24 October 2013

A STROLL WITH FEMI OKE (For World Development Information Day)

“Information is the oxygen of the modern age. It seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire, it wafts across the electrified borders” ~ Ronald Reagan

The Jet age has been characterized by speed. Fast money, fast cars, fast food, and even faster world record times in sports. But amongst all these, one thing that has really increased in speed is information. Right now, I can sit in my room in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and listen to President Obama’s speech in Washington about the debt ceiling; follow Malala’s visit to Buckingham palace; and still track the rising and falling figures from the Nigerian Stock Exchange—all at the same time. That is how fast information can be harvested these days.

My guest, Femi, is a British-Nigerian Journalist who started tracking and disseminating information from the age of 14—as a junior reporter for the London Broadcasting Company. Her talent and the experience she has acquired from working for several international media houses—like CNN, Al Jazeera, and BBC—has equipped her with the ability to convert information into a source for dialogue and development.

Can information really bring development? Do public leaders need to listen more to public opinion? How much has the UN achieved since its inception? These are some of the questions we tried to answer in course of our stroll. She also told me what it felt like moderating several events for world leaders at last month’s UN general assembly, and the dignitaries she met.

Here’s my stroll with Femi, get informed;

Ebenezar: Hello Femi, it's a pleasure having you on the stroll.

Femi: Thank you Ebenezar, happy to help.

Ebenezar: Well, today is World Development Information day and in the UN general assembly resolution made about this day, there's an excerpt that says; '...information and communication technologies have the potential to provide new solutions to development challenges...' my question is, is it true? Can information bring about development?

Femi: Information can absolutely bring about development. Let's take a very simple example. Simple midwifery skills can reduce the number of child and maternal deaths significantly. That's a simple information = development equation.

Ebenezar: The UN also says today is set aside to draw the attention of world public opinion to development problems, and the Arab uprising showed us how powerful public opinion can be. Do you think world leaders need to learn to listen more to public opinion?

Femi: Well that's a huge sweeping question and every country is different. What happens if public opinion thinks girls shouldn't go to school or women shouldn't drive? However, I do think world leaders do benefit if they show they understand and take into account what their citizens are thinking.

Ebenezar: Getting public opinion is something you do on the Stream--the Al Jazeera show where social media and TV meets--what do you think about the impact of social media on the world today? These days it seems having a social media account is more of a necessity than a luxury.

Femi: Social media is a great way to connect people locally and internationally. It's not essential but incredibly useful. I find this very exciting, but I'm also aware that we still have a digital divide and it's more important than ever to bridge it. I hosted a show about Liberia and our biggest challenge was not booking the guests, but finding Internet connections for everybody

Ebenezar: Wow, we really need to bridge it, I agree. During UN week in September you were absent from the stream for a few days, and you tweeted about moderating a couple of events at the UN General assembly. Can you tell us how it went?

Femi: Yeah, during UNGA I had my own moderating marathon, hosting and moderating four events at the UN Headquarters and all over New York. I even got the chance to introduce the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon at the UN Private Sector Forum.

Femi and Mr Ban Ki-moon(the UN Secretary General)
Ebenezar: Wow. now, that’s great...

Femi: It was an exhilarating and exhausting week, so I was glad to get back to The Stream for a rest!

Ebenezar: (haha) Co-incidentally today is also United Nations day on the international observance, and since its formation the United Nations has tried to unite the world and solve various problems around the globe. But do you think this organization has really lived up to expectation?

Femi: Whenever I hear people complain about the UN I always remind them that it can only be as good as its members. I'm a huge fan of the UN so I'm always optimistic about its potential.

Ebenezar: Yeah, that’s true. I'm also sure you follow happenings back at home(Nigeria). You know 2015 is by the corner and the whole politics thing is heating up, and we've got Governor's forum problems and party factions; added to the poor electricity supply and fluctuating educational standard; I mean it's just so much... I know the president is doing his best to get Nigeria to that desired level, but do you think there is a panacea to the Nigerian problem?

Femi: I make it a rule to only comment on the politics of the country I actually live and work in. It's easy for Nigerians in the diaspora to criticize Nigeria from afar, but we're not as informed as our countrymen and women who live the challenges every day. It's for Nigerians in Nigeria to raise their voices and push for reform.

Ebenezar: Okay, I really admire you and your achievements—In fact, you’re one of my role models in journalism—looking at how early you started and what you've been able to achieve in the International media so far. But personally do you feel you've achieved all your dreams? Are there still things you'd wish to achieve?

Femi: Of course there's much I still want to achieve, I'm not an old lady yet!

Ebenezar: (hahaha) Of course you’re not.

Femi: Well, some of my goals are personal and some professional, but all of the goals are confidential. You'll just have to keep following me to see what I get up to next.

Ebenezar: Sure, I’d be following all the way. Thank you so much for having this stroll with me Aunty Femi, I wish you success in all your endeavours.

Femi: Thanks for the invitation to stroll, now I have to get back to running my hectic life.


For more about Femi(@FemiOke) visit her blog or catch her on the next episode of the Stream at Stream.aljazeera.com

There’s no doubt that the speed of information is on a steady rise, but just like food, if you don’t consume only the chunk you need, it will have harmful effects on you. Mr. Winston Churchill said, “True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.” I hope we all develop this capacity, to avoid ‘information constipation’.

October 24th is also United Nations day, and there’s no doubt that the UN has done a lot to foster global growth among her member nations. But I believe much more can be done. Let it go beyond annual conferences and general assemblies. If we have to cut carbon because it will serve as a threat to posterity, then let us cut it! If we have to tighten weapon control so that the guns, bombs, and chemical weapons don’t get into the wrong hands, then let’s do it already!

To re-echo the words of Femi Oke, “the UN is as good as its member countries…” the UN is as good as you and me because, we all make up the UN. Most of the implementation work for many of these resolutions lies in our hands. Let us all start acting! Happy UN Day everyone.

Till my next stroll; Jesus loves you.

Ebenezar Wikina(@EbenezarWikina)
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