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An evening with Prof Pat Utomi

October 20, 2010

The eponymous hero of the evening, Prof Pat Utomi, sauntered onto the stage: a sitting room at a residence in Victoria Island. Professionals who live there had invited colleagues and friends to a monthly get-together on entrepreneurship and leadership. Awaiting Pat Utomi was a motley of young professionals, itching to douse their thirst for learning at the fount of a sage.

 

That evening, he devolved his experience: from government house, as special adviser to President Shehu Shagari; to the classroom, as professor of Entrepreneurship and Socio-Political Economics via the boardroom, as chief executive of Volkswagen. He’s described, alas, by some, as a political upstart; often mistaken as the owner of Lagos Business School. He is now, after several failed attempts, referred to as a director at the School. Utomi was once rumoured to be one Nigeria’s richest men – he only had $2,800 to his name at that time.

 

His speech was animated, laced with self-deprecating anecdotes. Names kept dropping. Lee Kuan Yew, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Daniel Patrick Moynihan etc. Intellectual and political heavy weights he had read, met or admired, .

 

During the question and answer session he would listen with uninterrupted attention. His answers revealed the congruence of his words, actions and motives – the investment of his reputation and knowledge, buoyed by a never say die mind-set, in public and private ventures.

 

Earlier, an all too familiar dismal situation, the resource curse, had formed the backdrop of the evening’s get-together. Increasing oil wealth is surging Nigeria’s reserves towards $60 billion – it’s projected to hit $100 billion by year end. Contrasted with the palpable poverty in the country, a disruption of the ideal sets the stage for a tragicomedy.

 

Social restraints are declining: kidnapping in the Niger Delta is a boon for the hunter and a bane for the hunted. Rancour over the new allocation of the federal account distracts attention from failing infrastructure. The health sector starved of funding; the ministry’s surplus was blithely distributed as booty in 2007.

 

What then, is the catharsis that will purge or wean the economy off oil wealth dependence? Certainly not the current grab and run culture, a corollary of values, which today is marked by what Prof Utomi calls the ise kekere, owo nla (small work, big money) mentality. A compulsive hustle for lucre or money making (what then is the function of the mint?) is in fashion. There’s movement without motion.

 

Nigerians, particularly those at the get-together, caught between the tragedy depicted by the condition of Nigeria’s prisons, and the theatrics of ‘Mr Rule of Law’ are far from amused. Rather, there’s that unsettling option to siddon and look. In the absence of locally generated electricity, we’ve been tapping current from the Obama phenomenon. But, sooner than later, it will result in either high or low voltage – burn out or waning enthusiasm, which returns us to reality.

 

Bleak, cold reality?  Prof Utomi did his best to thaw the audience’s frozen perspective. He sees a sunny future, so bright he needs sunshades. Yet, from the searching gaze and questions, the audience yearned for more; a formulaic anodyne to be constantly injected after going through the throes Nigeria keeps subjecting people to. Prof Utomi’s prescription: deferred gratification, ditching an instanta or fiam (quick fix) outlook to life.

 

No mean feat. Our worldview is stacked up against a prevalent me, myself and I mode, which is as old as the hills. Shakespeare describes self-love in his play, All’s Well That Ends Well, as

“… the most inhibited sin in the canon.”

 

Now we were being urged to be consumed by an entrepreneurial spirit. A tough sell. The audience bemoaned how conventional wisdom espoused get-rich-or-die-trying. But Prof Utomi’s conviction held sway; entrepreneurs, purveyors of value creation, go against the grain, are honest, frugal and prepared for the long term. In summary, what sets them apart is the knack to identify and bridge, along the continuum of Maslow’s pyramid, society’s unmet needs.

 

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Wanted in Naija: Leaders

October 19, 2010

Excerpt from The Crisis of Leadership by Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai. His stirring essay confirms the conversation is changing. (Emphasis are mine).

