Here we are with another Nigerian who is committed to serving humanity. Taiwo Akorede Abdulgaffar is is currently serving humanity through the United States Army. From his experience at the US Army, he linked the most populous black nation’s unending battle with terrorism over the decade to leadership failure in the country.
Taiwo Akorede speaks to Bada Yusuf Amoo from the United States.
Welcome to our #WeekendWithNigerianInDiaspora, we will like you to tell our audience who you are
In the name of Almighty God, the most beneficent, the merciful, my name is Taiwo Akorede Abdulgaffar. I am a Nigerian that, you know, moved into the United States a couple of years ago, and by the grace of Almighty God, I am currently serving in the military and yes, pretty much it.
What part of Nigeria are you from?
I migrated into the US a little above three years ago and before I left I was living in Lagos, Nigeria, Agege to be precise, in Mainland.
Did you join the US Army immediately you got to the US?
Before I joined the military, I was doing a couple of stuffs. You know, I was in school, I was doing a lot of volunteering, social work, and hustling too, to take care of the bills and to take care of the family too, you know, before Allah showed a way to join the military.
Tell us about some of the cultural shocks you experienced on getting to the US?
Just like every other nation in the world, the US has its own culture and ways of dealing. Some of which are not necessarily generalised for every immigrant. Of course, there was a change in environment and the culture obviously and the people around. For the most part, you don’t really see a lot of white people or different people of color, and mixed backgrounds where I came from.
But on getting here, I got to meet different people of different backgrounds, different colours and different languages, different cultures, but at the end of the day, since this was a place I was going to live, I needed to learn how to adapt to the culture and move with the changes, if that makes sense.
Another cultural shock was my accent also; you know. Though right now my accent is changing a little bit, but when I first got here, I was still speaking the normal, Nigerian English, you know, but that wasn’t really a challenge, even if it was at a point, you know when people keep telling you, ‘Hey, I can’t hear you, you need to speak out.’ and I couldn’t hear them either, you know, because communication is sending and receiving, but then I was able to navigate my way around that.
Apart from that, there is the challenge of discrimination. At first to me, it was so bizarre. I never expected people to pick up on you because of your colour or religion and stuff. No sooner would I realize it’s part of the odds of this country. But then, I was able to join the league of the few people who had the mental strength and personal motivation, to learn how to wave around that kind of challenge and see it not as a barrier. A lot of black folks; and this is not just Nigerians alone, you know – African Americans in general especially those with a thick accent like mine actually get drown in that ocean of discrimination. People get down pressed, and mistreated, you know. And of course, it’s imaginable when you are being discriminated against for your colour, you will feel somehow because it is not always like that where you came from and those were some of the cultural shocks. If it was in the military, we’d call it a “shark attack”.
But Alhamdulillah, I was able to learn how to move away with that, because at a point it seemed to be a challenge for me even when I didn’t say it out, but it got to a point that it was becoming my power actually, and it gave me the strength I needed.
And basically, to me, I think we need to keep educating people about what our culture really is, and not what is being projected on TVs. To me, the whole discrimination issue is just mental stuff. People just need to move from their fixed mindset to a growth mindset so they can be educated and move away from the stereotypes they’ve been accustomed to. However, there are nice people here too, you know. A lot of nice people, you just have to be privileged to walk their path. There are lots of black people that are nice, and a lot of white people are nice, and vice versa.
When it comes to educating people on discrimination, who should be targeted?
Discrimination is everywhere, you know. Black discriminate against black, White discriminate against white. It is just everywhere. That is why I said, it is a mental stuff, people need to understand where they stand, and respect one another for who they are; that is where the education aspect comes in.
People need to understand that we only have one race, which is the human race and there is nothing like I am this, I am that, as it’s been projected in today’s world. That is why the United Nations is preaching for unity in diversity which I was an advocate for you know both when I was in Nigeria and when I moved into the states. I was an SDG Ambassador in Dallas College before I joined the Army. So, basically, that is where the aspect of education comes in.
Since you are part of the advocacy over there, should Nigerians be expecting part of your team with the message soon?
By God’s grace, by God’s grace, I mean. I did that over a decade before I left Nigeria, you know, it is still something we are pushing for.
Tell us about your growing up in Nigeria, things you were doing that you think should continue even as you have left?
Like I disclosed earlier, I grew up on the street of Lagos and I was really into social works, community services, volunteering, youth advocacy, and policy implementation and all of that. And before I left Nigeria, I founded a Non-Governmental Organization, and it is going to be five years, this October 2021.
