‘I had to go outside Africa to learn leadership skills-‘ Dr Linus Okorie

‘I had to go outside Africa to learn leadership skills-‘ Dr Linus Okorie
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  • Says Nigeria will continue to go in circles until it gets right leadership

Dr Linus Okorie, President and Founder of Guardians of the Nations International (GOTNI) in this interaction with Aljazirah Nigeria in Abuja, recounts his journey in entrenching the values of leadership and accountability in thousands of youths through his several outreaches.

He also suggests ways the nation can surmount its numerous socio-economic and political challenges. Excerpts:

Interview: Tosin Omoniyi


Transcription: Amina Isah

Pictures: Jonathan Aderibole, Hadiza Magashi

For the benefit of our numerous readers, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am Dr. Linus Okoye. At the age of 19, after having an opportunity to serve as a senior prefect of Government Secondary School, Owerri, I decided to float an organization called Guardians of the Nation International.  Having realized the deficit of leadership capital in our country, I just felt that, Nigeria needed to grow a new generation of leaders and so the passion for leadership development hit me at that age and it’s been 23 years after. It’s been from one level of leadership development effort to another and I got into the university with the vision, the idea set up the university and then became student union president and then I practised the model of the leadership capital skills. I have been building these amongst my colleagues,’ amongst members of the organization who realized that without principles like patriotism, principles like vision integrity, making a difference, service mentality culture and all of that, we can’t move ahead. We realised that a lot of us that are part of this leadership development movement who later became different political leaders in the university, we made a difference and our impact became sustainable such that the people loved our commitment to progress. I thought if it could work in the university system then it will be able to work with the communities.

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You have seen it all in leadership, there is a running debate in the country right now, they say the problem we are having in our country is leadership, and another school of thought says it’s the followers. What is your take?

The challenges of our great country is based on the deficit of leadership capital. Get leadership right, everything is going to be right. When we talk about leadership, people don’t understand, we are talking about the philosophy of a people, of any nation whether they are heading their family, or they have little businesses, whether they are even leading their lives. So if you have enough individuals that can lead themselves effectively, self-leadership, all over this country then you realise that when people can lead them then they can follow effectively. Followership is only a peripheral of leadership which means everybody in this country can become an outstanding leader in his own light and the people will know that once you are a leader you will learn that followership becomes primary. So, imagine if we have men and women of honour and integrity in our leadership spaces in this country political leadership, economic leadership, entrepreneurship leadership, we have people who are committed to great vision, we have people who want to make a difference, people who care, people who are compassionate, imagine if we have people who are competent being a value of leadership, imagine if we have those set of people who are full of justice, they don’t care if we are from the same geographic location, once you can make things happen they appoint you. We need to have those kinds of leadership capitals in our midst.

Your profile says you grew up in Cameroon. Can you give us an insight into your time there?

My parent went to Cameroon in the 1950s. Nine of us were born in Cameroon, and I am the number 5 out of the 9 of us. I went to ST George Primary school and it will interest you to know my father died at some point so my mother was left with nine of us. Before my father died, they had decided to send me to Nigeria to do my secondary school and while I was coming to Nigeria I could only speak Pidgin English. In Cameroon, you either speak French or speak pidgin English. I gained admission into a secondary school and couldn’t speak good English and you can’t speak vernacular, that was the system I grew in, Government Secondary School Owerri. As for the exposure I got in Cameroon, Cameroonians love life to the fullest, they love people, they love to have fun, that was the community I grew up. Coming back to Nigeria there was a determination that, I wanted to make a difference, right from the secondary school I decided to learn to speak English and in less than two years, by the time I was in JSS3 I was already ‘rapping’ English. It was a test of determination, the hunger in my spirit, the hunger of the human spirit to succeed. And if I could come from that background to become a senior prefect of a school that is literary led by rich people that was awesome. I gained the admission by merit, not because my parents had money or anything. I knew how to put myself through school as a result of that exposure. So, for me, you can see the background I came from, having come from that background, I felt listen, Nigerians have no business going to other countries to play second hand roles so it’s our responsibility to change all of that.

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Now you talk so much about strategic leadership, how do you define strategic leadership in relation to our socio-economic challenges?