“As the world moves firmly into the digital age, electing Blackberry users, – young people like Obama and Cameron in their 40s and the likes of Sarkozy in their 50s – communicating with friends and constituents via Twitter and Facebook, we must firmly reject those that want Nigeria to remain in the 20th century – and move forward to restore dignity and hope in our young generation. They must see a country that can work in their lifetimes – where electricity is stable, crimes are solved and criminals brought to justice, and capability and hard work are the primary tools for success in life.”

Failing to do that within the next decade will lead to the total failure of Nigerian state as we will not be able to handle the influx of 4 million hopeless and angry 18 year olds added every year during the period to our army of under-educated and under-employed. And in this avoidable scenario, none of our great grand-children will be opportune to see a Nigeria celebrating its century of Independence, and that will be a sad testimony to us all, those born just before or around the end of colonization.”

In the beginning

October 17, 2010

According to Michael Crowder, author of “The Story of Nigeria”, the period 1906-1912 which preceded the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates is

“one of the most crucial in the history of Nigeria”

It marked the beginning of effective administration, the rejection of standards and customs eg, new forms of administration and justice, education in the western way of life etc, and it was the first time Nigerians were subjected to Western influences eg, Christianity. Of particular importance was the new economic world order that followed. Crowder points out that

“Britain’s overriding interest was economic”

It is no surprise that the institutions established were geared towards serving this primary purpose. Nonetheless, Nigerians embraced these new forms. Western education became the key to success in the new economic order and the ticket to social elevation. Not all traditional laws were jettisoned.

For instance, land laws, fundamental to the traditional structure of most Nigerian societies, remained intact. Such that indigenously owned land was not transferable to individuals, expatriates and companies.

These changes, particularly the administrative institutions inherited from colonial times, the availability of post-primary education and the skills imparted, and land laws may have stifled Nigeria’s post-independence socioeconomic development.

Three of the themes of development economics: level of human capital, underdeveloped financial and other markets and lingering colonial impacts, lend weight to how Nigeria’s potential may have been enhanced or curtailed.

Rapid economic expansion between 1945 and 1960, due to rising commodity prices of agricultural produce, was insufficiently supported by significant industrial growth. Though the new level of economic activity increased employment opportunities, it was difficult to find Nigerians with the requisite abilities to fill these positions.

Expansion of educational facilities, mainly through the Universal Free Primary Education, did not douse the demand for clerks, technicians, administrators, and professionals.

“In 1955, Nigeria was only educating 800 undergraduates and 12,000 secondary school students a year”.

 

Almost half of current expenditure was gulped by primary education, reducing the amount available for higher education. Thus, the desire to Nigerianize government service positions and managerial posts in commercial houses, was exacerbated by the lack of trained manpower

“paralleled by an excess in supply of elementary school leavers”.

Employable only as clerks, these school-leavers could not even return to the farms to apply their new knowledge to improve the farming system. Hence, by independence Nigeria was in a dilemma: vast numbers of unemployed school-leavers and a dire need for higher level manpower to fill positions hitherto supplied by the colonial power.

Invariably, this stymied the execution of Nigeria’s ambitious development plans. Crowder quotes an expert on the problem of school-leavers:

“No social and economic problem in Nigeria is so urgent as that of finding employment for the ever-increasing number of school-leavers.”

 

Our Nigeria

October 15, 2010

My Nigeria” a book by Peter Cunliffe-Jones sounds promising according to these reviews: here and here. You can watch the book launch on YoutTube. Cunliffe-Jones’s BBC article, to mark Nigeria’s 50th anniversary, struck a chord. In the article, Cunliffe-Jones compares Nigeria and Indonesia, noting similarities and a major difference:

“Nigerians fight every day, of course. They fight for survival, to put food on the table and to get by. But have they put real pressure on their leaders?”

How do we manage wonders Richard Dowden? By good luck?

