In Conversations: Onyeka Nwelue talks to Tolulope Akanni

After bagging a degree in Engineering, he had his break shortly by self-publishing his first book, A-Z Life Lessons at the age of 21. The book uses poems, pictures and stories to express the thoughts of the Nigerian youth burning with a passion to create value. In the months following the July 2010 release of this book, the author hit the TV screens, major national book presentations, empowerment seminars, alongside blogs, radio and newspapers. He once made an appearance at a book reading alongside international author and leadership expert, John C Maxwell. He drew public praise and endorsements from Nigerian entrepreneurs and thought-leaders like David Oyedepo, Fela Durotoye and Leke Alder.

He is the CEO of El Fiz Concept and has consulted for many start-ups and also, is a brand consultant at one of Nigeria’s leading web-based organizations, M.Sameson. He is the head of enterprise development at Hill Torch Ventures where he initiated and is currently overseeing the rollout of what could be the largest private taxi business in Nigeria by 2014; the project is already in its pilot phase, with skeletal operations in Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is currently based in Paris and is an editorial team member of IN-CORRECT magazine. 

This is what you need to know about him, though:

I am very age conscious. How old are you?
I am 23 years old.

What have you been doing with your life?
I have been working, reading, travelling, observing, meeting people and basically dedicating all my resources into bringing all of my dreams into reality.

You are a published author? Can you tell us about the journey of getting published? How difficult was it? How did you get it the nation interested in your work? What is the voodoo?
Nothing worthwhile gets done easily. I chose a rather delicate period of my life to self-publish my book; I was in my final year in the University, faced with loads of engineering courses and project work and the publishing business would like a distraction but I was too sure it was the perfect time to go for it and I followed my instincts. It was difficult dealing with graphics editors, it was difficult raising funds, it was very difficult getting the printing press to deliver on time, but with a strong sense of belief in self and my team with me, I pulled through.

Pursuing your dreams early in life is a winner any day, any time. Starting early was the voodoo. There are very few young people writing books about life, a lot of people wanted to see why that young 21 year old boy who they thought and probably still think has not ‘seen life’ had to say about life. The unusual design layout of my book was also a strong selling point and I was favoured to have met the right people.
At the moment, you live in Paris. What are you doing there?
I work with an Engineering company here in Paris. I am also working with a team led by Onyeka Nwelue organising the Literacy Africa International Charity Concert and the editorial team of In-Correct magazine. I am also hoping and working on joining Sandbox here in Paris.

Many young people in Nigeria know nothing about what they want in life. I mean, how do you think they can discover themselves?
Young people in the western world work while in school, they start making their own money by working part time as early as age 16, they don’t go back to collect pocket money and live under their father’s roof to collect pocket money and eat free food after thousands of dollars have been spent on their university education. I can’t say for sure that is our problem, but I have a feeling its part of our problem.

However, I know for sure that lack of exposure is the bane of many young people in Nigeria. They think they have time, so defining purpose is not an issue for most people until they are 30. Young people in Nigeria need to open themselves to relevant information, read, explore the world, meet people from different parts of the world and take responsibility for their own lives. We have blamed the government and our environment for too long, it is time for us to step up and face reality.

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?
Thanks to education, man was able to go the moon; thanks to education, we have the internet, I am able to connect with people like you on Facebook. Education is supposed to elevate man to the highest order. Cramming lecture notes that were drafted from texts written in the 18th century in order to pass exams in the 21st century is not education. Many people go to the university trying to fit in, and they graduate still trying to fit in because they never think of any problem they can solve in their society.

The stereotype is to go to school, get a certificate, and use your certificate to get a job, start a family and have kids that will repeat this cycle. Is this how to change the world? No. I didn’t discover my purpose in the classroom. It was in those biographies I read, joining student associations, leading student clubs, organising events, meeting and connecting with different people on campus, taking long meditational walks and making noise about my dreams and aspirations that I discovered my strong points, the needs in my society, and how I could make a difference. Those are the things that count in the real world.

Are you an emotional person?
Yes I am.

Nigerian writers are doing well for themselves. Recently, Chika Unigwe won the $100,000 NLNG Prize for Literature. Infact, they are getting the sort of recognition that they truly deserve. But, the market is getting saturated with mediocrity, bad publishing and everything. How do you think one can make him himself totally unique and different?
Carve your niche; don’t do what everyone else is doing.

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?
Never let an opportunity pass you by, never.

What is your take on the political system of Nigeria? 
The Nigerian political arena is filled with selfish people and I don’t expect much good from them anytime soon. The future of Nigeria is in the hands of industrialists; industrialists who will add value to their customers to generate profit and who in the long run will be able to influence politicians in the right direction by virtue of the capital they control. Nigeria will be lucky when I and a couple of other vibrant young people I’ve met finally take their place in different sectors of the economy.

Do you see yourself as a youth activist? Just like others?
No I don’t. I am just passionate about getting youths to be more purpose driven.

You’ve travelled to so many places and you’ve met different Nigerians. You’ve met quite interesting people. Do you agree that Nigerians should co-exist in one nation?
Yes I do. Our ethnic, religious and sociocultural diversity can do us great good if we can set a common goal.

Who is your favorite Nigerian musician?
Asa is my favorite Nigerian musician.

How do you unwind?
By hanging out with friends and listening to good music.

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