Life Lessons: "DON’T JUST PRAY; WORK ALSO" -Vincent Maduka

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As the Director-General (DG) of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in the ’70s and ’80s, Engineer Vincent Maduka, OFR, was noted for his no-nonsense stance on issues bordering on professional ethics. That, of course, put him on a collision course with the authorities leading to his controversial sack by the then civilian government shortly before the 1983 General Elections. He was, however, reinstated by the military government that took over power on December 31, 1983, in a coup d’état. Over 82 now, Maduka, also a recipient of the Leader Without Title (LWT) award from the Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), Lagos, shares some life lessons. Please, enjoy the reading.

CAREER

LESSON 1: Know what you want and go for it.

I could have studied Medicine, Law or Science, but I chose Engineering for two reasons. First, is that it is a challenging subject: only bright students study it. I was good at Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics, which are the core subjects for studying Engineering. The other reason, of course, is that if I chose Engineering, I would not only have a scholarship, but also spend four years abroad. That, to me, was glamorous.

Everything seemed to be working perfectly well in my favour. I had a provisional admission from the Leeds University, United Kingdom (UK). I also got a scholarship from the Western Region Government to study Engineering abroad.

However, I had a rude shock, around April 1956 when I got a letter from the same Western Region Government, stating that my scholarship to study Engineering was no longer tenable abroad but at the Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology, Zaria. Instantly, I reasoned that was unacceptable.

The reasons were clear. I had an uncle who was one of my role models; he studied Engineering at the Higher College, Yaba. And when he qualified, he was designated engineering assistant. I didn’t want that. Again, I wanted a degree not a diploma which I was sure Zaria was going to offer. So, I said no way. Four of us were affected, three from my class and one other person. We decided to travel to Ibadan to meet the Minister for Education. Unfortunately, we tried for several months without success. That ministry argued that Zaria needed us to populate their school, but we tried to persuade the government that unless people like us took a degree in Engineering, the teachers at Zaria would always be the expatriate university graduates.

At a point we decided to meet late Anthony Enahoro, then Minister for Home Affairs, who was also in charge of complaints. We explained to him why we insisted on going abroad for our studies and he saw reason, and eventually we got another letter from the government allowing us to travel abroad.

I met another opposition when I got to the UK: the education officer at the Western Region Office in London told me that I had been assigned to Woolwich Polytechnic. I told him no, I was going to the Leeds University; that I had an admission to Leeds. He said that was impossible, that people didn’t just go to Leeds. I told him that at home (in Nigeria) I was assigned to Zaria, I refused. Here (in London) you are asking me to go to Woolwich Polytechnic. And I refused to go. When he discovered he couldn’t persuade me, he said okay go to Leeds.

At Leeds, my professor told me that somebody had been piling pressure on them to remove my name from the admission list and put that of somebody else, but that they refused. Go for what you want!

LESSON 2: Stick to what is right, not what may save you.

As the DG of NTA I had a series of fights with the political authorities over what I saw as a breach of professional ethics. I paid for it because it got to a point when they could no longer tolerate me and they asked me to leave the NTA and go to where they felt I would not interfere with their plan to use the station as a propaganda organ.

The military government that handed over to the civilians in 1979 set up a board for NTA, headed by Alhaji Babatunde Jose. It was a highly respected board and we were able to set up the ground rules that were largely ethical.

For whatever reason, the civilian government that came in dissolved the board. Instead of appointing a new board, the President appointed a special assistant to run NTA as a board.

I was the DG, while he was the Chairman and Board. We never agreed because he would have nothing to do with our ethical rules.

I recall a world press conference addressed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the opposition party. We had mobilised our team to cover it, but then, I got a phone call from the special assistant that NTA must not cover it. I told him it was impossible, how could the whole world media be there and NTA, the host station would not be there? He said that was his instruction. After a long argument and not to be seen as insubordinate, I made arrangements for our team to only go and record the press conference but not air it. But that gentleman called again and instructed that we must not go there and that our cameras must not be seen there. At that point, I gave up. Much later, I asked, why did I obey that instruction? I could have gone ahead and created a controversy. I regretted it. On the professional ground, I had a duty to record that event, whether you broadcast it or not is secondary.

But I didn’t, and that wasn’t professional.

LESSON 3: Keep your nose clean.

December 31, 1982, I was removed from office; no reason was given. But I felt relieved because the intrigue was becoming too much, and the battle was becoming too intense with the ruling party then always on my back to do their bidding. I did not get a sack letter from anybody; it was announced on television during the 7p.m news on the same NTA which DG I was. They didn’t accuse me of anything, they just announced that I had been removed as the DG of NTA and assigned elsewhere.

