Ejike Nwuba, is the Chief Executive Officer of The Renaissance Africa, a leading training and consulting firm in Nigeria. Mr. Nwuba is an educator, a business consultant, a motivational speaker, an executive coach, writer and lawyer. In this exclusive interview with O’star Eze, he examines the primary problem of Nigeria as her leadership not realizing that her main problem is not investing sufficiently enough in human capacity building and proffers solutions to this problem, citing what he does with his firm as well as what developed countries do.
Can you tell us about your background?
I come from a family of teachers, my parents are both distinguished University Professors. My father is Prof. Uba Nwuba, a Professor of Engineering of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka and former Rector of the Federal Polytechnic Oko. And my mother Prof. Lucy Nwuba, is a Professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, and Senior Special Assistant to the Executive Governor of Anambra State on Fisheries & Aquaculture.
I am an avid reader and lifelong learner with a passion for capacity building and personal development in Africa.
How do you discover and develop your potentials?
The thing is that generally, every human being has a calling; something that makes you different; a unique purpose. This is my own unique purpose. I am an educator and that is my primary purpose. Every other thing I do is supposed to enhance this primary purpose.
I recall when I was in primary school in Enugu State. I was the best student in the class and our teacher asked me what I would like to be when I grew up. I told her I would like to be a teacher and she hushed me down, saying I should say that I want to be a medical doctor. So, I said that I would like to be a medical doctor. I had always known that I would like to be a teacher but the society had this conception that the best students would always go for medicine, law and the likes. That is the mindset. So, I have always wanted to be a teacher but with time and as I got older and because of my relationship with God, I knew that teaching for me was not going to be the regular classroom thing. I had a clear cut vision and direction from God to go into this kind of teaching and capacity building. That is why I am doing what I am doing today.
You have your own firm or you are working with somebody?
I had always known that I was going to set up something. My plan was to work for one year and just when it was one year and a few months. Then I was working in a big law firm in Lagos Akinjide and co, arbitrator and specialists in oil and gas. It was owned by Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN; former minister of education. I was one of their best associates then but after a year and a few months, I left when I had a clear cut vision to go into what I am doing presently.
What can you tell us about your firm?
I am an educator. My organization is called The Renaissance Africa Company Limited. Rennaisance means rebirth. Our goal is to refine the African mind and change the course of our continent through the development of our unique human potential. I am in the training and consulting industry and what we do is to build capacity; to develop human capital. Africa sits on the highest deposits of the world’s natural resources; gold, diamond, oil, yet there is so much poverty in Africa. Africa is backward. Look at the Republic of Congo. It has the world’s highest deposit of coal tar, one of the highest sought after minerals they use in all telecommunications industry and electronics all over the world. Yet, Congo is in the most dire economic strait. Why is that? It is because there is this emphasis on natural resources and there is total neglect of the real resource which is the human resource. Japan, Switzerland, Italy, South Korea do not have any mineral resources but they are among the richest in the world. What are they doing differently? They have been able to leverage on their greatest resource; their minds. So, Africa’s number one problem is the poverty of the mind. And like my former principal, Richard Akinjide, would always say, “There are two kinds of poverty; mental poverty and there is material poverty. Material poverty doesn’t mean anything. It just implies that someone is starting out without a lot of symbol of success, physical possession which does not mean anything. But real poverty is the mental poverty; when you cannot anchor on your creativity, when you cannot come up with ideas. So, that is the problem of Africa and the gap my company seeks to breach. Nigeria is sitting on massive natural resources, yet you notice the level of underdevelopment, backwardness and poverty we have in this country. It is because we have not started leveraging on the real resource that we have. All the touts you see on the streets, the Almajiris you see in northern Nigeria. If we can harness the potentials of these people, Nigeria will become one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Look at China; it has close to 1.8 billion people and today China can produce practically anything. Why is that? It is because China has one of the most robust, most developed educational systems in the world. It took one of the former presidents of China several years to fine-tune. They invested heavily in education and that why they are where they are today. And UNESCO has recommended that for all the developing countries, if they want to chart a new course for themselves, they must devote not less than 26 per cent of their annual budget to education. But if you follow developments in Nigeria, you will find that the government does not devote up to 10 per cent of our annual budget to education. You need to go to our schools to see the level of dilapidation most of them are in. Our schools are archaic, moribund, our teachers are not well paid. Our public schools are in fact nothing to write home about. Back in the days, public schools were the sought after. Our parents attended public schools and they fared well but that is not the story today. While advanced countries are modernizing their curriculum to meet the needs of the knowledge worker age, our schools are still using the curriculum which was crafted during the industrial age. That industrial age curriculum is all about getting certificates to get good jobs. But the present curriculum is about helping one to actualize oneself in the workplace. SO, there is so much we need to do in terms of education, and until we revamp our educational system, we will continue producing people who are unemployable. The problem is not just unemployment but employability.
