Sam Adeyemi: We Need Leaders with Character, Competence


Sam Adeyemi, Senior Pastor of Daystar Christian Centre is reputed worldwide for grooming younger generation of leaders on leadership and management skills. In this interview with select journalists, he speaks on the ninth edition of the Excellence Leadership Conference taking place in Lagos next month, one-day leadership conference in New York this October, the current economic recession in the country, among others. Charles Ajunwa who attended the media parley, brings the excerpts

In the Beginning

We got inspiration from God before we started this church. Our purpose has always been the same: to raise role models in the society, to raise people who will be examples. And from scratch that indicated to us that the people who are called are influencers and leaders. So we started various platforms for doing this. But practically everything we do in our church is about growing people. It’s about helping people to find their purpose. There is something we say frequently in our church- ‘Your life is too small to be the purpose of your life’.

We help people to break free from self centeredness, focus on other people, focus on people’s needs and then we help people to discover how they have been equipped by God with gifts, with talents to meet people’s needs. We encourage the acquisition of skills, we encourage our church members to get education, develop the use of their minds, specialise, develop expertise and learn to do things with excellence. All targeted towards service. That has made our church to engage the community in a practical way. Church for us is more than what we do during our services. In fact, we tell ourselves that our services are merely leadership conferences. They are places where we come refuel, recharge and then go out to meet people’s practical needs out there in the world.

In 2002, we set up a leadership school because given that leadership is our bent and leadership is our calling. It didn’t take long for us to realise how huge a need there is for good leadership not only in our country or our continent but also all over the world. Africa has a reputation for producing some of the worst quality of leaders in the world. Here we are in Nigeria, we know it. This is what we need. So somewhere along the line we asked ourselves amazing questions. So if this is such a huge area of need how come this is not part of our school curriculum? Why do we expect people to give what they don’t have? We allow people to get into leadership positions they mess up then we all complain, we grumble, we mourn.

But what structure is there for preparing people because leadership is a skill, leadership is learned and leadership has become school curriculum now. I have a post graduate degree in leadership. I am running a terminal degree programme right now on leadership. All over the world, they are doing PhD in leadership. Where are the degree programmes on leadership in our universities? Leadership is more than an academic thing, it’s supposed to be part and parcel of your upbringing. So where is it in our primary school curriculum and secondary school curriculum? Two major things make a leader: character and competence. So where is that deliberate grooming of the character and deliberate cultivation of skills and expertise in leadership?

So since we set up Day Star Leadership Academy in 2002, we have had about 30,000 people come through our Day Star Leadership Academy since then. We teach the kind of courses they teach in business schools around the world: Financial Management, Project Management, Systems Development, Organisational Growth, Entrepreneurship and other practical things like Health Management, Family Success and so on. We teach National Development, we take up all Nigeria issues and apply the principles that we learned on solving them.

We teach Leadership and Leadership Development. The testimonials that we have gotten are amazing because now employers in town recognise the small certificate that we give people these days. The Dean of one of the private universities told me two years ago; they put out advertisement for two vacancies. They processed about 3,000 people, two people were employed. When they tried to analyse what made the difference with the two they found out that the two had been to our leadership school. They realised that was what made the difference. The person told me that they are planning to make a proposal to us because the students that they disciplined may be suspended and when they come back to the university they get worse.

So what they are planning is to build a partnership with us so that when they send them on suspension it will be compulsory for them to come to our leadership school so that they can come back better by the time they go back to school. It was after years of running the leadership school that we decided to start an annual leadership conference. The leadership conference is for branding, it’s for visibility and it’s for awareness. Most of those who come to attend the conference are graduates of our leadership school and we recognise them specially at the conference.

On ninth edition of Excellence in Leadership Conference

This is the ninth edition of Excellence in Leadership Conference. So it’s a place where we bring people who are accomplished in different fields. We want them to inspire emerging leaders, we want them to share their stories, we want to present models before the younger generation and the conference has been growing in leaps and bounds over the years since we started. People come even from outside Nigeria to attend this conference. After the conference, thousands of people buy the audio formats and video formats of the messages listen to them. We also put out some of them on the media and each year we get amazing stories from participants on how they have been able to apply the things they learnt at the conference on the their careers.

