No swagger for the debtor
I have a sense that if you truly seek, and get to know some of the sources of your many weaknesses and some of your possible strengths, you may be some way down the path to solution of your problems. I got a chance recently to see a stacking of what is probably my main strength source when I got a call from the Chief Executive of the Silverbird group, announcing I would be receiving the Lifetime achievement award. What was remarkable about the timing of the call and my location was that I was in a car on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, in the company of a man who has mentored me for 43 years, Otunba Tunji Lawal-Solarin. I did not have to think much to know that people like him have made it easier for me to get many things done. People are top of the list of my blessings.
A few days earlier, Meryl Streep had received such an award for her trade from the foreign Press Association. Her remarks as she received the award stirred something in President Donald Trump. He fired back with a weapon he loves, Twitter. In describing Streep as overrated, Mr Trump may have voted with a minor minority. I think she is probably one of the greatest actresses of all time. But Trump’s remarks may have been more appropriate, aimed at me. I have no doubt that I am much overrated. But to be rated at all, over or under, is good fortune, and I wondered how I got the chance. It hit me straight in the face that but for the privilege of much Grace, the luck of men like the one sitting by me and those whose lives influenced mine even though they never met me or even heard of me, my time of being could probably have been one big mess with nothing to be remembered for.
On the trip to Ibadan we had stopped to visit with an old secondary school mate from there in Ibadan who had just been elected Governor of a state. As I do with friends, I had taken time to counsel the Governor-elect that victory is no invitation to triumphalism but an opportunity to seek immortality through the impact of the time of the person’s watch over the lives of the people one is privileged to lead. The reward, I had assured him, was immortality and for which a debt of gratitude should be owed to those who provided the opportunity to serve. That debt is better paid through sacrificial service for the advance of the Common Good.
At that moment, in the car, on that highway, thanks to the long story of the friendship with the man travelling with me, I could begin to imagine a long line of giants who stopped to lend me their shoulders so I could stand and see more clearly. The man in the car with me was a young Economist at a Multinational Oil company when as a 17-year-old undergraduate when I came for vacation job in Lagos. But I knew too that it took quite a few shoulders to get me to that fateful and eventful vacation that did much to help frame how I would see tomorrow. It was clear to me there and then in that car, that the phrase “of my own I can do nothing” is not just an expression of faith from words of scripture but a truism. Who can do much without others, and grace?
Beginning from a work ethic imbibed from parents both of whose disposition to work were exemplars, and American Catholic Priests of the Dominican Order who soaked me in the mystic of then US president John F. Kennedy and service as the essence of life, when I was seven, I have accumulated debt I cannot possibly amortise.
To be invited to receive a lifetime Achievement Award is to be reminded that the time for accounting has come.How do you give an account for the generous gift of love and tolerance from a spouse who fuels you and pretends your inadequacies can be tolerated; children who ignore their right to make a greater demand on you that is their due; and teachers, friends and a society that over rates you and generously responds to the little you give as if it is magic. If the truth be told all that this can do is truly make you feel inadequate.
Appreciation to these many mentors and role models of my life and to those who decided it was worth their time to honour me. Models matter and I have taken to lots of them, just as I have had mentors. They were close by like the Dr Christopher Kolades and Dr Pius Okigbos, and far away like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, David Stockman, Mahathir Mohammed, Julius Nyerere, Michael Okpara, Obafemi Awolowo and the Madiba. The mentors like Ajie Akpabi Asika and Pius Okigbo who gave me literally weekly routine, “free post doctoral lectures” on the science of politics economics and society and the Eagle eyed who spotted me from far off like Dr Alex Ekwueme and Alhaji Ahmed Joda, and Odu Arthur Mbanefo, who pointed to the path of wisdom. Mother figures like Mrs Omobola Onajide and Chinyere Asika who proved formidable sources of encouragement and, in fact, cheerleaders.
I must admit though, that I have an awkward handshake with honour for achievement. On the one hand I think it is a good way to socialise a generation by pointing young people to “The Right Stuff.” This is why I deploy it as a tool, notably through the “Leader Without Title” (LWT) tribute series of CVL. In a country in which people chase titles and would bribe Civil Servants for one, the CVL was designed to give young people a credible source of role models. Yet I am a little ambivalent about celebrating achievement because I genuinely believe that there are always many more people more deserving of an honour I receive, than myself.