Nigeria’s Election: Why It Matters

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Tomorrow, Nigerians head to the polls.    I recently spoke on Nigerian Radio Continental with popular host “Citizen Jones”   about the importance of this election – not only for selecting the nation’s president –  but for why it matters to the rest of the world.

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Radio Continental’s Citizen Jones

As a veteran CNN journalist and current business consultant who has spent months working with hundreds of students and professionals in Nigeria, much is at stake.

Incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan is squaring off again against former military leader  Mohammadu  Buhari.  It’s the fourth time Buhari has tried for the highest office since he took charge after a coup back in the 80s and it’s the second time he’ll face Jonathan.   Latest polls show the race is a tight one. But this contest is more than betting on the long-running horse race of Buhari’s persistence.

From my perch, the top issues facing Nigeria are:

  1. Maintaining and improving the country’s economy
  2. Curbing widespread corruption
  3. Eradicating Boko Haram

Economy.  Nigeria is proudly Africa’s number one economy – taking the title away from South Africa for nearly a year now.   Its vast oil riches support its base and analysts say it is bolstered by strong agriculture, information and communications technology.

But the chasm between the haves and the have-nots is evident the moment you arrive.  Tin-topped shanty neighborhoods mushroom under the shade of sprawling gold-encrusted McMansions.  Customized Range Rovers share the road with dilapidated, exhaust- spewing  yellow “danfo” vans dangerously filled with poor commuters.

Corruption.  Everybody knows it goes on.  And everybody has a story.  Like last September when I was  touring the country on a training circuit and kept  reading headlines about the private plane that left the capital city of Abuja for South Africa.  When it landed, officials discovered it was carrying 10 MILLION dollars in cash.  There was plenty of speculation about who had chartered the plane and what the money was planned for but I never heard any real answers.

One step toward righting this ongoing wrong would be for peace and fairness to be found at all Nigeria’s polls tomorrow.  In 2007, antics during the elections prompted the US State Department to describe them as “Flawed.” There was substantial improvement in 2011’s election, but observers still claimed there was widespread fraud and voter rigging.

A smooth and peaceful election this weekend could  set a standard and example for other developing democracies across the globe.  Both candidates publically signed an agreement this week promising to respect the election’s outcome and urging their supporters to refrain from violence.

Boko Haram.  This month’s announced alliance between Boko Haram and ISIS dramatically illustrates that  rooting out terrorism is the world’s problem, not simply the country in which the terrorists are residing and fighting.

Whoever wins Nigeria’s election must seek out and forge strong alliances with partner countries to put an end to the madness – for everyone.

As I discussed with the other panelists on Radio Continental,  journalists have a responsibility to accurately – and independently –  cover and report tomorrow’s elections.  Together, Nigerian journalists and its government can work together to build a better nation – and a better world.

I’ll be back on Radio Continental on Monday and I hope we’ll be talking how it was an unprecedented peaceful weekend of hope and fulfilled promises by both political parties.

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 

 

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Nigeria Diary: The questions I am getting

Besides the ubiquitous, “How do you find your time here in Nigeria?” which I answer at least half a dozen times each day, some probing souls are asking me more pointed questions.

Questions like, “How can you relate to us as a white?”

I believe there are always ways to find common ground.
I believe there are always ways to find common ground.

“Don’t you think policies in the West will not work here?”

Sharing ideas and experiences .. can be fun!
Sharing ideas and experiences .. can be fun!

As someone who has worked and trained –and even lived – in a variety of places like Indonesia, Cambodia, Tunisia and Egypt, I welcome each and every question from each and every person.   I am never offended when someone is straightforward and honest.  It’s through the questions, that I can learn more about the person and find ways to overcome his or her concerns.

So, for the record, here are some of the questions and my answers I am receiving here in Nigeria.

  1. How can you relate to us as a white?   It’s more than obvious that my skin color is lighter than most everyone I meet here in Lagos. For example, I sat in service yesterday at a parish of Africa’s fastest growing church, The Redeemed Christian Church of Christ.  Did I say “sat?!

