Leadership by Products: The Role of Universities

Published on 7th November 2017

The concept of Leadership is to the best of my recollection easily the most engaging topic of discourse in most countries in Africa, for obvious reasons. 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.

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. Implicitly, the first reference in respect of a University when you graduate is character, followed by Learning.  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.

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.

Proverbs 18:16 makes a powerful statement to the effect that, “A man’s gift makes room for him” (NKJV). 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 fulfilment and contentment in life. Dr. Myles Munroe captured this by these resonating words, “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.

Education is not necessarily the key to success. Just like democracy, education guarantees nothing. It is not a man’s education that makes room for him, but his gift. Again, if education were the key to success, then all professors, all Ph.D holders and all the educated would 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 be employable. For  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.

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. However, 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. 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 said: “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.

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. Universities must also be centers of excellence and innovation. 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.

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. If private universities are focused, they could overtake the public universities as theatres of innovation and quality research, thereby becoming more competitive, 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, failure cannot be an option. May you be the generation that puts to shame, the shame of the black race.

By Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara

The Speaker, House of Representatives, Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

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