By Yakubu Dogara
Permit me to start by profusely thanking the Chancellor and proprietor of Covenant University, our dear Papa, Bishop David Oyedepo and the Vice Chancellor for finding me worthy of delivering the lecture at this matriculation ceremony. I thank our dear Papa and the university community for asking me to speak to you today. This invariably makes me at this occasion a “double barrel Speaker” granted my privileged position as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Thank you Papa for finding me worthy of this double honour.
Let me also quickly extend commendation for the visionary leadership demonstrated by the Chancellor and proprietor of this University for the incomparable huge investment in this university which after only 15 years of existence is today competing in most parameters with other Universities in the country and beyond, founded decades before her.
The concept of Leadership is to the best of my recollection easily the most engaging topic of discourse in this country and perhaps in most countries in Africa, for obvious reasons. By asking me to contextualize this lecture with a focus on the role of products of Universities in Leadership equation, I understand your expectations. Yet I am fully aware that given the historical evolution of Universities in producing religious, scientific, political, corporate and other institutional leaders, I am expected to underline the role of Universities in nurturing leaders for society with capacity to understand and solve its problems and challenges in all ramifications. This I hope to discharge in an unorthodox way by drawing references from the scriptures consistent with our culture in this Commission.
Traditionally, matriculation is a ceremony whereby students are formally enrolled as members of the institution. When you are enrolled as a student, the university undertakes to mould you in both CHARACTER and LEARNING. At the end of your training here Covenant University will certify all of you with the appellation: “FOR CHARACTER AND LEARNING”. Implicitly, the first reference in respect of a University when you graduate is character, followed by learning. Over time, analyst have opined that the wisdom of character requirement preceding that of learning is to …the fact that a first class character with second class academic rating is a preferred leader than the reverse where a prospective leader is of first class academic credentials but second class rated or less in character. For me as head of one the chambers of the National Assembly, I have examples to narrate and share with this audience in respect of the bench marks of leadership requirements not only at plenary and committee levels of the National Assembly, but in other arms of government, community levels, family levels, in our religious organizations, corporate board rooms, labour unions, etc etc time permitting.
Universities are the first example of the role of strong institutions in the production and shaping of leaders in all sectors of the society. As centres of Excellence, universities are revered grounds and venues where profound and pivotal lectures and pronouncements by political, scientific and development leaders have been made in the past. Due to the quality of the audience here and beyond, such pronouncements are likely to be taken very seriously.
Permit me to however, start with the mandate of Covenant University as enunciated when it was established on October 21st, 2002, 15 years ago. The rendition of the Covenant University mandate is as follows:
i. Raising a new generation of leaders through a qualitative and life-applicable training system that focuses on value and skill development
ii. Raising a new generation of leaders through a broad-based qualitative education built on sound biblical principles culminating in the birth of path-finders, pace-setters and trail-blazers
iii. Raising a new generation of leaders who shall redeem the battered image of the black race and restore her lost glory as this trained army of reformers begins to build the old wastes, repair the wasted cities and raise the desolation of many generations.
All the three main mandates of this University revolve around raising leaders for Nigeria, Africa and humanity. Let me generally reflect on these mandates areas in the context of scripture especially on the subject of leadership by products.
Proverbs 18:16 makes a powerful statement to the effect that, “A man’s gift makes room for him” (NKJV). What the scripture is saying is that all the matriculating students and indeed each one of us has a gift or talent deposited in him or her by God for which the world will make a room for. It is what God designed you to do-that gift or talent you have buried in you-that will make a way for you in life. Therefore, unless you discover, develop and exercise your gift, you will never find real fulfillment and contentment in life. It was Dr. Myles Munroe of blessed memory that captured this in very resounding terms by these resonating words, “that the greatest tragedy in life is not death, but it is to be alive, and not know why? Unfortunately this is the question more than 99 percent of humanity will never find the answer to.
Let me start by making a statement that may shock all of us and that is that education is not necessarily the key to success and just like democracy, education guarantees nothing. I say so because the Bible does not say that a man’s education makes room for him, but that his gift does. Again, if education were the key to success, then all professors, all Ph.D holders and all the educated will be prosperous, stable, secure and happy. But sadly that is not always the case because it is one’s gift that is the key to his success.
You can be intelligent, smart and skillful but if that is all you have got, it’s an employer that will hire and pay you. But when you discover, develop and release your gift, it’s the world that pays you. Unfortunately, our education system was not designed to train students to identify and develop their gifts but to train us to be employable. For Nigeria and indeed Africa to make the needed progress we must discard this colonial masters’ design of an education system that continues to churn out products that depend on others rather than products we can depend on. This revered academic ground must be a ground where students bring their gifts to be cultivated and developed. I must commend the matriculating students for electing to study at Covenant University. This is because I know of no other university that is remotely close to Covenant University as a centre where students can take their gifts to in order to have them polished and released. If you are looking for greatness, these are the grounds where greatness begins-where your training will lay bare those gifts buried in you for which our world must make room.