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I meant to say, I “stood, danced, sang and shimmied” for four hours! The meeting was a party. An encouraging celebration of each other and God.  I loved all of it.  And yes, I was the only pinky-skinned lady in the hall.  After the service, a young man interviewed me for his blog – asking how I got started with my career.  I offered some relationship and networking strategies – telling him to make sure to keep in close contact with his favorite professors after he graduates. He hadn’t thought of them as possible relationships, only teachers.  We connected on that point.  He is young. I am not as young. He is male. I am not. Yes, he has dark skin. I do not.  Years ago, when I trained an incredible group of Iraqi women running for office, their country was (as is still now) in the midst of chaos and fear.  I couldn’t relate on that level, but I could understand their desires to balance family and career.  We were able to find common ground.  And that’s the trick. Searching for those common hopes, dreams and fears that link us all together as human beings on the planet, regardless of our different cultures, traditions, backgrounds and even skin tones.

2. Don’t you think policies in the West won’t work here in Africa?  Let’s break that down.  Which policies? The policy of being thoughtful to your customers, employees or citizens?  To considering and providing for their well-being?  To holding peaceful, free and fair elections if you call yourself a democracy? Injustices happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and the only way to affect change, is to constantly and consistently expose and push against those injustices.  Observers sometimes complain there is not enough investigative journalism here.  But as I work with journalists and civil rights organizations in places where there is less than free expression due to a variety of real or perceived dire consequences, I am often impressed there is any level of investigative journalism. I try to encourage the increase, not carp about the short-comings.

3. Can you really teach journalists, you seem very motivational?  This was probably my most surprising question, as it didn’t come from a Nigerian at all, but rather from an American who seemed more than skeptical; she seemed down right cynical.  Whew!

Journalism training session
Journalism training session

Of course I try to be motivational. Encouraging.  Supportive. Inspirational.  Call it what you what.  To me,  it’s part of what you do as a trainer, as a coach.  First, you must try to establish a connection or a relationship.  I would NEVER come into a newsroom or any training room for that matter, and immediately launch into how to write better, or how to manage better, or how to stay on message better. What’s the incentive to change, aka work harder, from that approach?

Having once been a working journalist myself, I know that most journalists everywhere are not paid well.  We likely got into the field because we liked telling stories.  Stories that might make a difference.   The way I try to connect with journalists is to re-ignite that flame still burning inside them.  To inspire them that their writing – if credible and accurate – might make those differences over time.

I have read in diplomacy circles that relationships are, for some reason, labeled with the jargony impersonal word, “architecture.”  As in, “how strong is your architecture with journalists??”  Whatever the word, the point remains the same.  If you don’t first connect with your audience on some level, they are never going to care about what you say.  It’s basic 101 in presentation training lessons for anyone, regardless of your audience’s ethnicity or country-origin.

 First you connect. Then you can teach, or inform or persuade.  It seems obvious and yet it is too seldom done. Perhaps the obstacles seem too high.  But if we spend time building the architecture, the relationship bridges, to get over them,  I think the outcomes will be worth the effort.

Joseph, just one of the inspiring people I met at church on Sunday who asked me some thought provoking questions.
Joseph, just one of the inspiring people I met at church on Sunday who asked me some thought provoking questions.

Yours from Lagos,

Gina

 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

Nigeria Diary: Meet the Press

Journalism can impact the course of world history in a myriad of ways.  And here in Lagos, I am meeting dozens of journalists who are committed to changing the course of their nation – for the better.

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In the past week, as part of our Find Your Edge Leadership and Communication program, I have had the privilege of conducting journalist training sessions at The Nation, the number two newspaper in all of Nigeria, and at TVC News, the first 24-hour news network covering the continent and emphasizes its news-gathering distinction with the tag-line, “Through African Eyes.”

The participant journalists from TVC News Africa
The participant journalists from TVC News Africa

My hands-on training takes real stories in the headlines and calls on journalists to completely re-think them.  We analyze sourcing methods and verification.  We examine how to report from breaking news scenes. We consider ways to add context and perspective.  We drill on honing writing skills to become precise and powerful.

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Overall, the standard of journalism I have seen so far, has a way to go.  Many print articles I read meander and don’t ask officials the obvious follow-up questions.   I’ve watched lack-luster reporters and anchors who appear only blandly interested in the stories they are covering.

But these groups I have worked with are different. They are eager to sharpen their skills and push themselves and frankly, in this environment, assume the possible risks.

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Like Evelyn, one reporter I worked with – who has been doggedly uncovering injustices for years – which have now evoked enough awareness and outcry that she tells me some officials want to meet with her to talk about ways to craft policy change.