This year, our theme is ‘Maximasing Your Influence’. I will tell you one of the things we have tried to do from scratch, we realised that the concept of leadership in Africa has problems. Leadership in Africa one is tied to occupying a position. So when you refer to our leaders in Nigeria, everybody’s mind goes to people in government. But the discussion worldwide has moved from leaders to leadership because leadership happens at all levels. Where do you put the massive influence that parents have over their children, the massive influence that teachers have over their students?

Worldwide leadership has been reduced to one word ‘influence’, the ability to influence one or more people to achieve to achieve a goal. Once you bring the definition down to influence then the scales will fall off our eyes and we realise leadership happens everywhere. The child that persuades his friend to go buy sweet with him is leading that child; the ability to move someone from one place to another.

And secondly, our concept of leadership in our part of the world makes a leader superior to the people that he is leading which defeats the essence of leadership. The essence of leadership is not bossing people; the essence of leadership is service. It’s meeting needs. It’s solving people’s problems. That is the overall essence of leadership. When we read our own Bible that is what Jesus said about leadership. He told his disciples, because his disciples were normal human beings. They were competing for position; two of them hired their mums as consultants to persuade Jesus to guarantee seats for them when His government will come into full force. One will seat on the right, one on the left and when the others heard it they were very angry. So Jesus said ‘calm down’, what were you arguing when we were on the way? Mark 10:42-45, He said, “You know that among the gentiles their rulers lord it over them”. He said, “Among you it shall not be so. Anyone who wants to be first amongst you must become your servants; anyone who wants to be the greatest must become your slave. He said even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to give his life as sacrifice for many.

The true mark of true leaders is sacrifice, it’s service. But we have a structure of leadership in our part of the world where being a leader makes you superior to the people you are leading and most of the resources are used to sustain the leader. So our objective in the conference of this year, is to let each person realise we are not as helpless or as powerless as you think we are. We all have capacity to influence and I want to teach people how to do it because some of us have tried it. Like Jesus said to His followers “you are the light of the world”. That is influence. “You are the salt of the earth”. That is influence.

So we don’t want Nigerians to remain helpless, we need a need a generation of leaders. We need leaders that have conscience. That is what we have been doing and that is what we are doing in this conference this year.

Our line of speakers this year is very powerful and they are coming from different parts of the world apart from my wife (Nike) and myself. We have Bill Hybels, he pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago in United States. Some 20-25 years ago, it was the largest church in United States of America. It’s a massive church in Chicago. But apart from that, Bill Hybels set up the Willow Creek Association, an association of churches all over the world and then started a conference called ‘Global Leadership Summit’ usually has about 10,000 people attending live in Chicago and then at over 400 centres in United States and Canada people watched live via satellite.

Then after the conference they now take the DVDs and then run video cast of the conference in over 120 countries. I had the opportunity to speak at the conference last year as one of the faculty. So this conference reaches over 100 leaders worldwide every year. It’s a big privilege for us to be able to have Bill Hybels speak in our church and at this conference this year.

We have Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Africa’s richest woman. She is going to share her story. We have all the way from Kenya Pastor Julian Kyula. He is known more as a businessman than a pastor. His company is called MODE, the credit function that the mobile phone operators give us when your credit ends and you can still speak a few minutes. It’s his company that supplies that software. So he is coming to speak on technology, the opportunities available for business in technology and so on. We have Mo Abudu, who anchors Moment with Mo. We have from the UK Pastor Agu Irukwu. He is the chairman of the board of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the whole of the UK. We have Mr. Bimbo Olashore; he is the CEO of Lead Capital Plc, MD of Lead Bank at a time, and a renowned economist. We have Chude Jideonwo, we will like to incorporate the younger generation and this young man in his early 30s is absolutely dynamic. He is the CEO of Red Media.

We believe that this conference is going to be an opportunity first, for people to recognise the importance of good leadership. Thousands of people are buying into this message already, are committing to the leaders, committing to develop character, committing to develop their skills and committing to serve this nation, this continent, the globe, to serve their generation. Thousands of people are committing already to lead sacrificial lives. Well, the good news is that we have opened up registration for this conference and as at two days ago, we learnt all the seats are taken. It’s the first time for us I must confess more than a month the conference will hold registration is already full.

