Tough questions from the Toastmasters, intelligent and inspiring answers from Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs. Enjoy the read.
Q. YOU ARE A LAWYER/POLITICIAN/BUSINESSMAN/TECHNOCRAT/PHILANTHROPIST/VISIONARY/BRIDGE BUILDER/HUMANITARIAN ETCETERA. IT SEEMS YOU HAVE EMBRACED THIS VERY DISTINCT PATH of VENTURING INTO EVERYTHING WITHIN YOUR REACH, WHY DID YOU CHOOSE NOT TO BE LIMITED BY ONE FUNCTION AND WHY ALL THESE MULTIPLE SLASHES?
Thank you. Well, I feel like this is a wonderful opportunity that will afford me the privilege to speak about myself and to have the viewers assess who I am. To use your own phrase ‘multiple slashes’ I wouldn’t say that I actually set out from day one to be in all of these various fields of endeavour. My beginnings were very humble; I grew from the back streets of Port Harcourt and things were slightly difficult. Sometimes, we had difficulty finding what to eat. As a young man I had more food to eat in the home of neighbours than I had to eat in my home. I know that a lot of people will not believe or imagine what I’m saying but of course those people in this audience who had been my friends for over 40 years can attest to that. I had a mother who believed that I will take her out of all her sufferings.
The poverty was so much that it was not just humiliating but also dehumanising. Things were difficult but she believed that I will get her out of that.
And out of love for my mother, out of love for Society, I decided that I will task myself in different ways. That’s why I said in my brief talk that leadership at a personal level is most important. You have a vision, you know what you want to become you know your strengths and you can push for those strengths. And because I didn’t want to be poor, and I wanted to test failure in different ways as well, I had to try my hands at different things I want to be a lawyer because I love the wig and the gown. So I tried and I became a lawyer. I wanted to be a businessman because I want to make money, I wanted to be a politician so I could be of service, and so, I tried my hands also in politics. And what comes to me as second nature is charity. That’s how I grew up. We had a society that was very caring.
Things were difficult but the society was supportive; the institutions in our society were strong and they supported all our aspirations and helped me to become the man that I am today. I got encouraged by neighbours; by friends, by families who made part of their family. That was the sort of society that we had. So I knew that a lot of people contributed to my upbringing and to my wellbeing. And the minimum that I can do is to recognise what God has done for me by trying to give back to Society as well. So well I don’t know if that explains why perhaps I have my hands in a few pies and not just in one pie. But of course, it all comes from who you want to be, what you think that you can become and how you push, how you refuse to accept defeat. Sometimes, it could get so tough; but you have to be tougher than your circumstance. That’s what makes you a man or woman. And we have examples of people who have succeeded, who had conquered the shores of their villages and gone to Lagos and other places and conquered from their remotest areas. So, there is nothing that is impossible; there is nothing we can’t achieve once we set our minds to it. So I think that young people should feel encouraged to try your hands in many things; if you fail here try something else and then go back to what you tried that you failed. You probably would have learnt a few more things. But in the end, once you are determined to succeed, and you will not be put down, you will succeed.
Q. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT YOU HAD A VERY CLEAR SENSE OF WHAT YOU WANTED TO BE IN LIFE AND THAT YOU SEEM TO BE THE ARCHITECT THAT DREW THE PLAN OF YOUR FUTURE LIFE AND THE PAINTER THAT PAINTED ON THE CANVAS OF YOUR FUTURE. YOU SEEM TO BE THE SCRIPT WRITER AND THE DIRECTOR OF THE MOVIE OF YOUR LIFE. AND THIS UNDERSCORES THE VERY IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL LEADERSHIP. BUT THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO HAD SUCH, THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED TO BE; THEY SET THE AGENDA BUT SOMETIMES THEY FACE WHAT I CALL PURPOSEFUL ACCIDENTS; WHEN THEY HAVE A HEAD ON COLLISION WITH STRATEGIC PLANNING, THE FORMER SWALLOWS THE LATER. PEOPLE COULD SET OUT TO DO STUFF BUT IN TRYING TO DO THAT, THEY STUMBLE INTO WHO THEY NEVER THOUGHT THEY COULD BE. HOW DO YOU JUXTAPOSE THAT WITH STRATEGIC PLANNING AND PURPOSEFUL ACCIDENTS?
