by Akintomiwa Agbaje
Damilola Apotieri, a post graduate student at the Wits University, South Africa has been at the forefront of youth advocacy for most of his life founding the enormously influential coalition called the MADinitiative.
In this interview with YNaija, Apotieri opens up on the impact of the initiative, his motivation towards influencing his generation, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in South Africa and more.
Read excerpts from the interview below:
What ideas birthed the MADinitiative and what did you hope to achieve at inception?
The ideas around what we finally have as MADinitiative today is a long story. As a matter of fact, it took us about 16years to finally merged 3 different ideas together.
I founded MADinitiative at the age of 9 with the name “Nation Builders”. I became a child right advocate and was influenced by programs by UNICEF and the British Council in Lagos then. This was in 1997 during the military rule of Late General Sani Abacha. I was lucky to discover my passion for Media and Theatre so I developed a TV program to address issues of children’s rights in Nigeria. At this time, there was no program produced and fully anchored by children in Nigeria. I took the proposal to some television stations (names withheld) in Nigeria and I was told to go look for production and airtime fee costing about N2million. I knew that was to discourage me but I was determined never to give up. It was a crazy idea for a 9year old who had passion for the media. I wanted to work on child development but understanding the power of the media, I was determined to use the media and theatre as a methodology. Few months down the line, I met someone at AIT and shared my idea with her, she was more than happy to help, we set the ball rolling and over 10years down the line, the program is still on AIT anchored by children under the age of 18.
This opened my eye and I discovered that there were other young people like myself that had the same passion so I started encouraging more young people and started training them in the act and art of TV presentation. (that sounds funny but the people are still with me today) I applied for CAC registration but the name Nation Builders was not approved (sounds political), I then changed to Advocating Through Media. We started organizing children and young people’s centered program in collaboration with AIT, NTA and some other organizations in Nigeria. In 2007, as a scholar at Redeemer’s University, I founded Inspire Team and introduced several youth development projects such as Independence Youth Talk (organized every October), My School Lover (special valentine’s day program for secondary school students), Shortly After High School (A personal development program for high school leavers) and other projects. We had people like Tunde Rosanwo, Gbenga Sesan, Richie Dayo Johnson, Dayo Israel, H.E Sarah Sosan, Amb. Jide Osuntokun among many others and my team made a lot of impact in Redeemer’s University.
In 2011, I moved to Abuja, set up a board to look into my projects and ideas because of the need to merge them into one, we applied for CAC registration and got the name Media Advocacy and Development Initiative approved.
MADinitiative is involved in projects centered on children, women, youths and national development using media, theatre and applied arts as a methodology for achieving our sets objectives.
Some years along the line, Have you met the goals you set up for yourself?
I would say we have achieved a lot in our few years. It was not easy down the line. We were and are still focused on our methodology. We started when there were few youth organizations in Nigeria coupled with the fact that I and my team members were very young. While some people jumped at every new projects they could make money from like HIV/AIDS, Cancer etc, we were focused on our goals of building the next generation. We have changed lives through our projects, we have developed CEO’s and leaders across disciplines. One of our products is Wunmi Johnson, the CEO of WalkThroughWalls (@wunmijay), we also influenced @KemiFilani, founder of Kemi Filani blog. With some of our ideas like the Theatre for Advocacy projects, we were able to influence government’s decision around children issues. We were actively involved in the advocacy around the passage and domestication of the Child Rights Act in Nigeria. I purposely studied Theatre Arts in University and have a Honours and presently in the final stage of my Masters degree in Applied Drama. I created the Theatre For Advocacy methodology as a means of using theatre to discuss governance issues. We have produced 2 of our plays, “The Invisible…story of the street children” staged in year 2012 in 5 states of the federation and “Accursed… plight of children affected and infected with HIV/AIDS” staged in year 2013 and its still on. These plays were created to raise the society’s consciousness on these delicate issues.
In 2008, we also started the annual media training for young broadcasters. Our aim was to develop young people who can use media skills as a tool for advocacy and development. Our dream was to have a major media summit for young people but we did not go that line immediately until 2013 when we were ready and had the resources. We are currently the host of the largest media summit for young people on the African soil – The Annual National Children and Young People’s Media Summit.
We are not yet near where we dream to be, but we are taking the required one step at a time, we don’t want to jump up because we will surely come down, we wish to grow up so that we can stay up.
How did the #BringBackOurGirls campaign come about?
As a Nigerian in the diaspora and someone who has always been involved in Children’s issue since I was 9 years, I saw it as a responsibility to add my voice. The fact is, when you are in the diaspora, no one knows the difference between the North, East or South, they see you as a Nigerian. Any bad news from home made me feel bad because I am the first and only Nigerian in my faculty and department – So all eyes on me. When the #BringBackOurGirls campaign started, I gathered my friends after class to take a picture with me to add their voice to the campaign.