And Mark, the radio broadcaster who shared with me at the end of our session how he is now inspired to not only read the news, but to consider the hopes, dreams and fears of his listeners and to seek ways to provide context around stories to help them better understand ramifications.

the nations paper

Journalism isn’t a career you enter thinking you’re going to make a lot of money.  Our wealth comes from telling real stories that make a difference.

In every society it’s the same. For journalists to build credibility and deliver value, they have to learn to be watchdogs, not lapdogs.

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The people I have met appear earnest and eager.  They are authorities in their business; the people who can influence others to join the cause. To become leaders, not just writers and readers.

Reporting live from Lagos, Nigeria. I’m Gina London. Now back to you.

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

Nigeria Diary: Eko Atlantic, a new development envisioning a new future

We are in the normal bumper to bumper traffic along the busy streets of Lagos.  Ayo expertly steers our black KIA around the yellow painted vans crammed with passengers known as Danfo buses.  He zips past some equally bright three-wheeled Tuk-Tuks and then outmaneuvers the myriad of mopeds and other assorted cars and SUVs which manage to spread out across every inch of asphalt – all at the same time.

This is Lagos traffic
This is Lagos traffic

We reach our destination and Ayo turns the KIA off of the clogged street, past a few bored security guards and onto an unpaved road devoid of traffic.   Before us: a vast expanse of white sand stretches to the Atlantic coast.

Eko Atlantic
Eko Atlantic

This is not a public beach. It’s a working construction site for a daunting planned development known as Eko Atlantic.  Dredgers are working around the clock to fill the area with sand and create a brand new island that – according to its website – will be home and workplace to more than 250,000 people.

This sign of the future is on the construction site
This sign of the future is on the construction site

The project began in earnest in 2005 and the managing director of South Energyx Nigeria Limited, the firm responsible for the project , predicts the “The first residential tower will open in 2016.”

Eko Pearl Tower
Eko Pearl Tower

Design renderings for the completed ten-square kilometer (3.86 sq mi) mixed use development showcase tony waterfronts, leisure facilities, retail shops, upscale offices and “tree-lined streets with efficient transport systems.”

Artist's rendition of Lagos's Eko Atlantic
Artist’s rendition of Lagos’s Eko Atlantic

Today in 2014,  Ayo and I see signs of underground surface drainage pipes and the beginnings of roadway infrastructure.

The Eko Atlantic  construction site yesterday
The Eko Atlantic construction site yesterday

We watch a few minutes while gigantic dump trucks move mountains of sand.   Then Ayo slowly merges back into the busy streets.  These are not lined with trees, but rather teeming with vehicles and people of all shapes and sizes.

Satellite view of Eko Atlantic island so far. How will it look in the future?
Satellite view of Eko Atlantic island so far. How will it look in the future?

I look out of the window as we leave Eko Atlantic.  In spite of its present problems, Nigeria is clearly envisioning  – and working toward – an improved tomorrow.

And speaking of tomorrow- tomorrow I will present as part of a panel at a Nigeria Infrastructure Building Conference.  I look forward to hearing the other participants’ visions and plans.

In gratitude for this experience here in Lagos,

Gina

P.S. Do you know about Nigeria’s Eko Atlantic project?  What do you think?  Look forward to hearing from you!

 

“You are Welcome” – My diary of Lagos, Nigeria

“You are welcome.”  “You are welcome.”  In the three days since I landed in Lagos, this is the phrase I have heard most.

From the gracious team at the luxurious Wheatbaker Hotel where I am fortunate enough to be staying –

Willie, who said he watched all my shows.
Willie, who said he watches all my shows. 😉
Cynthia cooked an amazing omelette!
Cynthia cooked an amazing omelette!
More the the impeccable team at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos
More of the impeccable team at The Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos

– to the esteemed journalists and managers of various media outlets including The Nation and Business Day newspapers and TVC and The Channels radio and television networks.

The editorial staff at Nations - One of Nigeria's top newspapers!
The editorial staff at Nations, one of Nigeria’s top newspapers.
Meeting with the Kayode Akintemi, the GM of Channels TV
Meeting with the GM of Channels TV
After being interviewed by Business Day's Kemi Ajumobi
After being interviewed by Business Day’s Kemi Ajumobi

I am visiting Lagos for the first time.  Working with my local strategic partners, Amplio Consulting and SwiftThink Limited, I’ll be conducting a series of strategic communications training sessions and workshops between now and July 18.  We kick-off activities tomorrow with the Find Your Edge Summit here at the Wheatbaker.

