Why Intellectuals Need to Lead Professionally (4)


-Time for deep sober reflection

Habits of Highly Productive Transformation Leaders
Prof. Lere Baale

Sometime in 2019, I came across a piece of news in the media that turned my stomach upside down. My incurable optimism about our country was dented and my spirit looked downwards. I saw that some governors, who assumed that they could not find expert intellectuals or professionals in Nigeria to advise them nor a peaceful location in Nigeria to brainstorm, decided to go for a two-day summit in Canada to discuss education, solid minerals, agriculture, and health. Ironically, these were highly educated people of same generation with me, who had the best of education in this country and, at a time, were eating for as low as 50 kobo per day in the university.

The questions we should be asking ourselves today are:

Were they aware that there are highly talented intellectual professionals in our country today?

Why were they interested in professionals outside the country who do not understand our needs?

Is there a solid engagement between our intellectuals, professional bodies and governments, in the interest of the general public to prevent this kind of avoidable trips?

How could they have decided that the best place to meet was Canada when we have over 1,000 locations nationwide that could comfortably accommodate these governors and the foreign intellectual professionals?

This is a time for sober reflection. Our intellectuals or professionals need to show more active interest in politics so that when the policymakers are meeting, intellectual professionals can provide quality inputs, based on their technical expertise. Social scientists have established the fact that one can only give what he has. Our current elected politicians are not wicked; it’s just that they need to deeply understand the needs of current times, and demonstrate their competence or professionalism in our quest to move our nation to the Promised Land.  I recommend a strong handshake and rich conversation between government agencies and the intellectual professionals.

Crucial role

Intellectual professionals have a crucial role to play in building our nation and taking it through an accelerated route tour of the Promised Land. In order to achieve the task of nation-building, intellectual professionals must imbibe the values that foster and promote nation building, by emphasising the contributions we are making nationwide, while professionally managing our challenges.

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Allow me to draw inspiring knowledge from Mr Uju Ogubunka, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers who said that each professional should make a personal decision and resolve to commit to contributing to nation-building with or without the next person to him. He emphasised that if all professionals abide by their professional codes of ethics and conduct, as well as utilise their knowledge, skills and competencies, the collective approach and commitment to nation-building can make the task lighter and perhaps, exciting.

He further noted that professionals must be involved in the articulation of national vision and plans, implementation of national programmes and projects efficiently in the quest for nation-building. According to him, the role of professionals in nation-building also include analysis, evaluating, discovering and pointing out gaps, as well as proffering objective and well-informed solution options on national issues, adding that supporting public and private sector projects and activities that are aimed at building the nation is equally a function of professionals.

Pertinent parable

Before closing this article, let me drop a summary of the inspiring “Acres of Diamond” story. Over a century ago, Russell Conwell was famous for his traveling lecture in which he encouraged listeners to find the “acres of diamonds” in their own backyards. He was born in Massachusetts in 1843 and during the Civil War served as a captain in the Union Army. He studied law, but became a Baptist minister and a popular public speaker. “Acres of Diamonds” was his most famous talk which he delivered over 6000 times – making him one of the original motivational speakers.

At the heart of “Acres of Diamonds” is a parable Conwell heard while traveling through present-day Iraq in 1870. Here’s the summary:

There was once a wealthy man named Ali Hafed who lived not far from the River Indus. “He was contented because he was wealthy and wealthy because he was contented.” One day a priest visited Ali Hafed and told him about diamonds.

Ali Hafed heard all about diamonds, how much they were worth, and went to his bed that night a poor man. He had not lost anything, but he was poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he feared he was poor.

In search of visionary leaders

Ali Hafed sold his farm, left his family, and traveled to Palestine and then to Europe searching for diamonds. He did not find them. His health and his wealth failed him. Dejected, he cast himself into the sea.

One day, the man who had purchased Ali Hafed’s farm found a curious sparkling stone in a stream that cut through his land. It was a diamond. Digging produced more diamonds — acres of diamonds, in fact. This, according to the parable, was the discovery of the famed diamonds of Golconda.

The point of the story is that we often dream of fortunes to be made elsewhere. We ought instead to be open to the opportunities that are around us. Conwell illustrates this concept with several other stories, including that of the discovery of Gold in California. Another is a farmer in Pennsylvania, who sold his farm for $833 and went to work for his cousin in Canada, collecting oil. Shortly after, the man who purchased the farm found oil worth millions of dollars.

Collective decisions

Now I’m not suggesting that you physically go and start digging up your backyard, as this is a story. But how can we find the acres of diamonds in our own backyards? Let me advise the public sector and the intellectuals thus:

Let us maintain a ready mind. Be open to the possibilities around you. Don’t let preconceived notions cloud your judgement. We often overlook the value of something because we believe we already know it.

Let us look at the familiar in new ways. Conwell lists some important inventions — the snap-button, the cotton gin, the mowing machine — and notes that these were created by everyday people who found new approaches and new uses for commonplace objects.

Let us learn what people want, then give it to them. Discover a market, and then provide a good or service. Too many people do this the other way around. They develop a good or service and then try to market it. They’re essentially trying to manufacture a desire. You’ll have more success if you see a desire and then try to meet it with your product or service.

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Let us understand that our knowledge as intellectuals is far more important than capital. Lack of capital is a common excuse for not starting a business venture. How often have you heard, “You need money to make money”? Nonsense, says Conwell. He gives anecdotes of wealthy people who started with nothing but an idea.

Intellectuals should avoid inter-professional conflicts. Don’t put yourself down, and don’t belittle your environment. Don’t compare yourself with others. “Believe in the great opportunities that are right here, not over in Europe or North America, but here — for business, for everything that is worth living for on earth. There was never an opportunity greater.” Find the best in what’s around you.

There must be a good handshake and great conversation between the two groups of critical stakeholders that would take our nation to the Promised Land. We have the talents here to resolve our challenges as a nation. There is no need to go out to look for intellectual professionals.

The roadmap to the promised land is HANDSHAKE AND COLLBORATION BETWEEN THE PUBLIC SECTOR AND THE INTELLECTUALS. I suggest that a government agency in the Presidency is the minimum requirement to look into this. We need to maximise the use of our local intellectuals in the various government projects.  Nigeria has acres of diamonds. The Nigerian intellectual Professionals are certainly the “acres of diamonds”.

My message is clear for both intellectual professionals and the public sector:

We have a history of globally acclaimed intellectuals

National Development Plan 2021-2025 is still a strategy document

Strategy execution is impossible without adequate engagement of intellectuals

We have a lot of lessons to learn from Asia

It is time for our elected leaders to go into a deep, sober reflection

Our intellectual professionals are Nigeria’s “acres of diamonds”

Government needs to appreciate these intellectuals – acres of diamonds through active engagements, conversations, and setting up of a special government agency office to address intellectuals’ needs and challenges



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