Ques: May we meet you, Sir?
Ques: You are the founder of AFRYDEF, what is it all about? What motivated you to start the foundation? How were you able to source for fund at the initial stage? What has been the wisest decision taken by you since you started CHARITY WORK? What are the principles guiding the foundation?
Ans: First of all, AFRYDEF is the acronym for African Youth Development Foundation. Yes, I founded AFRYDEF in 1999 in far away Kaduna, when I was just a Youth Corper serving my fatherland, Nigeria. I started the organization as an avenue to contribute to the urgent need to improve the lives of young people, children and women of Africa who are living in abject poverty as a result of the system they found themselves here in third world countries of Africa. A system whose polity is unstable, a system where good education is now reserved for the rich, a system where people are daily living in fear of the unknown, not sure of going out and coming back alive. These were some of the motivating factors that led me into founding an organization like AFRYDEF, which has today made name for itself across the world.
My brother, funding is always a major challenge for non-for-profit organizations like AFRYDEF and for almost all ventures of life. Permit me to use this opportunity to inform that no big organization or venture that is succeeding today was started with funds already available, waiting to be used for start up. To succeed in any venture, first, you must be convinced about what you want to achieve, that will be the driving force and because I was determined to make a change in the lives of the people that come across me, especially the less privileged among us, I committed my little resources as a youth corper in a foreign land to establish AFRYDEF in 1999.
The wisest decision I have ever taken in the course of this journey is “don’t ever lose hope or interest in what you’re doing….whether, there is funding from the government, individuals, donor agencies or not!”
You know, down here, the government cares less about what we do in the development or civil society sector. They assume we get so much money from international donor agencies and so do not support our work, no matter how laudable they may be. Again, the government or politicians who occupy government positions think development actors like us are always against their policies because there have been several times when civil society organizations had cause to oppose their unfriendly and unpopular policies.
Talking about principles, we have a passion in “putting smiles on someone’s face every day!” and we have in AFRYDEF have always tried to abide by this principle we set for ourselves and the organization.
Ques: Between 2000 and 2003, after your NYSC, you became a stakeholder of the National Congress of Ohaji Youths (NACOY) and was elected the National President of Umuokanne Progressive Youth Movement (UPYM) in 2003. You also served as a Member of the Local Government Monitoring Committee of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State. In 2004, you were also appointed the Secretary to the Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Council of Imo State under the able Chairmanship of Chief Luke Chukwu. How did you achieve all these within this short period?
Ans: Yeah, the zeal I have to change the system from within which led to the founding of AFRYDEF in 1999 was what pushed me into youth politics after my NYSC in 2000. Meanwhile, by December 2000, my organization partnered with the United States Agency for International Development and equipped youths of oil producing communities of Imo State, which included youths from Ohaji with special skills in peace building and conflict resolution as well as in group processes and collaborative problem-solving.
By this time, I was already a model for the youths, having established such an organization and having attracted funding from such an international agency, therefore, electing me as the President of UPYM was like a beckoning to contribute my expertise in building the association. Interestingly, I was still the President of the group when I was again appointed into the Local Government Council as the Executive Secretary in 2004. My appointment into NAPEP Local Government Monitoring Committee in 2002 was as a result of my contributions in setting up the office at the LGA level. In fact, I was like a Consultant to most of the LGA Coordinators then because of my expertise in community development and information technology, which was almost strange to them, by then.
In summary, I can say that I was able to achieve all these then because of my selfless services and contributions to humanity. You know, the NGO sector is all about humanitarian services and most of the achievements in this sector do not go unnoticed and unrewarded. In the Bible, it is clearly written that “He that gives to the poor, lends unto the Lord and He would pay him back”. There is another very popular one “give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down and shaken together shall men give unto you….”
There are in fact several other verses in the Bible that recommend giving to the poor and doing good to others with their attendant rewards from God. I strongly believe that those attributes of mine at the early stage of my life after school were what shot me into limelight and have continued to sustain me till date.
Ques: How do you cope with politics and at the same time running the affairs of AFRYDEF and your private Information Technology company, Zenith Computer Technologies?
Ans: This is very interesting. May I use this opportunity to inform that for our polity to change, we, who call ourselves change agents must go into politics in order to change the system from within. We cannot achieve so much when we in the civil society continue to fight from outside. We cannot continue to oppose unfriendly policies of the government from the outside. I strongly believe that it would be a lot easier if we win elections as State Governors and as Law Makers and begin to apply our zero-corruption, human rights and democratic principles in the discharge of our duties as government officials. That explains why I chose to play active politics as a card-carrying member of my party. When I was the Secretary of my Local Government Council, I know how much I used my development expertise and democratic principles in influencing our policies then. My boss, Hon. Luke Chukwu, the then Executive Chairman of Ohaji/Egbema LGA and now, the Hon. Member representing Ohaji/Egbema State Constituency at the Imo State House of Assembly, Owerri once confessed in a meeting I had with the Civil Society Coalition for Rochas (CISCOR) that it was me, when I was the Council Secretary that persuaded him to build thirty-three (33) homes for indigent families across the LGA during our tenure in the Council. That is exactly what I mean. That feat may not have been achieved if I was not appointed the Secretary of the Council then.
As far as I am concerned, AFRYDEF is my contribution to the society and will never interfere with my participation in active politics and in my businesses. I have a number of other businesses that I do, not only information technology and computer services which are being provided by Zenith Computer Technologies. I also have companies that provide services in development consulting, management consulting, audio and video studios, online publishing, real estate management and development, modeling management, etc.
I will not be mincing words if I say that AFRYDEF is being sustained from funds raised from my private businesses. As you know, securing funds from the government and/or international sources is not always easy, so for AFRYDEF to remain afloat, I must fund it so that the vision I set out to achieve will not die half way.
Ques: Where do you see AFRYDEF in the next ten years?
Ans: So far, so good, AFRYDEF has come to stay since we have managed to sustain it from 1999 till date without much support from external sources. As I speak with you, AFRYDEF has its headquarters in Nigeria with chapters in USA, South Africa, and Ghana. We are also working towards establishing new chapters in Germany, UK and in the major cities of Nigeria, like Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.
My brother, in the next ten years, I see an AFRYDEF that would be recognized and supported internationally by major UN agencies and other bilateral agencies across the world. We also dream of an AFRYDEF that will operate chapters all over the countries of Africa because our dream as in our name is all about the whole of the African continent.
I will not end this interview without thanking all those that contributed immensely to the founding of AFRYDEF in 1999. I will not fail to acknowledge the support of Evangelist Julie Amego and Engr. Ogbanje, all of Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, Kaduna where I did my primary assignment then as a youth corper. Back home here, I am most grateful to my cousin, Hon. (Barr.) Golden Nwosu, former Hon. Commissioner in Imo State; HRH Late Eze S.N.A Uzor, the then Nze Obi of Egbema; my boss, Chief (Hon.) Luke Chukwu; my Bishop, Dr. Nelson Nnannah and my lovely wife, Mrs. Linda Chukwunyere for all their kind supports during the early years of AFRYDEF.
Also worthy of mention here are our partners, USAID/Office of Transition Initiatives; Actionaid; Committee for Advancement of Justice; Soulwinners Evangelistic Ministries Inc.; Imo State Secondary Education Management Board; National Poverty Eradication Board; Cars4Causes; Ammado; etc which at one time or another supported us in the implementation of our development programs.
You, Thomas Ifere, my colleague in the development sector also deserves a big thank you for spotting me and my little contributions to the society via AFRYDEF out.
God bless Nigeria!