Stephen Chukwumah is perhaps, one of the most travelled young Nigerians under 25. I’ve known him for a long time; more as a nomad, more as a man who tries to bear his pain alone. Yet, he has inspired very many young people scattered round the country and beyond. Each time we find time to hang out, he likes to talk passionately about the things he is involved in. He doesn’t really care what the society thinks about his advocacy. He is a bit dogmatic about it, but he has a lovely soul. He is calm and gentle, but he knows how to enjoy his life; that is if he is not travelling. He obviously possesses more international passport booklets than most of his age mates, as he has travelled to every single continent, speaking at conferences and seminars in the Americas, Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
Do I really know him much as I always claim? Well, listen to the 24 year-old talk about the things he has done.
I am very age conscious. How old are you?
I clocked 24 on the 17th of September, 2012.
What have you been doing with your life?
I have been living my life and changing the world, paying attention to the problems of Nigeria and spending time with positive minded people that are willing to change this country for good. I have also been spending a lot of time with inspiring young Nigerians (including you) who are doing amazing things in Nigeria, working closely with some of them and then also joining the fight to make HIV/AIDS history.
You travel out of Nigeria almost all the time. Why is this so? What do you do?
Not only me oh! You self travel out of Nigeria almost all the time…LOL! Anyway, yes I do travel out of Nigeria almost all the time because of work. I work internationally on sexual health and rights for young people with a great focus on HIV/AIDS, I also sometimes attend or facilitate trainings, workshops and events abroad for young people around their sexual health and rights and then sometimes I am abroad for pure holiday or sightseeing.
You gave a speech at a university in Maryland USA and you talked about HIV and also about sexuality. Can you tell us about that particular event and why you addressed the students on that?
The event was an amazing one. A friend of mine who works at the University had reached me and asked if I could speak to his students on the issue in particular because of my work and experience and he wanted the speech to be over Skype cos he felt I do travel a lot and Skype can be done from anywhere but then I informed him I was going to be in the US that same period so we decided it be done face to face. The event was a good way to talk to students who were keen on hearing an African perspective on the issue; they listened carefully and had the opportunity to ask questions. I remember going with a colleague of mine from Jamaica and so we had a Jamaican perspective of the same issue and it was really enlightening. After that event I got other invitations to come back to the University to speak on same issue by the African Students Association of the University of Maryland USA but I couldn’t make it cos I had other engagements, travels and work to do.
Many young people in Nigeria know nothing about their rights and you’ve been at the forefront of advocating for these rights. How do you interact with these young people?
You see it’s very important for young people to be given a space to deal with their issues themselves. I am one of the strong advocates that believe young people should do their things, young people should represent young people, young people should be given a space and support platform to enable them deal with their issues. As a young person that I am, it’s never been a problem talking to my fellow young people about human rights. When I talk, they look at me and feel that this is a young man who experiences what we are experiencing too, my story resonates with theirs and so they are able to connect with it and they understand that the human rights work and talk we do is not just for them but for us all as young people.
For some time now, I thought that university education elevates man to the highest order. I mean, I still find it appalling that many graduates haven’t even invented themselves and have nothing to do. What is your take on this?
You see the problem we have here in this country is that sometimes young people expect to learn everything they need to succeed from the University and so they get into the university with this ideology, sometimes become very lazy to even learn properly and by the time they are out they are expecting someone to employ them but they are always disappointed and then have nothing to do or nowhere to go to. I believe every young person should be proactive with learning and thinking, learn things outside what you are taught in the university, think of employing people rather being employed and think of creative things you could do that can meet a need and then watch yourself succeed but you would also need determination and perseverance.
Are you an emotional person? Do you think lawyers are emotional?
I don’t believe being emotional has anything to do with anything.
Nigerian universities graduate people everyday. On the streets, you find them jobless and totally clueless. What do you make of this?
Personally I think Nigerian youths expect too much from the universities but they fail to understand that the universities cannot teach you everything about success. In the universities you have people who are failures but are lecturers and to me I believe success is a personal thing, if you can’t dream it and achieve it, no one would do it for you.
Are there laws that protect people with HIV in Nigeria from being marginalized?
To the best of my knowledge there exist no such laws but currently, we as civil society organizations are pushing a bill that has gone through its first reading and the bill seeks to prevent all forms of discrimination and marginalization towards people living with HIV. I remember speaking on love FM sometime ago about the bill and encouraging young people in Nigeria to support the bill.
I may need to get personal with you. Are you in a relationship? If not, why? If yes, is it distracting?
I am currently in a beautiful relationship and it’s not distracting at all, rather it even helps me paddle through life beautifully but that is not to say it doesn’t come with its own wahala oh.
I hate to ask people this, because it is very cliché. What advice do you have for young people who want to be like you?
Not every young person must be like me – what’s important is for them to look within, find something that inspires them, that changes the world and that they have a passion for, they should do it with hard work and persistence.
What is your take on the political system of Nigeria?
The political system of Nigeria needs a serious and dip fix which should start with our minds and mentality first, then should progress to how we do things. In Nigeria we need to start thinking of not just ourselves but other people and we need to start being responsible for everyone around us cos we all make up this thing called Nigeria. Our political system has been a selfish and greedy chaotic system and that has to change.
Do you see yourself as an activist? Just like others?
I see myself as an activist (for change) but not like others who are young politicians but claim activists. We need to BEWARE of such people as they are the major problem in this country.
Who is your favourite Nigerian musician?
There are a number of them – Nneka, Ms Jaie, Etcetera, Femi Kuti, Durella, Muma Gee, Duncan Mighty and MI
How do you unwind?
I hang out with friends over a glass of wine and loud music but sometimes I just love to read a book and be all to myself.
Next on In Conversations: Onyeka Nwelue talks to Eromo Egbejule