This is a 2014 travelogue made relevant by the coming Continental Model African Union, a project which fate appears to have prepared Nigeria well ahead. This is in the sense that through the tireless work of Professor Okello Oculi and his pedagogical approach to Pan-Africanism, three schools in Nigeria have been breeding grounds in Mock OAU Summit. These are Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria up to late 1980s, Command Day Secondary School, Abuja in 2004 and now Anglican Girls Grammar School, Abuja. In this travelogue, the world gets an idea of the products of Professor Oculi’s Pan-Africanist, leadership incubation mechanism. The travelogue has been reproduced from Pan-Africa First, the publication of Africa Vision 525, the Pan-African INGO run by Prof Oculi and devoted to the project – editor
By Folakemi Suulola
The clouds seemed to move very fast. I stared and wondered like I often did why the sky is the way it is, so unique! The breeze ran its quick race across my face as the sleek, posh Kia car sped along. We were five in the car all trying to suppress the hovering tension. I had Tega’s hand in mine as we both tried to encourage each other with quiet nudges and silent words. Principal asked us if we had our ID cards with us and we didn’t, she was not pleased.
We were going to the Ethiopian Embassy to get our visas i.e Miss Amen, Tega and I. The three of us were to go on a three-day trip to Addis Ababa. Our school was invited for a youth summit of young African leaders from all parts of Africa.
The summit was hosted by the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation (OOF) in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC). Unfortunately, we got invitation for only two students and Tega and I were only fortunate. Our trip was sponsored by the foundation and we were elated by just having the thought of presenting before youths from all over Africa. In fact, it was an overwhelming feeling.
We are in a club called ‘The Pan-African Project Club’ popularly called ‘PANA’. In this dynamic group, we try to act as Heads of State of various African countries. We research and practice under the supervision and wise guidance of our trainer, Professor Okello Oculi (Prof). The group performs simulations of the African Union Summit before many distinguished audiences in the Federal Capital Territory where we school. This made us popular as we are the only secondary school involved in this project in the whole of Africa.
We had left the school premises in a hurry, at a time when the trip’s feasibility was uncertain. It was on that Tuesday morning that Miss Amen was to go to collect her sponsored funds for the trip she was to make at 1:40 pm. There was so much uncertainty that I only comforted myself that we have already come too far to give up.
When the driver parked at the embassy’s parking lot, Principal, Tega and I took the required documents and went in (it was around 11am at this time). We had to wait for the consulate’s consultant as he was not on seat. When he finally came, the woman who came before us forfeited her space to let us see him first. We thanked her for this.
About twenty (20) minutes later, we were at the gate and Principal was explaining things to Prof. We had been denied the visas. This was because the Counsellor insisted that we needed a formal invitation from Ethiopia in addition to the one we had from the OOF which was even based in London and owned by a Nigerian, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
The principal begged desperately for him to see reasons and please make an exception as we are honest and more so, time was going, (it was around 11:30am). He still refused even though Miss Amen had come previous days for the same purpose. Prof told the Principal that we should return to school. How I wished that the driver was some ever so slow!
At school, Prof along with his wife gave us some documents which were supposed to be visa substitutes till we landed in Addis and got the originals. He expressed fear, though, that it was not likely to cover Miss Amen as well. Thankful to God for this ray of hope, we all headed to the airport.
On our way, the Principal called our parents to tell them how things were and to ask for their consent for us to travel to Addis all on our own. They agreed because it was almost too late although they, especially my mum, were very worried.
Around past 12 noon, we arrived at the airport. We were stopped at the first checkpoint. We were told that we were already late and checking in was closed. I was quite surprised. We all (well the adults) tried to plead and explain the position we were in but the adamant official refused. He even suggested that we should go to Silverbird to book another flight for the next day (Wednesday). This sounded rather impossible because the main program in which we were to present was on that Wednesday.
Around 1:30pm, we were seated very comfortably in the enormous craft. Tega was by my side and I tried to recapture what just happened. It was just like a Nigerian movie. At the port, we were about losing hope when we were refused continually. I have never seen my Principal so worked up and worried. Tega and I were so worried that I thought I saw her dark complexion lighten.
Then all of a sudden a gentleman in a black suit, red tie, and a medium-sized pair of glasses walked down. He looked very familiar but Tega was not even interested in looking at him. I saw Prof. Okello walk up to him and explain our situation to him. He spoke with the official and returned to apologise that there was nothing he could do since entry was closed. I felt my eye get heavier. He went in unhindered; you know certain people have immunity.
Again, all of a sudden, a man came to call us that the Honourable Minister of Agriculture (HMA) Dr. Adesina, said we should come along. I was surprised when the Principal carried my box which she had earlier complained was too heavy. In a split second, we hurtled with a guide which took us through the security checks. We hardly had time to think even as we said a hurried goodbye to Prof, his wife, Miss Amen and the Principal. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I was so excited. From that moment, I knew that I would not forget this experience.