My incredible partners - Ayo and Folake Owodunni  from Amplio Consulting and Ayoola Jolayemi of SwiftThink Limited. Go, Team, Go!
My incredible partners – Ayo and Folake Owodunni from Amplio Consulting and Ayoola Jolayemi of SwiftThink Limited. Go, Team, Go!

On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 9AM-5PM participants will have an opportunity to practice real hands-on techniques and develop new skills from me, veteran CNN correspondent and international communications consultant, and my new friend and colleague Richie Dayo Johnson, a local and proven leader in communications training, etiquette and business savvy.  The Summit is open to the general public and registration is ongoing.  Click here to learn more!

http://findyouredge.com.ng

This morning, I spoke on Radio Continental to explain why communication counts – especially in the digital age where you can be instantly judged by a global standard.  And later, I met the talented hosts of “Your View,” on TVC to share some secrets of better communications to get results. At every place, the people have been warm-hearted and congenial. These first three days have been very rewarding.

Your views

Yes, it’s true we have driven through scenes of poverty. And yes, it’s true I have a machine-gun toting federal police officer riding at all times in the front seat of my car to stem off unwarranted stops.

Meet Abdul, my bodyguard, my friend.
Meet Abdul, my bodyguard, my friend.

But one by one, individual by individual, I am meeting an incredible number of accomplished people.  Nigerians who are proud of their country and are committed to making it a better place.

folake and me

I feel very welcomed indeed.

Chukwugozie onyeobula nilee (Thank you all!)  

In gratitude, Gina

P.S.  Are you Nigerian? What are you most proud of?  Are you not Nigerian? What do you think? Looking forward to hearing from you! Ciao –

 

 

Bends in the Road: From Arezzo, Italy to Cork, Ireland to Lagos, Nigeria in less than a week!

It’s almost too easy.

For the last five days, since we first landed in Cork, Ireland, from our former adopted home-town of Arezzo, Italy – we have been greeted by helpful, warm and chatty people.  It was much the same way with the terrific people in Tuscany, but the language hurdles naturally made our adjustment into that region more complicated.

Our first neighbors in Arezzo when we moved there 3 years ago - and who drove us to the Pisa Airport this weekend! Grazie Famiglia Tanci!!
Our first neighbors in Arezzo when we moved there 3 years ago – and who drove us to the Pisa Airport this weekend! Grazie Famiglia Tanci!!
This week we arrived in Cork, Ireland.
This week we arrived in Cork, Ireland.

Here, if I soften my “a” when I ask for “to-mah-toes” or bring the American silent “h” to life in “herbs,” I’m pretty much all set.  Oh, and they take out the “h” all together and say “tank-you” instead of “thank you.”  “Tank you very much.”  But, really, it is almost strange to be hearing English everywhere again.   I miss Italian with its bright “Buongiorno’s” and “Ciao’s.”

Last night, Lulu turned to me and agreed.  “I miss speaking Italian,” she said.

“Well, you can speak to me if you’d like,” I responded in what I thought was a helpful way.

“I miss speaking  to my friends who can speak back to me properly,” she countered.

Of course Lulu,  after three years in Italian schools, has a point.  She and all of her friends spoke Italian every single day fluently.  Not the stammering version I utter.  It must be hardest on her.

That said, we enjoyed our week here in Ireland.  It was surprisingly quite sunny as we toured Scotty’s new university, Lulu’s new elementary school, and strolled along the Lee River that splits in two and runs through Cork.

University College of  Cork
University College of Cork
Cork and the River Lee and sun so bright Lulu could only squint!
Cork and the River Lee and sun so bright Lulu could only squint!

Cork’s residents are charming and rightfully proud of their heritage.   Lulu and I were even given a tour of the city by our new friend Fionnuala Mac Curtain.  Her grandfather, Tomás MacCurtain, was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1920, who was horribly killed by the British Army in front of his pregnant wife and their young son who later grew to become Fionnuala’s father.   She gave me a copy of the book she wrote about her grandfather. I am honored to receive it and plan to read it on the plane tomorrow to Nigeria.

A poignant book I am sure.
A poignant book I am sure.

Yes, Nigeria.  I am flying to Lagos tomorrow to conduct a series of communications sessions and seminars for the next six weeks (For more information, check out the Find Your Edge website!).

