Saied Tafida Sulaiman was born in the early 1980s, in what was then known as Gongola state, in northeastern Nigeria. Gongola, currently the states of Adamawa and Taraba, has long been a region characterized by ethno-religious conflicts and poverty. As a youngster, Saied, his extended family, and other members of his community participated in “Verde” or food sharing in which people in the same age grades ate together, because many otherwise could not afford three meals per day.
Mr. Sulaiman believed that most of the conflicts in his home area were caused by the poverty there. After completing his secondary school education at Barewa College Zaria in 2001, he determined to be a force for positive change in his community. At the age of 18, Mr. Sulaiman began to volunteer with a non-governmental organization called the Community Based Poverty Reduction Project (CBPRP). Wealthier individuals financially support CBPRP to offer micro-loans to entrepreneurial women who are members of a cooperative and interested in starting their own small businesses. Funds are offered on a rotating basis such that when one woman is successful in her business and able to complete repayment of her micro-loan, another woman in the cooperative will be given the opportunity to receive some capital to start her business.
In 2003, while studying at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Mr. Sulaiman became the Secretary for CBPRP. In 2006 Mr. Sulaiman completed his undergraduate degree in Sociology, and joined a Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC)-UNICEF team of advocates of reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness as part of his mandatory national service. He became an Orientation Camp Trainer, giving instruction to more than 3,000 youths and peer educators and reaching out to more than 5,000 adolescent peer educators. Mr. Sulaiman’s efforts gave him his first award of excellence, the NYSC’s Chairman’s Award.
Through his work with UNICEF, Mr. Sulaiman came to understand the importance of transparency and awareness for reducing corruption and poverty. When he finished his work with them in 2009, he took a job with NN24 television, which was meant to serve as a Nigerian version of CNN, but which folded within two years of its founding due to financial mismanagement.
In 2010, Mr. Sulaiman began to work as a Public Relations officer with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the Kaduna Government Business Tax Office. In his position at FIRS, Mr. Sulaiman was able to educate and empower taxpayers by giving them information that enabled them to check on the excesses of corrupt tax officials and other tax fraudsters. He moved to the Sokoto FIRS office in 2011 where he continued to dedicate himself to excellence in the discharge of his duties. Mr. Sulaiman was named the most outstanding staff with FIRS in Sokoto in 2013 and in 2014 due to the mechanisms he introduced from within the office to improve fiscal transparency and the openness of the tax process.
While working full-time for FIRS, Mr. Sulaiman managed to earn a Master’s Degree 2012 in International Relations and Diplomacy from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto. While engaged in his studies at the university a friend of his contracted the parasitic infection known as schistosomiasis or bilharzia and was hospitalized. When Mr. Sulaiman visited his friend he met other victims of the disease. He realized that many who contracted bilharzia are poor and cannot always afford to eat, let alone pay hospital bills. The experience prompted Mr. Sulaiman to become the co-founder of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Friends of Urology in 2013 at his university. The NGO aims to educate about and prevent bilharzia. People contract bilharzia through contact with infected fresh water sources. If not detected or treated the disease can lead to cystitis or infection and inflammation of the bladder, vomiting blood, or paralysis of the legs. Mr. Sulaiman offered his expertise on how to fundraise and his NGO now offers testing services for poor communities in Sokoto State and has successfully intervened and treated more than 300 underprivileged children.
Due to his many successes, Mr. Sulaiman was one of 500 people selected out of over 50,000 applicants to join the 2014 class of Mandela Washington Fellows. The US government-sponsored fellowship supports promising young Africans in their networking, civic leadership, and entrepreneurial skill development. Intended outcomes of the six-week fellowship program include spurring economic growth and prosperity, strengthening democratic governance, and enhancing peace and security across Africa. Upon completion of his fellowship at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Mr. Sulaiman, along with other Fellows from Nigeria helped to see the country through a peaceful transition of government by supporting conferences across Nigeria designed to mitigate post-2015-elections violence.
Since January 2015, Mr. Sulaiman has used his free time to volunteer with the online servicebudgIT that promotes an open government and fiscal transparency through simplification of the Nigerian budget. The website has more than 600 visits daily and has reached and educated more than 3 million people in West Africa. In late May 2015, Mr. Sulaiman also was a speaker at the 3rdInternational Open Data Conference which seeks to improve public accountability and responsibility around elections.
Most recently, Mr. Sulaiman has been using the knowledge he gained studying in the USA to further support open governance and fiscal transparency. He has launched a website called Follow Taxes that assists the general public to understand tax laws, rules, and regulations to reduce the likelihood of them being falsely taxed. The site supports those that cannot afford a tax consultant and helps users learn basic financial literacy and record keeping. The underlying belief is that if more people understand and pay taxes the government will have additional revenue to mitigate poverty and support sustainable development.
Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Mr. Saied T. Sulaiman been so successful in his undertakings?
Some key characteristics come to mind:
Mr. Sulaiman is a LIFELONG LEARNER who has tailored much of his education to foster his understanding of societal problems, including poverty and lack of transparency in governance. In addition to his formal degrees he holds a certificate of Civic Engagement from a World Bank Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
Mr. Sulaiman understands that African development is most likely to come from Africans and that it is his CIVIC DUTY to work to make his home region and country one of which he is very proud. He has engaged in a wide range of civic work from creating people-focused media reports to conducting monitoring and evaluation of social development programs, and raising awareness of reproductive health rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.
Heidi G. Frontani is a Professor of Geography at Elon University in North Carolina in the USA and former Fulbright Scholar in Kenya. This story originally appeared on her blog on September 19, 2015. To read more of her stories, follow her blog: https://africandevelopmentsuccesses.wordpress.com/