We took the picture but I was not satisfied. I felt there was a need to do more. For those who know me, I don’t copy ideas, I invent my ideas and that has made me unique in my field. I did an art installation of the harsh tag at the major bus stop on campus to raise awareness. I wrote “Please Add Your Voice to ‘#BringBackOurGirls’”
After the installation, I developed another Art methodology to use Art Based approach as a tool for protest/activism. I understood how distant the South Africans and other Nationalities in my school were to the #BringBackOurGirls issue, so I thought of something that could bring them close, so I decided to organize an #ArtBased protest for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign rather than organize a street protest people are used to. With few posters around the campus, I got calls from people who wanted to partner with @MADinitiative. A girl tweeted at me requesting that I should include a #HeadWrap protest, the headwrap protest was created by a lady called @BusiMkhumbuzi , a student of University of Cape Town, I spoke with her on phone and agreed to include it in the methodology. 3days to the event, the president of Amnesty International (Wits Chapter) called me to have AI join the train, we accepted and then the Wits SRC and SASCO came on board with the support of @Dram_For_Life (South Africa). With all these wonderful organisations and students’ body, we organized the #ArtsBased protest using; Video documentary, Story Telling, Hand painting petition, Art petition, Process reflection by visual artists, Graffiti wall art, visual art activism and also had people write #BringBackOurGirls in their language.
What has been the outcome of your (MADinitiative’s) involvement in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign?
The most important thing was that we were able to raise awareness among the international communities in Wits. Wits is the 2nd Best University in Africa so you can imagine the composition of students. we made people get involved by embodying the protest rather than match around. People were able to use their skills, their arts to pass a message and this is the beauty of the methodology. It was not a platform for entertainment, it was protest that got people involved as active participants rather than passive observers.
We got a recommendation by the Drama For Life division at Wits for the wonderful initiative and pray that our girls would be returned soon.
How much of social media tools is involved in your work and has social media been as effective as its hype?
We are active an user of different social media platforms with ID- MADinitiative on twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and our website is www.madinitiativeng.org. We depend on the power of social media a lot for sensitization and also reaching our audience. As a matter of fact, we just introduced a new project which we hope to achieve through social media 100%. It’s a campaign we started in March 2014 called #BuildAGovernment. We want to use the social media to engage youths and young people in Nigeria and abroad to create a mental picture of the qualities they want to see in this and next government come 2015.
With the #BuildAGovernment campaign on social media, we want to create a dialogue around what Nigerians should look for in the candidates before they vote in the coming elections. We encourage people to signup and like our facebook page www.facebook.com/Buildagovernment and to upload pictures and make it interactive. We also encourage that they create a dialogue on twitter and other social media platforms using the hashtag #BuildAGovernment as we prepare for change in Nigeria.
What other campaigns/projects apart from #BringBackOurGirls have you been involved in?
Like I said, we are involved in different issues that centers on personal and national development. In terms of good governance because of its effect on young people especially children who can’t vote, we are planning a project called Nigerian Children Decide – Your Vote, Our FUTURE. This is to give children the platform to encourage their parents to consider them while making their choice on who to vote for and not vote because of ethnicity, religion but vote for people who have shown resourcefulness. What our chibok girls and the entire Nigerians are facing today might be as a result of their parents’ decision or indecision.
We are deeply involved in issues that deal with the development of our young people and our country using our arts and media based approach.
What is the response to your programmes?
So far so good, we have had good responses from those who have experienced or heard about our initiatives. But you know, nothing good and new comes easy, we are still paying our price because people tend to want to see what you have to offer before they can be part of you. Every success has its own attached story and we are currently making ours. We shall overcome… very soon.
Any future projects on the cards?
On top of our plan, among others on hold, we have the National Children and Young People’s Media Summit 2014 holding in Lagos from 1st to 9th of August 2014, we have #BuildAGovernement Campaign (started), We have Nigerian Children Decide, we have Youth Connect Africa (a leadership development projects that takes young people from Nigeria to other parts of the world to further expose them to secrets of successful leaders), We are also planning what we call Community festivals with which we hope to use #ArtBased approaches in running intervention in Nigerian communities around issues such as Sex, Gender Based Violence, Masculinity, HIV/AIDS, among other social issues. Finally, we have recently engaged some partners in Nigeria on what we call “Academic Research Workshop” for students in Nigerian University. Our aim is to develop scholars and academicians in Nigerian Universities. We hope to bring established academics from foreign universities to facilitate workshops for students writing research and final year essays because of the common belief that there is a space for improvement for research and academic project writing in Nigeria.
Some of our projects are already published on our website www.madinitiativeng.org while the rest would be uploaded as soon as we have ethics clearance and agreement with bodies involved.