How does your firm bridge this gap?
There is so much that we do. Beginning from the services we provide, we are a training and consulting firm. He have trained thousands of professionals and individuals in different multinationals, small businesses, organizations, associations. Apart from that we have our cooperate social responsibility initiative which revolves around youth development and empowerment. So, every year, apart from the courses we run, we hold programmes in schools, churches, communities and in collaboration with different civil society groups. This year we have done a couple of these initiatives. There are so many other things we are coming up with also to augment the efforts of our schools which are not really doing so much at the moment. I also run a blog on facebook which hinges on youth empowerment and youth development. We are also planning some programmes in some west African countries. There are different kinds of cooperate training programmes we run. You find out that what people learn in school is not enough for them to succeed in the workplace and even beyond. We have courses that people can take to enhance themselves, to become more productive and successful. So, we have what we call open courses. Presently we run our open courses in collaboration with Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We are comsultants with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They select some of the best training firms in Nigeria to work with them and we are included. Then we do mostly in plant training programmes in different organizations. We also run seminars.
Do you run some form of follow up on products of your trainings to know how effective the training has made them in your workplace cum endeavours?
The thing is that once an industry is seemingly lucrative, there are bound to be infiltrations. There are bound to be a lot of people who are in the industry because of the money, and not because there is a genuine passion for that industry and that is the same thing that is happening in the training industry. Initially when I started out, I thought we were very few. Until we started going for vendor verification exercise organized by banks as is their practice. The first one I went for, I was shocked at the number of people who provide training services. I was ushered into a hall full of people corporately dressed, I thought they were the bankers we were going to train. I did not know that they were all vendors. So, because we have so many people involved in the industry, definitely we are going to have lots of people who do not meet the requisite standards; people who are not excellent in the industry. It is like that in every other industry.
So, if the trainer understands what it means to train, and how different training is from the normal classroom blank slate method of teaching, there is no how you would have a training session that would not be impactful. That is one thing that distinguishes us from most other training firms. We always have the feedback that our trainings are very impactful and that is why we go by lots of referrals.
Recall that while you were in the university, there are one or two lecturers who were very good. You will remember them till tomorrow. That is the same thing when you talk about training. But one thing about our training is that we try to make it more interactive. We try to make it a lot more participatory. What we have in the classroom is the blank slate method of teaching. Someone knows it all and is informing the person sitting down. The teacher assumes that the student is tabula rasa and dumps information on him. But when it comes to training, we adopt the Socratic teaching method where you lead the participant from the known to the unknown. And based on the cone of learning, people tend to retain more when they are involved in the learning process. So, if you attend a training programme by people who are knowledgeable about training, passionate about training and adept at training, you enjoy yourself and get what you want.
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How would you assess your experience training companies in Lagos where you are based and down here in the southeast?