We will be showing each session live on the Internet free. I’m aware of people who registered from Canada, from the United States, from the UK, coming from different countries to attend.

Our vision is global; we believe that Nigeria has the potential not only to succeed but also to influence this continent and to influence the world. We started something at our Daystar Leadership Academy last year; we began to bring in church leaders from other African countries. We paid for their flight tickets, paid for their accommodation to come and attend our Daystar Leadership Academy. The amazing part for us is that they have been going back to their countries and they have been changing things. That is our vision.

Leadership Conference in New York

On October 20, exactly two weeks before this conference my wife and myself will be hosting a leadership conference in New York. It’s our first outside Nigeria. So our vision is global. As we are doing this here, so we are reaching out to Africa and so we are reaching out to the globe. Our global broadcast on TV is called ‘Excellent Leadership’. We are sincerely passionate about this message. We believe that in our life time we see people go into every sector of life and raise new standards for leadership, leadership that will have compassion for people and leadership that will not spend all of the resources on itself but rather invest in increasing the quality of life of people.

The conference in New York, we have named it ‘The Leadership Age Conference’. We are organising it for leaders and ministers; leaders of organisations both religious and non-religious. It’s holding on Thursday, October 20, 2016 at the JFK Hilton Hotel, just beside the JFK Airport in New York from 9am to 2pm. It’s a one-day event.

For over four years now, we have been running a broadcast on Daystar TV, which is a TV channel, based in United States that covers over 200 countries. People think that our church owns it but we don’t. We didn’t know about it when we started our church. It’s at 35 years old now. Marcus and Joni Lamb who are Americans founded it. So it was huge for us to be able to get on the channel. We are the first ministry-based in Africa that will get on that channel.

My wife and I were there last September, Marcus and Joni interviewed us and it was just to create awareness for the New York conference. My wife and myself have this event that we used to run here in Nigeria but we stopped when our duties enlarged significantly. So we are restructuring it now. We have a lot of protégées. We have a lot of people both in the religious and non-religious world that want to learn from our experience because we have a lot of story to tell. We don’t just teach the principles, we are practitioners. I tell people that I have tried many things that didn’t work than the ones that worked. It’s just that when you eventually get it to work, it compensates for all the things that didn’t work for you.

That is the format that we are adopting at the New York conference. I will speak, my wife will speak, we take a break and then when we resume for about 90 minutes it will be questions and answers. We believe that what we have to share is more applicable to the people attending if they asked their questions then we can address those issues one by one. We are excited and really looking forward to it. It will be a time for mentoring. It’s amazing; people are registering for the conference from all over the world.

His Relationship with Leaders

I agree with you that political leadership is very important. Our approach is strategic. We relate quite a bit with a lot of the actors in the political arena. We have a lot of friends in government and most of our discussions are in private. I will tell you what relating with people in government entails, the impression it has given me. It’s practically too late to teach someone what to do by the time he rises into a big position in government. Their character is set, their values are defined and they are adults already. Two, Nigeria is practically crisis in motion.

They come under so much pressure; they get phone calls practically every minute telling them there is a crisis somewhere. They manage crisis all through. It’s difficult for them most times to read any book or to attend any conference or to learn anything. So the best time to influence a president is long before he becomes president. Is to intervene at that stage, that phase when somebody’s values are still being shaped. But when people hear me diagnose the problem of Nigeria, they say you seem to have an understanding of what the problems are, have you spoken to the president? My first response is yes, and then I quickly clarify.

I say I know you are thinking about the president that is in the office now but I am discussing with the president that is going to be in office because I think that is the best time to talk to him or her. So our target is largely the younger generation. When we invite people to our leadership conference they usually get a surprise. When they stepped in, see the whole place parked out with thousands of people, they then realise they are young people. Because the concept of leadership like I said, is for people in office and the older generation. So at a personal level, yes, we relate with a lot of people in government and we share. And candidly there are many people in government who mean well but they are seriously restricted by the systems and the institutions that have evolved over time.

