Kayode Fayemi: Six lessons UNILAG taught me

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Solid mineral minister Kayode Fayemi.
Kayode Fayemi: Minister of Mines and Steel Development

An excerpt from  the lecture delivered by Dr. Kayode Fayemi at the 2017 Convocation of the University of Lagos, his alma mater

 

Universities, like the people within them, must embrace change, re-imagine possibilities, and revitalize continuously (Faust, 2012). In contemplating the challenges of leadership and development in Nigeria therefore, we have to critically reappraise our educational institutions and make necessary interventions to ensure they not only have adequate funding, world class physical structures, and functional teaching equipment, but also the right social environment that supports the education of the total man. In the words of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “Whether we are conscious of or acknowledge it or not, the fact remains stubborn and indestructible that poverty, disease, social unrest, and instability, and all kinds of international conflicts, have their origins in the minds of men … It is only when the minds of men have been properly and rigorously cultivated and garnished, that they can be safely entrusted with public affairs with a certainty and assuredness that they will make the best of their unique opportunity and assignment” (Awolowo, 1967).

I would be highlighting certain life lessons that must be learnt in the university environment that promotes the inculcation of progressive values, and the development of sound character in young people. If we are to improve the quality of our country’s human capital and invariably have better national development outcomes, we have to pay attention to the factory that produces the most important segment of our work force that we expect to drive development in every sector, and which is the crop from which our future leaders would arise.

These crucial lessons are present in the ideal university setting, and some of you have done well to imbibe them. Some others have ignored them in pursuit of “more important matters”, and are thus deficient in some of them. The misplaced emphasis on certificates – that is to say the sole concentration on obtaining a certificate as the end result of your 4/5/6 years of study here, has stopped some of you from imbibing critical life skills that ought to have been learnt concurrently with your academic studies.

Year-in, year-out, thousands of young people graduate from our universities. Many of them end up swelling the ranks of unemployed or underemployed people, leading to a massive youth unemployment crisis that has calcified over the years, with grave socio-economic portents for the future. How are our universities addressing this and other strategic national priorities? Are we paying enough attention by ensuring our graduates are well equipped to respond to this and other challenges of our time? We also have the tragedy of academically sound graduates that have no fibre of ethical awareness, locus of control, or moral judgment in their beings. These ones are cannon fodder launched into the larger society to complicate already existing socio-economic malaises – disasters waiting to happen.

My thesis is that knowledge alone is not enough; neither is character by itself sufficient. A fit and proper UNILAG graduate is one that has successfully straddled the obligations of being found worthy in both ‘Character and Learning’. I would now be sharing with you from my own personal experiences, six key lessons and life skills that UNILAG taught me, which I would be commending to you.

 

  1. Knowledge is Power – Learn How to Learn

The university offers the opportunity for serious minded young people to acquire knowledge. The centrality of academics to university life is such that, your ability to prove that you have learnt what you ought to, in accordance with the curriculum, is the singular criterion for progression from level to level till you graduate. However, some people mistake passing exams for acquiring knowledge – they are two different things.

As a student, you have to learn how to learn. That is, you have to learn the principles behind actually acquiring knowledge. When you receive information via lectures, books e.t.c., the first impulse should not be to commit it to memory for the purpose of ‘dumping’ on exam day, or to go on social media to display your familiarity with certain subjects. You should meditate on new information and study more deeply and widely, allowing it to truly illuminate your mind – that is what new information is supposed to do after it has been thoroughly processed.

Sometimes, new information dislodges dated ones in your mind, at other times; it reinforces what you already know, and gives you greater depth of perspective – one thing it never does is to leave you the same. As futurist and philosopher Alvin Toffler once wrote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learnunlearn, and relearn.”

So, you have to decide, do you want to merely pass exams or do you want to truly acquire knowledge and prove this by passing exams? This generation is one that is increasingly characterised by quick fixes in every area of life. We see it on social media every day, where oftentimes the most influential and most vocal, are those with the quickest fingers to type out bunkum. There would come a time you wouldn’t be required to write an exam again, for some of you, that time has come already as you may have decided not to earn another degree after this. Does that mean you would stop learning?

Consider your attitude to the acquisition of knowledge. How many of you ever attended a lecture in a different faculty, just for the purpose of learning something new? How many of you ever read beyond the reading list that you were served? How many of you ever attended an inaugural lecture or any other public lecture for that matter in the course of your time in UNILAG? It breaks my heart to attend some of these academic events right inside a university, and the hall is half empty, simply because there is no credit to be awarded for attendance.

