Nigerian Pilot Completes Historic Expedition But Why Is This Not On All Major Outlets Yet?

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“Finally, global media takes notice of an African Success story!”

I wish! I wish this is the report I was writing about but unfortunately it is not because that is not the case. As usual when it comes to negative news about the continent of Africa, the whole world will be at alert, every media house will make a headline out of it and it will linger in the news very long. The biggest problem is not only how fast bad reports about Africans seems to fly through the roof but rather, because bad news about Africans is the only news the world seems to care about, this has successfully shaped the narrative about Africa and the negative global perception and stereotype of Africans.

It is time for a change and it is time we Africans do not stay silent when we see positive stories and accomplishments of our people, we must rally around them and make sure the world hears of our story. Of course, we expect that not only Africans should care about delivering positive reports but the sad reality is that the world we live in has been trained to have a certain mindset about Africa and so they have gotten to care about the negative stories more, so they can “stay informed and protected,” their media tells them ― “incase they need to visit an African country, watch out for this or that danger” or “all Nigerians are 419’s so don’t do business with a Nigerian” the TV shows would run hour long investigative stories with the goal of making you aware of “the bad eggs (Africans) living next to you with the tale of informing you to watch out for African scammers and so on” The only stories widely told about us are damaging, insulting, ridiculous and are very upsetting!

These days, Africans are proving to be relentless, bold, courageous, shattering all forms of stereotypes and are rising to be triumphant regardless of the obstacles to combat. The story of the Nigerian pilot who just made history is a triumphant success story that should have gotten more coverage and profile from more major mainstream media but as usual, our stories continue to be ignored unless it is about informing to protect! So far, BBC Focus on Africa and other African focused outlets have done their due diligence but I hope for more because this is not just about the accomplishment but also about the purpose and reasons behind this accomplishment which the whole world should hear and care about.

Ademilola Odujinrin in the air during the expedition

On March 29th 2017, Ademilola “Lola” Odujinrin a 38-year-old pilot arrived successfully from his “One Man, One Plane” expedition, completing the final leg of his historic journey, landing safely at Washington Dulles International Airport. The pilot completed the entire circumnavigation in a specially configured SR22 Cirrus 9-year-old aircraft with registration number N313CD that can fly 17-and-a-half hours before refuelling, stopping in more than 15 countries on five continents, returning to Washington DC, where his journey began back in June 2016.

The flight is part of Project Transcend, a foundation which aims to inspire young people to achieve their goals, regardless of their personal circumstances.

A vastly experienced pilot who has been flying for 17 years, Captain Lola Odujinrin was trained in the UK and US and he flew for Arik Air for five years and works for Air Djibouti.

Ademilola has logged over 4,000 hours as a commercial Boeing 737 pilot since earning his pilot licence in 2011. Lola from the age of 15, began to save earnestly to achieve this dream. He worked two jobs while studying for his A’ levels and at age 20 he qualified for his Private Pilot License (PPL) in just 19 days in April 1999. Lola at some point had to put his dream on hold to be able to handle the obstacles of trying to make a living. Lola is many things including a husband, father to two children, son to proud parents and brother to two siblings. He is also a keen adventurer who says he sees any challenge as an opportunity and is an avid lover of motor and quad bikes, bicycles and boats but his greatest passion lies in the skies. As a young boy, Lola looked up to his uncle who was a commercial pilot and went flying with him during an era when sitting in the flight deck was not an issue. It wasn’t long after that Lola realized his calling was actually to be an airline pilot. He started having dreams of one day being able to fly around the world ― the passion and desire grew with every passing day and he began to tell his family that he wanted to be a pilot. With the wide-eyed delight of that little boy who was so fortunate to go on a flight so early on in his life with his pilot uncle Fast forward to 2016, Lola dared that dream with the hope that completing this journey will light a similar passion in at least one young person in Africa, saying “nothing is impossible if you have a vision and act with purpose

Happy Captain Lola upon his arrival at the Washington DC Dulles airport on March 29th 2017

What this pilot has dared to accomplish can be referred to as a very “un-African” thing to do, perhaps it is why this story has not gone fully global as one would imagine if he was not African, the whole world will have cameras on him. In accomplishing this feat, he ranks as the 115th person in the world to make this record.

