As the world mourns the passing of the late Queen Elizabeth II, discussions have arisen about her relevance and influence.
The chronicles of Queen Elizabeth’s life and achievements in the form of documentaries and short interviews to commemorate her passing have also led to differing stories and opinions. Despite the convulsive emotions and accolades, the tentacles of the late monarch’s power and authority have touched every part of the world, especially in Africa.
An example is the Queen’s Young Leader Award, an annual recognition award for young people or organizations that have demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities. Open to select Commonwealth countries, the program has been set up by the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust in conjunction with Comic Relief and the Royal Commonwealth Society. One of the perks of winning the prize is the opportunity to meet the queen herself, albeit for a few seconds.
Nigerians were not left out of the selection process: In 2015, Isaiah Owolabi, global development expert and health and finance advocate, was awarded the prestigious award.
Speaking about his meeting with Queen Elizabeth, Owolabi said it was a great networking opportunity, including training at the University of Cambridge.
He described their meeting as “a handshake. And it was more like a conversation in less than 10 seconds. And she asked me, how are Nigeria, and how are you?”
According to him, the aftermath of the event has opened new avenues, created opportunities, built trust with current and potential new partners, including the private sector and donor agencies, and improved access.
He said: “You know, access in terms of the quality of young people. So, for example, with all the award winners, I still have a lot of contact with them in a closed group that we still communicate with – although lately what happened last week has actually increased communication.
“Overall, it’s still a very good reference point in terms of how it’s catalyzed opportunities for growth and fork that we’re doing in improving health and economic inclusion.”
For 35-year-old independent environmental/agriculture researcher for development and 2015 QYL recipient, Oladipupo Ajiroba, it was quite a satisfying time to be selected from among many to be celebrated.
He said: “I thought it was a privilege because I also realized that there are so many people doing good things out there, but it was satisfying to be singled out and be rewarded.”
Ajiroba explained that his meeting with the Queen was “pretty amazing, you know, she said thank you for everything you do. Hearing that was just lovely; I would say, right? I was starstruck. Someone like Her Majesty who praised me , was a great feeling.”
He said meeting with the late Queen had changed the public’s perception of him as a man of worth and credibility.
“Sometimes, during the interviews, most of my questions revolve around that. I have also had speaking engagements at conferences and many other open doors.”
Isaac Ezerimi, who founded teens can code and was awarded a QYL award for his efforts in 2018, describing his meeting as a unique opportunity that he was grateful to have experienced.
“It felt great to receive the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. It was confirmation of our work in Nigeria. It came when we wanted to scale our work.
“And that recognition did just that for us because it opened up a lot of other opportunities. We literally launched onto the world stage with Her Majesty’s recognition, we’ve gotten a lot of attention worldwide and for me as a founder, I was recognized at Buckingham Palace after that award on many other international platforms.”
Ezerimi recalled that the late Queen displayed a high degree of spontaneity and humor; he said, “So one thing that’s so striking about her is that she’s super intelligent and a very spontaneous person.”
Adding: “We were all from different parts of the Commonwealth, young people from different countries came together, and for everyone she gave the award to, there were things she would say to you on the spot. These words didn’t sound like they had been rehearsed. For example, she could immediately tell which part of Nigeria I was coming from just by looking at my outfits and she was quite nice.”
The young Nigerian admired the late Queen’s grace; he remembered that Queen Elizabeth didn’t seem to care about courtesy or their general behavior. The prize winners, he said, had a brief preparation to address the Queen, but she didn’t care because some of them made mistakes.
“You could see her humility too,” Ezerimi noted, expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to be influenced by her recognition.
He said: “We probably would have just operated at a very local stage and nobody would know about us today. It put me in that position where people want to do something because they feel like if the Queen recognized the work of these guys, it means they’re doing something remarkable. That translated into more work, more impact in our communities and securing partner funding for our work.”
Kennedy Ekezie, the founder of a fintech start-up, Kippa, agreed with Ezerimi. He described the encounter with the Queen in two words: life-changing and history-making.
“A meeting with one of the best-serving monarchs and one of the most influential,” Ekezie said. “I call it the epic moment because I never thought that such an award would come or be in Buckingham Palace. Growing up, I read about this place and watched documentaries. Now looking back, from Nigeria to London. I stayed in London, spent time in London, went to Cambridge, got a degree and at the time met the Queen, her children and the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron. It was a great moment for me.”
Since that meeting in 2018, Ekezie has risen rapidly in reaching key milestones and has even met with the then Nigerian Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono. He added that meeting the queen was a kind of confirmation of his work.
He said: “In life people care about your results, not your process… When I returned to Nigeria, there were a few press conferences. I got interviews, professionals from my department from University of Ibadan and some other guys from the US invested in my work.”
But Ekezie wasn’t alone in feeling the award, and the brief encounter with the Queen cemented his work and efforts to add value to the community. Nkechikwu Azinge, 28, a sickle cell lawyer who founded the Sickle Cell Aid Foundation, said her meeting with the Queen was a mixture of many emotions, surreal and a flag of approval for her.
Azinge said: “I felt overwhelmed. The first day they called, I remember telling them I had received the prize. I was in shock. I was even more surprised when they closed everything by saying you won’t get the prize. from the Queen. Another thing was receiving the award in person. For me it was a confirmation of our work at SCAF, a sickle cell foundation that raises awareness of the condition and ensures that the less privileged with sickle cell health receive quality care .”
According to Azinge, preparing to meet the late queen was a different ball game as she practiced her interaction with the monarch. She revealed that despite all the training when she finally met Queen Elizabeth II, it was a moment of mumbling and a few stumbles and falls.
“I practiced quite a bit, I felt confident, but when I had to walk up to her, I was shaking and missing my step. I missed the bow. I mumbled everything that will show you how I was so scared and overwhelmed and shocked and like it was just a stream of different emotions.
“Meeting her and shaking her hand felt surreal and she asked where I was from; what my project was about and what I hoped to do with the award and assessment.”