Ifeoma Okafor, is the founder Trailblazer Academy, a leading Nigerian youth coach who have over the years helped in grooming and mentoring the youths across the Nation. In this interview with Eric Olusesan, she talks about issues affecting the youths.
What’s your background?
Professionally, I work in the broadcast media across diverse roles – production, presentation, reporting, writing and editing. I am also Nigeria’s Leading Youth Coach and Founder, Trailblazers Academy, the vehicle through which I train, coach and mentor youths.
Why are you a youth coach?
I became a youth coach out of my desire to help young people build the necessary values and skills whilst exposing them to information and opportunities, so that they can make a mark in their world and achieve all that are possible for them.
I help them make better choices, I equip them for life. I fill in the missing gaps in their education, the parts that were missed out in the home or in school. These are very vital parts that could make or mar their life’s outcomes. Simply put, I make sure they are SET FOR LIFE.
Being a Youth Coach started off informally for me. I’ve always had many young people around me, in church, in school, in my neighborhood. I believe I was sent to these young people so they do not have to make the same mistakes I made at their age. Now, I see them all excelling in their life’s endeavors and I’m grateful for the privilege to have mentored and guided most of them at that stage of their lives. Today, all the counselling, coaching and tough love has paid off.
Share with us you experience on the field?
My experience on the field has been very interesting, working one-on-one with youths and through large platforms like Radio and Social Media. It’s amazing the things young people are dealing with today. It’s also appalling the kind of issues I’ve had to counsel and coach these young people through. I tell people it’s harder to be a young person today than 20 years ago, because there’s so much fighting to get their attention. Sadly, a lot of it is negative.
So if you do not have proper upbringing, guidance and mentorship, chances are you may fall into one of these temptations, be it drugs, pornography, cultism, pre-marital sex, unplanned pregnancy and the abortions that may follow it, internet fraud (yahoo yahoo) or prostitution popularly called runs etc. And any of these is capable of ruining your life.
Drug abuse is common among our teenagers these days, how are you helping the youth against it?
Drug abuse among teenagers and youths is a menace of indescribable proportions. I didn’t know the extent of the problem until I produced an edition on drug abuse for my radio programme for youths, YOUTHVILLE. I was surprised to discover that the drugs of choice had shifted from hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana to prescription drugs like tramadol, codeine and rohypnol popularly called refnol.
While prepping for that show, one of the young ladies on my production team, a girl of about 19 years old confessed to having had a tramadol addiction. It got to the point where she was mixing tramadol and refnol in large doses to sustain the high. I found out that everyone knew a friend, classmate, neighbor or relative who was hooked on drugs. That totally changed the way I approached that topic.
So primarily, I use my platforms on radio, television and social media to enlighten youths and draw the attention of all stakeholders – parents, government, medical practitioners, to this issue. Going forward, I plan to lead a campaign in partnership with NDLEA and NAFDAC to select secondary schools across the country to further increase enlightenment on drug abuse.
What can be done to curb this menace?
They say ‘prevention is better than cure’. Public enlightenment is a great prevention tool. Enlighten students and young people on the dangers of this lifestyle. Teach them to say no when friends entice them with drugs. Help them manage their curiosity. Youths are naturally very curious. From my findings, many young people got into this terrible habit from just experimenting to know how drugs feel. Sadly, once was all it took to get some hooked.
Enlightenment will also help youths choose the right role models. It is sad that some of the music/film stars that young people look up to, promote this lifestyle or are actively involved in it. We must teach youths to be very circumspect in their choice of role models and mentors.
The place of government in curbing this menace cannot be overemphasized. I was excited with the action government through its agency, NAFDAC, took after BBC’s ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine’ documentary broke last year. However, if government had been more proactive on this issue, we wouldn’t have needed ‘Sweet Sweet Codeine’ to wake us up to the realities of this menace.
Thankfully, NAFDAC is back to the ports now so hopefully, they can stem the inflow of these drugs into the country through the ports and our porous borders. They should also regulate the pharmaceutical sector. These drugs are prescription drugs that should not be sold over the counter at pharmacies or on the streets for that matter. What is government doing to enforce this?
Stiffer penalties should also be meted out to those peddling these drugs when they are caught and prosecuted. We are talking about the lives of an entire generation at stake here. No degree of punishment is too much for offenders.
What do you think is the major reason Nigerian youths have been unable to organize themselves into a powerful and united bloc of influencers?
I think this is because everyone is thinking of their own personal ambitions and interests. But youths must be conscious of something called ‘collective responsibility’, where we all unite as a common front to effect the changes we want to see in our polity, knowing that if things go awry, we will all bear the brunt. We cannot also rule out the fact that it is not in the best interests of the older politicians to have a united youth bloc so they use all sorts of divisive tactics to polarize the youth body thereby whittling down our influence.
There is the argument that “youth” is not enough a criterion for leadership; if youths must come into politics and governance they must be young people with competence, character, track-record and integrity. What’s your take?
I agree. Leadership should not be handed to anyone simply because he is a youth. You’ve got to have the requisite qualities of a leader to be entrusted with leadership especially in the political space. If we do not want a repeat of the antics of the old brigade, it’s high time we begin to demand more from youths who are seeking leadership positions. If they are lacking in any of the criteria you have mentioned – character, competence, integrity and track-record, they need to go and develop these qualities first before we give them a chance. If not, we will just continue the same old cycle of bad leadership and then wonder why things are not changing in Nigeria.
Sexual abuse is prevalent among the youth, how do you help guide against it?
Sexual abuse especially rape and molestation has become rampant among youths. In many cases, they are both perpetrator and victim. Increase in sexual abuse is one of the results of a sexually-charged environment. From music to film to fashion, even food and drinks, there is a sexual message in everything, thereby bombarding and polluting these young minds with the wrong ideas.
A re-orientation of the mindset will help curb sexual abuse among youths. They must be taught appropriate sexual conduct and behavior. They must also stay away from pornography. This is one of the triggers for rape.
Nigeria’s general election is in few weeks, how do you think the youths should conduct themselves?
Firstly, if you are 18 years old and above and you have a Permanent Voters Card (PVC), you are eligible to vote in the forthcoming elections. Be sure to go out and exercise your civic responsibilities. Do it with decorum and order. Avoid being used as a pawn in the hands of unscrupulous politicians who may want to use you to serve their own ignoble interests. Say NO to political thuggery. Say NO to violence. Say NO to ballot box snatching or any other vice associated with elections in Nigeria. Together, we can all make a difference in our nation if we do the right things.
Finally, your advice to the youths?
My advice to youths is this, you have a bright future ahead of you but you have to put in the work now. Learn the right values, learn the right skills, invest in knowledge and information and expose yourself to opportunities that will give you an edge in the marketplace of life. Find coaches and mentors that will help you unlock all the potential within you. And you don’t have all the time in the world to do this. Everything is moving at such a frenetic pace that if you don’t double up now, everything you know might become obsolete by the time you are ready.
Drop the entitlement mentality and mental laziness, it will not profit you. Become a person of value, look beyond you and create solutions to some of the problems plaguing the world. Be so valuable that you will be sought after. The question in your heart always should be, ‘what can I do to make a difference? That’s the pathway of champions.