During my interview with Captain Lola and his supportive wife Cynthia at the Washington DC Dulles airport; March 29th 2017

When asked “WHY” this adventure was particularly necessary for Lola to make happen, risking his life and going on such daring adventure, it is hard to digest the reasons he claims because looking around at this early stage, with only a few media houses making headline news about this mind-blowing accomplishment by the first ever African, it begs one to wonder how he even stayed motivated beyond all the odds and challenges if it looks like no one cares.

Lola mentions two major reasons behind his motivation to make this historic achievement, so let’s analyze those reasons:

1. Lola says because of his love for not only his country but his continent Africa. In Lola’s words, “ to reshape the perception of Nigeria through great achievements that defy expectation and to redefine the African narrative”

The problem with Africa is that we have a lot of hidden figures and very well so, because that is what keeps the Africans as undervalued, so no matter what an African invents or accomplishes, it never ever fully gets its minimum requirement of “15 minutes of fame” not to talk about the success being widely appraised and celebrated. An accomplishment like Captain Lola’s cannot afford to stay under the radar but must be shared, talked about, well documented, discussed, and widely celebrated. When we no longer have change-makers of our continent hidden, but rather exposed and held up as inspirational models, the negative narrative of Africa will begin to transform!

2. Lola says the other major reason is “to inspire the youth of Africa to ‘Dare to Dream,’” he goes on to say, “Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of one day flying around the world. We have a responsibility to lead by example and follow our dreams. I want African children to think: ‘I can do this too!’”

Let’s dissect this: It is important to note that what we need especially the African millennials is ‘Hope.” Africa continues to have a bulging youth population and is the youngest continent in the world with a large working age population. This means the continent’s economy stands to develop rapidly in the near future. With the world at 1.8 billion young people, over 200 million youths are in Africa where according to African Economic Outlook that number will double by 2045, this youth bulge could be economically beneficial. This millennial generation are seeking for guidance, mentorship and constant inspiration to stay motivated. Unfortunately there are not many African leaders in power to look up to so if there are more individual role models setting the standard like Captain Lola, just imagine what sort of impact this could play for the African youth? Lola discusses that the vision is to give hope to these youth, to re-energize their zest and stimulate their thirsts for greatness. To-reaffirm their hopes and encourage their motivation to achieve their dreams.

If there is anything to take away from this story, is that Africa suffers from a lack of role-model representation, we lack inspirational figures not because we don’t have them but because we don’t know them. Their stories on their triumphs and accomplishments are not as celebrated on headlines as constant as the outpouring of negative news. We are at a juncture for change and we cannot stay silent. When you hear about a good report from the continent or you spot someone who is making the continent proud, celebrate them and announce them to the world. It looks like, Africans are the ones who will have to start telling their own stories, no more waiting on others!

Captain Lola with wife and kids

During the interview, Lola seized the opportunity to extend his sincere gratitude to his wife and kids for their unwavering support throughout the process and to  Air Djibouti’s Chairman, Aboubaker Omar Hadi, and Cardiff Aviation’s Chairman, Bruce Dickinson, who he says supported him throughout the journey. Without them, “ this would not have been possible.” he adds.

All formed part of a high-level delegation to welcome the historic aviator on the tarmac at Dulles Airport, including: the Ambassador of Djibouti to the United States, His Excellency, Mr. Mohamed Siad Doualeh; Senior Director of Strategic Planning for Djibouti Ports & Free Zones Authority, Mr. Dawit Michael Gebre-ab; and Chief Operating Officer of Air Djibouti, Mr. Moussa Houssein.

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