Many friends have urged me to keep safe as I travel to Africa.  I certainly hope to! I’ll be staying at the best hotel in Nigeria: The Wheatbaker (thanks Find Your Edge team!); All vaccinations are in order (thanks Scotty Walsh); and I am registered with the State Department (thanks US Embassy in Nigeria). I hope it will be a valuable experience for the participants, the team and myself!

These banners proclaiming my conference are now outside the Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos!  Cool and humbling.
These banners proclaiming my conference are now outside the Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos! Cool and humbling.

I said goodbye to Lulu and Scotty earlier today as they flew back to the US to be with his family in Washington State.  It will be the longest time I have been away from our daughter since she was born.

As we trekked to our hotel near the airport yesterday, Lulu stopped to pick a few little flowers growing along the sidewalk.

“These are for you so you won’t forget me while we’re apart.”

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I won’t forget you my angel.  I also won’t forget all the incredible people we met in Italy – and are now meeting here in Ireland.  I look forward to the people I will have the privilege of meeting in Nigeria, too.

Around every bend, and in spite of the differences, the world is filled with promise and adventure.

A warm embrace to you all!

Gina

 

Guest blog series “Travel Memories” #8 – Olumo Rock, Nigeria

Greetings fellow travelers! If you’re ready for an adventure, you’ve come to the right place!  Last time we took you to Bulgaria and today, join me as we go to Nigeria.

Today’s guest blog is from radio personality, speaking coach and, I’m happy to say, my new friend – Ayo Owodunni.  

ayo

When he is not busy co-hosting his dynamic and fresh morning radio program from Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, Ayo loves to travel and explore locations that make his country unique. 

Now, then, let’s marvel together at Olumo Rock – a place that once protected warriors, and which in turn, recently needed protection itself. 

Here’s Ayo: 

 olumo rock

A safe haven for those who looked beyond its majestic beauty and focused, instead, on its strength and protective power, Olumo Rock is located in Abeokuta, Nigeria, about 60 miles north of Lagos.

Abeokuta literally means “Under the Rock.”  The natural fortress may have protected a variety of people over the centuries, but it was during the 19th century, as it served as refuge for the Egba tribe during a series of tribal wars, that its protective qualities are most known for.

The Egba land warriors discovered Olumo and realized the enormous heaping pile of boulders naturally provided them the perfect strategic place. The wide flat top of the rock gave the warriors a fighting advantage, not to mention a great view of enemies below.

olumo

It was so strategic, in fact, that the Egba warriors lived on Olumo for more than three years.  Lookout and living space, the rocks reportedly even served as a place to bury their dead.  It seemed nature had designed a unique citadel for the Egbas to help them survive.

The wars eventually came to an end and the Egbas climbed down, settled into the valley and established the town with the name forever honoring the rock: Abeokuta.

olumo rock top

Till today, the Egbas prides themselves in their rich history and their tribe-saving rock.

As a child, I visited Olumo Rock, but admit I was never fascinated by its significance.  I was more interested in using it as my natural playground, than learning its dramatic role in history.  But, as I grew older and did more research on my country, I came to discover more about the historical site and have since fallen in love with the rock and its warrior-filled story.

olumo rock2

Sadly, however, one of the biggest frustrations I’ve also come to discover about my country is its lack of conviction in preserving historical landmarks: from media reports about the dire state of the first prime minister’s burial site, to the deteriorated condition of Badagry Slave Port (used to ship out slaves from Nigeria to the western world – where I was shocked by the horrible state of the museum with broken windows, uncared for artifacts and untended lawns outside), national monuments had become national embarrassments.

Following suit, a few years ago, Olumo Rock faced similar neglect until the federal government decided to step in and finally turned it into the treasured monument it is today.

Olumo3

For me, Olumo Rock is a reminder that the universe will always conspire to give you your heart’s desire.

But we must do our part as well. Olumo Rock, which once saved people, has now been saved by people.

Thank you, so much, Ayo, for an inspiring story of an inspiring place.  

Where do you go for inspiration?  A natural wonder? A church, temple or synagogue? Your backyard?  Share your story as a comment here or write a longer essay to me at GinaLondon@gmail.com 

I’ll happily post it!  And if you’re looking for inspiration, I’m also happy to remind you that “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – a book of wondrous conversations and adventures – is available on Amazon.com – With nearly two dozen rave reviews already, I’m sure you’ll love it too!

Ciao, tutti! Till next time,

Baci, Gina