Musings with Graduands

Donald  Duke

What you wish today may not be so appealing tomorrow, the world is evolving, and in its evolution dynamics change. Strategies are dynamic and ought to evolve according to circumstances. Time is an element you have little or no control over, but never fail to seize the moment. What is most important is you have a career plan, no matter how humble or lofty, it is your plan and like the lens of a glass, keep your thoughts and aspirations focused therein, sooner or later, you will generate enough heat and light a fire.

As in a lens, there is no time frame when the heat would generate a fire, the clouds could cover the sun momentarily but eventually it will pass. The winds could cool the heat or rains may fall but all these shall come to pass in time, let not your desire to accomplish wane. Nurture strength of spirit, believe and focus on yourself, you have no time to indulge on others, be thankful for God’s Grace upon your life, He that brought you thus far, shall never forsake you. What we term as misfortunes and setbacks only strengthen you, for what does not eliminate strengthens.

Fear is your greatest enemy, for he who dares wins. Be bold and daring, you are a stakeholder in this country, this continent and the world, and not a tenant. Globalize your aspirations where possible, but also be content with your humble strides, what is important is do positive things no matter how modest it may seem. Attitude in numerology is 100, imbibe the CAN DO SPIRIT, if I can think it, I can do it, or how else could the Wright brothers  have developed the aeroplane?  Consider where the world would be today without the daringness of those two brothers. Do not for once think there is someone out there looking out for you, or bail you out in your times of need, you are now O. Y.O, on your own.

Unfortunately, governance and caring do not correlate in Nigeria. Aspire for what will bring the greatest good to yourself and society. For instance, if theoretically, each one of you impacts positively the life of ten persons and they in turn impact a further 10  and thereon, in six  short years we should impact the lives of millions of people.

That may sound absurdly impossible  and impracticable, only because we have not made giving the creed in our lives. In tough times, develop the resilience to overcome, nobody said it would be easy, but never lose focus, always look at the sunnier side to life.

For me, when the times are rough and tough, I take to music. I learnt how to play the saxophone in a tough period in my life, do what you enjoy, to keep you in such moments sane, never allow disquietude overcome you, that is a sign of despair and the beginning of failure. Remember, quitters never win, and winners never quit. Personally, I’ll will respect you if you aim high and miss, rather than aim low and hit. Be of  self discipline, for if you are unable to discipline self, which is self conquest, how could you conquer the world?

Ego is a diabolical weakness not a strength, it’s size corresponds to your weakness. Samson was a conqueror until he lost self discipline. Be punctual in your affairs, it’s better to be an hour early, than a minute late. Rather be the hammer than the nail, but never fail to show compassion in all your affairs for you are not just a human being, but a humane being. Surround yourself with people you can learn from, not those that entertain you for they are of transient value. Study and understand your failures, it’s telling you something. Pace yourself, we all have our race to run. It’s not necessarily for the swiftest.

Remember Kodak, they invented the digital camera, but failed to understand the digital revolution. Always improve and keep abreast of advancements, it’s an ever changing world. Never stand still, time is the greatest and scarcest resource in the world, but, remember as Martin Luther King once said ,“if you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk and if you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means keep on moving”. Your watch phrase should be “good better best, won’t you ever rest, nay, until my good is better and my better is best. Let the DESIDERATA by Max Erhmann be you creed to life, it goes this way; “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

 As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.  Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.  Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you  in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful and strive to be happy. In all frankly, self first, for if you are of no use to yourself, you can hardly be of value to others.

So set forth, your time is now.

Now let’s talk about Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world. Our population, resource base, positive aggression make it imperative that we play a dominant role in the black world or at least in Africa. That we claim we are the largest economy in Africa is akin to dwarfs arguing who is taller. The size of our economy which is hardly $500b is equivalent of perhaps two  persons in the United States, several companies in the United States are far larger in worth than all of Nigeria, we need to contextualize ourselves vis a vis the rest of the world.

We still remain one of, if not the poorest nation on earth per capital. Ours is  the typical “in the abundance of water the fool is thirsty.”

