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[Exclusive] Interview with Nigerian recipient of 2016 Queen's Young Leader award

[Exclusive] Interview with Nigerian recipient of 2016 Queen's Young Leader award


Imrana Alhaji Buba, in June 2016 was chosen among 21 other young African change makers in the Commonwealth and awarded the Queen’s ‘Young Leaders Award.’

‘‘The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognises and celebrates exceptional people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives,’‘ according to the Awards website.

Imrana and the other 20 Africans were joined by 39 other nationals from 45 Commonwealth nations who received their awards from Queen Elizabeth at the Buckingham Palace.

He granted Africanews an interview in which he tells us about his exploits in fighting terrorism unarmed, how it felt to be honoured by the Queen, why he dressed like president Buhari and what the Queen asked him about his attire.

Fighting terrorism without arms: Nigeria's 23-year-old peacemaker from terror zone https://t.co/UsS1MKCNT6

— africanews (@africanews) August 17, 2016

About Imrana

My name is Imrana Alhaji Buba. I am 23-year-old, Bade by tribe and hail from Yobe state, north-eastern Nigeria. I am the Founder/Coordinator of the Youth Coalition Against Terrorism (YOCAT).

I am also a Generation Change Fellow of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), LEAP Africa SIP Fellow, YALI West Africa Fellow and 2016 Queen’s Young Leader.

University Education

I attend University of Maiduguri and graduate in 2015 with a First Class degree in Political Science.

Starting YOCAT and its focus

I started YOCAT in 2010 when I was a year one student in the university.

Youth Coalition Against Terrorism (YOCAT) is a volunteer-based youth-led organization in northern Nigeria working to unite youth against violent extremism through counter-radicalization peace education programs in schools and villages.

It is a coalition of students, teachers, development workers, and most importantly, all dedicated young activists.

The successes and challenges of YOCAT

Since the establishment of YOCAT we have recruited over 600 volunteers and partnered with so many local organizations to organize peace education and skills acquisition training for young people in north-eastern Nigeria.

Owing to these programs, many young people learnt how to reject violence, respect one another, and to embrace the values of peace in their everyday living.

Our challenges are lack of experienced volunteers to handle sophisticated programs and insufficiency of funds to execute more programs.

Story of the Queen’s ‘Young Leaders Award’

I first saw the call for application on the Opportunity Desk, the first thing that attracts me was the unique opportunity to receive award from Her Majesty the Queen of England at the Buckingham palace.

Also, the opportunity to study a bespoke leadership course (Leading Change) at the University of Cambridge and to establish valuable contacts and connections with other amazing young people struck me.

But I was so reluctant to apply until I got emails from the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme team informing me that some of my friends and partners have nominated me to apply.

How it felt to have been chosen

I felt so honoured. There were over 2,000 strong applications and the selection process was so rigorous. And Nigeria had so many applicants. So when I was informed that I have been selected for the award I squeezed my eyes several times to make sure I was not dreaming. Every day I thank Allah (SWT) for that honour.

Most prestigious in a series of awards received

Whiles the Queen’s award remains my most prestigious till date, I have won the Royal Commonwealth Society’s Youth Vision Awards 2010, the Nigeria Centenary Youth Award 2014 and one my organization’s project (My TV-My School Initiative) was selected last year among the top 20 social innovations in Nigeria by the LEAP Africa.

A look into the future of YOCAT

In the next ten years, I see my organization as one of the top peace building organizations in Africa. We will have so many programmes to promote a culture of peace and tolerance among young people.

Advice to young people in social work My advice to young people that are engage in social work is to continue to touch lives. We should always think that we were created to give out of ourselves, of our talent, of our resources. We were created to pour out to the community. And in pouring out we find ourselves being refilled.

This means we should focus more on addressing challenges within our communities no matter how minute it may appear to be, in doing so we will get respect from our community members and sometimes even global recognition.

Royal experience, million years and meeting the Queen

Going to Buckingham palace and meeting the queen is the best moment in my life. Never in a million years would I expect to get the opportunity to enter the Buckingham palace and meet Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II personally, but through the effort of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, I had the opportunity of doing just that.

When I met the Queen I just feel like a dream. The most exciting moment for me was when I was receiving the award from her. A new found feeling of pride and safety flooded my body.

And I was deeply inspired by her words of praise for our work. To say it was an awesome experience is an understatement. Indeed, at some point, I was thinking what have I done in my short life to have deserved such an unforgettable experience?

Imrana on global exposure, humility and hardwork

My two “take away” from the from the Queen’s Young Leaders residential training is to be humble and hardworking. During the residential programme in London and Cambridge (a 10-day fast-paced and high-profile series of events, meetings, and workshops)

I was opportune to interact with and put questions to influential UK political leaders and visit organizations that have expertise in areas of communications, social activism and advocacy.

But surprisingly most of the people that I met in the UK were very humble. This is something that is rare in Nigeria. And listening to their stories, I learnt that the best way to achieve your dream is to be hard working.

You need to keep trying no matter the magnitude of the failures you are facing. And I think these two qualities are the key to success.

Attire to event and the Queen’s question

I dressed in Kaftan and Cap, which is one of the popular attires in northern Nigeria. I am the first person from northern Nigeria to win the award, so I decided to dress in the attire that many people can easily recognize the fact that I am from northern Nigeria.

And guess what? The first question that the Queen asked me when I was receiving the award was “Are you from northern Nigeria?” Apparently, because President Buhari used to dress in the same attire.

How Nigeria would benefit from Imrana’s award

Receiving the Queen’s Young Leaders Award is a great affirmation of the significance of the work we are doing at the Youth Coalition Against Terrorism (YOCAT).

I feel tremendously inspired to continue organizing peace education programmes in schools and offer skills acquisition training for unemployed young people in villages.

Also, I will mentor many young people on how to develop a clear vision and mission statements and use same to guide their life. I believe these efforts will continue to benefit Nigeria for many years to come.

Government should empower youth-led organizations in Nigeria through capacity building trainings and provide them with grants to implement more programmes.

Also both state and federal governments should set up award schemes to recognize exceptional young people and youth organizations, this will inspire more young people to start addressing challenges in their communities.