We were still in our uniforms, (although we planned to change). I assumed that our uniforms were like a good-luck garment that made us to be favoured by all we saw us. We sat down with inchoate ideas of a Minister, when another well groomed gentleman in a suit and glasses but younger looking walked down to us. He asked us of our names and informed us that HMA, i.e the Minister said he should be our chaperone for the while. He introduced himself as Dr. Adebisi Araba, the Special Assistant to the Minister. His seeming taciturnity put me off and then I asked him (with mock sadness) just as he turned to leave if he wouldn’t ask us of our names. He apologised sincerely and we chatted with him a little.
Some minutes later, the HMA himself came down to us from his first class compartment. I was taken aback by his humility. He gave us his card, assured us that we should not worry and said that we’ll be fine no matter what. He asked us a little more of ourselves and then retreated.
About 2:30pm, we took off. As a first time flier, I expected funny feelings to come to me but I had none. The air hostesses were all beautiful, young and friendly Ethiopians. We ate a balanced lunch of couscous with meat stew, fruit salad, vegetable salad, a roll of bread, a small packet of cheese, a sachet of crackers, some lemon pudding and a tumbler of whatever drink we wanted. Later on, they served coffee to only adults. It was a very nice flight that lasted for about 4 hours.
We landed in Addis around 8pm (Ethiopian time). As we came out, Dr. Adebisi asked of our arrangements and we told him that the OOF was responsible for us. We also gave him the number that Prof told us to call on landing as the man, Mr. Shehu, would sort us out. He called Mr. Shehu and was informed that he (Shehu) was the general co-ordinator and he had no direct business with us. However, he assured us that ushers would be there to organise stuff.
HMA led us to the VIP lounge to relax while Dr. Adebisi (D.D for short) went to rectify our visa problem. Since I did not feel too comfortable leaving him with all the work, I went to try and assist while Tega enjoyed a healthy dialogue with the Minister. From what I gathered, we were supposed to come along with a list of participants with our names included attached to our ‘visas’ in order to get the original visas. We did not know about this requirement.
Luckily, the OOF’s representative had some lists with him. I went through them and spotted our names in one and not in the other. Then D.D just asked me to go back in that he would handle the rest. Then I spotted an usher from OOF and told him that I wanted to clarify things with her. She turned out not to be of much help because she seemed confused and not exactly comprehending my expressions.
Back with HMA and Tega, we spoke on several things but concentrated more on agriculture. It was more or less an interview with him in which we were the journalists. We learnt so much from him and then I realised that he was indeed a blessing to the agricultural sector. D.D came in with visas in our passport and we were grateful. We took pictures with them i.e HMA and D.D.
The minister then took us to another lounge to greet Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (Baba). There were many important people in that lounge (the previous one had more foreigners). In fact, the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was to land in Addis the next day as a real African Union Summit was to take place.
The Minister spoke very well of us as he introduced us to Baba and other dignitaries with whom we took photographs. I couldn’t help but blush at the flattering remarks and the paparazzi scrambling for snapshots. A while later, we were drinking fresh orange juice and listening to HMA’s story of his background when D.D brought our luggage and I wondered how he was able to identify them without asking us anything.
We were the last to leave the lounge and it was around 11:30pm. Before we did, we called our parents with D.D’s phone since we could not pick up the network with ours. My parents were worried since they hadn’t heard from me for a long while. They relaxed a little on hearing that we were in the Minister’s ‘custody’.
When we got to the Ambassador’s hotel, where Tega and I were meant to lodge, we were told that our names were not included on the list of reservations of the invited participants. We were really surprised to hear this. At this point, I started getting very tense as I hate to bother people. Each time I tried to apologise, I was told not to as they could not do anything else than help us in this.
We went to the hotel in which D.D was to lodge, The Elilly International Hotel and the available room was a twin room. I thought the fee for a night was rather too high. While D.D was sorting things out, I sat down with HMA alone as Tega had. He told me about his present life, his ministry, his family and I was so amazed that I had to ask, ‘Sir, are you sure you’re a human being or are you an angel?’ He laughed and said that he’s human.
On my bed in the hotel room I wondered how somebody could be nearly as perfect as the Minister, he was truly sent from heaven. The day was full of so many activities that I could not imagine what could have happened if we had not met them at the airport. I also wondered what would happen the next day or rather the next hours it was already past 1 am. Tired and hungry, we went to bed [room service was not available at that hour].
We sat down near the conference halls of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa [UNECA]. It was just a short walk from our hotel and Dr. D had handed us over to Mr. Didier who was our chaperone from the OOF. It was going to be a busy day for us.