“The answer is a frantic, often brutal and dirty scramble for education, work, money and power between 120m—or is it 140m?—people. It’s a vast cauldron that seems to produce hotter, sharper, more creative and energetic human beings than anywhere else in Africa. Those who succeed indulge in stupendous exhibitions of power and wealth.”

The last sentence is jarring. It depicts an every person-for-themselves-God-for-us-all attitude. Can we endure that for another 50 years? Impunity, consequence of an utter disregard for the rule law, festers indifference and frustration. Still, Dowden notes:

“In June I witnessed a furious debate at the British Museum on the question “Why isn’t Nigeria a cultural, political and economic superpower?” An angry man accused one of the speakers, Father Matthew Kukah, of complicity in genocide. In his final flourish, he proclaimed: “But, Father Matthew, if you were running for president, I would vote for you!” The audience, about half Nigerian Londoners, collapsed with laughter. Father Kukah gently replied that “If someone is not angry, we ask, ‘Who is paying them?’” Rage, laughter and courtesy all at the same time—only Nigerians could manage it. It is how they, and Nigeria, survive.”

Will we survive on that triple dose of rage, laughter and courtesy? Let’s get real. Some measure of democracy isn’t bad medicine. Fr Kukah notes in a recent interview, in preparation for his new book “Witness to Justice: An Insider Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission”.

“It is only democracy that can resolve our problems, even with all its imperfections. The only way we can continue on this road is to continue to support the institutions of democracy, continue to encourage politicians to behave properly and to nudge our country on the path of democracy and freedom.”

 

Question is: are we hopeful enough and willing to put our thumbs were our mouth is? Time to put our “can-do spirit” to test. It’s possible!

“New technology aids campaigning, giving power back to people and giving the possibility of positive change. Political reform is possible, and it is Nigerians themselves who will decide the direction the future takes.”

Are you MAD – Making A Difference?

October 14, 2010

Young tech savvy Nigerians are brainstorming this weekend. Rather than whine, they are MAD! Hear one of them, Oluniyi Ajao, says:

“One of the most convenient things to do in life is to complain/blame/criticize others for their action or inaction when things go wrong. The poor governance prevalent in our part of the world gives one a lot to complain about. With democracy slowly gaining ground in Nigeria however, the next phase of agitation should not be merely complaining about bad leaders, but taking part actively in the electoral process in a bid to ensure only the right calibre of people are voted into office.”

The list of attendees is impressive. Though you can’t attend physically (invitations have closed) you can attend digitally (#NigeriaDecides).

An organised grassroots network  using information technology is as disruptive as it gets. A well honed message using social networks can drive an agenda of change, a whole new politics. The power is in your finger tips: tweet, text, type and inked-thumb.

Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa, a tribute

October 12, 2010

Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa, educationist, died on October 11th, aged 87. A friend mailed a personal account of the late professor; I’m re-posting it.

I only met Professor Fafunwa a few times, during which I made his acquaintance. I visited the house whenever his son-in-law, a good friend of mine, was in the country. My friend habitually stayed over at his parents-in-law’s. But those few times were enough to gain a fair picture of the man.

It is possible that I usually arrived by coincidence only when he had something to cheer about. But it is more likely that his pleasant countenance was a stable one. He always wore a smile and never had airs about him when you were introduced. His study (I believe it was) could be seen from the sitting room and one thing I do remember is that it was always awash with volumes. Often, the pack of books spilled over into the living room, a welcome treat and feast for me – it was a happy pastime to browse them.

One thing I do remember vividly, though, is his magnanimity. It isn’t that I timed my stay to coincide with his lunch hour, but in catching up with my friend, we often deliberately ignored our watches and the turn of the clock. Which, to appease our sense of guilt, was always a good thing, because we ended up lunching with Prof. Fafunwa. It was an unwritten rule of his household that if you happened to be there at meal time, you joined in. And I cannot recall many better table companions than the professor.