Everything falls and rises in leadership, nations are great because their leaders have been strategic in their thinking. Whenever they sit to plan, whenever they want to engage in strategy, leaders think in the context of great leaders, what is good for the common good so any country that does not provide strategic leadership from the concept of a common good will not be. It is the concept of the few that has existed in this country, it has been leadership for the few, anytime people gather, there is ‘what that can benefit me,’ it is what can benefit us that has made a small friendship kingdom. So, this people have stolen so much money for the few meanwhile the majority of the people are in poverty, whether they are from the north, east or west, it is a common ground. So, what these leaders do is just to survive on their own and they create crisis amongst the poor. They have also created a mindset that has not freed the poor. The poor still think they are slaves so they look up to these people. Now you need a strategic leadership thinking that can create a paradigm shift from that side of mentality to a mentality that says leadership is for everybody. The purpose of leadership is to serve, when people have that understanding, that people create visions around the concept of service, what happens is that individuals would be strategic at any point in time whether they are leading small groups or parastatal, their strategic foresight is that how can we get our people, how can we regulate well that is the thinking. How can we ensure that we provide the infrastructure that is necessary, for going to make progress, anything outside of that we will not be able to make progress. That is why I said outside leadership development, we are taking a walk. Can you remember what happened in 1963? Sir Tafawa Balewa, if you remember the prime minister at that point in time visited the United States with a delegation from Nigeria and the entire United State government was shut down to receive our prime minister led by the vice president, secretary of state. They were all in that delegation and when they came to the airport, Americans lined up waving at the leader who is now the head of a new promising country in Africa. The entire African nations were in jubilation for this new nation, there was a promise for the nation that would find leadership for the entire continent. Many years after that dream dim.

You were a former Student union leader; do you think the youths are ready to take up leadership?

There are some things to consider, the question is how ready are they. I can tell you there are a lot of young people who have been working hard for the past couple of years developing themselves, there are a lot of young people working so hard building themselves, developing their leadership capital but what we need in this country is a critical mass of those kind of young people and that is why I said to you that, two things will have to happen. The government system will now have to start the investment process, the investment to develop mindset, the leadership capital to the enterprise capacity of this young people over a period of time. The investment must be huge, when we are talking about social investment not just about giving people jobs, there are a lot of young people who need helping them to find a vision for their lives. Once a young person finds a purpose for his label, you discover that his entire personality is pursuing those dreams, so that’s what we need. And secondly, we now must take the responsibilities of going through the phase of self-developing process. If you find a set of young people going to that edge, you will realise that in a couple of years you will see young people committed and see things happen but as it is right now, I am really doubting whether we have a critical mass of young people enough to make any meaningful transformation happen.

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You have linked to up to great personalities such the Dr Myles Munroe, Pat Utomi and some other greats. What do you consider before making friends?

The truth of the matter, is that in the leadership journey nobody is an island, you cannot live alone, you need a network of individuals who share ideas. Some must have grown beyond the others, so there should be a protrusion of mentors. So, for people like me, I started early. I seek out people like Professor John Andel, the first professor of leadership in the world and with over 70 books to his name in the UK. I registered with him and brought him back to Nigeria. When I reach out to those people, the purpose is for personal development, linking them up to develop other young people, so I create a platform for other young people to also learn what I am learning to get inspired and make progress, my work has always been to reach out. Your network is what determines your net worth.

There is agitation for restructuring, as a leader, what solution do you proffer for this political agitation?

Firstly, we have been in the country that has lived with the sense of injustice for a long period of time and mostly, this injustice is not caused for the sake of the tribes, it is caused for the sake of personal greed. A friend of mine wrote an article and said tribalism will save Nigeria. If these leaders are true tribalists, development would have come from their villages, they will steal from the centre to create roads, build infrastructures, and make sure they come out of poverty and things like that. But it has never happened, rather, you see them go to the grassroots, they build big houses and at the end of the day, the play on the mindsets of these poor people. In my own context, what we really need basically in this country is to say, we want to build a country where even if you are a minority, there is a sense of hope for you, that you can rise and become anything God wants you to become. Let your hard work and intelligent gives you the opportunity to be able to be admitted anywhere, in any school, nobody is going to stop you. Anybody can become president, wherever you are from, and people are common to the common good. We must allow the sense of justice, selflessness, vision to spread, the kinds of refunds we want, we will get.

