By Tochi Okafor

In a country and season when fight against corruption has become the major business of the Federal Government with anti-graft agencies on rampage over looted and hidden public funds, every wealthy Nigerian who had walked through the corridors of power is bound to be seen as a suspect by the public, especially the younger Nigerians. 

With new discoveries being made daily, our media space is awash with stories of massive loot, courtesy of the Whistleblower’s Policy. That is the level leadership has failed Nigeria over time.

The truth is that young people are angry because it is their future that has been squandered by another generation. This is very painful and you can, therefore, understand the ill-feelings of youths, especially the unemployed and underemployed, towards anyone who had at one time or the another  handled any political or public position.

What is even more damaging is the psychological effects of the current narrative our youths are fed with on the daily basis. People are products and ambassadors of their cultures. But the culture of a people emerges from the dominant stories that are constantly told, especially from generation to generation. Fight against corruption is a worthy cause but we must balance this narrative with stories of great Nigerians who had displayed uncommon leadership in their various industries.

Stories are the DNA of culture, but they also have the power to alter it. The only way to alter our current disgusting stories is to also tell inspirational value-based stories of some exceptional Nigerians who are not only rich in all its ramifications but have also demonstrated unimpeachable character. Not all wealthy Nigerians especially those who had held public offices are corrupt. And this is the justification for this tribute to a man whom I consider a worthy role model of youth entrepreneurship.

It is also an opportunity for me to apologise to Dr. Kalu and properly pay heavily for my ‘sin’. Few days ago, I wanted to contact my younger brother through his WhatsApp platform and I discovered that he had the picture of Dr. Kalu as his profile picture with an inscription, “HAPPY 57th BIRTHDAY TO A GREAT LEADER: DR. ORJI UZOR KALU (MON)”.

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My first reaction was: “What is your business with that man?”. He calmly smiled and said: “He is a great leader and he is very humble.” Then, I asked him, “How do you know?”. My brother replied: “He replies to my WhatsApp chats and I’m close to one of his very good friends.” No doubt, I know he is a great leader but my challenge is really about his character. This short conversation brought down a feeling of guilty all over me.

Few years ago, I condemned this man on the basis of hearsay and even did something worse in my book, The Audacity of Youth. In the review edition of the book, I had written: “Youths are always the solution and we can take a cue from the past Nigerian youths who are worthy ambassadors of industry and courage.

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Orji Uzo Kalu became the chairman of a bank at 27, and today has founded multi-billion-dollar companies cutting across Africa. At 27, Pat Utomi became the Presidential Adviser …  Tony Elumelu became the CEO of Standard Trust Bank at 32 …”.

 But one of the reviewers of the book, who is currently doing her PhD in UK, advised me strongly to remove everything about Orji Uzo Kalu in my book if I truly want people to buy the book. This lady who claimed she came from the same village with Orji Uzo Kalu told me that this man is evil and he stole Abia State’s money as a governor. This broke my heart and I deleted the above paragraph in the revised edition which got published last year, with above 2,000 copies already sold. I wish I knew better 3 years ago when this happened.

Look at what I did to a man who started his business at age 19 with a borrowed N5,000 from his mother and by age 21 had not only became millionaire but also an industrialist. What did he do with the money? He started buying palm oil from the East and would take it to the North. From the North, he would buy dry fish and beans and take them to the East. That was how he built the first SLOK vegetable oil industry.

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It was his exceptional industry that attracted the government officials who came for a tour to his factory and recommended him for a National Award because of the wonders they saw. He got the national award by merit at 26! This man remains the youngest chairman of a bank in Nigeria at 27. This record has not been beaten. SLOK later diversified into various sectors like banking, manufacturing, publishing and airline business.

This story ought to be shared with young entrepreneurs and leaders. Entrepreneurship is not about how much you are given but about how much you make out of what has been given to you. Leadership according the world-renown leadership guru, Warren Bennis, is “the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Dr. Kalu is an epitome of the two.

I have been unfair to a man who is considered the ‘Manager of managers’. The Dean of Management Philosophy, Peter F. Drucker observes that the fundamental task of management is “to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform…”

This man does not only have the nose to smell good business opportunities but also knows how to assemble the needed talents to achieve his goal or vision. The Daily Sun newspaper became an overnight success barely a year it was launched in 2003. It was first paper that revealed that picture-publishing is good business through the ‘The Sun Girl’ page before Facebook came out in 2004 followed by the Instagram.

The Sun Girl’ page made it possible as every young person yearns to see the next day’s ‘Page 3’ of Daily Sun.

When my brother told me that Dr. Kalu is a humble man, I didn’t doubt him because of my encounter with Femi Adesina in 2010 at the time he had just been promoted to the position of Deputy Managing Director of Daily Sun. I was finding it difficult to get someone to help me secure a column in the paper where I will write motivational every week. In fact, I could not get beyond the security guards who always asked: “Are you on appointment?”.

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And each time I said “No”, they bounced me back until a staff who saw my effort gave me Femi’s number. He asked me to send him text message that he would reply. And he did! That was how I was able to advance beyond the gate.

Femi not only received and encouraged me, he surprised me after my first meeting with him. At night of that same day, I received a text message from him that says “It was an honour having you today…” I am sure he picked this attitude from the publisher of Daily Sun.

It is certain that Femi rose to the position of Managing Director of Daily Sun from where he was appointed the Presidential Adviser on Media to President Buhari on the basis of his humility. According to Earl Nightingale, the attitude of people working in an organisation will always reflect the attitude of their leader. The leader here is the Dr. Kalu!

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I gullibly believed my reviewer that this man stole State’s money but nobody told me that politics actually destroyed some of his flourishing businesses. As a serving governor, this man lost his bank, Hallmark Bank, where SLOK Nigeria Limited held 70 per cent stake. They took away the SLOK Airline and Southgate Bank. All of these were business injuries from his political battles with the federal government of the day.

Howard Gardner of Harvard University observes that “Storytelling is the most powerful weapon in a leader’s toolkit.” I dream a time when we can have collections of stories of great leaders of industries, top professionals and Nigeria’s history-makers in one book. Those stories will inspire greatness and grow the next generation leaders.

Those stories will transmit values and shape the character of the next generation leaders. I hope to accomplish this dream and sure, I will include the full story of this accomplished great leader and consummate manager of resources.

Happy Birthday Dr. Orji Uzo Kalu (MON)

Tochi Okafor is the Founder of INSPIRE YOUTH AFRICA, Abuja.

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