who will become a great man. Everybody wants to be part of a success story. It is normal, people will want to become your mentor if you express to them what you want to do, and they see clearly that you know what you are talking about evidently. That is one.
The other is to volunteer. I tell people that the easiest way to become an expert is to go where what you want to do is done and tell them you would want to do it for free. If you tell them you will do it for free, they will allow you.
While you are doing it, someone notices you and says, “men this guy is good”. The next thing is that you have a contract.
The other thing is 10,000 hour principle. If you do something over a period of 10,000 hours, you become an expert in it. You don’t have to have a degree in it. You don’t have to have a Masters in it, or a PHd in it like my wife does, but you become an expert after 10,000 hours.
Can Africa truly achieve economic prosperity on all fronts?
We can! Many things we need to do away with. Unfortunately we still give a lot of excuses ‘oh we were colonized’ and all that.
We need to move way beyond that very quickly. We still have men vs Institutions. People vote a President in and he becomes the almighty. There are no instiutions built. The other point is that we need to stop outsourcing change.
Everyone says that guy will speak for us. He is the Advocate for us all. No! No! No! Everybody has to become an Advocate in Africa to make sure that they change something. Then Africa will change.
How do you remain relevant in your industry, year after year?
I just do what I need to do. I define relevance by doing what my core expertise is.
I may not be ‘relevant’ in terms of people noticing me but I am relevant because I am supposed to do ‘A’ and I do ‘A’. More often than not, if you stick with what you know how to do and you do it well, people will say that you are ‘relevant’ but I don’t wait to be acknowledged as relevant.
If you were President of Nigeria for a day…
That is a tough question. First of all, I don’t plan to be President. I will not be president. I will not go into politics because I am a social entrepreneur. I will work on that and support people that go into government and work for public office.
One thing that I will do is to hire a team of critics, people who will attack everything I do. Even before hiring them, I know that people will begin to criticise. Nigeria is lovely, you get free consultancy through critics.
Somebody says, ‘you haven’t fixed the road here’. I make sure that I set up a system to monitor what people are saying and that will become my priority and not what my sycophant aides will tell me.
Inspire an African Youth in one sentence…
The World will stand aside for a man or woman who knows where they are going. Where are you going?
Wow… Thanks a lot for talking to Africa via KonnectAfrica.net. God bless you, Sir.
You are welcome.
Follow Gbenga on twitter @gbengasesan.