BY OMIKO AWA
LIKE every other student that has successful passed his or her university final year exams, Chinedu Chidi was waiting for a call up letter to serve his fatherland in the one-year mandatory national youth service, when the mother called his line from Kano, to give him a piece of information about what later changed his fortune. He had picked the call, but succinctly rejected the idea; his mindset, then, was on getting his posting, completing the service and settling down as a young man to face life squarely.
But, as fate would have it, friends and relations called him at different times to pass on the same information. And, like a sheep unaware of the Shepard’s plans, Chidi obeyed the call and picked up a form that enabled him to participate in The Debaters, a TV reality show organised by Inspire Africa Project, the creators of the popular TV talk show, Moments with Mo.
Is that all? He says, “yes, I was waiting for service when my mum called from Kano to tell me of the advert, she saw on TV. She encouraged me to partake in the show, because she believes I will do well and that if I’m ready for it, she will get me the form. Since that was not part of my plans for the year I didn’t give a second thought until my in-law called me from Lagos, as well as friends to go for the show; so, I made a rethink of my earlier stand and went for it.”
“I made it at the regional audition in Kano State and later came to Lagos for the finals. It was quite challenging, but God saw me through. I never knew I could win; I was initially skeptical of winning, because there were a lot of talented and ambitious people in the competition,” he intones.
Why were your friends and family members interested in you participating in the show? The Debater of the year 2010, says, “I guess they know my prowess. I have had some experience in public speaking, having being the president of Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS), for some time. As president of FCS, which is a fellowship of secondary school students in the North, I had to preach in the public, encourage people at the assembly and, of course, lead class discussions. Also, I have had several opportunities to speak in the Church; I guess, they must have heard me speak several times and believed I could do it.”
Chidi, a fresh English and Literary Studies graduate from the University of Abuja is not allowing his victory to get to his head, in fact, it has added to his willingness to be closer to his loved ones and God, aside from opening his eyes to the reality that we need one another to survive in life. He says, “my winning was quite a humble experience. It has thought me some lessons, which include, to achieve greatness in life one needs, people, the support of family members, friends and God; because a lot of people prayed and voted for me, besides close friends that encouraged me to put in my best. And aside from that it has also sharpened my vision for the country; I had always been patriotic, but being on the show interacting with Nigerians from different ethnic groups broaden my experience of what Nigeria is and what Nigerians really need.” He continues, “the experience we got from the coaching session, the material available to us and the books we read broaden my horizon and give me a clearer picture of what I need to do for my country, now and in the nearest future. And owing to those experiences, I have decided to purse a project that would develop reading culture in the country, because debate is a product of intensive reading, critical study and deep reflection. Having had those experiences in deep study and verse consultation of books, I decided to emphasise on reading culture as a way to give back to the society and develop great minds.”
“The experience we got from the coaching session, the material available to us and the books we read broaden my horizon and give me a clearer picture of what I need to do for my country, now and in the nearest future.”
TO actualise this, Chidi is starting with secondary school students and would with time include primary schools and the tertiary institutions in the country. “We are presently concentrating on secondary schools and from there, build partnership with groups that are interested in the revival of reading culture, which many believe is on the down ward slide. So, we are starting with secondary schools for now because of the span of time. Primary school is excellent, but we are presently concerned with secondary school students for their maturity and because they are near the university stage, which make more effective, as they will carry on the habit to the university and also build on it. We hope to get them together and make them read books that reflect on our society. We have also mapped out projects for the primary and the tertiary institutions, which will come on board as we progress,” he informs.
But why likeness for books? “I have always been the reading type, but definitely not a bookworm. I have always been reading committed literature; I like them a lot. You know, I’m a graduate of English and in school, I read a lot of books,” he says amidst laughs.
“Actually, I do not engage so much on books that have so much entertainment, what is technically referred to as escapist literature; I like to read more of committed literature, those that focuses on the society, so, I find myself overtime reading quite interesting books that reflect on the seriousness of the things happen in our society. So, when we encourage reading culture, we are actually asking the people to broaden their minds or and accept ideas that have positive impact on the development of their communities and the country as a whole; that’s is the kind of mentality, I have about reading books. I read books primarily to have a clearer vision on how to contribute to social development,” he enthuses.
To make sure that their target audience is reached, Chidi’s group is carrying out a visibility study to know the number of schools to plan for.
“We don’t want to act on hearsay, so, we have embarked on a visibility study on how to reach out to schools that really need the project. We are looking at how to encourage the students to read even online stories and also equip their libraries as a way of sustaining our vision and the culture. We want these students to get access to appropriate literatures that they have been denied off as a result of faulty educational system or lack of fund,” he says.
This no doubt would cost a fortune, as equipping libraries don’t come cheap. Chidi says, “we are building partnership, creating awareness and strengthen relationship with already existing partners to finance the project. Our challenges, now are, perhaps slow response of some of our partners and pushing the project a bit further, so that people will appreciate what we are doing and partner with us.”
Your take on of Mr. President policy of bringing back the book
“It’s an idea that should be encouraged and commended for. It shows the president understands the significant role of education in social development. However, it should not stop there; there should be a comprehensive approach to our educational programmes in the country. Educational institution should be adequately funded; in fact, government should show more commitment to the sector as a way of developing the country,” he advises.
“My winning was quite a humble experience. It has thought me some lessons, which include, to achieve greatness in life one needs, people, the support of family members, friends and God; because a lot of people prayed and voted for me, besides close friends that encouraged me to put in my best. And aside from that it has also sharpened my vision for the country; I had always been patriotic, but being on the show interacting with Nigerians from different ethnic groups broaden my experience of what Nigeria is and what Nigerians really need”
ANY ill feelings with The Debaters? Chidi sits up, throws his head backward the chair and in few seconds looks directly into the eyes of his inquisitor.
“I appreciate Mo Abdu the producer of Inspire Africa for the idea because it focuses on equipping the youth for the good of the society and empowering them financially, too.” He adds, “though winners were well compensated, I however feel, those that could not make the top three, should have also got some nice packages for leaving whatever they were doing to engage in the competition.”
How do you pick interest in reading with both parents not in the academics? The Abia State-native, who was born in Kano State to businessman and civil servant mother, informs: “My parents have always been interested in our education. We are five in the family, I’m the fourth child, we never lacked any study material right from our early school days; they encouraged us to study and provided means, too. They ensure we have good education from the early stage of our lives, in fact, they are passionate about education and are always pleased to fund it.”