You Will Only Be Great If You Devote Your Life Serving Others, Osinbajo Tells Graduating Students of Lead City University (Read Full Text)

L-R: Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Pro-Chancellor Lead City University, Prof Jide Owoeye and Chancellor of the University, Prof Gabriel Ogunmola during the Convocation. Credit: Dare Alesinloye

Success is more easily attainable than greatness. You may be a successful businessman, politician, or professional but greatness is not for everyone.  But I think I learnt the secret of greatness, you will only be great if you devote your life, and your efforts, to serving others.



I am honoured to have been invited to celebrate this special day with you. The 10th Convocation ceremony of the Lead City University.

In celebrating the past, we honour the selflessness and enterprising spirit of the founder and all those who not only dared to envision this great institution but turned it to a dream, to this city of great edifices to nurture the great minds of the imminent future.

So today we must honour the founder of this place of creativity and learning, Prof. Jide Owoeye; a man whose life and times have proved that with vision,  hard work, and the courage of your convictions, you can achieve practically anything.

By establishing this University and before it, several other educational institutions, he has shown that securing the future of the following generations is the most important service that we owe the present.

As we do this, we also celebrate the great scholars and the fine academics who make up the faculties here at the Lead City University. You are the thought leaders at a pivotal time in our national history, whose enormous task is to guide the present and inspire the future.  And as we celebrate also and perhaps most importantly, the reason why we are gathered, the graduating class of 2017, congratulations and many congratulations also to the parents, family, guardians, sponsors, and loved ones of the graduands.

I was 60 years old in March this year, and I must confess that it was one of the greatest surprises I ever experienced!  I just suddenly became 60. I can clearly remember when I graduated when I was 21 years old.   How time flies. One of the most important lessons you will learn is that time flies. Whether you are wasting it or using it well, it simply flies by.

There are a few other lessons I learnt along the way. And at the age of 60, I’m entitled to give some advice, and l will share some of them with you. Some you might agree with, others you may not, but I would be most flattered if you remember them and whenever you meet me in life’s journey, somewhere down the line, you will tell me whether I was right or wrong.

First I learnt is that talent, an excellent degree, even coming from a well-off family, does not mean success and certainly does not mean greatness. The most talented people, those who get the best degrees, and even from a well-known family, do not necessarily become the most successful in life.

The difference between success and failure, mediocrity or excellence, is the character.  Along with character is the importance of opportunity, but perhaps most crucial, is the grace of God.

So what is character? And l will define it my own way; character is a set of values that shape the conduct of an individual. It is the set of principles, spoken and unspoken, that a person observes and lives by.

I will speak about some aspects of character that I have learnt would make the crucial difference in life. These are trustworthiness, courage, hard work especially (innovation) and self-discipline. Let us take trustworthiness, the currency of business, commerce and social interaction is trust. If you can be trusted, if people find you trustworthy, your class of degree or what your family name is will not matter. You will be successful.

As a young student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, in 1980 my school fees were delayed in a particular term. There were problems with the remitting from the Central Bank in Nigeria. So I spoke to the student’s counsellor in my faculty who asked me to go to the bank and ask for a loan. I asked how?  How do l go for a loan when I don’t have any money? I owe over 600 pounds and I probably have only 50 pounds in the bank, where would I get the collateral to take the loan?

Anyway, I got to the bank and l explained the problem to the lady across the counter that I needed to pay 600 pounds for my fees, and she simply asked the name, and l brought out my ledger, she looked at it and found out I had no money in there. She asked me when I thought I could repay, I said maybe 6weeks. She then gave me a document I signed and she gave me 600pounds.

I paid my fees and I paid back when my cheque came. But in the same United Kingdom, a few years after, if you carried a Nigerian passport, the banks would not even open an account for you. Why? Some Nigerians abused the trust that financial transactions require. They thought, how foolish these oyinbo people are, they used credit cards to buy cars, furniture, electronics and ran back to Nigeria and hampered the opportunity of others in getting a loan from the bank account.

And if you look at the past few years, many foreign banks have closed accounts of Nigerians because of the numerous attempts to defraud on those accounts. So no matter how much money you have in your account, they just say we don’t want your business because it’s just too much trouble to do business with people who cannot be trusted. So because of the untrustworthiness of a few, a whole nation is painted black. But there is an opportunity here because so many Nigerians and foreigners must do business in Nigeria.