I should never be understood to be saying that education is worthless. I believe in education and I know that education is most important in personal development and advancement but the point I am making is that we need more than education to make a mark that will force the world to make a room for us.
Every advancement, every progress ever attained by man has come from those who discovered their gifts. Examples abound of those who discovered their gifts and made a difference. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975 to focus on Microsoft full time. The move sparked a lifetime of success for Gates, who is now estimated to be the richest man in the world. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen ditched Washington State University to join forces with Gates. Michael Dell started Dell from his University of Texas dorm room and left to see it through. Oprah Winfrey left Tennessee State University to pursue a career in media. Whole Foods founder, John Mackey dropped out of college multiple times. Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to focus on Facebook full time. Oracle billionaire, Larry Ellison dropped out of two colleges. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1972, after a semester. The list is endless. Show me a man or woman who ever made an indelible mark and I will show you a man or woman who discovered his or her gift.
A great institution is not rated by the quality of its buildings, Professors, or how conducive its learning environment is, I concede these are ineluctable rating criteria but the most indisputable and uncontested criteria is the quality of its products. Of what use is a first class tree if it produces second class fruits? Incidentally it is the fruits that tell you the quality of a tree. If you have quality fruits check the quality of the roots of the tree it came from.
The greatest teacher ever, said and I quote: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit”.
Without alumni of Ivy leagues winning Nobel prizes and making outstanding contributions to human and societal progress none of those Institutions will be in the Ivy League. So it’s their products more than any other thing that determine their membership of the Ivy League. I salute Covenant University’s vision 10:2022 to be among the top ten Universities by the year 2022. If you want to know what kind of tree Covenant University is, just check out it’s fruits-the eagles that have been released from this citadel of learning and the quality of research emanating from here. I believe it is the quality of these fruits that attracted all the matriculating students to this great institution.
Now let us shift to the role of Universities in producing products that take leadership positions. Universities that must take the lead must also take the lead in empowering and investing more in their students. For this commendable vision to be achieved, Covenant University’s fruits (products) must out-compete products of other universities. I know of no easy way by which this vision would be realised.
Universities must also be center of excellence and innovation. The products of this matriculation must lead in innovation to honour one of the cardinal goals of this institution which is the “birth of path-finders, pace-setters and trail-blazers”. Without innovation no university can compete. Thankfully, innovation has nothing to do with new things as nothing new is being created by God. All you need to innovate is present. Innovation has to do with arranging old things in new ways. Ideas are the key to innovation that’s why universities must be encouraged to engage in debates about pleasant and unpleasant issues and to question possibly all things including those working and those not working. Any university that diminishes debate and the spirit of free inquiry will diminish as a result.
It is gratifying to note that Covenant University is already ahead in delivering innovative tools some of which have been adopted by the National Universities Commission (NUC). Is it for nothing that First-class graduates of the University have emerged tops in the presidential Special Scholarship scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID), 2013-2015?
In the 2015 Webometric ranking, Covenant University emerged as overall best in Nigeria and West Africa and number 15 in Africa. Covenant University has also remained the best Private University in Nigeria and No. 1 in Web of Repositories in Nigeria and West Africa (2013-2016).
Covenant University has demonstrated leadership in being a pioneer in centralising Entrepreneurship in University curriculum in this country. This today is the cutting edge competitive factor that distinguishes the theorist graduate from those that have skills and capacity for self-employment and wealth creation. Yes, there is no doubt that this University could proceed to lead in helping to correct the sad negative image of and narratives on the Black Race in the world today. Covenant University, by what it has accomplished so far, represents a major promise that a wholly black built and owned Institution will finally make it to the Ivy League of world Universities in our life time.
As I said earlier, there remains the need for private Universities to continue being innovative and qualitative enough to attract international grants through research patents and productive Research and Development (R&D). If this is done, Private Universities would have contributed to leadership in research and knowledge, which is the competitive edge index in contemporary economies of the world.
We at the National Assembly are willing to consider request for new laws that will support and encourage the best research endeavours that solve our economic and social problems and if private universities are focused, they could overtake the public universities as theatres of innovation and quality research, thereby becoming more competitive which is the correct trend in developed economies. In this regard, the National Assembly could consider laws that will promote productive research partnerships between private and public universities. If this will enhance the competitive and ranking capabilities of our universities, so be it.
It was the wife of one of America’s President, Eleanor Roosevelt that said: “The future belongs to those that believe in the beauty of their dreams”. So go ahead, dream big, believe in your dreams and you will succeed. Aim high. People have gone to the sky and to the moon; so the sky and the moon are no longer your limits even though people used to say, “The sky is your limit”. Dream big, work hard, believe in God and you will succeed.
Finally, it is important to note that it is only those of you who discover, develop and release their gifts to the world that will seal the place of Covenant University as one of the very best. It is therefore my hope that you will excel and become worthy Ambassadors of this great institution in line with the vision and aspirations of the proprietor and Founder and our collective aspiration as a Nation. For our matriculating students, failure cannot be an option. May you be the generation that puts to shame, the shame of the black race.
Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives delivered this paper recently