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BEING THE MAYOR OF A TEEMING AND PROBLEMATIC MEGACITY in Africa can’t possibly be easy, and yet Ayodele Adewale has somehow managed it. Now into his second term as the head elected official of Lagos, he has earned the respect of his citizens despite the highly chaotic and dysfunctional national political situation in Nigeria. His city is the second fastest growing metropolis on the continent of Africa and the seventh in the entire world. It’s growing exponentially and requires a mayor who can somehow keep up with it.

Adewale has earned a global reputation as a shrewd strategist and diplomat, but what most don’t know is that he isn’t even 40 years old yet. A government bureaucrat and a chemistry major prior to his election, he has exhibited wisdom beyond his years and skills beyond his academic studies.

Nigeria has coffers overflowing with oil money. Unfortunately, the influx of so much cash and investment, has led to increased corruption and poor politics. A citizen activist for most of his years, Ayodele has decided to chart a different course and the inhabitants of his city, fed up with all the years of waste and crime, have provided key support for his many reforms. He’s blunt about his view of politics:

“Activism is just a medium of expressing yourself, particularly if you have a government that is not pro-active or a government that does not obey the rule of law. Then you have the right to civil disobedience. Activism does not mean that you’re not part of the society and does not make you an angel.”

True, but in his case it has turned him into an agent of change, despite his youth. Political dysfunction is one of the key reasons those of younger generations have turned away from politics altogether as a source of hope. Adewale claims it’s time to change that approach. While acknowledging that the young are viewed as not mature enough by older politicians, he has remained determined to bridge the divide between the younger and older generations, many of whom run key political institutions.

To prove his point, he ran for office, claiming, “The most excellent way to convince people that this change is feasible is to contest for an elective position in government where you will have the authority to effect the changes you consider appropriate that would make a difference.”

Once elected, he set about achieving goals that proved just what he said was possible:

  • Created thousands of jobs in important public sectors, including education and health. Over 6,000 of these were aimed directly at young people;
  • Promoted an expansive new online schooling project;
  • In a fascinating initiative, he has introduced a city-sponsored microcredit program at near-zero interest for people who can secure a reputable sponsor;
  • Created a community newspaper as a city engagement platform and urging citizens to town hall sessions;
  • Building recycling plants capable of yielding bio-fuels as part of the city environmental program.

He is a remarkable young man who is rapidly transforming his city into one of the world’s fastest growing metropolises and capitalizing on the skills of youth in the process. Through his efforts people are turning to politics again, not only as a noble institution, but also as a calling. We need some of that in the West, in Canada, and right now in London, Ontario.