It is called “Foundation for Aspiring Youth in Ethical Leadership – FYL” and it is still running as of today, you know, we have teammates that keep the flag-waving, and I do my part here to support the mission of the organization. And yeah, I was also a Youth legislator before I left and also part of the first set of youth ambassadors for Lagos State Government, and a couple of other stuff. The passion was there, so we just kept showing up where opportunities open up. Also, I had the first edition of my book – The Green Light, launched in Lagos before I left, and yes, I was also a member of the Sheriff Guards of Nigeria. Basically, there is no way I can tell my story without including that. So, I think those are some of the activities that should continue even in my absence; because I am just a number in the equation.
And on getting here also, the passion never dies. I was doing pretty much the stuff I love to do; going to speaking events and putting smiles on faces. The privilege to do all that really means a lot to me. Even when it comes with its challenges. Sometimes, you don’t have all it takes but you keep on striving to make impacts, you try to do what you love to do, give more than you receive, and you can’t even pay all your own bills. But, I was doing all that out of the passion and the love I have for humanity you know. So, yeah, basically, that is it about it.
It is interesting to hear about your passion for humanity and to know that you still continue with it over there, but why did you decide to leave Nigeria despite the fact that you were doing what interested you?
Yes, sometimes the wind of life blows you away, and then it takes you to the next step God has planned for you, you know, and that is why I preface with the fact that when life happens, you just have to move with the change. So that is basically it, and I also have a couple of people who look out for me here and I also look up to.
Can you tell us about your journey into the US Army?
First of all, I am going to say that, whatever route every individual is going to go through in life, our creator, Allah has already planned it. You know, He has made the best plans for us, but we are just striving to work towards that path, you know as humans.
So, for me personally, I have always wanted to join the military when I was a kid. I always wanted to have a military experience; and that is why my background experiences somewhat key into that. You can tell. So, when I got here, and enrolled into college to complete my degree, joining the military wasn’t really down on me like that at first, but when God said it was time, HE made it happen.
Tell us the Command you’re serving under the US Army?
Yes, right now I am in a Paratroopers Unit, you know we jump out of planes and stuff. So, our unit is kind of different from others. I am currently attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. The strongest Airborne Division in the history of the US Army, and that is where I currently serve.
Can you compare the civil relation of the Nigerian Army with that of the US Army?
To be honest with you, it is pretty much different for us here. Unlike Nigeria. For example, here when we take the oath of allegiance when you took the mandate to which you will be serving; like the purposes of your belonging – and that is to support and defend the constitution of the country, with the people included.
So, we actually took an oath to defend the people from foreign and domestic enemies, so why should they be afraid of us. But in Nigeria, and I believe few other African countries, people are always afraid of people in uniform. You can’t even wear their camouflages, and I am NOT putting a red flag on the Nigerian military, but that is something that could be looked into. In the US that is different. We are actually sent out to protect the people, you know, those are our priority and that is why we put the people first.
And one thing that I realized here, even before I joined the military, is that you can easily go to any local store, and buy military clothing, like pants, shirts that are camouflages, you know that has military stuff printed on them and put them on without any worries. Nobody would question you. You can wear it anywhere, that actually shows that you as a person, are proud of those serving in the military, unlike there in Nigeria. The reverse is the case, so to say. When we walk to the store here, or at the airport in military uniforms, people will actually be telling you “thank you for your service” left and right. You know that’s the pride and honour. So, civil relations here are pretty much serene and cordial. I am not really saying that it is 100percent bad in Nigeria, but still, it could be adjusted and the relationship could be made more cordial.
On insecurity, Nigeria has been fighting terrorism for over a decade now, what do you think is missing in the Nigerian military architecture that has made it difficult for the country to defeat the group of terrorists?
When it comes to terrorism, there are different factors that come to play, but I wouldn’t want to go there. In the military just like every other institution, there is a need for leadership. So, in any institution whose leadership is faulty, there would surely be loopholes, and that is what is happening in the Nigeria Military system.
Our people back home, who are serving in the military, are actually capable, you know they train hard to be combat-ready and all, but I think the leadership of the institution is where the faults come from. The leadership is faulty, the soldiers are not being empowered as necessary with the right equipment and normalcy. The materials and equipment needed to fight are not made available. In my opinion, I believe If the resources are there and the leadership are NOT sitting upon it, and passing it down to the soldiers who are actually at the frontlines of war and terrorism, there would be a lot of changes, and more terrorists would be apprehended.