If you asked the right questions and broached the right topics, he would regale with anecdotes from his experience and he would also proffer his opinions, without – at all – imposing them. He made you feel like your point of view had great merit, even though – if you were objective – you would frequently see his submissions were of greater weight.

Professor Fafunwa struck me as a genuinely detribalised Nigerian, if you allow that adjective that is a rather clumsy word, but is worth its every syllable in gold where our country is concerned. It pained him that he had to leave Nsukka and the university there, as a result of the civil war. He would regale with stories and happy memories of his time there (if I am not mistaken he became a professor at UNN). He traversed vast territories of Ibo land, driving in his car. He got to know eastern Nigeria like the back of his hand. But the civil war uprooted him and his family, and what was UNN’s monumental loss, became the monumental gain of the then University of Ife.

Unfortunately – for me – I never met Mrs. Fafunwa. Just as by fortunate coincidence, I happened to visit when Professor Fafunwa was home, by a regretful misfortune, my visits always coincided with Mrs. Fafunwa being away. But it wasn’t difficult at all to see and feel her mark in their household. For one, she is white and American, married to a Nigerian and a muslim. I risk being preemptive here, but I saw, from the little I noticed in that family, an atmosphere of a refreshing but responsible freedom. At least one of their children (my friend’s wife) is Christian, having converted to Catholicism during her courtship. You might think my friend had a heavy hand in this, but I know he won’t mind me noting here that he didn’t. Indeed, she steered him closer to his Catholic faith, an occurrence he readily gratefully narrates. I believe that that blissful outcome, maintaining a happy and united larger family, must be due in large measure to the maternal nurturing and affectionate vigilance of Mrs. Fafunwa.

Professor Fafunwa’s death does serve to remind me that I am getting on in age. As a friend once put it to me, a person’s adult life can be divided into three phases. In one, we are attending each other’s wedding. In the second, we attend the funerals of our parents. While in the third, we witness at one another’s own funerals. Mrs. Fafunwa and her family should take plenty comfort in the knowledge that their husband and father lived to the age he was, and that – most importantly – he left a mark and legacy that any family would fervently wish and pray to be their lot. I am grateful to have made Professor Fafunwa’s acquaintance, and I have no doubt at all that I am the richer and better for it. May God rest him.

Interested in valuable leadership training?

October 6, 2010

Leaders or followers, who is to blame? Chinua Achebe, referring to followers,  in “The Trouble with Nigeria” says:

“[lack of] the willingness or the ability of citizens to ask the searching question. This calls for a habit of mental rigour for which, unfortunately, Nigerians are not famous.”

That’s by the side. I’m re-posting a mail I just received. Interesting opportunity for Nigeria’s teeming and internet savvy youth.

WYA North America is currently accepting requests for enrollment in its online fall training program!

Course #: NAF10
Enrollment Period: September 28, 2010-October 8, 2010
End Date: December 23, 2010

Offered to provide in-depth training to young leaders, this online training program requires an intensive commitment on behalf of the member. Training is a prerequisite for international internships and United Nations conference participation and is the gateway to further understanding of the principles of WYA and a deeper involvement with the organization. Accredited members build the Alliance by introducing and training other young people to the WYA foundational ideas. And you don’t have to be living in New York or working at the United Nations to influence your local community as a young person!

The training will cover four major sections:

  1. Philosophy of the human person
  2. International documents and institutions
  3. Key issues at the international level (global health, development, Millennium Development Goals)
  4. Movements and individuals who have shaped history

The goals of the online training program are to help members understand and anyalze today’s most pressing issues from the perspective of human dignity, freedom, and solidarity; to promote and defend policies centered on the dignity of the human person at international and national levels; and to foster a culture of life in all activities and actions of our members.

If you are interested in enrolling in this leadership course, please email me at amanda@wya.net by October 8. The first assignment deadline for the course will be on October 11…so sign up as soon as possible!

Your Regional Director,
Amanda Pirih

More info: website and blog