I think that it will be a fallacy for anyone of us to suppose that we knew exactly who we were going to become and that we worked to become that thing exactly and that it was all by our power. I have no godfather except God the father. I had the vision but I had to pray over it. There are people who had tried the same things I tried but who failed, there are people who are more intelligent than I am but who didn’t succeed at the things that they tried to do and I succeeded when I did those things. So, there has to be some other power that encourages you to become the person that you want to be if you set out to be that person. So, in my situation, being the son of a truck pusher; my father was a truck pusher here in Port Harcourt, being the son of an Agricultural Labourer in Bida, Niger State, being the son of a Police recruit; my father was a police recruit who left the police force and joined the Nigerian Ports Authority as a clerk. No formal education, things were tough. And then for us to have the opportunity that came our way as we moved on with life can only be God. But there’s a saying that heaven helps those who help themselves; it’s fundamental and it’s essential for us to know that whatever we set our mind to do and we invite God into it, then it’s going to happen. It’s not to say that you are not going to meet accident in the way but as you get stuck, you sit back, you re-evaluate, you reprocess the entire thing and then you ask yourself where you made mistakes.
Then you try to find collaboration with some other person and you try to explain your issue to some people, maybe they have the same experience that you just have had and they can help you navigate your way out of your circumstance. So, don’t be shy, ask all the questions, there’s nothing as a stupid question. You just might be surprised that the answer may come from your security man, the man on the street. So, I’ve had to share my experiences and my needs with everybody. I’m an open book and I feel that along the way God helped me to become the man that I am.
Q. THANK YOU SO MUCH CHIEF. THERE’S THIS THING THAT IS VERY CURRENT IN THE WORLD TODAY. WE ARE EXPERIENCING AMAZING SHIFT IN THE WORLD TODAY; WHAT WAS CELEBRATED IS BECOMING OUTDATED WE ARE EXPERIENCING DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES WE ARE EXPERIENCING A LOT OF THINGS IN THE WORLD SO MUCH SO THAT IF WE DON’T STEP UP OUR GAME WE WILL LIVE IN ANTIQUITY IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES. AND I THINK THIS ALSO APPLIES TO LEADERSHIP; BECAUSE WHAT WORKED YESTERDAY SEEM NOT TO WORK TODAY OR IS JUST BEING CONFERENCED AWAY. THE OLD LEADERSHIP SONG IS GOING OUT OF TUNE TODAY. WHAT IS YOUR PORTRAIT OF LEADER THAT WILL BE EFFECTIVE IF YOU CONSIDER THE SHIFT IN THE WORLD TODAY?
I think we have already acknowledged that a leader must be visionary. A leader must envision a future that does not exist, you can look at opportunities as they are coming, you can look at the trends in the world, that’s what makes you a leader. You have to have that competence. You don’t have to have the technical knowhow but you must have the capacity to manage situations. You be ready to identify things that are likely to affect your people and affect your administration. For instance, a lot of people have acknowledged that oil will be a thing of the past; oil is a depleting resource that ICT is going to be the oil of the 21st century. So, a leader must begin to change the curriculum in school to align with that vision. You see a trend coming, you must equip your people with the adequate tools for them to succeed in this very highly competitive 21st century. I tell you something Bill Clinton did when he was campaigning for President in 1992. He went to the state of Michigan and he told ‘look, I have to be frank with you, the industries that you run are not going to produce the goods and the skills we need in this century. In this evolving and emerging market, you will be found wanting. So, what I will do if you give me your vote and become president is that I will give you some soft landing and begin to immediately train your people for them to acquire the skills that they need to succeed in this century. That’s a leader who knew that what obtained in Michigan at the time would not work for them in another year or two. He knew about that and he prepared their minds to it. He told them how he was going to help them get through that difficult situation and aligned them with the rest of the global world. So, a leader must be introspective and know what is going on. You need to ask questions, you need to collaboration with the rest of your team. Some persons in your team may know exactly the things that you do not know and you must not be ashamed as a leader; you must bring in the best brains to work with you. You can’t know it all but you must have people in your team who are versatile and you must as a leader know a good story when you find one. You must know the trendy materials and cash in on them and begin to harness the skills of your people to take advantage of the opportunities as you have envisioned them.