Mr. Didier is a young, dark-skinned fellow who enlightened us on a few displeasing news bites. He told us that we could not be full participants because we were under-aged [not yet 18 years] and the fact that we had not come with a guardian from Abuja was also a hindrance. He told us that we could watch but not fully participate. The voluble Tega expressed her displeasure at the OOF and adults in general for placing unnecessary restrictions on the younger citizenry because they were older. She also complained that things were not well organised.
When we told Mr. Didier that we had a presentation, he told us that it was not on the program and so we could not present. Tega was enraged and I was furious. Mr.Didier introduced us to Miss Susan, a fair –skinned Nigerian who had a big position in the OOF. She was pleased to see us. Tega tried to plead with her to solve our presentation problem. She explained to us that the program was certified by the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Dlamini Zuma herself. Once she has signed on something, no modification can be made. If we had indicated much earlier, we would have been on program but it was too late. She advised us to just relax. She introduced us to Miss Ann Welsh, a thin and tall woman who was the deputy chairperson of the OOF. Tega was so upset that she wanted to leave as she didn’t see the essence of staying when what we spent a great deal of time and effort on was going to be useless. I just tried to encourage her to just stay and see what we make out of the summit since there was nothing else we could do, she budged.
It was worth it after all. The speakers were a mishmash of individuals. Some were young youth leaders, some were old and others were enlightened moguls. We learnt a lot, although some of the talks were rather boring. The theme for the program was ”Accelerating Youth Employment and Empowerment in Africa”. It was obvious that we were the youngest in the room.
After the tea/health break of cakes and coffee, we met Baba Obasanjo who was very pleased to meet us. Tega still had her scrunched face on and was trying to feign that we [or she] were fine. He tried to cajole her to cheer up. He even gave her a perk and it was bringing too much attention. I just had to say to Miss Susan that our inability to present was the problem. She said that there was little she could do since she was not the only organiser of the program but promised to see what she could do.
Then, there was another session which involved a panel discussion. Another enlightening round I must say. After this, the reporter came to give an anecdote of the morning events. Then, we went for lunch (it was buffet).
After lunch, we decided to look for Mr. Didier because he seemed to have disappeared from the hall. We did not find him. We needed to find him because he was expected to move our luggage from the Elilly hotel to the right hotel reserved by the OOF in which we were to lodge. However Dr. Adebisi had already told us to pick our cards [keys] to the room from the reception desk if Mr. Didier did not do his job well.
We went for a much smaller session where we all enjoined to contribute in order to collate recommendations which would be reported to full house for review. The reviewed recommendations were to be presented at the real AU summit the following day. Our heads of state were to consider and possibly adopt them in a bid to accelerating youth employment and empowerment in Africa.
At this forum, I was the first to answer a question. We were asked to give our views on entrepreneurship. There was a prolonged silence amidst encouragements from the moderator for us to speak. I eventually braced myself, raised my hand, was given a microphone for translation and broke the ice. This singular act seemed to loosen the tongues and bodies of others. I was happy. It was a very interesting forum and we got our recommendations for the government and private institutions as well. Baba even gave us some ideas although he hid himself at first.
Immediately after the session, a Kenyan man walked up to me, introduced himself and told me that he was impressed with my definition of entrepreneurship and would want to contact me later. He asked for my card and I hesitated [since I did not own one]. He gave me his instead, thanked me for my time and walked away. I was stunned.
When we returned to the main conference room, Miss Susan grabbed us saying that Baba has been looking for us [‘Baba has been looking for us?’, I did not know what to expect]. He was so happy to finally have found us as if we were his daughters who ran away without leaving a note. He told us that he can squeeze us in for a quick presentation of 5 minutes. We were happy since we finally got a chance but we were not so pleased with the short time frame. We had to really cut down our speeches and talk really fast when we rehearsed. Miss Susan prayed with us before we went to present.
After the presentation, we got a warm applause and since our new seats were behind Baba, he turned back to say ‘well done girls’ [I beamed]. An extremely dark-complexion man from Sudan asked for Tega’s speech as he was impressed with what she said about Sudan. By the way, Tega was MackySall [Senegal’s President] and I was Robert Mugabe [Zimbabwe’s president].
Coming to think of it, perhaps there was something about our carriage, the confidence we seem to exude, the content of our speeches and our overall presentation that captures the attention of the audience in a slightly different way from others. Probably, we just looked cute and funny on stage as I remember two occasions when the crowd laughed and cheered as I stepped unto and down from the stage. The reason why they did this, I could not decipher.