Assessment on Nigeria’s Economy/Sale of National Assets

On the current situation about the country, the economy and sale of national assets. I will be speaking on 1st October on one of the national TV stations and the theme is ‘The Economic Value of Nigeria’. The summary of what I’m going to share there is that it has been established worldwide that the ruling class always uses political power to channel the economic resources of a country to benefit itself. It has been there for thousands of years. That is the way human beings behave worldwide. It’s predictable the ruling class will always use political power to channel the economic resources to benefit itself and those close to the ruling class and those they like. The countries that have developed have changed that dynamic.

That is the only way they have been free to create wealth because no country can be more prosperous than the wealth created by its citizens. So the citizens got the freedom to create wealth when they broke the power of the ruling class and compelled the ruling class to channel economic resources to benefit everybody. It has been established worldwide that the ruling class never willingly let off power and they will never. So it’s predictable that your children and your grandchildren will still continue in this same condition that we are in except you and I rise to change this dynamic. In Europe, before the industrial revolution could happen, France literally killed the monarchy. They just took it out, cut it off and declared equality for all citizens.

In England, the monarchy power was whittled down. So you can see what the monarch looked like today. To pave way for representative democracy, you will see the Prime Minister is accountable to all the people, has to go to the House of Commons or House of Lords and give a report every week and so on. Citizens can ask Prime Minister questions because he is answerable to them. The United States was created as a reaction to the control and the limitations created by the monarchy in England. So they started from scratch declaring that they believe that God created all men equal. That you are president does not make you more important than I am because I’m citizen and that is why that is the country that has been able to create the greatest wealth on this planet. There is no hiding from it, yes there are few places you have monarchies like some evolving economies in the Middle East now. It’s not all the countries in the Middle East that are prospering. It’s just that those ones prospering the leadership have been compassionate and invest the resources on the citizens.

This recession Nigeria didn’t need to have experienced it. Yes, all the countries that have oil are experiencing it a little bit but not all the countries are taking the heat as hard as Nigeria, because the ruling class got cheap money from oil and refused to empower Nigerians. That is what Nigerians need to observe that till tomorrow the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary they are not going to work to empower you to be able to create wealth. When you find a government that is ready to deal with the Land Use Decree and make it easy for you to own property then you will know that you have found a government that is ready to change the structure and help you to prosper, your children and your grandchildren.

We are not discussing the real issues. There is no short-term solution to this recession. The foundation was long term so there is no short-term fix to it. It’s law of demand and supply. We simply are not earning enough foreign exchange. Period! And we are not producing enough to sell to the world. So, sale of national assets think about it as an individual. If you have been doing a lot of investments and then you run short of cash, you can dispose of a property to get some cash to spend and to invest for the moment. That is not a big deal. The only problem with it now is that all of us know if they sell those assets nothing is coming down to Nigerians. The ones they sold before what did we get? They sold the power company, they sold the telecoms company. All the things they sold we cannot point to the hospitals that were built.

We cannot point to the world-class roads that were built. So the result is predictable. The elite class is running out of cash to spend. If they sell the assets watch out what will happen only trickles, only change will come down to Nigerians. We need to go for the jugular of the structure. And well, you may ask what should Nigerians do? There are certain things you have to watch out for, if we have not resolved owning landed property, when will we get the intellectual property which really is the place to make money now in this knowledge economy worldwide. We were taking selfies with Mark Zuckerberg, if Mark Zuckerberg grew up in Nigeria what will he be doing by now? Likely he might have finished university trekking all over the place looking for a job.

He grew up in an economy that allows you as a human being whether your father is rich or not to dream and to fulfill your dream. The Facebook that made him a 32-year-old fifth or sixth richest man in the world. Facebook that he started as a small thing on the university campus because of the environment he grew in. All of us need to rise up now and create that environment and the ruling class will not create it except they are compelled to do so. So the least we can do is our voting card. There are certain things if I don’t hear you describe those things I will not vote for you. Or if you find yourself into power I will vote you out because I know every other thing is English. Until you touch on those areas that will make it possible for me to create wealth.