I’ll tell you a personal secret. By God’s grace I have held public office for the most of the past six years. Consequently, I have many people trying to reach me for one thing or the other. Those that find it easiest to get my attention are not those that come to me with notes from influential people, or those that can breach protocol and get to see me – they are people that are smart enough to write out what exactly they want; what advice they have for me; or what input they want to make; and send to me by letter, email or text. In all my years in office, I have treated all my letters and files personally and similarly attended to all my emails myself, in order to ensure serious minded people have access to me. I have also retained the same phone number for over a decade. There is a light that shines through when an educated mind writes to you, as deep calls to deep, and I am quick to single out such letters and messages for attention.

In the days to come, many of you would have elevator pitches, where you have few unscheduled moments to intelligently engage an important person. How prepared are you for such opportunities? I encourage you today to commit to a lifelong attitude of learning. Read more and speak less. Stop hustling to get attention and let your mind set you apart from the rest of the noisy pack. Go beyond the narrow confines of disciplinary specialization, and adopt a multidisciplinary approach to learning, in order to be grounded in vast areas of human endeavors.

2. Discipline – Master Yourself

Without discipline, knowledge is useless. In the world today, with the advancements in civil liberties, democratisation and freedom of speech, we operate in a freer world with increasingly less constraints placed on individual conduct. Now, anyone can do almost anything, at anytime. The impetus is therefore on discerning individuals to self-regulate and be disciplined enough to do what is right, and at the right time, if they want to be successful.

The university offers the opportunity for you to learn self-discipline which is very important for productive living. When you first enter into the university, you were enthralled by the new found freedom, because many of you were leaving home for the very first time. You soon discovered that this freedom actually comes with a greater responsibility. The academic environment promotes the development of crucial work ethics needed later in life. In the university, you have set targets that you must deliver in defined formats and before strict deadlines. Nobody would babysit you to know how you would deliver, nor would anybody celebrate your efforts or listen to your excuses, you are simply required to deliver results.

Many young people these days lack self-discipline and are given to blaming everybody but themselves for why things don’t work. Some people simply talk too much; others eat too much; while others sleep too much. At graduation from the university, you ought to have learnt how to moderate your impulses, and how to manage your time, money and other resources for greater efficiency, effectiveness and productivity.

You now understand why that lecturer you hated so much always walked late comers out of their classes – he was only trying to teach you to respect time. There is nothing African about arriving late for engagements, it simply shows you are not honourable, and honour is central to who we are as Africans. In our daily lives, we waste so much valuable time and resources because some people simply lack self-discipline.

Discipline is the very basis of human progress. Without it nothing can be made or properly maintained. Indiscipline causes all sorts of harms. The temporary pleasure it gives is not the genuine pleasure of freedom (Roy, 2015). Self-discipline and self-mastery are very important life skills you must develop if you would be taken seriously and given opportunities to advance your interests in an increasingly competitive world.

  1. Adaptability – Be Flexible and Dynamic

The university environment is a universe of itself. It offers the unique opportunity to interact with different people from different parts of the world – people of different cultures, faiths, political persuasions and material circumstances. University students are not only expected to learn with others, but also learn from them.

A great mistake any student can make is to become so hermitic in the pursuit of excellent grades that he/she fails to robustly interact with other students and learn from them. I am always thrilled by the testimonials of first class graduates of UNILAG, who demonstrate that it is possible to be academically proficient and also socially well adjusted.

The reason for this is that you never know what life would bring your way, and you always have to be in a position to adapt to whatever circumstances you find yourself in. In the world today, your adaptability quotient is just as important as your intelligence quotient and emotional intelligence. Some people are just so stuck in their ways, and cannot see beyond the restrictive boundaries of their academic disciplines and socio-cultural backgrounds. It was Nelson Mandela that said “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.” It was his ability to adjust and rise to the challenges of his time that thrust greatness upon him.

How many of you ever went for excursions during the course of your university education? What do you know about other tribes and cultures? Do you have friends from any other department asides yours? Are your only friends the ones who speak the same language and practice the same religion as you? Geographic mobility and the ability to adjust in new environments is a major factor in recruitment considerations and career advancement these days.

Some of you that studied Biochemistry might find yourselves working in banks. Some lawyers might find themselves in consulting. Some of the Engineering graduates here today might find themselves in advertising, while some doctors might find themselves in tourism management. I studied history and currently find myself in Mining. Don’t ever stay idle waiting for the ideal job, do whatever your hands find to do, adapt and excel at it.