We have not really done much programmes down here in the southeast. We have done a training in Enugu sometime in the past but that is about that. Most of our trainings have been in Lagos and other places. I think it is because, unlike in Lagos, we do not have much companies in the southeast. We rather have much of hotels than we have companies. One thing about Lagos is that there is a different mindset there. Most firms there follow international best practices; how things are done globally. If you go to advanced countries , you find out that this is what companies do. The concept of corporate training was further popularised by Jack Welch of General Electric. He was one time CEO of General Electric for over 20 years. He was one of the most popular CEOs in the history of global business. He created a training school for the company and everyone who was going to work in the company was going to go through their indoctrination process. And presently, all the Fortune 500 companies in the world have their training schools. In fact, some have universities. MacDonalds has University of Hamburgerology. And beyond even the initial indoctrination programmes, they also have continuous capacity building programmes. Because one thing people in developed countries realize is that if you buy furniture, it gets worn out, if you buy vehicles, production machines, they become obsolete, but human mind is something that can always appreciate with time. People can always learn, improve and transcend themselves. This is what these companies do. Someone like Mary Kay Ash would tell you that if you build great people, these great people will build great companies. Jack Welsh said the same thing. But here you find some business practitioners who do not even understand how business works. They have not really understood the importance of building people. And that why when the founders are dead, the company dies. They have not built people. They forget that if you build the people, they build the enterprise. If you study a company like Toyota very well, you find out that they have a leadership development plan; successions. If an incumbency vacates the office, they will not scout for who will take over, they have already trained a successor. It is a family business but it is not run by the family. So that is what people in this part of the world have not learnt. But I thank God that in metropolises like Lagos, people have realized the importance of training and people are training. We train people every month. It is a necessity.
From your experience, what do you think is the primary thing Nigerian youths have not understood that is limiting them from exploiting their full potentials?
I have a book coming out on this very soon. We do not understand what education is, to start with. Education comes from the Latin word, educare, and it means to bring out what is within. So, education fully understood is the development of one’s unique potential. Let me give you an example, if I am somebody who likes tinkering with machines, and I go to study medicine and surgery, would you say that I am educated? You find out that most people in this country would go for general education. We do not look at the unique talents, gifts and passions of our young people. We rather go for courses we feel are promising and that will guarantee us well paid jobs and undermine the gold mine in us; the gifts, the calling, what we are meant to do. Everybody actually has a job. The day God created you, God gave you a job to do. There is no unemployed person in the world. Unemployment is a misnomer. It is a factor of poverty of the mind. Yes, starting off a career after school might be cumbersome but when you are out of school for up to 5 years and you do not have a job, your problem is actually poverty of the mind. You are not really educated. Because if you are educated, you realize that every human being created by God was created to solve a unique human problem. So, the question is what problem where you created to solve? Go and solve it. If nobody will hire you to do, then volunteer to do it. Do it free of charge and with time, you can make a business out of it. The truth is that there are so many opportunities. Our young people just need the education of the heart. Our young people do not realize there is no government in the world that creates jobs. What governments do is to create enabling environment and then wealth creation jobs is the responsibility of you and I. The Nigerian government however has not even earned a pass mark when it comes to creating enabling environment. There are still ubiquitous opportunities which our young people are not exploring. So, it begins with our educational system. There are two kinds of education; formal and informal. Formal education is what we pay more attention to in this part of the world, but you find out that the most successful people in the world had more of self education which is informal education. They do not wait for schools to educate themselves, they have a chief hand in their education. Sir Walter Scott (1830) said every great man has the chief hand in his education. Look at somebody like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, presently worth 71 billion dollars. Mark Zuckerberg as at the time he was in the secondary school was already doing graduate level IT courses (graduate level is after the undergraduate level – what you do in the university). So, why won’t he be a prodigy by the time he got to Harvard University. He dropped out school, but you cannot call him uneducated because he understands programming better than most professors in that field. What people do in developed countries is to help young people to discover their potential and then tailor their education towards the development of their unique purpose in life. But you find that most of our young people would rather go for general education and do not take time to look inwards to discover who they are and to harness and unleash their unique potential. Look at Chinua Achebe. He had a scholarship to study medicine and surgery in University of Ibadan, but he changed to English Language. So, if he had gone ahead to study medicine and surgery, do you think he would have been as successful and as prominent as he finally became? Look at Bill Gates. His father was a successful lawyer in the United States and wanted Bill Gates to tow the same line. He sent Bill Gates to Harvard to study law. But because when Bill was 13 years he was exposed to a programme where he saw the computer for the first time, he discovered he had a love for computers and decided at that point to train himself in the knowledge of the computer. By the time he was in the university he was in the university he was already a prodigy. So, we do not understand education yet. We place so much emphasis on paper qualification. You see most of the top construction companies in Nigeria like Julius Berger are run by people who do not have degrees, but Nigerians working with them have the degrees but they do not have the technical knowledge. Germany has a robust vocational educational system, China has the same but we do not. Our technical colleges are moribund. We do not believe in science and technology. Our polytechnics are becoming like regular universities because we do not understand the importance of technical and vocational education. Our young people must take the reins of their education into their hands. What I do today is not necessarily an offshoot of what I studied in school. I discovered what I am supposed to be doing and I educated myself along this line. Nkem Owoh and Zak Orji, the Nollywood sensations are both engineers. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US president became a lawyer, yet he never went to Law School for one day. He came from a very poor family but he taught himself to read and read himself to the point where he could pass the certification exam for being a lawyer and he became a lawyer.
