NIGERIA, JELANI ALIYU AND SIGNIFICANT VOICES
Nigeria’s significant voices are not many. Those with something worthwhile to say among them are few. And those worth hearing out of the pack are fewer. That, considering how hard it is to find people whose antecedents are devoid of controversies. Remember the Halliburton bribe-for-contract saga, bring to mind Siemens, and recollect the list of big borrowers from failed banks in the country, and it becomes clear why it may not be a bad idea to check the sky when some ‘Very Important Personalities’ here say it is sunny. That was why NIDO (Nigerians In Diaspora Organization, Canada) was choosy when it brought speakers to its May 2010 World Conference in that country. And no one would see names of Nigerians who had made the country proud by dint of hard work, integrity and enterprise and failed to pay them attention. One of those who had gone out there, proved his worth, and who was on NIDO’s list was Jelani Aliyu.
There is something about Jelani that makes it unnecessary for him to speak before any Nigerian realizes he has a message worth hearing. His antecedent speaks. When General Motors needed a designer for a car that would take them to the next level, Jelani’s was chosen out of hundreds from around the world. As the designer of GM’s Chevy Volt, Jelani has had tremendous success as a Nigerian in Diaspora. A statement issued by General Motors states, "GM`s most electrifying advanced technology vehicle is the Chevrolet Volt concept, a battery-powered, extended-range electric passenger vehicle. It uses a gas engine to create additional electricity. The technology behind the Volt concept, GM`s E-flex System, allows electricity to be produced from gasoline, ethanol, bio-diesel or hydrogen, helping to provide a global solution to diversifying transportation energy sources." The organizers of the conference at which Jelani spoke noted: "NIDO Canada is proud to present an electrifying presentation by Jelani Aliyu at the World Conference." And that, about a man who hails from Sokoto State Nigeria, where he attended Capital School, Sokoto and Federal Government College before he went to the United States.
Jelani is one of the few Nigerians who have served as a positive face of the nation out there. He is a man who did not have the kind of access to the national cake that many VIPs here have, and which make them lord it over others, and are decorated with national honours on top of it all. Was anyone there to witness how members of the diplomatic community turned out in large numbers to listen to Orange and Commonwealth literary prize winner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, during a reading and book signing in Abuja (May 15) about the same time Jelani (May 14) spoke at NIDO Conference in Canada? What drew many to Adichie was what drew many to Jelani. They had something to say; and both had enough credibility to say it. Consider that Nigeria’s Re-branding Team has these two as their faces in the Re-branding campaign and one will understand why their voices pulled important crowds.
‘Nigeria at 50: Building a successful public private partnership in a developing economy’, was the theme of NIDO, Canada’s 2010 Conference. ‘Role of Educated Youth in 3Ps and Entrepreneurship’ was the sub-theme that Jelani, General Motors’ Senior Creative Designer, spoke on. But trust this poet-laurette of automobile design to wax poetic; he titled his message ‘Go for The Impossible.’ If youth are not told exactly that, what then could they be told by a man who himself went for the impossible? What Jelani said was what he thought would help Nigeria achieve its 2020 Vision as the organizers had aimed. "Every great city, every monument, every historic feat, as it stands for all the world to see, was once pure thought, pure imagination acted upon and brought into reality," the speaker said. To imagine, for him, is to dream. He dreamt where wanted to be. He got there. And he told youth who hold Nigeria’s tomorrow to think ‘dream.’ "Growing up was a lot of fun, very exciting times," he stated. Then he continued, "I have always wanted to be a car designer for as far back as I can remember. I studied Architecture, the closest thing to it in Nigeria, at the Birnin Kebbi Polytechnic. After that I attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit where I studied Transportation Design. When I graduated I got a job with General Motors, I worked at the GM tech Center for about three years and then went on international assignment to Germany for about two years at Opel. Then I came back to the Tech Center and most recently I designed the Chevrolet Volt Electric Car, a vehicle that is crucial not just to GM but to the whole industry and world in general."
What is crucial in the case of Nigeria after fifty years as an independent political entity? The famous car designer has his recipe. The following will help have a grasp of it: "Whenever I am in Nigeria, I am fascinated by the people, culture and environment. Nigeria is truly a country endowed with a lot of resources, we have oil, natural gas, cocoa, minerals and fertile soil that could be cultivated to feed hundreds of millions." Talking about the 3Ps – Public, Private Partnership – he synergized all he had enumerated, and posited that such is necessary if Nigeria must move to the next level. Nature is central to his antidote in this time of environmental consciousness, and he has always been a lover of nature. "That (nature) is what I use as inspiration for my designs, and that is what we as Nigerians must use as inspiration to move our country forward. In these days of environmental consciousness, sustainability and renewability, who (should think) more environmental than the African, who (should think) more sustainable (sustainability) than the Nigerian?" Jelani asked. While admitting that "some of the reasons our nation is still underdeveloped are less than gallant," he was hopeful; "there is no doubt that being at the stage we find ourselves gives us the opportunity to be at an exciting beginning with no carry over disruptive technologies, this makes us free to adopt the most applicable and efficient new technology for our unique purposes." And of the problem of technology vis-à-vis the nation’s development, he said, "a major reason for the failure of a lot of infrastructure and systems in our nation is because they were not fundamentally designed for our applications… A lot of systems fail in Africa simply because they do not fall within the critical physical and mental patterns that are natural in that environment, not because of an inherent lack of local human support." And why? "In the last couple of decades we have equated progress with completely disregarding and forgetting a lot of our local and very effective technologies." One way out to ensure a successful 3Ps therefore is, according to him, "not to dismiss local and effective technologies but "take and merge them with applicable new technology to create a contemporary and yet authentic Nigerian solution."
There is no doubt that Nigeria’s 2020 Vision, at this point, needs solutions in order to bring its many segments to reality. This speaker with a message was concerned about the relationship between nature and technologies needed to achieve some vital aspects of the Vision. He had proven himself in the area he spoke about. He had borrowed from nature to design cars that are useful anywhere in the world. He grew up in one of Nigeria’s natural settings. He knows Nigeria has nature on its side. But is Nigeria on the side of nature? This place is littered with imported but abandoned technologies that could not be effective applied in critical sectors for national development. If this nation must make headway with its 2020 Vision, it is imperative that the Vision’s executors give attention to one of the Vision’s most important aspects – technologies that are appropriate for the nation.
Ajibade, a Consultant Writer, lives in Abuja.