Still On the Disinterest From Northern Nigeria, By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu
I believe that the minimum expectation from a person who desires mentoring is for them to, at least, understand that they must provide the first push towards achieving their dreams. They must first identify their interests, and they must go out to look for mentors who can work with them on those interests. As a young person, it is vital to know that no one will come and mentor you because you expect them to understand that you need mentoring.
On October 28, I published an OpEd on PREMIUM TIMES entitled, “Why the Disinterest From Northern Nigeria?” After reading the article, my friend, Adamu Tilde, raised some thought-provoking comments on the problems associated with mentoring in Northern Nigeria. Tilde noted that the problem lies in the unwillingness of privileged and educated northerners like us to mentor our younger ones. He posits that Southerners, unlike Northerners, are always in the forefront of mentor their younger ones. But I see this differently.
First, I think Tilde’s comment summarises the mentoring problem in the first place; that mentors should be the ones looking for mentees, as opposed to the other way round. I am not sure anyone who is fit for mentoring will be unwilling to mentor those who come seeking their help. This is because it is an honour to mentor and there is always fulfilment in mentoring. As a personal example, in between my tight schedules, I am presently mentoring a person who will hopefully be starting graduate studies in a U.S. university in 2020. I also take time to provide advice to many people who seek this from me, on areas in which I am reasonably experienced. But I do not go out to look for people to mentor, as I have my life to focus on.
Second, I believe that there is a minimum bottom-line that must be met by a mentee before s/he approaches a mentor. Part of this ensures that I should not be expected to do what is supposed to be basic homework for the mentee. For example, nobody should request for my help in searching for universities that offer so-and-so course, so that they can apply for it. I believe that anybody who is interested in furthering their education should at the minimum be curious enough to search for prospective institutions based on his/her intended course of study. I currently teach both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in geology, and I coordinate a couple of activities in the university, including my department’s undergraduate projects/dissertations. Thus, a while ago, an undergraduate student approached me with a topic, asking me to help him find out from the department’s collections (which by the way should be in the library) if the topic he was proposing had been previously researched upon. I told the student that it was not my responsibility as a staff and/or project coordinator to find researchable topics for him. And I advised him that the minimum expectation from him is to be able to find topics that are researchable, and that nobody should do that for him; not me, not his supervisor. Therefore, young people must know that they should not leave their homework to others, as doing so would be outright laziness.
…it is important to state that I have several other mentors. One of them, from who I have learnt a lot, was a top government official in Nigeria, who I discovered without necessarily waiting for him to discover me. And the logic for this is simple: I gain everything by discovering a mentor and being mentored by them; and they lose nothing by not discovering me and not mentoring me.
Third, I believe that all the time, it is the mentee who should spur the interest of mentoring from the mentor. Almost all my mentors are Northerners and I personally discovered them in my quest for mentoring and they have been very accommodating and very willing to mentor me. But none of them discovered me without my effort. For example, when I wanted mentoring on how I could further my education outside Nigeria, I found Farooq Kperogi and Moses Ochonu, who have experience on what I wanted to be mentored on. I discovered Kperogi and Ochonu; they did not discover me. And Kperogi too ended up in a U.S. graduate school and subsequently as a professor in America through the advice of the late Bayero University academic, Professor Mike Egbon, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kperogi described Egbon as a very sound and versatile scholar who he admired during his undergraduate studies in Kano. Then one day, he met Egbon and asked him to advise him on how he too could become like him. Kperogi also made sure that his undergraduate honours thesis was supervised by Egbon because of his affinity for the man. And the rest is now history. Ochonu also attended Bayero University for undergraduate studies, and he did not end up as a Vanderbilt University professor by mere luck. He showed interest in being mentored by the late Professor Phil Shear, an American who spent many years teaching history in Bayero University.
Fourth, it is important to state that I have several other mentors. One of them, from who I have learnt a lot, was a top government official in Nigeria, who I discovered without necessarily waiting for him to discover me. And the logic for this is simple: I gain everything by discovering a mentor and being mentored by them; and they lose nothing by not discovering me and not mentoring me.
Finally, and most remarkably, I believe that the minimum expectation from a person who desires mentoring is for them to, at least, understand that they must provide the first push towards achieving their dreams. They must first identify their interests, and they must go out to look for mentors who can work with them on those interests. As a young person, it is vital to know that no one will come and mentor you because you expect them to understand that you need mentoring. Life is a bit more complex than that. And it is your life, not theirs. And the world, both of mentoring and of outside mentoring, does not work that way. You must show interest in yourself before people will show interest in you.
Mohammed Dahiru Aminu (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote from Yola, Nigeria.