Our government obviously is yet to appreciate the importance of investing in people. Is there any way you people in this sector are pooling yourselves into a pressure group to get the government to start looking in this direction?
The thing is that we have revamp our educational system. But before we get that done, there is still a lot the private sector can do. I do not believe in depending on others to get things done because you find out that could mean never getting those things done. Thomas Edison that discovered the electricity did not wait for people to support him to achieve his passion. At a point, he was all alone and all his financiers backed out. He finally built the first power station in the world. He made it work before the world keyed into it. I think when it comes to policy and getting the government to start making the right ones, you have to look at the quality of people in the government. There are some people that will not appreciate these things that we are talking about. In places like America, you talk about intellectual property which has to do with creativity. But around here we don’t believe in creativity. We believe more in selling resources, stealing the money, pocketing the money. We have a resource driven wealth creation model, but in developed world we have an innovation driven wealth creation model. The quality of people that make these policies have to change. We need to look into the quality of our political leadership. And this is why we need to get involved in the political process. We need to get our PVCs and vote and if we have what it takes, we present ourselves for people to assess us and vote us into political positions. We have bastardised our political process to the point that it is about who has the money to give to the electorate. We no longer go for the best. Someone who has spent so much to assume a position and is trying to recoup his money and you are telling him about building human capacity, he would not listen to you. Good a thing, we are beginning to have a new crop of leaders who are more avant-garde, more altruistic. There is change already though it may not be that obvious. But the truth of the matter is that we have a lot of bottle necks in the public sector which nobody likes. We could actually partner to have initiatives. But I think the best way to do this is to have the best crop f leaders at the political positions. We cannot have a leader that has the mentality of a dinosaur and expect to produce drones, robots. However, our corporate social responsibility speaks a lot. Think of a programme like Big Brother Nigeria. Corporate brands are sponsoring this programme and you know the number of youths that are watching this programme. Now, imagine if corporate brands would sponsor educative programmes on air. There was this programme I saw on TV one time; The Debaters, sponsored by glo and GT Bank. It was highly stimulating and intellectual. But after the first season, that was the end of it. That is the kind of programme that we are supposed to have on air; entrepreneurship programmes and suchlike that build public opinion aright and educate people. We are not promoting the right things in Nigeria as private firms. Because if we do not do anything about these things, they will come back to haunt us.
What is your take on youths in politics?
This is an oxymoron. Who else should be in politics? Youth means energy, relevance and therefore there is no other person that should be in politics. If you are a septuagenarian or octogenarian and you are there, you should be a youth in the mind to be there. Youths are actually in power, it is just that they do not realize it yet. There is this saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow but youths are the leaders of today, whether they know it or not. And the truth is that nobody is holding them back. We are our own enemies. If the youths will band together and debar the intellectually bankrupt from holding public offices, it is going to happen. Youths can stage a revolution. But the problem is there is no unity of purpose. A lot of youths, you give them money and they vote for you on that basis. They are not looking at their future and the aftermath of the decision they are making. But the day we decide enough is enough and that we want to turn the tables of fortune of this country it is going to happen. I watched a governor say on a video clip that people who are presently holding the reins of power are not going to voluntarily hand over, it has to be taken. The bible says, ‘the violent taketh it by force.’ I am not talking about bloodshed; I am talking about people coming together to say this is how things should be done. We don’t want impunity or corruption anymore. We want people who will go into political offices not because of what they can get from office but for what they can give in office. The good thing is that presently, a lot of people are going through hard times. Austerity is actually a good thing because as they are being pressured and frustrated, one day, they are going to realize that they are actually the ones who are digging themselves into this mess and that when they stand for what is right, things will change for the better. So, I am happy that we are getting there slowly.