The world is in search of the Nigerian of integrity, the trustworthy Nigerian to do business with, to employ. Everyone wants faithful partners or employees. Even thieves are in search of trustworthy people to keep their money with.

The other lesson is that you must repay when you borrow, whether it is from a friend, relation or a bank. Credit is the lifeblood of business, the lifeblood of commerce. You are dead if your credit sources dry up. And let me just go on quickly, l think it is important for us to just look at one or two other issues along the lines of character and hard work.  But just before l go into that, let me recall a story, a story of a friend of mine, while we are talking about trustworthiness.

I have a friend, Remi Morgan; he owns perhaps the largest Christian bookstore in Nigeria. Possibly the largest bookstore in Nigeria.  When he wanted to start his business of importing Bibles and Christian books from the US, no publisher in the US wanted to give him credit. Why? Many Nigerians who they had done business with in the past had taken credit and simply disappeared. So he had to pay cash for everything.

Now if you want to have a profitable business, you must have a credit line. But if you don’t have credit, you can’t do profitable business. But gradually, he began to build trust, as time went on he began to show that he could be trustworthy. They gave him credit for 30 days, then 60, then 120, and he made sure he paid back, so everybody wanted to do business with him.

Suddenly every Christian and business book publisher around the world wants to do business with this honest Nigerian. So later on, his bookstore company possibly became the largest bookshop in Nigeria because he showed that he could be trusted.

The moment you show that you can be trusted, everything changes. Simple as it may sound, hard work and diligence are one of those character attributes that will set you apart. And let me dwell on this point; from here on, it really doesn’t matter what you are hired as at your first job, whether you are hired as lowly as a receptionist, or as a personal assistant, no matter how lowly it may be, what is important  is how much hard work and diligence you put to it.  This is what will recommend you in the future, and l want you to remember that it doesn’t really matter how that job is, it does not matter whether it’s an important job or not, but what will recommend you is hard work and diligence.

While I was teaching at the University of Lagos, as a young lecturer, in the Department of Public Law in the Faculty of Law, there were 3 typists in the department. The chief typist, senior typist, and the junior typist. Because in those days before laptops and personal computers, typists in universities had to do a lot of work and they were very important because you always needed to type all your materials.

When there was work to do, what l discovered was that the chief typist would disappear. He works only until 4 pm. The senior typist would be nowhere to be found. But a gentleman called Adereni the junior typist, who only had his school certificate, was remarkably hard-working. Sometimes I would drop him off at his home at 1 am.

Years after I was working as an adviser to the then Attorney-General of the Federation Hon. Bola Ajibola, who later became a judge of the World Court. While in the court at The Hague, in the Netherlands, one day he called me and asked if I could recommend a good secretary who is hard working and could do long judgments. I had three options, chief typist, senior or this junior typist, but the junior typist at a time had only school certificate, he didn’t have any other qualification but l choose him. He got to the Hague and typically worked hard and diligently. Every judge in the court wanted him to work with them. He later moved his family over to the Hague and got degrees and made a good living for himself. One day he remembered me and actually sent me a car.

I just want to say that it was so apparent that all that this man had to proof, despite the fact that he had no qualifications at all, all he had to proof was diligence and hard work.

Solomon in the Bible, the wisest man on earth, said these very wise words; the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill, but time and chance happen to them all.

Time and chance is another way of saying opportunity is crucial to success. And I’m sure many of us are familiar with that saying, opportunity knocks once as they say. But I think it’s probably truer to say that sometimes opportunity whispers.  Besides, as Ravenhill, an intellectual said, “the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” In order words, opportunity itself has a lifespan and you must seize it within that lifespan.

But to seize opportunity, you must be prepared. Most people have great hopes and dreams. But they are hardly ready for the opportunity when it comes.

Let me tell you another story. A lady worked with me many years ago. One of her greatest ambitions was to do a Master’s degree in law in the US. She prayed hard about it. And everyone in the department knew of her desire. One day out of the blues, we got an offer from a US foundation through the embassy to nominate a candidate preferably female, to do a Master’s degree and fellowship at a US University.

Wow the rejoicing that day. We were all so excited. We had only two days to the deadline. We had to submit her passport that afternoon. Then the bombshell, she didn’t have a passport! We desperately tried the next day to obtain a passport but it didn’t work. To cut a long story short. She lost the opportunity. She had everything else but missed her moment.

