Foreign Policy magazine 2017 Diplomat of the Year. Inducted into the Nigerian Women’s Hall of Fame. One of New African Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Africans of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Former Minister of Environment of Nigeria. Included in Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the World’s Greatest Leaders 2016 and also its 2015 listing of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. One of Vogue Magazine’s 13 female Climate Warriors. Recipient of the 2006 National Honours Award of the Order of the Federal Republic.
There is so much to be said about this herdsman’s daughter who became a government minister and the UN’s second in command. Here are the 5 lessons I’ve learnt from one of 2018’s 100 Most Reputable Africans.
Choose a path of service
Choosing a path of service and putting people first is something any one can do in whatever way that fits any career or lifestyle. More often than not when we discuss as a society why some people are poor the following are stated: it is the governments responsibility plus with corrupt leaders like ours what can we do; they are paying for their sins; if they worked hard enough they wouldn’t be poor or it’s Gods will. For Amina Mohammed it was all about putting people first when she left the private sector 20 years into her career to become an activist in civil society. Putting the dignity back into peoples lives is what has spurred her on whether it was tackling poor education in Nigeria or tackling the Sustainable Development Goals. Her career got me thinking: What are my skill sets? Am I engaging with them to add value to another persons life? Who and what am I advocating for? The poverty around us only highlights how previous efforts from our governments and NGO’s alike is not enough. But like Amina Mohammed has said on several occasions, “whether the glass is half full or quarter full, it is some full, it just means there is a lot more work to be done and it’s for us as individuals to try and fill that glass.”
Never should I agree to surrender my dreams
The former Nigerian Environment Minister had intentions to go study Hotel Catering Management in Italy. “I’m leaving,” she said to her father. He responded, “OK, but I have no money to give you”. So she challenged everyone and said she would walk from Kaduna to Zaria (76km/47miles) to raise the cash. They all said she could not do it. By the end of her walk Amina Mohammed had raised £4,000 (US$5,600) and just like that, against all odds, off she went to study Italy. Her show of determination reminded me of a Jesse Jackson quote “No one should negotiate their dreams. Dreams must be free to flee and fly high…you should never agree to surrender your dreams”. How different her life would be had she not gone on that gruelling long walk across Northern Nigeria. How different my life and your life can be if we embark on our own walk from Kaduna to Zaria one step at a time.
Trust the unknown future
As a young student eager to travel, learn and equip herself Amina Mohammed travelled to Italy to go study Hotel Catering Management. It was during this time in Europe she was doing part-time work washing dishes. Now I really doubt at that time she had any inclination that her work would impact not only Kaduna, not only Nigeria, not only Africa but that the globe would listen when she spoke and when reflecting back on those experiences the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations has said “I thought it was good – I’d wash the best dishes ever! So whatever you find yourself doing, just do the best that you can and it’s all part of an experience on that journey” – a sentiment my grandfather often shared with me when I was younger when he would say to me “it doesn’t matter if you become a houseboy (Gardner), the important thing is to be the best at it such that people will know and say “ah yes that garden has been tended too by Tinashe”. I digress, but for her the journey would include working in architectural design offices in Northern Nigeria, to serving three Presidents, teaching at Colombia to Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations! I cannot always trust the specifics of the future, but I can always trust the process and most importantly trust in myself.
4 girls, 2 boys
As a father of one, and as I am sure any parent will agree, hats-off to Amina Mohammed for balancing family and career and successfully raising six children. A work life balance can be achieved and one should not have to sacrifice one for the other. Like she said in an interview with the New African Woman, everyone should be empowered “to have have a role and a place in the home, in the workplace and in society”. Her success as a parent and in her line of work is testament that it is possible. How do I know she is a successful parent? Well, most successful individuals often lament at the regret of not spending enough time with their children while they focused on their careers but she considers her children as her biggest success: “the greater part of my journey has been the six children I have – that’s my success, that’s really the achievement I’ve had.”
They thought they could intimidate her
Jokingly, Udoma Udo Udoma (Nigeria’s Minister of Budget and National Planning) said that when she initially joined the Cabinet they thought they could intimidate her. However with a strong will and vigorous belief in the good that she was doing, nothing and no one intimated her. Udoma Udo Udoma, earnestly acknowledged that it was a pleasure working with her in Cabinet not only because of her insightful contributions and helpful comments but mostly because she was determined, focused and dogged. Are these characteristics unique to her that she was born with? No! She had a dream, so she was determined to walk across Kaduna State to raise funds for her studies. Her first step in service to others was seeking funding for a local hospital and now she is helping the United Nations impact the lives of millions. Nothing and no one will intimidate us when we choose an unselfish path of service to others.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, is a celebration of Nigerian and African excellence.