Leadership: Two Dos and Three Don’ts from Aisha Yesufu


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Her tweets – and now videos – addressing public officials, present the ambiance of one purposely out to be controversial. She is blunt in rendering her opinions, to the point when you would ordinarily say “to a fault”.

That is Aisha Yesufu, perhaps the most no-nonsense woman in Nigeria today.

Mrs Yesufu was the lead speaker at the Youth Leadership Boot-Camp, organized by the Future Project in conjunction with the Ford Foundation. After the first two days of training which involved tutoring the participants on the subjects of Leadership, Local Government and the processes of Budgeting, Mrs Yesufu had an extended discourse on efficient Communication for Advocacy, using social media as a principal tool.

True to form, she did not use scripts or slides, and when you have held two Governments to ransom on a particular subject matter without seeking to play to anybody’s script or slide, there was little doubt that what she would deliver off her experience will hold water with the young audience.

Mrs Yesufu arrived a few minutes after the scheduled time for her to begin her session. As would be expected from any speaker who has respect for her audience, she duly apologized. In typical Nigerian fashion, various non-distinct versions of “no problem ma” filled the room, the audience excited and just grateful that she had made the trip “all the way” from Abuja to speak to them. She would have none of their quick acceptance of her apology, stretching on that to teach the need for accountability in all duties to which one has accepted to do. Yesufu returned many times to this during her discourse to inspire aspiring young leaders towards making their word their bond, and realizing that the decision to accept a position to serve others was an automatic subjection of one’s entire will to the stated terms and conditions. To put it in a sentence, leaders, especially public officials who contest public offices, cannot claim to be doing their followers a favour when they do their job.

Ignorance and negligence are two of the known reasons why people fail to make the right demands of Government. But according to Yesufu, one stands out the most: the fear of the responsibility to act. She said the reason people don’t ask questions is because when you ask, you must act – but there is often the fear to act. The burden of knowledge and the illumination that comes from knowing a truth will necessarily be a spur to duty, so many avoid seeking to know. Yesufu observed that politicians know this for a fact, and would in fact prefer that citizens do not ask. The sense of her theory is well conveyed in a traditional Igbo proverb, which says that to act before hearing is the fault of a child, but to hear and not speak is the fault of an adult.

The business of engaging with Government, especially in countries where the institutions are used to mediocrity, could be challenging to begin, and, at some point, exhausting and demoralizing, even for the most ardent believers. So where does she derive her drive and ‘craze’ for advocacy? And how do other persons with a cause and passion to fight for find and sustain their voices in exclusive spaces where conversations are not allowed? Yesufu’s advice is not to seek validation from anyone but to build credibility and own a space in one’s right. A fact-based approach, as against riding on rumours and band-wagon consensus, gives a leader independence of thought and an evidence-based foundation to pursue their mission till the very end. This, it can be said, has sustained her in the Bring Back Our Girls movement and the other causes for which she has advocated, despite decline and withdrawal by other persons, and the suspicions of ulterior motives by bystanders.

Part of Mrs Yesufu’s successes in her enterprises, both privately and in advocacy, derives substantially from her family. In revealing a personal touch to her not seen by many, she took the audience through her engagements with her family, and the support system they provide for her work, though family life has suffered in some measure since 2014 when she took up the duty of public advocacy. A private business owner with a dyslexic undergraduate son, a newly graduated daughter from Secondary School and a “mentor” of a husband, Yesufu’s entry to the square of public engagement, in her words, are spurred by her determination to ensure she creates a good Nigeria for her children in her own time.

Determined to remain objective, Aisha Yesufu says she will not run for public office or accept any public position; she loves to handle her schedule and choose her commitments. Her financial literacy enterprise, CitizenHub, is in the pipeline, to teach people the need to own their voices by having the means to empower themselves, removing dependence on hand-outs. As for those who choose to occupy public offices, Yesufu will keep ‘boxing them’ to provide only the best to the Office of the Citizen; nothing less will suffice. Her goal is to make “A Nigeria where no Nigerian is more important than any Nigerian”.

By Alexander O. Onukwue

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