Purposeful leadership is the key to developing Nigeria
Mr. Lawrence Anirejuoritse Wilbert, the Chief Executive of Agilent Wireless Ltd, a mobile network value-added services provider, former National President to the Federal Government College, Ugwolawo Old Students’ Association and current Executive Chairman of Ikara community in Ikpobha-Okha LGA, Edo state, shares his views on the role of Unity Schools and quality of education in National integration and development in this interview with Nnamdi Nwokolo.
We are aware of your contributions to educational through alumni development, how did it all start?
My interest in the development of the educational sector using the vehicle of the alumni association is borne out of my passion with a view to galvanize my peers to develop education in Nigeria. I’ll call myself an enthusiast of people development and a unique child of Pro-Unitate, the unity of Nigeria, by virtue of the fact that I attended a unity school; Federal Government College Ugwolawo. I returned back to Nigeria after my educational and career sojourn abroad, and the desire to unite with my circle of friends started. I was invited to meeting that was aimed setting up our alumni association in Lagos, and all of sudden; I was elected to lead the Lagos chapter of our alumni association. That was how it all started.
What were your greatest challenges leading Federal Government College Ugwolawo Old Students Association?
The challenge of leading an organization like this is similar to leading any non-governmental organization – leading people with a common purpose; and it has to do with making sure that people know who you are and where you are taking them to, in terms of your vision, at the same time, create the awareness to get their buy-in, so that they can follow you effortlessly. Once that is achieved, the next, which is really the biggest, is how you can make this happen, in terms getting the finances to execute your projects. You need to generate different events that will excite and interest them to get them to support your vision. Those are the two major challenges I had to deal with, daily, during my tenure as President of my alumni association. There are other challenges that stare you in the face, like trying to find out what is happening in your alma mater, development-wise, and when you discover what is happening, is there anything you can contribute to its development, which stakeholders do you engage and how.
What do you consider Nigeria’s greatest educational challenges at the moment?
In general, there are now different levels and types of education, the private and the public. The private is where you get some quality education whereas in the public schools you begin to challenge the competence of the teachers in the schools. Do the facilities in the schools prepare them for the greater challenges ahead? For instance, the Unity schools which I am a product of used to have more Government funding and support in the eighties and the early years of their formation. However like everything else in Nigeria that used to be of high quality, lack of quality leadership has led to misplaced priority and decline in the level of premium placed on public schools. These are the challenges facing us as a nation. The national education policy has to be uniform across board to ensure equal standards. With regards to the educational sector there is need for purposeful leadership. We need to understand education is the bedrock of national development, and considering that we have a unique country in terms of population and diversity. One of the flaws we have in Nigeria is that we see ourselves first as our nation tribes not as Nigerians which should not be the case. There’s nothing wrong in loving your nation tribe but we are Nigerians first. You’ll now discover that education is the tool for creating the nation Nigeria. It is important that we imbibe in our children in their formative years to love Nigeria. Nigeria should be placed first before anything and purposeful leadership is the key to developing Nigeria.
As a Unity School graduate, how have the Unity Schools fared in your estimation?
I don’t think the purpose of establishing the unity schools have been achieved because if you look at them, you still find that the challenge we have with the issue of national unity still exists fifty years after the establishment of the unity schools. We are still not considering ourselves as Nigerians first. Nonetheless, the quality of education that was set out and provided for Nigerians from different regions was achieved during the earlier period of the formation of unity schools. The spirit of Pro-Unitate has been achieved because you need to be in our meetings to see the fire and passion and you see that people are comfortable with Nigerians from other tribes. What is left is for us to make the rest of Nigeria the same.
Do you think the Unity Schools Old Students Associate (USOSA) is an ideal platform to drive the development of the Unity Colleges?
With regards to the development of the unity schools, the old students association plays a pivotal role to the development of the school. By default, your passion for your alma mater will make you want to contribute to its development. I’ve worked with people from different unity schools, as much as I say my school is the best, you’ll see their enthusiasm to give back to the school. The other side to it is that we must remember that all the unity schools are owned and managed by the Federal government, so they have the responsibility to develop the schools. That be the case, the old students association plays a role also to the development of the schools influencing policy making, facilitating stakeholder engagement and building school support coalitions through the school-based management committee (SBMC) vehicle set up by theFederal Ministry of Education. The old students association can also contribute to its development and sustainability of Pro-Unitate culture and establish it as part of National ideology.
Having served your secondary school Alumni as President of Lagos Chapter and National President for 2 terms respectively, a period spanning over 7 years, what roles do you see yourself playing in your college Alumni and USOSA?
That’s a tricky and political question. I’ve built the Lagos chapter from inception and gone up to the national level to grow the association. When I became the president, we had three chapters, but we now have ten chapters. I’ve grown to have the experience of rallying the old boys and girls, in engaging the policy makers in the Federal ministry of Education. We have a bigger body, which is the Unity schools Old Students Association (USOSA). It will be an interesting challenge to take up a significant role in USOSA and rallying the various alumni association together to make things happen just as I have done in my alumni association; I will like to lead USOSA as the President-General. You may want to ask why, what we’ve achieved with federal Government College Ugwolawo is now like a beacon to amongst many other schools. There are many that are yet to have a structured alumni association, which is very sad. The good part is that in the spirit of Pro-Unitate, we can mobilise the vast human resources within USOSA and use lessons learnt from thriving Alumni associations to support the less thriving ones, thereby having a stronger Alumni coalition to engage the entire nation of Nigeria. The caliber of people in USOSA and the spirit of Pro-Unitate is what is needed to make positive change happen in Nigeria. We have to exemplify what we are in the Nigerian space.
What factors contributed to the successes achieved during your leadership stint with your college alumni?
What really assisted me was what I was suggesting for the educational sector,which is purposeful, visionary leadership. My old students saw in me as leading from the front with the set vision. I had to rally my folks all over the country to see what we can do to develop our alma mater. We recently took a programme to our folks in the UK to give them a sense of belonging. What aided my success, I repeat, was purposeful, visionary leadership. We have a vision that was clearly communicated to everyone and all. We ensured people were involved in everything that we did, we inspired them with strong objectives and reached out using effective technology and social media which broke physical barriers and built a truly global coalition for our alma mater. We drove interest to a frenzy and our people all over the world wanted to lend a hand of support. I would say that as National President, I provided motivation for our alumni community by leading from the front and making everyone to be aware of what needed to be done.
What drives you?
I am a child of Bendel state, grew up in the Midwest, educated in the middle belt, further educated in the former Soviet Union and had my first work experience in the UK as an Engineer; in all of these I have picked up different facets that have added to my curiosity for life and the equity among men. All these have built me into what I call a development enthusiast. I must confess to you that in my sojourn in different parts of the world, I have never seen a more interesting person than the Nigerian. Nigerians are people, intelligent, bold, and entrepreneurial and with a good zest for life, so our current level of development as a nation bothers me considering our human and natural resources. The drive is that as a Nigerian is to see Nigeria sit in its rightful place among the comity of nations. There is something that God has deposited in this space that makes us stand out. What the government needs to do is to create the environment to make the Nigerian entrepreneurial spirit thrive, through the provision of infrastructure – road network, constant electricity power, access to clean water and a common sense of purpose and unity.