So there are some here who will say I want to work in an international organization, maybe the United Nations, and you know that to stand a good chance, you need a second language apart from English. So if you haven’t started yet, now is the time to learn French, Spanish, or even Chinese. So you won’t be like the young man who was asked if he spoke a second language and he said yes, English and Itsekiri.

I think that aside from hard work, innovation will be very important. Here in Nigeria, many young people are using technology to disrupt existing assumptions and create new opportunities, new markets for themselves.  Nollywood film industry, Jason Njoku is not an actor or movie producer, but he has used technology to create a new line of business in the Nollywood film industry. He is the proprietor of the Iroko brand TV; he made the Iroko brand the largest mainstream licensors and distributors of over 5,000 Nollywood films and African Music. Iroko has attracted $20 million in equity.  So is the story of Jobberman, which was listed in the Forbes Magazine Top 10 Tech start-ups in Africa.

Jobberman’s story is a fascinating one.  In 2009, Olalekan Elude, Ayodeji Adewunmi and Opeyemi Awoyemi at that time, students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, started a site called Jobberman in their hostel to help connect people looking for work with companies looking to hire. Now Jobberman is one of the top 100 websites in Nigeria, and it gets 5,000 applications every day.

Just last May, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook mentioned them as one of the major technology innovators in Nigeria. They have grown the company into a multimillion-dollar company.  The young founders have now divested their interests in the company and are investing in other young Nigerian start-ups themselves. Jobberman follows the same principle as the others, they simply linked supply and demand.

There is a Venture Garden Group, a group of young people, another story of creating new markets and opportunities within existing markets. Venture Garden is a data-driven Automation Company founded by three young Nigerians average age of 28, the company focuses on big data, automation and revenue assurance systems and has taken innovation to new levels.

For example, one of the subsidiaries, PowerTech, provides automation for the National power grid which now allows real-time monitoring of energy flow from generation to distribution and payment to all parties, to promote transparency and sustainability of the electricity market.

Social Media is possibly the internet’s most outstanding phenomenon. It has created its own economy, and the only limits of opportunity are those of your imagination. For example, see how many young people have taken advantage of it to innovatively redefine the press, journalism and communication.

Today bloggers such as BellaNaija, Linda Ikeji, and news aggregators, like Nairaland command larger readership than regular print newspapers. Linda Ikeji alone has more people reading her blog than any Nigerian newspaper.  Nairaland, founded in 2003 by 20-year-old Seun Osewa, claims about 1.6 million subscribers, several times more readers than the combined number of readers of all Nigerian papers put together.

Nairaland creates no content of its own. To start off, it cost Seun Osewa less than N10,000 a month and Internet access, to build this multi-million Naira business and it’s so incredible when you hear about these young people. I remember a young friend of mine too, who at some point used to sell videos and gift items after we left university. This young man became an entrepreneur who owned the biggest marketing company in our country today. The young man is seated here today, his name is Bolade Osibodu

Finally, I have learnt that success is more easily attainable than greatness. You may be a successful businessman, politician, or professional but greatness is not for everyone.  But I think I learnt the secret of greatness, you will only be great if you devote your life, and your efforts, to serving others.

The path to greatness is self-sacrifice for the good of others. Mandela is great because he gave his youth and his professional practice as a lawyer, in the struggle against apartheid and a South Africa that would treat all citizens as equals.

Martin Luther King is imprinted in history because gave up everything for the dream of a nation where none would be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. But most importantly, he taught the world like Gandhi did, that you can overcome evil with good, Mother Theresa the Catholic nun, became great because of the many years she spent in leprosy settlements in Calcutta taking care of lepers, the forgotten and untouchable.

Let me end by telling the last lesson I have learnt, it is that courage and determination is the answer to the tyranny of history. A history of personal failure can cripple your hope, limit your scope and frighten you into a small vision.

Our family history, the misery and deprivations of our beginnings, the shame and disgrace of the past, sometimes the spectacular failures of the past are the tyrannical weapons of history. They whip us into line when we are thinking big, cutting us down to size as our self-esteem rises. Our past, yelling unworthy, unworthy, unworthy, at us as we struggle to do right, live right, and act with dignity.

But history we must remember is not only a record of the past, it is the past, it is gone! Our future is not determined by history or the past unless we allow it. Your history is not your destiny. You have a chance to make your destiny.

I pray for you that the Almighty God will help you, the grace of God will support you, that the coming years will be easy and exciting and that your journey will be smooth.

Thank you.

Released by

Laolu Akande

Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity

Office of the Vice President

10 November 2017

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