From becoming one of Nigeria’s top managers in manufacturing before his 33rd birthday, reaching a Presidential Advisory position at 27, earning two Master Degrees and a PhD at 26, plus a professorship and global acknowledgement as a leading scholar in business, political economy and media studies in his 40s, Professor Pat Utomi, at 60, has risen to become, perhaps, Nigeria’s grandest intellectual cum statesman through the help of books, writes Solomon Elusoji
One fateful morning in 1979, 19-year-old Utomi, a Mass Communication student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), walked into the office of Nigeria’s Foreign Minister in Lagos. He had come to look for the minister, Colonel Joe Garba, after forwarding a letter that never got replied. Although he had no prior appointment, he was confident and determined to achieve his goal.
“I met his secretary, but she looked at me from head to toe and told me to go back to my school and direct my letter to the Dean of Student Affairs who will direct it to the Vice-Chancellor who will then, and I mischievously quipped, ‘who will then send it to God?’” Utomi recalls.
He then went outside, with the intention of waiting for the minister to resume work. Fortunately, the minister’s vehicle drove in presently, and, as he stepped out, the young Utomi dived towards his direction, shouting, ‘Colonel Garba, I disagree with your position on Angola!’
The minister was perplexed. ‘Who said that?’, he enquired. The young Utomi stepped up, and they started discussing as the minister led him into his office, past the secretary who had earlier barred him with bureaucratic jargon.
Utomi would later convince the minister to come to Nsukka to debate the Angola issue. Although everyone, including UNN’s Vice-Chancellor, doubted it, the minister did come.
“The point is: young people are too willing to accept just anything; everything is taken,” Utomi says. “Had I listened to the secretary who said I should go back and write through this and that, that event might never have happened. You don’t have to be rude about it. Like it is said, if you wash your hands well, you will eat with old men.”
Pat Utomi comes from Nigeria’s golden generation, but his story is more peculiar, due to his precocity. His original ambition was to become a pilot, but because he had finished secondary school three years earlier than the stipulated age of 18, his father advised him to study at the University, to buy some time. Still, he wasn’t eligible for university education, which was open to only students who were 17 years or above. So, he enrolled at the Federal School of Arts and Science, before finally gaining admission in 1973, to study Mass Communication at UNN.
“My going to the University of Nsukka, to me, was simply to have one year of partying, making friends and then go off to aviation school,” Utomi recalls.
But a sequence of events would occur, which would shape Utomi’s path in a radically different way from what he had imagined.
His entry into Nsukka coincided with the end of the civil war, and a lot of books were being donated to the university from around the world. Utomi’s department was given the responsibility of creating a management team for the school library, but no student was willing to work voluntarily, leading to the library’s close. However, Utomi decided to volunteer, and in the course of his duty, he would indulge in reading, eventually going through every single book on the shelves. That changed his life.
“As a result of that, at age 26, I had two master’s degrees and a Ph.D,” Utomi says. “As a veritable witness that once upon a time in Nigeria knowledge mattered, at age 27, I held a presidential advisory position in the country.”
After graduating from Nsukka in 1977, he attended Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, where he acquired his post-undergraduate degrees. Within a few months of his return into the country, he got enlisted by the former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, to provide consultancy on some public policy papers, before being appointed as Special Assistant by the Shehu Shagari Presidency.
Following the demise of the Second Republic, he became Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Utomapp Holdings Limited, and then Assistant General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Volkswagen Nigeria Limited, before opting to delve into the academia. He has since become a Director at the Centre for Applied Economics at the Lagos Business School, a scholar-in-residence at the American University, Washington DC, and a Research Associate at the Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Utomi, who ran a failed attempt for presidency of Nigeria in 2011, has gone on to become a colossus of corporate management and leadership in Nigeria. He is active on the boards of several firms involved in diverse sectors, including financial services, information technology, food technology, marketing communications, media groups and telecommunications. This includes being the Chairman, Platinum Bank, Chairman, Corporate Finance Group (CFG), Chairman, Finacorp Building Society, Chairman, Business Day Media Limited, Chairman, Vivante Media Enterprises, Chairman, Graceland Chocolate Manufacturing Company, Englewood, New Jersey, USA. (1998 – 2005), Chairman, Patike Communications Ltd, Chairman, UEG (The Enterprise Group), Chairman, Trend Corps Africa – The CTL and Trend TV Group, Executive Chairman, UTRM, Chairman/ General Partner, Leapfrog Venture Partners, Director and Co-founder, Linkserve (Nigeria’s first Internet Service Provider), Director, Mutual Benefits Assurance Plc, Chairman, Utomi Technologies, Chairman, Interactive Data Systems Ltd, Chairman, Wordsmiths (Printing and Packaging Company), Director, Contact Marketing Services Ltd, Chairman, Utomapp Limited, Chairman, OK Computers Limited, Chairman, Bompac Limited, Chairman, Baywood Continental Limited, the Oil Servicing Company, Director, Computerage Nigeria Ltd (Nigeria Master Franchise Holder), Chairman, Avenues to Wealth – Network Marketing Venture, Chairman, Nagode Industries Limited
He has also undertaken several key policy assignments, including being Chairman, Presidential Panel for developing a National Integrity System (1999-2000), Chairman, Presidential Panel for Restructuring Agencies of Integrity and Transparency for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Secretary and later as Acting Chairman, Economic Advisory Team for candidate Olusegun Obasanjo in the run-up to the 1999 Presidential election, Governance Committee of the transition council of President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo, PPRAC, Chairman, Privatisation Committee Governor-Elect of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu’s transition working group. (1999) Led quarterly retreats of Lagos State Cabinet (1999-2005), Privatisation Consultative Council for Lagos State, served in USAID team designing and implementing training intervention for elected officials in Nigeria in 1999, Advisory Committee to Review JAMB (1999), Member, Delta State Think Tank on Development, the Steering Committee of the National Council on Privatization for Competition and antitrust, National Council on Privatisation Steering Committee for Pensions Reform, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on WTO and Trade Policy, Chairman Committee of the FCT Minister for the City University of Abuja, Consultant to World Bank Group Private Sector Assessment (PSA) for Nigeria.
Today, at the golden age of 60, Utomi continues to be one of Nigeria’s most accomplished intellectuals. And he is always quick to point out that his encounter with the library at Nsukka, shaped him for good. “Till date, when you enter my car, it’s impossible not to find a book,” he says.