It was later that I got a letter posting me to the Ministry of Communications. I spent a year there as a technical adviser.

I knew the job was going to go; it was just a question of when and how. It is important to keep your nose clean. In my case, they couldn’t say ‘this is what you did wrong.’ It was just because they had the power to hire and fire. They couldn’t even charge me with being disloyal to the government. In any case, the law setting up the NTA did not say to be loyal to the party or government, but loyal to the nation.

LESSON 4: Invest for the later years.

Talking about money and investments, to be honest, I didn’t make money. I didn’t know I would live this long. So, I didn’t stack up money to take care of me at this old age. In the public service those days, you believed that your pension would sustain you after you retired. Of course, I bought some shares. The stock market was new then. You needed so much money to build a house. Okay, I own a house, but not as an investment to draw down when I retire. I didn’t see it then as a goal to pursue. It ought to have been.

My mistake is that I should have realised how important it was to make better investments. We didn’t have a contributory pension scheme which would have been more valuable than the non-contributory pension of those days. It just didn’t occur to me then.

Well, I did some consulting in engineering and management, but I was not chasing money. You understand what I mean? I believe one can make money through diligence, honesty and hard work especially if one is in the right market. For me, I wasn’t in the right market because I was a retired public servant executive; people don’t hire public servants to tell them how to run their business and the public service itself did not hire anyone to teach them management: government itself was not serious about training and management consultancy in those days. But I had broadcasting and telecommunication briefs, however.

I made a living on my personal reputation. But you can’t retire making a living like that. It will get to a time when you will have to stop, and it would not be easy if the business has not taken on a life of its own as a corporate organ.

LESSON 5: Marriage

Get close to your children.

I have a very lovely family. My wife and I have now been married for 50 years. She is the first woman engineer in Nigeria and perhaps in Africa. It has not been all rosy. I remember at the beginning her parents did not approve of the marriage over differences in tribe and religion. I am from the Igbo-speaking part of Delta State and a Catholic; she is Ijesa and a Methodist. But we were able to resolve all that. In fact, that initial resistance from her family actually made our relationship stronger.

As for our children, my regret is that I was not as close to them as I should have been. Yes, in the early years, I was always around, helping the children with their homework. But as the demands of the job increased owing to increasing responsibilities, I was not as close to the latter kids as to the older ones. They are all grown now. We are getting on well, but I wish I had been closer to the younger ones during their growing up years.

LESSON 6: Health

Keep working mentally and physically.

Whatever good health I am enjoying is just God’s grace. I eat very well and I eat plenty. If you offer me a glass of wine I will take. If you offer me a second one, if it has been up to an hour since I took the first one I may chose not to take.

I go to bed by 12.30a.m or 1.00a.m. That has become a habit because of my profession. During my days on Radio and Television, because I also worked at the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV-WNBS), Ibadan, Oyo State, as Chief Engineer and General Manager/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) before I joined NTA, we closed late in the night. Even in retirement, going to bed late has become part of me. I also wake up late, at 7a.m or 8a.m. I get about six hours’ sleep which is not really good. But I am working at it.

I believe one thing we need to know is that one must keep working mentally and physically. I don’t really do structured exercises, but I don’t like to sit in one place too long. I am also active in professional work. I am an active member of my professional association, the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Nigerian Academy of Engineering. In fact, we have an investment company which I chair. I am also the chairman of a private company as well as two or so other not-for-profit organisations.

LESSON 7: Spirituality

Don’t just pray; also work.

I am generally a liberal. Religion should be a personal matter; it doesn’t deeply consume a liberal. I am a practising Catholic; I go to mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. I am not an intensely religious practitioner, may be because I am too rational and logical. I tell people that prayer is very good, but hard work is key. You have to work and pray. If you think that prayer alone will see you through life, well, it doesn’t work that way for everyone.

I wish we worked harder than we prayed in Nigeria. We pray too much. Go and check it, every successful country got there through hard work. God has given us brain to use. Everyone else in the world is using his brain and also praying, but we are praying powerfully, and not using our brain enough, except, perhaps, to cheat. I am, of course, aware of the saying that Nigeria would have been much worse off if it was not for our prayerfulness.

Mistake

The professional mistake which I still remember and regret rather deeply is not going ahead to cover the Awolowo world press conference and air it and, perhaps, some similar cases. I did not sufficiently act and “damn the consequences.”