The younger generation yes, gives cause for concern. When you interact with the younger generation, it’s a big shame that the country has not invested in the younger generation. I’m sorry to use the word it’s ‘wicked’. There is no part of the world that wants to progress that treats its younger generation the way Nigeria does hers. I attended a conference several years ago, I saw a banner and what was written on it impacted me and I have never forgotten it- ‘What goes into a mind comes in a life’. That is why serious minded countries take their educational system seriously. Check any country that is developing education is free until at least you finish secondary school and high quality. It doesn’t matter whether you are a child of a rich person or a child of a poor person. The first time my wife and I visited Paris, so this tourist was driving us around town showing us things, we went by a university as at that time I don’t know whether it has changed now, education was free until you have finished your first degree. If that is the minimum for everybody in the country just imagine the quality of his or her thinking.

Daystar began to intervene in schools many years ago when I walked into Oregun High School there and tears wailed up my eyes when I saw the state of the classes because I went to a public school all through. I did not see a single chair, not a single desk, holes on the floor. I asked where do these kids sit? They said on the floor, if they want to sit on chair they carry the chairs from their homes and when they are going they will take them along with them because they will steal them before the next day. It was too much for me to believe.

Yet this is deliberate on the part of the ruling class because the money is going somewhere else. Not that we don’t have money but it’s just going somewhere and grooming this young people is not their priority. The results are there for us right now, one million write JAMB and universities can only take 150,000 or maximum a 100,000. The rest so what should they do? So you have those who passed WAEC, passed JAMB can’t still find higher institutions to go. Some of them do that for three to four years before they can get into a university. All that will turn around to hurt the country.

As part of our Daystar Leadership Academy we have this programme we run only in July every year. We call it DLA for teenagers, so we take in teenagers from 13 to 19 years old. I take them two courses; one of them is National Development. I discussed Nigeria with young people, the very first one I can’t forget because I give them opportunity to ask questions and then one of them asked you believed that Nigeria can change but what do you do when you discuss with your friends and all of them don’t believe? And they tell you that they have made up their minds that if they work in government when they become adults that they will steal money.

Now what do you do in a situation like that? My heart broke. One of our church members whose children went to school in the UK said that he was discussing with his friends, children of other rich Nigerians and two of them were throwing banters. One said, I saw your dad’s name in the newspaper, what is going on, how much did they say your dad stole because it’s nothing near what they said my dad stole. When you hear those things they break your heart.

The question now is, the younger generation are they listening, are they changing, are they redeemable? I will say the more challenging we find it the lower we must go to intervene because the question is that there must be some interventions somewhere we can’t believe this. You know they say the difference between a big man and a poor man is how they interpret a problem because what the poor man calls a problem; the rich man says it’s an opportunity.

If he sees under that there is opportunity to sell food, people are naked is opportunity to sell clothes. So for us who are leadership minded we just see an opportunity if the formal system wouldn’t do it we go through the informal way. We want to leverage the media and these days the social media. Some of us go there, we see how of the young ones abuse themselves, insult themselves, and curse themselves. We say what a shame! But instead of running away we jump in and we try to influence the discussion. I believe that all hope is not lost if some of us can influence. I tell our church members something because when you take up Nigeria’s issues it can be overwhelming. I tell them Jesus said “you are the salt of the earth”, salt doesn’t have to be the same quantity as the food before you sweeten it or give it taste. What you just need is potency, ability to affect other people.

How to fight through this recession

Circumstances change, methods change but principles never do. You still have to build your life on the basic principles of wealth creation. The starting point is always mindset, that a human being cannot rise beyond the quality of is false. That the major difference between a poor man and a rich man is the way they think. A rich man knows that but a lot of people don’t know. They think the difference between them is the money in their accounts, the car and the house. It isn’t. One of the fundamental things about a rich man is that he believes that he is rich and that is my first advice to the poor man. Fight those thoughts; don’t allow your circumstances to control your thinking because God designed your thinking to control your circumstances.

