Remarks By Mr. Oseloka Henry Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd. To Students of Federal Polytechnic Oko, Atani Campus During their Intellectual Day, on Monday 17, October, 2016
It is a personal honour and pleasure to be here in Atani, Ogbaru LGA and to be among students, who tomorrow, might be the leaders of this community, state or nation. I thank Rev. Fr. Dr. Collins Ojene for the kind invitation. I enjoy speaking to students, because it is nostalgic – it reminds me of my youth and my personal dreams; dreams to succeed, to travel around the world, to meet great people and to serve my country. I have largely realized my dreams having travelled to 65 countries, met and shook hands with great world leaders including Pope John Paul II, now a saint, Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama, late Prime Minister Thatcher and Fidel Castro to name just a few. If a boy from the town down the road can do it, so can you!
I’m sure most of you have such dreams. I can assure you that if you remain diligent and focused they will come through. You have the capacity, you already have the destiny and you have the reach. “If our reach does not exceed our grasp, then what is heaven for?” That question, which happens to be the title of my remarks today, come from a man many of you may not know, may never meet, but whom you have all benefitted from and contributed to making a multi-millionaire without knowing it. His name is Steve Puthuff.
You may liken him to Bill Gates; Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg. He definitely belongs to that league. I have met him. I shook his hands and sat on the same table with him. And I listened to him utter those motivational words…. “If our reach does not exceed our grasp, then what is heaven for?”
Keeping Your Hopes and Dreams Alive
I will return to my story on Steve Puthuff, shortly. But let me mention some names and see if you recognize any of them. Prof. Francisca Okeke, Emeka Nchekwube, Brino Gilbert, Olu Atanda, Yemi Adesokan, Shehu Saleh Balami, Kunle Olutokun, Oviemo Ovadje, Jelani Aliyu, Sahed Adepoju, Aloysius Anaebonam, Philip Emeagwali, Ferdinand Ofodile, Cyprian Emeka Uzoh, Bennet Omalu, — by the way, the last five persons I named, are all from Anambra State. But who are these people? You may have guessed Philip Emeagwali correctly. But these are all renowned persons and among the top twenty Nigerian inventors, and trailblazers, who are perhaps better known and perhaps better appreciated outside this country.
Jelani Aliyu – is top car designer at GM Motors, in the U.S.;
Ferdinand Ofodile – is a plastic surgeon and inventor of the “black nose” nasal implant;
Sahed Adepoju – designed INYE, the resistive screen tablet for African market;
Bennet Omalu – is the world renowned forensic pathologist who first covered and published findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy also known as concussion; and
Cyprian Emeka Uzoh – holds over 300 patents worldwide in microchip mortarboard technology.
What do all these people have in common aside from being Nigerians? They had hopes and dreams; they kept them alive and today, they are living their dreams and accomplishing goals they set for themselves. You too can. And this brings me back to the Steve Puthuff story. As inventor, Mr. Puthuff holds the patent for the Bluetooth technology, which as you know is the wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances. This can be found in your phone, your earpiece, your iPod, IPad, sound box, tablets or other fixed devices.
When Mr. Puthuff met Mr. Cyprian Uzoh, he was amazed that he held so many microchip patents on which IBM computers were designed; he was more amazed that he was an African immigrant from Nigeria. When Mr. Puthuff asked Mr. Uzoh where he went to school, he was further surprised that he went to high school in Nigeria and came to America as a teenager to go to the University. Mr. Puthuff instantly became curious about Uzoh’s educational background and wanted to know which high school he attended, and if the school was still in existence and was still producing talented students like Mr. Uzoh.
To cut the long story short, Mr. Uzoh told Mr. Puthuff that he attended an all-boys Catholic high school in Eastern Nigeria – Christ the King College (CKC) Onitsha, and that ex-students of the school were many in America and had a functional alumni association. Mr Puthuff expressed interest in meeting the students, and was thus invited to be the keynote speaker at the next Christ the King College Onitsha Alumni Association (CKCAAA) Convention in San Francisco on 29 July, 2006.
Interestingly, the CKC Alumni Association could not afford to pay his speaker’s fee; but Mr. Puthuff waived his fees, just to be able to share an evening with students from a high school that produced someone he considered an exceptionally talented and gifted inventor; someone, who many years back, was just a student like all of you here – with his personal dreams and aspirations, and high hopes for the right opportunity. I still recall vividly, his keynote address titled, “Communication Convergence: Bridging the Digital Divide Dynamic Changes in the Wireless World.”
