Report by Greg Odogwu / Punch Nigeria
Many nations of the world boast of their national brands: a niche product they are known for all over the world, and for which they are very proud of. They dream it, make it, sell it, flaunt it. Indeed, it is so tied to their national image that when you touch these iconic brands, it is as if you have touched the soul of the country that owns it.The American is proud of their technological national brands; the Italian, of their culinary brand; the French, their fashion brand. The British will tell you that through the centuries they have produced some of the greatest and well-known gentlemen in the world. Yes, their brand is the British gentleman.
So, what is the Nigerian brand? Before we answer the question, let us look at how a national brand comes into being. These products – or personalities – are thrown up from niche industries or intrinsic ethical milieu for which the country has comparative advantage or collective proclivity, respectively. That is why, some of the best marketing strategists will tell you that “you are what you sell”.
What is Nigeria, and what can we sell? Some global thinkers have, several years ago, speculated that our youth are our greatest asset. As a matter of fact, the British Council once published a report which warned that if the Nigerian government failed to exploit the humongous potential in its blooming young population, the nation would be consumed by what it described as a “demographic disaster”.
This is the major reason why this week is exciting for those of us working in the development sector. In what has now become clear as the emergence of a young Nigerian global brand, Hamzat Lawal, Chief Executive of Connected Development and founder of Follow The Money initiative, was appointed by the Global Citizen Fellowship into its advisory council.
The Global Citizen Fellowship Programme is powered by the world-renowned American artiste, Beyoncé Knowles Carter’s charity, BeyGOOD, and financially supported by award-winning American actor and filmmaker, Tyler Perry. The organisation, set on a mission to unearth potential talent within the African youth, has already enrolled 10 promising young South Africans and five Nigerians into the programme targeted at eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 – through empowering young people with skills that will help them shape policies that will alleviate poverty while being active citizens. Nigeria’s Hamzat Lawal is now part of the advisory council on whose shoulders lies the noble task of guiding and inspiring the selected fellows to achieve the GCF’s mission.
Lawal, known for his social accountability advocacy which began a decade ago when he just left secondary school, has revolutionised the use of digital platforms and the virtual space for youth mobilisation, environmental awareness and political literacy. His #SaveBagega environmental health awareness campaign inspired a global eco-diligence consciousness that transformed fiscal governance in Africa, and led to the formation of the critically acclaimed social accountability initiative, ‘Follow The Money’, the flagship project of his NGO, Connected Development.
He was also one of the initiators, and key voices behind the Not Too Young to Run movement in Nigeria, the campaign that catalysed the legislative tsunami which hurled young people into elective political offices.
This is not the first recognition this young Nigerian is receiving from the global community. In 2016, Lawal’s CODE was the winner of the 9th annual ONE Africa Award. The award, worth $100,000, acknowledges African organisations that tackle challenges impeding development. In 2019, he was one of the eight recipients of the United Nations Action Awards, which recognises individuals and organisations that are working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in the most transformative, impactful and innovative ways. In the same year, he was chosen as one of 100 Most Influential Africans by the NewAfrican.
He was also an awardee for the Future Awards Africa Prize For Advocacy. His FTM then emerged winner of the 2019 Council of Europe’s Democracy Innovation Award. At the award-giving ceremony in Strasbourg, France, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, noted that FTM has shown exemplary leadership in advancing democratic governance, explaining that that the Internet, social media and Artificial Intelligence have all democratised access to information and given millions of people their voice; and the World Forum for Democracy is a platform for dialogue and democratic participation which brings new ideas into the work of the Council of Europe and promotes its principle across the world.
This year, he emerged as one of the five finalists for the WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award. According to the organisers, this year’s focus is on corruption, and Lawal was shortlisted for his tireless commitment to strengthening the local civil society and for his “large-scale campaigns which have succeeded in creating transparency about public spending and ensuring that international aid funds end up where they should”. Among the finalists is Jóhannes Stefánsson, the Icelandic whistleblower who revealed “The Fishrot File”, the corruption scandal with roots in Iceland and Namibia.
What is more, Hamzat Lawal’s advocacy extends to the girl child. He partners Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, who had, on her visit to Nigeria some years ago, sought to visit this young Nigerian based on his work on education fund tracking. Today, Lawal is the Malala Fund Global Education champion, helping to advocate and accelerate progress on girl child education.
What exactly does Follow The Money do? The FTM team, which includes a network of journalists, lawyers and more than 7000 volunteers, identifies development projects and subsequently sends Freedom of Information letters to the officials in charge. Upon receipt of project details, including the total funding allocation, a bill of quantities and the proposed implementation schedule, the team transmits the information to the beneficiary community. This allows the local community to monitor their local government, and the information pressures the government to act appropriately with expenditure. If a project is not progressing, completed to an adequate standard or does not reach the intended beneficiaries, the FTM holds talks with those in charge and publicises the shortcomings via the media.
Because of the visible impact and the money saved for the government and the people, FTM now has presence in nine African countries, Haiti, Pakistan, and making expansions in Europe and other parts of Asia.
On a personal note, I am proud of the Hamzat Lawal brand, not only because I see him inspiring young Nigerians and giving them hope at a time hope is fast fading from the Nigerian social space; but also because I saw the vision of his rise, and also discussed his work on this column eight years ago, when nobody knew the hidden treasure inside the rough diamond, then fondly called “Hamzy”.
During the Climate Change Conference of 2013, I met Lawal in Europe, doing the Nigerian youth pride; from where he wrote an open letter to the then President Goodluck Jonathan advising him to write his name in “climate gold”. Below is the paragraph that started the piece entitled: “COP 19: From Prince Fadina to Hamzat Lawal”.
“During the 19th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that held last November in Warsaw, Poland, two Nigerians easily caught my attention. One is in his sixties; the other in his twenties. Both had an aura of ingrained climate passion exuding from their restless personalities. And because they belonged to different generations and yet spoke the same language and radiated similar urgent climate appeal, my encounters with them ultimately drove home the point that, in our local struggle against current ecological problems, Nigeria needs a workable mentoring method, and all relevant policy structures, that will enhance a bridge between old rugged wisdom and new teething knowledge.”