By Ethelbert Obinna Umeh
Today 16th March, 2016 is one of those important days I will never forget in a hurry. This is the day for the second time in my life having a tete-a-tete intellectual romance with the erudite academic guru, entrepreneur, mentor of mentors, orator, youth activist, Pan-African leader of thought, dogged fighter, and unrepentant apostle of due diligence; Professor Pat Utomi ofthe famous Lagos Business School. He was the convocation lecturer at the 7th convocation ceremony of the prestigious Imo State University, Owerri.
I am not a graduate of Imo State University, but I have more than a dozen people who have graduated from this institution. I was excited beyond words upon learning that Pat Utomi will be the lecturer.
His lecture was greeted with thunderous applause at intervals. He garnished his speech with relevant life stories and experiences that have shaped his thinking over the years, and how he was privileged to gain free lectures and scholarships from renowned people overtime. He also told us a story of how he miraculously discovered a book he never wrote in a popular library in Boston, USA- full details will be reserved for another day.
I remember the first time I listened to him was in 2007 at Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu auditorium when he was on a nationwide Presidential campaign tour. He took time and energy galvanizing the country trying to sell his ideas of leadership, industrialization and entrepreneurship to the electorates. However, the presidential bid was unsuccessful for so many obvious reasons, but that is a story for another day.
At the Bigard auditorium, where over one thousand people gathered to listen to the man that has transverse the length and breathe of black continent and even beyond. The hall was filled to the brim with vibrant philosophers, erudite theologians, and well-traveled scholars from different walks of life.
He spoke for more than 3 hours to the amazement of all that gathered. He mesmerized us with his knowledge about faith and morals, motivation, leadership, business, entrepreneurs and of course Nigeria.
Another important thing about his speech is that he spoke without a pen and paper in his hand. After listening to him, you will have no other option than to conclude that this is a perfect man with firebrand academic wizardry.
Today, 9 years after, I went to Imo State University to listen to him dissect the theme: STRATEGIC FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR (A Panacea for a balanced tertiary education in Nigeria). Professor Pat Utomi understood that this is a very sensitive topic, coming at the nick of time, and honestly he didn’t take it for granted. He tried all he could to make the theme conversational and discursive.
He was not interested in throwing accusing finger on anybody, but he was hopeful that Nigeria would be better in a short while, especially if the elites can do something they have never done- by embracing a new order against the enchantment and bewitchment of the old order.
In the words of Rev.fr. Professor John Obilor (2015 odenigbo lecturer), and the chairman of the convocation committee. Pat Utomi did not lecture us, instead he conversed with us. In the course of the lecture, he cited many instances why Nigeria’s problem remains squarely failure of leadership, and why everybody including the elites are suffering from the ambience and vagaries of leadership deficit and people with certificated illiterates- we have placed upon ourselves.
I am not writing this piece to report verbatim what Pat Utomi said, because I couldn’t have access to the lecture note despite some efforts, but I am writing to say few things I learnt from him having listened to him speak.
He cited many examples on why and how he is making frantic efforts to leave footprints on the sands of time. His footprint in Lagos Business School, where he is one of the founding members speaks volumes.
According to him, the idea of a university is to advance a new order-advancing, exploring the frontiers of knowledge and/ or stretching the imagination. Taking a critical look at the leadership crisis in the country, and the poor funding some governments is giving to academic pursuits, he challenged the elites to work harder and never rest on their oars in the struggle for academic excellence, and maintaining that right things be done at the right time. Together, we can make a difference.
Leadership according to him is a sacrificial giving of self for the advancement of common good. Leadership is not going about, disturbing the neighborhood with sirens, leadership is not self-glorification or demystification. It is all about living a life for others. He is hopeful that one day the true elitist will run the affairs of Nigeria.
I have read so many articles, critical reviews, economic and financial books authored by Pat Utomi, but listening to him today was a great pleasure. I abandoned piles of work in my office, cancelled lots of appointments and despite the busy schedule I quickly zoomed off to the Imo State University auditorium to hear from the horse’s mouth.
At the end of the day, my happiness is that it was indeed a fruitful outing. I will not forget his input on the role of industries in the civilization and educational initiative- taking Lagos Business School as a blueprint.
His discursive lecture was greeted with thunderous standing ovation cum applause from all and sundry, including the Acting Vice Chancellor Prof Mrs Ada Obasi, who was overwhelmed with words. Thanks Pat Utomi for coming, thanks for impacting our lives, thanks for being so inspirational, thanks for believing and investing hugely in the education, business, job creation, employability and entrepreneurial mindsets of many of us. We are truly grateful!