Your system of empowering the Youths, how do you think it will work out for Nigeria?

I have seen young people walk into my trainings, they say I don’t love this country I hate it, but by the time they were done, their faces were all smiles. They love this country and they want to contribute, I have seen that happen overtime. Any nation that doesn’t invest in leadership development of her citizens, cannot progress. That is exactly what GOTNI is doing, for the past two to three years, seeing from the little stage we started from, building values and visions of the ideal leader of our young people. We have seen things happen, we have seen young people set up businesses, institutions, we are seeing young people making a result, because of our effort. Imagine if, every Nigerian who listens to me from all parts of the world and see GOTNI as a platform where they can support to continue the business of developing the generations as the next leader. In inspiring young people, we have a conference, we have our radio/television outreaches that are making waves all over the country, we have so many of our leadership development programs, young people are coming to build themselves, with all we are doing the possibilities of changing this country is huge.

What do I stand to gain if I attend one of your leadership training programs?

Anybody who attends our leadership development program, there is a pyramid shift in your mindset, you are not limited by your mind. A lot of people have not made progress because of an error of judgement, an error that is in their system. We take you through a process of mind transformation, a process where you need to learn afresh, leadership qualities that can help you stand out in your work place, as an individual to pursue your private enterprise, and as a politician, so you don’t become just a politician that is forgotten after he lives office. We inspire you a sense of love for your country, there is nothing as big as that.

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What particular experience motivated you?

I have had several experiences, but for me one of those that inspired me, was a book. I think everybody should go and read the book of Nehemiah. It is a book in the Bible and it is very powerful. There was a man sitting comfortably in the king’s palace and he heard his county’s wall was falling and he thought he should do something, he went back to his country to mobilize people to rebuild the walls and later that man became governor and he made a big difference for his country. These are the kinds of things that inspire me. When I see poor people on the streets, I feel like crying, because I went through poverty myself. I went to another man’s country and I saw the struggle. My parents struggled to see me through school, having gone through that process, and daily I see poverty all over the place, my heart is aching. We have all it takes to change our country and bring prosperity to our people

At the last Nigerian conference, you talked about an upcoming project?

Two projects are on. The first is the Africa Leadership Centre. We set up a centre where leadership development will be the sole research point for that institution, we are looking for partners and individuals who share in our thought so that we achieve that dream. Secondly, to connect the diaspora crowd, people who care about Africa, we are trying to create an opportunity for us to have our first annual US Africa Leadership Conference. The conference is going to focus on how all these people can connect and invest in leadership development in the country. The conference has appointed one of the best institutions in America for promotion and it is taking place in July.

If you were given an opportunity to head this country as a leader, what strategy will you apply?

There is nothing as powerful as leadership by example, which means, as a Nigerian President, Nigeria is my constituency. That sense of confidence that you are not an Igbo man, not a northerner, but you are a Nigerian President. The mindset of people will have to be retuned that all of us must build this country together. Secondly, can the rule of law work, the president is a very powerful position and when there is a political will power, all our justice system will be in place working. In that framework, you can now talk about economy, and changing basic infrastructure that has never worked in this country. There shouldn’t be personal interest but for the right thing to be done, I assure you, everything will return in order. You create the right economic environment for things to thrive, entrepreneurs will start thriving, foreign investments will start flowing into the country, because all those things are in place. You now begin to see certain things that in partnership the state governors can guarantee without struggles. It is a very simple thing, to create all those kinds of measures, stimulate economic where people can begin to build. I am glad the current president is trying to ease doing business in this country. Then you provide the social infrastructure, invest in talent discovery systems for everyone to thrive.

Can you tell me something nobody knows about you?

People don’t know that I had to go out of Nigeria to search for where I am going to do leadership training as a course in the university, because in the whole of African there is no where I could study. I didn’t want to do any other program. Since I decided to do leadership development as my core area, I wanted to go and study the master’s program on leadership and I couldn’t find any school in the whole of Africa. I had to go to a University in America to study organizational leadership. That tells you a lot about Africa as a continent. I had to go to tend the hunger for improving myself. I am sure people don’t know that, and I also love to watch Indian films.