Charting Your Trajectory to Success
All of you seated here have your respective preordained destiny. What will be, will be! And there is no field of human endeavour where you cannot accomplish great things if you are determined, exhibit diligence and believe in your capacity to help change the world.
Today, politics dominate our sphere. So everyone wants to be a politician; and as such you have the good, the bad and the ugly. Government is near omnipotent and is seen as the sole employer of labour. That should not be. Government’s role is to govern, ensure law and order, regulate, and create the enabling environment for individual and private investors to do business, employ labour and create wealth. Primary in this role is Government’s building and maintenance of public infrastructure. However, great and successful nations have never been built by governments, but by individuals and groups, who have big dreams, who understand the place of the entrepreneur in national development and know that by seizing the moment they make a different.
If you look around you, there are individuals in Nigeria who have done very well in the private sector. Leaving the oil sector aside, individuals like Aliko Dangote of Dangote Group, Mike Adenuga of Globacom, Innocent Chukwumah of Innoson Motors, Cletus Ibeto of the Ibeto Group, Tony Elumelu of the Heritage Group are all making huge contributions to nation-building and providing employment. My point is that you are in school to get the basic experience required to join the national work force. But the choice whether you become an employee or an employer of labour, is a matter of personal one.
My point is that life is full of challenges; but these challenges should motivate you to higher thresholds and accomplishment. The environment and facilities in which you study might not be the best; they certainly could use some improvement, but they are better than what obtained when I went to school at your age. Certainly, in the university, the only computer we had was punch card COBOL computers.
Today, those of you in tertiary institutions need not do research for your projects and papers by going to the library; you can do so, using your laptops, tablets, and Google from the comfort of your room in the hostel. You may even consider that your school is domiciled in a rural area. Yes indeed, and that should be a plus. You are shielded from the distraction of city life. But it is also known that most of the great universities of the world are set on campuses in serene countryside and rural areas. Bearing this in mind, you should be the one to chart your own trajectory.
Do not Undervalue Vocational and Technological Education
I agreed to come to speak to you, because I am a beneficiary of the counsel, support and mentoring I received from people, who were kind to guide and mentor me. You too, should be able to have such support. You should have people you consider role models; but more importantly, you should seek to have mentors. The difference is that a role model is someone you aspire to be like, who may not know you personally. But a mentor is someone who takes a keen interest in your educational, career and personal trajectory and is there to offer support, ideas and counsel. The universal message is pertinent; if you seek and you shall find.
Great controversies presently surround our educational curriculum, models and structures. We have unwittingly made our youths to feel that vocational and technical educations are inferior to university education. This is untrue. Today as a nation we are paying a high price for such wrapped thinking. Critical service areas such as automobile engineering and servicing, building and other infrastructure construction and maintenance, small tools industry, have all be abandoned to either non-professionals or to foreigners. Take for instance, the construction sector—all works done by artisans; masonry, tiling, painting and POP ceiling-fitting are now mostly handled by foreigners. This should not be. But such developments are now a reality because we continue to undervalue our vocational and technical education, and OND and HND degree holders. This explains why we now confront the controversy over HND certification, as compared to university degree.
But don’t despair. We in Nigeria and especially the youths have done well in the movie and music industry and in sports. We can do well in other niche sectors, by becoming part of the small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). In sports, we have role models like Patrick Ekeji, Adokie Amasiemeka, Segun Odegami, and Johnny Egbuno who were great footballers but were also excelled in academics and were well educated. Today, sports and academics are no longer in conflict, as they once were.
Our country is Nigeria is in dire straits developmentally and economically. The challenges we face are immense; but it is such challenges that offer unique opportunities to creative and talented persons.
If you take away anything from this brief interaction, do take away the fact, that some of those who have technologically changed our world, the likes of Bill Gates; Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are not PhD holders; they are not even university graduates. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. I urge you to seize the moment, find a niche where you enjoy a comparative advantage and pursue your respective dreams, undeterred and unimpeded. If possible, do it in clusters; team work helps. Remember that the greatest technological startups started humbly, either in one-bedroom flats or in a garage.
In whatever you do, think of ways that you can make a difference. Do not think of what people can do for you. Seek to build and do what you can to make our humanity better. The God that gave you life also gave you talent; your challenge is to make the best of it. Consider your life an experiment with great potentials and capable of yielding infinite possibilities. The sky is your limits. Your talent and reach as a person is only limited by the border and boundaries in your mind. Most importantly, think of and always remember that uplifting question in all you do; “If our reach does not exceed our grasp, then what is heaven for?”
Thank you for your attention.
 Bluetooth was mass produced and marketed by telecom vendor Ericsson in 1994.
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.