As Nigeria gears up for its 2019 presidential election, there’s one candidate who is setting himself apart from the pack. Chike Ukaegbu, a 35-year old Nigerian native currently based in New York City, hopes to become the African nation’s youngest civilian president. His announcement comes shortly after the passage of the ‘Not Too Young To Run’ Bill by current President Muhammadu Buhari, which reduced the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 35.
Ukaegbu, who was born in Owerri, Imo State to now retired civil servants, but is from Umuahia, Abia State, went through the Nigerian education system from Kindergarten to his second year at the University of Lagos. At 19, he moved to New York City to study biomedical engineering at City College of New York. After being named a Fellow to the Colin Powell Fellowship in Leadership and Public Policy, Ukaegbu began researching youth disconnection and disenfranchised communities. This ultimately led him to launch StartUp52, New York’s first diversity focused startup accelerator with a mission to increase diversity in tech and entrepreneurship.
Ukaegbu has been recognized as one of the United Nations’ 100 most influential people of African descent under 40. He has also spoken at the White House on empowering underserved and underrepresented communities through technology, education and entrepreneurship, and he has worked in China and Zambia as an entrepreneurial evangelist on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Now he wants to take what he has learned and accomplished and create a better Nigeria.
I had the honor of speaking with Ukaegbu about his vision for Nigeria’s future and how he plans to use his knowledge and expertise in the technology field to lead his home country.
The decision to run
Choosing to run for president of Nigeria was not something that came easy to Ukaegbu. His original plan was to create a tech platform that could be used to help empower citizens in Nigeria and solve social issues throughout the country. Once it was created, Ukaegbu wanted to urge candidates running for president to adopt the platform. This way no matter who won, his work would still play an active role in reshaping Nigeria.
After weeks of research, Ukaegbu found that all of the candidates seemed to have the same manifesto and none of them were radical enough to spark the change he thought was needed. At that moment, he decided to become the youngest candidate in Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election.
The other candidates have all focused on the same issues they feel are affecting the country – corruption and lack of education. Ukaegbu doesn’t agree. He feels that the main issue in Nigeria is a sense of hopelessness that stems from the government’s neglect of its people. This neglect has trickled down and negatively impacted welfare, healthcare, and other services provided by the government.
“The country is in a state of survival,” says Ukaegbu. He feels many of these leaders have not found themselves exposed to the hardships Nigerian citizens face each day, and that has kept them from dealing with these issues appropriately.
Born in Nigeria, Ukaebu has seen many of the things the nation’s citizens deal with firsthand. He went through the country’s education system and knows that there are ways to improve the lives of both teachers and students. His family still resides in Nigeria. His parents are retirees that rely on the government to provide them with the pensions they’ve earned, and his brother is a business owner. Ukaegbu feels if there is a candidate that is in touch with the people, it’s him.
“The past sixteen years in the United States have molded me,” says Ukaegbu. “The solution is to collaborate between those back home and those who have had experiences elsewhere.” He thinks that if there are more people from different walks of life working on social issues, there will be better answers to many of the problems facing Nigeria.
Leadership and HEROES
“What do I think leadership is? Compassionate service,” said Ukaegbu. “If you are not able to connect with people on an emotional level, you cannot be an effective leader.”
He explained this by saying leaders who fail to express empathy for their constituents run into many problems. Either they become tone-deaf to issues that are impacting the country, or they lose the ability to meet the needs of their people because they cannot see how much they are hurting. If someone can effectively help another person succeed through simply being more empathetic, that person is more prepared to do the same for someone else. This creates a domino effect that can improve the lives of everyone around them.
He also feels that understanding and owning your strengths as a leader is a powerful tool, but surrounding yourself with those who can bring other skills to the table can make you more effective. Being able to learn from those around you and use that knowledge to make a difference in the world is what makes a better leader in Ukaegbu’s opinion.
During his time with the Colin Powell Fellowship in Leadership and Public Policy, Ukaegbu developed what he calls the HEROES model for effective youth engagement. There are over 15 million disconnected youth in Nigeria who are currently out of work and out of school, and he wants to use this model to connect with them. By implementing these six pivotal areas: Heritage, Education, Relationships, Opportunities, Entrepreneurship and Service, Ukaegbu wants to get the youngest generations in Nigeria more involved in their own well-being.
“By engaging with young people, you learn more from them than they learn from you,” he says. “They have dealt with injustices that maybe I haven’t. I want to listen to these groups and find out their needs.”
Ukaegbu also wants to intertwine entrepreneurship with education in Nigeria. Starting in primary school, he wants to give students the tools they’ll need to create jobs and monetize their skill sets. By the time they graduate from either secondary school or a university, students should feel confident in their abilities to enter the workforce – either by taking on existing jobs or creating their own.
In order to accomplish this, Ukaegbu knows that Nigeria must invest more in its teachers. Right now, teachers in Nigeria spend more time on strike than they do in the classroom. They simply do not get paid enough to put food on their own tables, much less prepare students for their futures. Ukaegbu wants to double the current salaries of Nigeria’s teachers and offer them re-certification to ensure that students are receiving the best education possible.
By implementing many aspects of technology, Ukaegbu also believes education can be enhanced substantially. With services like augmented reality and virtual reality, the possibilities are endless when it comes to providing an education to the next generation.
It’s not just the youth Ukaegbu wants to connect with, though. As the largest black nation in the world, he feels setting a precedent for unity falls on Nigeria. There are over 500 ethnic groups in the country. He wants to hear from all of them.
“I want to hear their voices,” he says. “What are their concerns? I want to know who they are.”
Fixing the perception
When the world looks at Nigeria, it expects to see corruption and poverty, but Ukaegbu sees the good in which the country has to offer. “I want to focus on the good in the people, the brilliance of the people,” he says. By running what he calls and “aspirational campaign,” he hopes to tap into the country’s potential and highlight all the good that is happening.
By using what he has learned from his education at home and abroad, his experience as an advocate for those who are underrepresented, and his accomplishments within the tech industry, Chike Ukaegbu feels he could be the effective leader Nigeria has been waiting for.
“I want to ignite the passion within them,” he says. “I want to show them that if I can do it, they can do it too.”