Any institution that you have leaders who are not listening, they are going to have followers who are not speaking or performing up to standard. When those who are working hard to get the job done, are NOT being empowered and listened to, they will just be like water being poured in a basket. Meaningless. So, the leadership really needs to wake up in that aspect.
But it is everywhere though — just that some other countries and I won’t mention names just seems to be smarter in playing the game If that makes sense. There is politics everywhere you know but the politics in Nigeria – the faults therein are made so obvious that people could really pick them out. So, military leaders need to really pay attention to our soldiers back home and have them fully equipped and combat-ready. It’s bad to have soldiers in a state that, they are non-deployable.
Now that the problem has been identified, what do you think is the way forward?
Like I said, in terms of the military, the leaders need to diplomatically play their role as a military institution and do justice on their part. Even if the government still has executive rights, the military can still get its soldiers up to standard and pay them their dues.
Now, back to the country, I believe it starts with every individual, you know, the country cannot all of a sudden make a U-turn to make everything work. It starts from individuals, then it is going to move down to the government themselves, and when the government sees that the people are actually doing their parts, you know, they are going to wake up someday.
It doesn’t start with a whole revolution, you know the people need to play their parts too individually; from our homes to places of work, to our places of worship, schools and other community institutions. With that, there would be remarkable changes. Because if I am complaining about the government, then in my own little circle, I am doing the same thing that I am complaining about, then the two wrongs don’t make a right. So, we as a people need to start playing our parts. That way, we are practising what we preach and, you know the energy connection will then clique.
The psychologists said, we have two types of discourse; primary and secondary discourse. So, for an individual, you know, we fall under the primary discourse, because our first environment is our home; we build families from home. So, whatever we do in our primary discourses is going to evolve and reflect on our secondary discourses, like schools, community organizations and the likes, where we have the social environment and that is where the government comes in too.
So, if we all do the right thing even though there is no one watching, we will achieve a general change we all clamour for.
Do you see yourself returning to Nigeria anytime soon?
Just like I said in my preface, our life journey is not 100% determined by us, you know God is the planner, so anytime, God says it is time then, it is. I can’t really say for sure when but, I am committed to service here already, you know, so I have to do justice to work I am left to do.
Considering the leadership problem confronting Nigeria military, what advice do you have for the Nigerian soldiers?
We don’t know it all in the US military, and there are things that we don’t know that Nigerians in the military know and vice versa.
Yes, I have friends that are soldiers in Nigeria, that we talk up till today, you know, and every now and then when we talk, we talk about this thing that you are asking me, but you know, what I keep telling them is just to stay on top of their game, keep being themselves.
When I was in training, my unit Sergeant used to tell me that there are two types of soldiers, you know, there are soldiers with capabilities and there are soldiers that are messed up, so what I keep telling people is, if you want to build yourself to be a soldier with capabilities, it is that way.
Because the military institution is like a different lifestyle, you are the one that will actually make it different with who you are, with what you do, what you contribute. So, those are some of the advice that I give out. So, they should just keep being themselves, don’t let the military change who you are, learn what you can and contribute to what you have.
Can you tell us about your education in Nigeria?
I graduated high school, in a nutshell, my dad decided to send me to an Arabic school, and I was there for like five years before I got admission into the University of Ilorin, and it was then I did a change in route going to the US, change the route and move with the change, and here I come and I continue my education here.
You have been talking about the tides of life causing the change in your life; will you tell Nigerians what exactly caused the change?
When I said moving with the change, what I mean is that life is not stagnant. Just like we have today, you weren’t working in the media environment before now, you were doing something well, so when the life change comes to you, you have to move with the change, and that is why you are talking to me today.
If tomorrow, something else happens and you move about. That is exactly what I mean. And when I move, there are two things that happen when changes come, it is either you move with it and you know be prepared or the change might get you, you know, flood away because you weren’t in for it or when changes come, you just have to go for it.
Sometimes you have to go to places that you don’t know what might end up being the end of the tunnel, you have to get there.
Do you have Nigerian friends in the US Army?
Yes, we have a couple of Nigerians in the US army.
Can you give the actual number of Nigerians in the US Army?
The military is so wide that you know you can’t really keep track of people who are here or there, no, but I know for sure that it is only me and a cousin of mine that have our last name, I mean my family name in the whole US military.
I know couple of friends that are either Yoruba, Igbo, Hausas, they are here, you know, but I don’t have a digit of how many people who are Nigerians that are serving here.