Adedayo Adeniyi is a Mandela Washington Fellow and a member of Barack Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) network. He shares his experience at the just concluded leadership training and tour in the US with RONKE SANYA in this interview, revealing his undying love and hope for Nigeria.
What inspired the name Dayo Nigeria?
During my days as an undergraduate, I initiated quite a number of projects to show people how we could all be involved in building a Nigeria where everyone would proudly call themselves Nigerians. So back then, my clothes were branded in the national colours. Then, people started calling me ‘Dayo Nigeria’. So when I decided to brand myself, I chose to go with that brand name as a way of also showing how proud I am to be a Nigerian, even when things don’t look like it.
This is who I am and nothing can change it, people see Nigeria when they see me. Nigeria is just a combination of letters; it becomes something visible when they see the ones who are called Nigerians. It is also my way of letting God know that I am proud of who He has called me to be and that I will be faithful in my assignment in the garden (Nigeria) He has given me to tend.
Tell us about yourself
I attended St Clare’s Nursery and Primary School, Isale-Aro, Osogbo, Fakunle Comprehensive High School, Our Lady and St Francis Catholic College, Isale-Aro, Osogbo and GOF International College. I am a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, where I studied English and Literary Studies. The quest for ideal leadership got me to start Matadors Leadership Institute where we define leadership as service rendered and not titles. I am also the initiator of #TellYourNaijaStory, an online campaign created to showcase the beauty of Nigeria through profiling the giant strides of young people who are changing the world through their projects. I believe this is necessary because foreign media only paint the picture of doom and gloom about us and the best people to retell the story are Nigerians.
One of the criteria for being chosen to participate in Mandela Washington Fellowship program is that the chosen participant must have been involved in some leadership activities in his or her immediate environment.
What are those leadership activities that you were recognised for?
I may not be able to identify one in particular because I have been involved at different levels, both religious and secular and in and out of school. However, I am always proud of the fact that every day I wake up, it is with a desire to contribute positively to humanity and my country and you cannot claim to love your country when you are not interested in the plight of the people in the country. Every activity of Dayo Nigeria is deliberately designed not just to consciously address the issue of leadership or self-development, but also to get more people involved in thinking for change. I am very proud of what my team members and I do with Matadors Leadership Institute and Tell Your Naija Story. I must say that all the people who have been with me on this journey are there on a volunteer basis because we are the ones who fund our projects. Without a genuine passion to see a better society, this can never happen.
Were you surprised when you got to know that you have been selected? And how did you feel?
I was not really surprised, I was excited that at least the combination of efforts of me and my team members is finally appreciated. It was not just for me or my team members, but for every young Nigerian who despite all the challenges we face still understand that we are the ones who can make the change happen and the country is ours to build, because it shows that as long as we commit to living out the right values and doing the right things, recognition will come, although recognition should not be the motive for us doing what we do.
What was the experience like in the U.S?
It was a great experience for me because it gave me an opportunity to learn different models in comparison to the models I had always used. It also made me appreciate the fighting spirit of young Nigerians and by extension Africans who dream and work for a better society. I was able to tell the story of every young Nigerian who would not just criticise but also think for solutions and how to ensure that through personal sacrifice, the solution is implemented on a daily basis and become the energy and inspiration other young people need to be involved in the process as well.
When the programme was approaching its end and it was time for you to start coming back to Nigeria, did you feel sad that you are coming back having experienced the serenity of American communities?
It was mixed emotions for me. What I experienced wasn’t really America’s serenity, but the beauty of humanity through the individuals who made themselves available to offer support just to ensure we had a productive stay in the USA. The faculty members of my host Institution at Staley School of Leadership Studies were really amazing and the community members opened their doors for us all. It was sad to say goodbye to them.
On the other hand, I was eager to come back home because I had missed being involved on the home front contributing my quota to nation building.
You had the opportunity of interacting with the President of USA, Barack Obama, how will you describe him?
Honestly I must say I was humbled and emotional when he stepped in because it is just a fulfillment of the scripture that says ‘seest thou a man diligent in his ways, he shall stand before kings and not mean men.’
On the other hand, I was thrilled by the simplicity I saw in him and his blunt responses to certain questions and requests. These are not qualities we see everyday in Nigeria where you have more rulers in the corridors of power without any desire to truly lead.
Aside the academic activities, what other extracurricular activity did you participate in during the program me?
I had the opportunity of volunteering at different local and international organisations and we also had the honour of enlightening Americans on the cultural values of different countries in Africa through an ‘Africulture’ event we held. I also met young people from different countries but bound by the same thing, desire and passion to work for a better society. I met amazing youths sacrificing so much in different fields just to see their various countries achieve a lot more.
I found a new home in the city of Manhattan as well because I related well with the city and the people also related well with me. It is therefore not surprising that the city gave a certificate of commendation when I was leaving.
What message do you have for Nigerian youths like you who are also involved in various leadership activities in their respective communities but have not been lucky to be recognised?
The message is simple, if you ever want to think of giving up remember your children and the kind of life you want for them. My main motivation in doing what I do is not because of motivation, it is because I want my children to enjoy a better life, I want generations that are not yet born have access to basic facilities that we didn’t have access to. Now is our time to start building the right structures that would give room for the genuine leaders to thrive. If we don’t do it, no one will do it for us.