[dropcap]F[/dropcap]irst, let me say to the 2017 cohorts of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship programme, that it is a very special pleasure to meet you guys. By all predictions, you will be the wealthiest and most successful people in a few short years. I would like to ask that you don’t forget me when the good time comes!
But seriously, I have always known that this group of individuals, this generation of young people will do the exceptional.
Earlier this week, I spoke at the Financial Times Africa Summit, on the theme ‘What Makes Africa Work’. Here in this room are seated the answers to that question. Indeed, you are right here with us – a thousand reasons why Africa will work.
Across Agriculture, ICT, Hospitality, Fashion, Energy, Manufacturing, Entertainment, and many other fields, the breadth and depth of talent and innovation on display in the current and previous Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship cohorts have shown there is indeed hope.
In the 2016 set, we have Osakwe Chukwunonso who is building vehicles that will run on clean energy; Soji Megbowon is creating educational products that will simplify STEM subjects; Sierra Leonean Edmond Nonie from the 2015 set built a tracking tool that proved useful following the devastating flood that hit his country, Sierra Leone; Frank Mugarura of Rwanda is the proprietor of a branding and marketing agency that is set to conquer the continent.
These are merely a handful of the inspiring stories that have preceded you, and we know now that indeed Africa is set for incredible progress in the next few years.
When I considered what to talk to you about I realised that you would have learnt practically all you need to know for now about entrepreneurship. But I thought I should share with you some of my thoughts on a subject that has always fascinated me; the subject of history, especially the tyranny of history. And so I chose the theme – the tyranny of history or the tyranny of the past.
History defined is simply the past, the past of individuals like you and I and the past of nations and people. The power of history is to present the past, sometimes so compellingly in the present. History in its best form is known especially as time, where time is a healer. But perhaps the tyranny of history, the way that history seems to want to control us and control the present, it always seems to be the most interesting and at the same time most challenging.
Our history can tie us down, compelling us to look backwards until sometimes we trip. It compels us to look at the present with fear and apprehension. Our history, our past, especially past failures, individually or collectively, can become a barrier for achievements or freedom.
Our political history in Africa would appear dominated by wars, famine, coups d’etat, corrupt governments, dictators and failed or failing states. Our economic history would also largely be of large scale poverty, infant mortality, maternal mortality, mortality in literacy, disease and misery.
So our history may seek to define our future in Africa, especially our expectations of the coming years. History of this bleak sort, has a way of subduing our faith and conscripting our vision for our nation and our society and indeed for ourselves.
In the same way, a history of personal failure can cripple our hope and limit our vision, it can frighten us to having a small perspective of life. Our family history, the misery and degradations of our beginnings, the shame sometimes and the disgrace of the past, the spectacular failures of the past are the tyrannical weapons of history.
These weapons whip us in line when we are thinking big, cutting us down to size as our self-esteem rises. Our past sometimes is always yelling at us: “unworthy, unworthy, unworthy” as we struggle to do right, live right and to live with dignity.
But history, we must remember, is not merely a record of the past, but it is the past. It is gone! Our future is not determined by history or the past unless we allow it. The history of Africa does not determine its future. The days you live here are much greater and better than the past.
Thirty years ago, mobile phones didn’t exist. To speak to people in another country, you would queue up for hours for a public telephone waiting for your turn, if it ever came. Today, we can’t imagine life without our smartphones, and Facetime, and Skype. Today we can collaborate across continents in seconds from anywhere in the world.
Researches that took us months, (and I can tell you because I am a professor – I spent many years researching), are only a Google search away within seconds. Education that required us to leave towns and villages to schools far away and abroad, are now available online. So when you leave here, you can continue whatever conversation you were having on WhatsApp, Instagram or iMessage or whatever other form there is without a break.
We are today nearer defeating hunger and famine than ever before in human history. We will improve seedlings and inputs and new farming practices. Farmers can produce multiples of what they produced years ago.
We are closer than ever before in discovering cures to practically any disease. We can be more diligent in Africa, diligent in immunization, eradicate most of the issues of infant mortality.
Already, we are living longer and more healthily than any time in human history. All the IQ tests, when you look at progression over the years, show that the current generation are smarter than the past. So you guys are smarter than us!
As President Obama said, “we must always be suspicious of those who are always talking about the good old days”. Today the great days have come.
As for our personal failures and shortcomings of the past, you are in good company, everyone who has ever succeeded must have their own stories of failure. Their own personal failings and their shortcoming.
Indeed success is only success because you can compare it with failure.
Permit me as I close to make a few, in some cases controversial statements;
I would like you to remember this, even if only a few years from now, you may find out that it is not true.
The first is that dreams pursued with single mindedness are more powerful than facts.
Courage and persistence can triumph even over experience; no matter whose experience it is.
The third is that hope and imagination are more potent than history. Because your history is not necessarily your destiny.
So let me wish that in the years to come through, your vision, can bring you, your nations and our continent prosperity.
Thank you very much.
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY PROFESSOR YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, TO THE 2017 CLASS OF THE TONY ELUMELU FOUNDATION ENTREPRENEURSHIP FORUM 2017 AT LAW SCHOOL, VICTORIA ISLAND LAGOS, ON SATURDAY OCTOBER 14, 2017