But there’s a new sound bite in the air. A trillion dollar economy in the next couple of years. But how do we achieve this and how does it better and prosper each or majority of us? What are our strengths that we can build upon that makes us as  a collective, participants and   beneficiaries in the overall upbuilding of our country. But a nation with the right planks can help catalyze this. And the proposition is based on four anchors, SKILLS, HEALTH, INFRASTRUCTURE AND TECHNOLOGY. Our world today is skill-based. Automation has over the past 200 years been replacing labor and over the last 50 years this pace has accelerated. It is automation that saw to the irrelevance of slave labor in the west and not morality and is currently leading to higher than required production levels that require unsophisticated markets for dumping. That explains the selling of good quality cheap products to the less  developed, making it unattractive for this world to become productive entities in themselves. To bridge the productivity gap, we urgently need to bridge the skills divide. I’m not referring here to education per se; we have a sizable number of those. I am referring to a system of education that impacts on an individual a unique ability that is contributory to the overall beneficial growth of society, in other words, functional education as distinct from communicative education as we now have, that enables us read and write. The Germans have by their educational system articulated this perhaps more than any other country on earth with its high content of vocational studies and practical exposure during training, allowing and indeed encouraging innovation. It’s hardly conceivable that an automobile engineering student would not have dismantled and rebuilt an entire car by the date of  graduation and his final year thesis being on how to improve some system within the vehicle. And to aid this further, German manufacturing  businesses are an integral part of the educational system. The Chinese have recently adopted a similar system. Our inability to develop and implement a functional healthcare delivery system, has led nationally to both physical and economic hemorrhage. Physically, our productivity is one of the lowest on the continent and indeed the world. Malaria as a single scourge accounts for no less than 15 to 20% decrease in workers output, not to talk about poor nutrition and its impact on physical and mental health development. Besides, given the amount spent as  international funds transfer around the world on healthcare and the attendant high cost for healthcare locally, it is nightmarish to fall sick in Nigeria. Stating broadly, until functional medicare is available within five  minutes walk from our places of residence, as do churches , universal healthcare delivery will remain a mirage.

One of the great mitigations to achieving our full potential as a people and a nation is the absence of  infrastructure. The paralyzing road, rail, air and seaport infrastructure mitigates the rapid movements of good, and persons.

The poor communication system does not help either; this mitigates the provision of services. To date our telecommunications system is a cellular one, which is a secondary means of  communication with very limited data ability as against trunk lines with fiber optics with much larger data band width. What we call land lines, are indeed primary communication systems.

I need not talk about power or energy infrastructure. Ironically, Nigeria remains the single largest petroleum gas pollutant in the world. Flaring approximately 25 billion cubic ft. of gas daily, an equivalent of 25 million liters of diesel, an amount that could fuel enough turbines to power the entire continent, is simply inexplicable. Imagine if we piped the gas to every part of the country and made subsidized gas our stimulant to industry in our quest to achieving global industrial competitiveness.  After all we flare the gas.

You have to use what you have to get what you want. And embracing technology would be the catalyst. Technology and particularly information technology is the growth trajectory for the next 50 years.

As sophisticated as it may seem already, it is still in its infancy and the only only way to bridge the  development divide between the northern and southern hemispheres is to expedite our knowledge in this sector. It is indeed more crucial in today’s world than the study of English as a language and matched only by mathematics. (Truth is to study IT one must have a reasonable command of the language of instruction).

The usual question when I so postulate on what ought to be done is this: where is the money coming from? My answer is simple, several sources of financial engineering could bring this about, however, one obvious low hanging fruit, is amortizing our oil resources. With an estimated 40 billion barrels there must be a way to leverage on the short term this resource, indeed, it’s not so much the resource but rather our credibility as a nation that is hampering our collective access to capital. The true challenge is not finding the money, but its maximum, prudent utilization and this has thus far eluded us. Recent budgetary allocations betray succinctly this statements.

Is it easy?  NO, and it should not be. The bumps and hiccups along the way only help to sift the boys from the men, the girls from the ladies or better put, determine the entrepreneurs from the flock, thereby improving and putting focus on the productive gene pool. But this would require tremendous discipline, fastidiousness and for us an uncommon drive. But bear in mind, HE WHO DARES WINS!!!

*The foregoing are excerpts from a pre-convocation lecture given recently  by Mr. Duke at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria

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