As important as raw intelligence and personality traits are, now more than ever, being able to adapt to change will profoundly determine your ability to survive in the current job market or get re-employed if you are in a transitional period. (Parkin, 2010).

  1. Truly Live – and Follow Your Passion

For many of us, coming into the university was the first time we took some measure of control over our lives, because our parents and other authority figures had always taken decisions for us. The clothes we put on, the food we eat, the friends we keep. For many of us, our parents decided for us the courses we read in the university, and are still waiting on the wings to tele-guide our decisions going forward. Parents have their own agendas of the type of future they want for their children.

Don’t get me wrong, our parents mean well, which is why they project their understanding of success in life on their children, and try as much as possible to mould them in very conservative views of success. Many parents are inclined to encouraging their children to study certain courses in order to become successful in life. The issue is these widely held views of success constantly changes, and your studying certain courses considered lucrative today, might not necessarily guaranty your being gainfully employed tomorrow.

A World Economic Forum 2016 article asserts that some of the most profitable and employment creating jobs today did not exist 10 years ago, including: App Developer, Social Media Manager, Cloud Computing Specialist, Drone Operator, Sustainability manager, Millennial Generational Expert, Big Data Analyst/Data Scientist, e.t.c. It further reports that estimates suggest “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet.”

Take Andela for example, the start-up recruits young talented technologists from across Africa and trains them to become world-class developers through a four-year technical leadership program. The enterprise has accepted over 200 young engineers since it was founded about two years ago, out of a pool of more than 40,000 applicants. Andela which was founded by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, a 26 year old Nigerian, recently attracted $24 million dollars in funding from a consortium led by Facebook’s Mark Zukerberg.

Technology hubs like Andela and Co-Creation Hub are on the increase in Nigeria, despite low internet penetration and limited infrastructure. They are creating the future because they have dared to find their passion and pursue it. The testimonials of the founders of many of these start-ups indicate that they faced uphill tasks convincing their parents of the paths they had chosen in life. There are many young people who after graduation, simply hand over their certificates to their parents, and start pursuing careers in areas where their passions lie, which are very different from what they studied in school.

 Therefore, the advice I would like to give to young people and parents alike is – the most important thing to do is to find your purpose and passion, and commit to pursuing and fulfilling it – parents, let your children fly. The question to ask is “what does success mean to me”? The first step towards being successful in life is to identify what your own definition of personal success is, and the parameters you would use to assess and look back on your life when you are old and grey. The spoken word artiste Prince EA said, “It is not death that most people are afraid of, it is getting to the end of life, only to realize that you never truly lived.”

According to Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

  1. Seize the Moment – and Just Do It!

The university environment imbues you with so much power. If you have applied yourself in the course of your university education, you should by now have not only the intellectual capacity and ethical awareness, but also some degree of experience and a vast network to leverage for your personal and professional interests.

One of the failings of our society is that we don’t give young people enough room to explore their creative abilities and make mistakes early. Equally as bad is the fact that young people don’t optimally take advantage of these opportunities where they exist. Universities as a microcosm of the larger society ought to be the grounds for students to explore and make mistakes in a protected environment. A person in his youth will have only one rival, that is his own potentialities; and he will have only one failure, that is, failing to live up to his own possibilities. (Fashola: 2011)

I can share categorically, that there is almost nothing I have found myself doing in my life and professional career that I did not first experiment during my time in UNILAG. As a leader, activist, writer and academic, I cut my teeth right here in UNILAG. I was exposed to leadership by serving as the Secretary of the great Eni Njoku Hall, which also made me a member of the Students Representative Council. I also served as the Secretary of the Youths United in Solidarity for Southern Africa (YUSSA), as well as the Secretary General of UNILAG’s chapter of the All-Nigeria United Nations Students’ Association (ANUNSA).

As an activist, I was involved in a number of social causes early in life. I even had the opportunity of volunteering at the secretariat in Keffi, Ikoyi, Lagos, of the ANC/SWAPO liberation movements who had an office in Nigeria at that time. Also, my immersion into writing and journalism was as the Editor of the Watch Magazine, together with Wole Elegbede who went on to become the Chief Press Secretary to former Governor Olusegun Osoba of Ogun state, Tokunbo Afikuyomi who went on to became a Senator, and Lekan Otufodunrin, now a senior editor with The Nation Newspapers.