If you allow your current circumstances to control your thinking, your thinking will perpetuate your current circumstances. Break the cycle! So believe that you are rich first then the how will show up. What it does to us is like I said, it helps us to recognise opportunities. The basic principles that control money; money is only a means of exchange of value. It’s Christians that pray for money to come to them, which is very ridiculous. It’s not that money doesn’t help but you will find out that the people selling chairs, selling food, providing houses for rent they are the ones that are still collecting money. They will collect your money. You have to have something to sell and everybody in this church hears that. You must have the ability to identify people’s needs and you must have something to sell.

What happens during a recession is that people readjust their priorities. They may not be able to afford luxuries any more but there are basic needs that must be met. Have recession till tomorrow they must have food. They may slow down the rate at which they buy clothes but when you look at Nigerians and you realise how important ceremonies are to us. It’s inside our belief system and values, they will buy Ashobi. They may reduce the rates but they must buy jewelries, shoes because we take our looks seriously but there must be accommodation, they must find somewhere to sleep. So if you can afford to rent a house, you will collect rent and recession increases the rate of the rent, it pushes it up. If you are offering product and services, you will always be on the side that money flows towards. One important thing I will add, when the money is coming in how it’s managed is critical.

A time of recession is a time to adjust one’s taste. If there is a reduction in income, there is got to be reduction in spending. We must always keep the spending lower that the income. But that one word I must say is key to my breakthrough- Proverbs 21:20 “There is much treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise but the foolish man spends everything.” It was just 10 minutes somebody explained it at a conference and I said “Jesus”. The person said, “There is no excuse you can give, if you spend all your income you are a fool.” I came back that day, I sent somebody to go and bring savings account for me.

Then I was already pastoring this church and sincerely speaking it was a revolution that happened to my income once I started saving. I don’t spend all my money any more. If income goes down I cut down my spending. Our society is a very sentimental one; we are too concerned about what people would say-“my enemies will be happy.” Why will your enemies not be happy when you take your hand to ruin yourself buying what you cannot afford to buy? That is all we asking our government to do to cut down on spending. They should reduce the spending so that we will believe that there is recession.

Liberating Nigerians from the ruling class

There have been many attempts and many people have attempted it from different directions. I tell you one thing that I have noticed all these years. I look at the generation of the Gani Fawehinmis, the Prof. Wole Soyinkas, Dr. Beko Ransome Kutis, these people have been shouting since they were young since the 60s and now they are dying Nigeria has not changed. Actually, that has tempered me a bit because I have been as passionate since I was a teenager. I even thought I was going to join the military …but looking at all those attempts that have been made, made me calm down. You need to really analyse this thing and be very strategic. The first question is, is it possible? Yes, because it has been done elsewhere in the world. It’s possible. Will it happen? That is the one I don’t have control over. It depends absolutely on the choice made by Nigerians. It depends on the will of Nigerians.

As a pastor, when this republic started in 1999, we encouraged people to vote. Some pastors even asked the worshippers to come to the church with their voter’s cards. The only thing was we got to the voting booths looked at the names on ballots and there was nobody to vote for there. There was no credible person to vote for there. I realised it has to be you have to vote, who are you voting for. So it’s part of the things we need to address now. What is going on now in the political parties, some of the parties are not democratic, they don’t do election and they produce candidates.

We go to vote they snatch the ballot boxes. The people in power use police to scatter all of us. Nigerians need to go into the parties; they need to participate in political parties. Nigerians need to take the courage to start new ones or get involved in the ones that have influence. Two, advocacy has to be a major part of it. We need to speak up. We need to make those that are doing it wrong uncomfortable, those that are breaking the principles uncomfortable. The least we should do is speak up.

Encourage Nigerians to set up NGOs and thank God these days the media has been democratised by social media. The little bit you can do even if it’s only 10 followers that you have, have a Twitter handle, have a Facebook page, have your own blog. It’s just a matter of time good will eventually overcome evil. If we hang in long enough, what Martin Luther King Jnr was fighting for and making noise about in the 60s is what made it possible for a black man to be the president of America some 40 years later. So I believe that that it’s possible, I believe that we should try and that we should be in it for a very long time, 10, 20, 30, 40 years something will shift somewhere along the line.