Lt. Agunbiade is a Nigerian-born, Navy Reserve Sailor who is serving as the exercise’s country lead. The following is an excerpt of a conversation about his experience visiting his home-country and the people that he met. This story has been edited to improve readability and context.
“I was born about an hour from Lagos, an hour with traffic, and it’s so good to be back. It’s my second time wearing my uniform in Africa, but this feels like the honor of a lifetime, to just be able to come here and interact with the people I grew up with, to share knowledge and collaborate with them. You know, it’s kind of crazy, because everybody sees my name and knows I’m from here just by looking at my name, and they light up. It’s been amazing, easily the best job I’ve had in my fifteen years of Naval service. The work is unique too – being someone who can speak the language. I speak both Yoruba and Hausa, two of the three major native languages in Nigeria, and understand the culture. It helps break down the barrier between Nigeria and the U.S. in a big way. After all, Nigeria is like being back home – when the Nigerian officers traveled to the Naval War College, I met them and it was like family. Now, those captains are admirals, and seeing me back in Nigeria they’re like ‘Welcome back home.’ So if the Navy needs something, I can easily reach out to them, and now what would take a day takes a few hours. That’s why this exercise is so important to me. I’ve been on Obangame Express 2023 for over a week, and collaboration with others means so much. If one country doesn’t have the resources, they have partners they can reach out to that can support them and reduce the criminal activities on the seas. This exercise is exposing the great skillsets that Nigerians have. More, the exposure of Nigeria is leading to motivation, support, funding, supply, and equipment. I also believe that those of us who are Nigeria-born, when we come back home and share our knowledge and inspire these kids, it could lead to anything.
That’s what wearing a uniform is to me – it’s the crystallization of a dream. Coming to Lagos, and working with the U.S. and Nigerian Navy isn’t about travel – it’s about making your dream wherever you are. I’m out here talking to the Nigerian Navy’s enlisted sailors on watch, and I stop and tell them what they are doing is making Nigerians sleep peacefully. I tell them to take pride in what they do, because what they do is in national interest. It’s not their officer coming up and telling them – it’s me, different uniform and different country, but same home. I want my life to be an inspiration to them.
My wife and I have a foundation here in Nigeria, in honor of my late Dad, focused on empowering Nigerian youth – mostly essay competitions and scholarships to schools. I meet them on the streets, at the hotel, some on bases, and they look at the name on my U.S. Navy uniform and I hope its inspiration. If I can do it, then they can do it, that’s the essence of me being here – just to be able to encourage them that hope is not lost. It can be better for them. I mean, I grew up like them, I drank the same water they drank and now I’m trying to bring a different perspective – that anything is possible, you just have to dream. I’m so thankful I’m back – I grew up here. This is amazing.”