The only one of my extra-curricular activities in UNILAG that hasn’t found expression in my life so far is acting and stage performances. Believe it or not, together with associates like Sola Salako,  the media personality and consumer protection activist, and Oscar Odiboh, the advertising executive, I was a member of Theatre 15 that staged a number of plays during our time as students. Extra-curricular activities are very important. Giving wings to your imagination through activities you are passionate about, puts you on the path of success and fulfilment in life. According to Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

You have to learn the art of seizing the moment and trying new things. Never be afraid to put your passion to work and start something new. Trust me, failure is overrated. If you haven’t failed at something, that means you are not doing anything. Besides, if you don’t fail when you are young, when do you want to fail? When you are old and grey? Some of you have to be bold enough to start new enterprises. Others have to be bold enough to pursue a career different from what they studied. Yet, others have to leave their comfort zones to explore new horizons outside the country.

Late Chief Awolowo in his book ‘Voice of Reason’ stated that “a man whose personality is fully developed never fears anything; he cringes not, and never feels inferior to anyone; His breadth of mind enables him to exercise his freedom in such a manner as not to endanger the interests and freedom of others. He is a citizen of the world – free from narrow prejudices. He is what he is because the three main constituents of his entity – his body, brain, and mind – are fully developed.”

Likewise, in the words of Wilferd Arlan Peterson, it is time to “explore your mind, discover yourself, and then give the best that is in you to your age and to your world. There are heroic possibilities waiting to be discovered in every person.” You would never know the feats you can achieve until you overcome fear and procrastination, and JUST DO IT!

  1. Quit Whining – No One Owes You Anything

The last lesson I want to talk about is the debilitating entitlement mentality that is commonplace among young people today. The earlier we realize that no one owes us anything, the better for us, and the more prepared we would be to face life’s challenges.

Don’t think you are entitled to a job, just because of your parents’ influence or what they have. Don’t think things would be all rosy because you graduated from UNILAG with good grades. Be prepared for surprises and disappointments because life is bound to hand you a couple. The only guarantees you have in this life is what you do for yourself with the grace God has bestowed on us all.

You have to be prepared to bend backwards and do what you might consider to be beneath you, because of the bigger picture. When you consider my resume today, you might see the prestigious organisations I have been privileged to work with. What you need to know however, is that as a UNILAG graduate and a post-graduate student in the United Kingdom, I have also driven taxis and worked as a security guard, amongst several other menial jobs I did in the past to survive.

We need to get off our high horses, quit whining and start doing – for ourselves and for our country. If something angers you so much, instead of whining, think hard about possible solutions and do something about it. Doers have a way of finding each other out, and before you know it, you are in good company with progressive minded people that exude positive energy – comrades with whom you can challenge the status quo, fight together, and succeed together. Some of the closest friendships I have kept to this day are from my UNILAG days – people I can actually trust to surmount challenges and get things done.

So also, complainers have a way of finding each other out, to indulge in very depressing rhetoric about why things can’t work and who is at fault. From their comfort zones they criticise without offering any solutions and always end up frustrated – run away from such people.

Henrik Edberg said, “… if you change yourself you will change your world. If you change how you think then you will change how you feel and what actions you take. And so the world around you will change. Not only because you are now viewing your environment through new lenses of thoughts and emotions but also because the change within can allow you to take action in ways you wouldn’t have – or maybe even have thought about – while stuck in your old thought patterns.”

The world has always depended on those that believe they owe themselves the duty to leave a lasting impact on the world. Are you one of them? You owe it to the world to leave a lasting legacy – the world owes you nothing.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, as I conclude my remarks, I hope you have benefitted from my sharing with you these key lessons UNILAG taught me. For those that have similarly learnt these lessons, and can therefore relate with me – good for you – I hope my words served the reinforcement of these lessons in your hearts and in your minds, and continue to guide you in life. For those that missed these lessons as students of UNILAG, I offer my assurances to you that there is the opportunity to imbibe these key values from today, and start practicing them. This is what would differentiate those that are merely ‘certificated’ from those that are truly ‘educated’ UNILAG graduates.

Once again, I congratulate you on attaining this major milestone, and pray that you would always remember this day as the beginning of great and mighty things in your life. I am extremely delighted to be here with other alumni, to join your loved ones to witness your convocation. It is a rare honour to see you celebrated, and join others to receive you into one of the most vibrant university alumni communities in the world. I hope our paths cross again on your way to greatness, and your life counts in the universal quest for a more just, safer, and prosperous world.

Remember to remain humble, compassionate and courageous. May God bless and keep you and grant you good success and fulfilment in your years ahead.

Read the full lecture here: Kayode Fayemi’s UNILAG Convocation Lecture

 


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