Today is for me a day of thanksgiving. Fifty two years ago I was given the gift of life. Thanksgiving to the creator is a debt so big we could never pay it off. The hope and prayer is that in his mercy nature he accepts our tainted struggle to do His will.
I have also been gifted with mentors that taught me early in life the important of walking your talk and an early acceptance that values shape human progress. Part of the result has been that in a culture steeped in talk I have continued to try to do something no matter the level of cynicism or indeed the calumny this has sometimes generated.
The Centre for Values in Leadership is one fruit of our struggle. What is the CVL vision and what are we trying to accomplish this week?
We are trying to find partners who recognize that they have a role in transforming Nigeria. The future is lost unless a tripartite partnership between government, the private sector and the social enterprise sector is established and proceeds passionately. I am convinced there is a place for every one in this auditorium and every business enterprise in this project. Our medium term goal is to reach 20 million Nigerians and impact one million of these enough that they become catalyzers. We hope that this week’s activities will help persuade you to live up to its promise, the dream of its founding fathers. Our goal at CVL is to start a values revolution that will make all Nigerians players in nation-building.
This involves a few big hairy audacious goals. Among them is not just intensification of our campaign to clean up urban environmental eyesores but a proposal to the Lagos State Government to work with them to make Victoria Island a garden city (the new Singapore within 10 years).
We want to partner with Universities to have student prepare thesis that focus on rural growth and support for implementing great thesis ideas with rural location, for the entrepreneurial graduate. We desire to build both an entrepreneurship extension service and agricultural extension service that can help reduce poverty dramatically. We welcome volunteers for this army. In March, we expect a team of experts from abroad. Included is one of the speakers today.
Our civics and school adoption program will help us get our best and brightest in the commercial sector to teach and mentor the next generation, compensating for the state of our schools.
With this sketch of our vision, let me now address some personal emotional questions regarding this day.
This week’s event is the culmination of 20 years of commitment to social enterprise. Staying the course on this cause has not come easy. This is why there is much to give thanks for. Much of the thanks go to a mentor in graduate school who convinced me that the world is full of cynics and preachers and those doers are few and constantly beaten up by cynics. Determined to walk my talk, I met a Nigerian society unfortunately regressing, in a recursive mode. I decided that I must preach but also that I must go beyond to teach and to try doing something about that which I preach.
Boy did I preach. I recall a time when I wrote three different weekly columns; on the Economy in Business Concord; Thinking Aloud in Vanguard; and weekly Op Eds in the Guardian. I did television and other media activities while keeping down a full time position in industry. But I always remembered that preaching and teaching without making a decent effort at doing was not the preferred way. Doing therefore meant a bit of hyperactivity in social enterprise, be it in the founding of the Concerned Professionals or the ten plus NGO boards I sat on, and in motivating entrepreneurs to establish a variety of enterprises, a few of which were cutting edge. Why all this? It is simple citizen’s duty, in my opinion, a debt I owed God for the gift of life and society for the privilege of being a co-traveller. The biggest trouble I have always had is that, many, not only fail to value this sense of obligation to a shared heritage, and why an individual should be passionate about advance of the Common Good.
On more than one occasion the views of the so called cynics and critics who asked what is this man looking for, got to me. On account of one such counsel about what some were saying, I decided one day to discontinue all the columns. A few months later I was to hear that they had finally reached me and so I had abandoned the business of speaking truth to power. I came then to appreciate Ebenezer Obey and his making a song of the “ketekete fable”. But that experience did not provide me the liberation I desired.
A few years ago, I experienced the ultimate triumph. Once you can account with confidence to your conscience, and to God, about the rectitude of intention, as you make a choice to serve, and you act in that freedom, you have reached the mountain top.
When that liberation came to me recently, I knew my life had ascended to a new plane. For to be free as men, the spirit of service must be in ascent; for to serve is to live. There are so many to whom I am grateful for reaching that plane which is really what I celebrate on this 52nd birthday, and so many to be thankful to for this moment.
My gratitude to a generous creator for whose abundance of giving I am locked in this struggle to make sure I deploy as much of the talent he has given me so that the condemnation I may face on judgment day may be limited both by his mercy and our struggle is beyond measure.
To a wife who has tolerated my incredible baggage of short comings and managed to keep me near-decent. To say that I love her, is the ultimate understatement. To family, friends, all of you here and the energetic young people of CVL my thanks know no bounds. The entrepreneurs I have collaborated with, my colleagues in social enterprise and in academia, I am most grateful for holding my hands, and making me look better than I really am.
To the speakers, most of whom have traveled thousands of miles to share in their knowledge and experience I do not know how to begin. Thank you for honoring us so, assured that God will do much more for you.
To close, let me reiterate my confidence in the future of Nigeria. The vision of our country that I see is of a nation rising from the ashes of poor leadership and soaring to great heights, with new values of hard work, integrity, deferred gratification and respect for the dignity of the human person. Prosperity, peace and stability will then be features of our reality. Just as CVL volunteers help turn Victoria Island into a Garden City, I hope and pray that you and I will do our part that this new Nigeria of our dream will be the heritage of our children.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Patrick Okedinachi Utomi
6th February, 2008.