The program ended with the movie ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’. Tega and I decided to find Mr Didier and when we didn’t, we returned to the hotel [By this time, Baba, Miss Ann and Miss Susan had gone]. At the reception desk, we inquired if we had been checked out and we had not. We also asked if Dr. D had checked out and he hadn’t as well. We took our cards (keys) and unlocked the door. We stepped in and didn’t find any of our belongings, not a single thing! We were so surprised, amused and confused that we burst into rounds and rounds of laughter. Then we decided to wait for Dr. D to return. We waited in the lobby.
We could not contact him because the network did not favour our Nigerian sims. Dr. D had already sent us about 11 messages but we could not reply any, he was certainly worried. It was already dark. Soon we spotted Miss Ann and Miss Susan with some dignitaries. Since they were sort of responsible for our well being and we could interrupt, we tried to get their attention by walking past severally. When we weren’t noticed, we returned to our seats. As we sat, we started imagining any moderately tall man in a dark suit and glasses to be Dr. D. It made us feel bad each time we were wrong.
At last, we spotted him at the entrance but we also spotted Mr. Didier at the bar. A wave of revulsion came to collide with the spring of delight in me. As if controlled by an unknown force, we both stood at once and walked straight to Dr. D. We narrated the whole day’s ordeal, how we nearly didn’t present, how we were almost abandoned and so on. This did not please him at all.
He walked up to Mr. Didier to clarify stuff. The latter did not seem too concerned, he even wanted to hand us over to a stranger with bloodshot eyes holding a glass of strong alcoholic drink. I had a strong foreboding about him. When D.D spoke with Miss Ann and Miss Susan of the reception desk, it could really express what I felt about what ensued.
At dinner, I learnt a vital lesson that one should never ask for a double portion of something if one has not seen it, no matter how cheap it may seem. You may be surprised at its colossal nature. Then, we went to God thankful for his intervention.
When we got to the lobby around seven the next morning, we saw neither Miss Susan nor Dr. Debisi. We assumed that they had urgent, early meetings so we decided to just relax in Elilly and make the most use of our time. We had a hearty breakfast which was buffet paid for with our room. Tega went ahead to study while I decided to explore the hotel and meet the Ethiopians. It was really fun and every single staff was friendly.
By evening, we met at the lobby. We were to go to Radisson Blu for a cocktail party organised by the OOF for all participants. Tega really anticipated meeting HMA and Baba but I thought otherwise although I did not voice it. (They should be very busy I thought). Before we left, Dr. D helped us to book our seats for our flight the next day as well as all other necessary things. You wouldn’t believe that we hadn’t even thought about this. We were grateful but he wanted none of it. We spoke about a lot of things. I guess those nearly thirty minutes were my favourite part of the trip. From that moment, I began to see him as a very special elder brother to me.
The Radisson Blu hotel was also close to Elilly so we trekked down. I marvelled at the rate of under development and D.D explained that Ethiopia was a war ravaged country picking up its remains and struggling to grow. He was just so knowledgeable.
At the Radisson, we decided to have dinner before the party since HMA had eaten and was away. We met a nice man J.G who turned out to be the Chief of Staff to the President of Botswana. He said that because he wanted to enjoy his meal, he thought it wise to join us for dinner. I guess he got just what we wanted and we did as well. He was a sarcastic yet polite and an intelligent elderly man. He was quite amazing.
After dinner, he introduced us to the former President of Botswana. It was truly a pleasure to see him. When we went upstairs to the hall for the party, it was almost over. So, we decided to say goodbye to Miss Susan and another friend of ours we met earlier. Tega was unhappy that we didn’t meet Baba and HMA but I just understood. After warning not to go exploring again, D.D said goodnight. On my bed, I just thought how memorable this trip was, how friendly the hotel staff were and I was certain that I was going to miss all these for a long time.
At 7am, we were on our way to the airport in a pickup van from the hotel. As I rolled my luggage into the building, I was nearly choking with mixed feelings. I was very grateful that I had such an experience yet I felt very sad that I would miss the experience especially Dr. Adebisi.
At our last checkpoint when he told us good bye, I couldn’t believe it was all true. I couldn’t believe that we may not see him again. We went ahead to shop for our family and friends and came out with two big bags. By the way, Ethiopians used Birr as their currency and speak Amharic as their official language. One dollar is about nineteen birr and they also speak some English.
As we waited for our flight to be called, we made a Chinese friend who ended up being my seat mate on the flight. Another friendly Nigerian who knew the Chinese sat behind me. It was a lovely flight but I could not sleep even though I was kind of tired. I enjoyed the food on the plane, the service of the air hostesses and also the movies I watched.
Back in Abuja, I couldn’t count the number of times I had to recount and summarize my experience to my family and friends. It was just too good to be true. I learnt a lot of lessons on the trip and was convinced that it was a surprise package from God. I could not wait for His next surprise. That’s a wrap of a life time trip.