- My Story can inspire the youths:
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, businessman and front line politician granted this interview in which he did not only discuss his humble beginnings as a child in the heart of old Port Harcourt township, but offered illuminating insights, tips and admonitions on leadership and governance, business successes and philosophy of life and living.
The occasion was at a “Leadership Challenge” symposium hosted by Sterling Toastmaster Club in Harcourt on Saturday, July 7, 2018.The Sterling Toastmasters Club of Port Harcourt is an affiliate of Toastmasters International founded in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley in Illinois, USA.
You are a lawyer, businessman, technocrat, philanthropist, politician etc. Why these multiple slashes?
This question gives me a wonderful opportunity to speak about myself and to use my story to inspire people, especially the youths. I wouldn’t say that I actually set out from day one to be in all of these various fields, to use your phrase ‘multiple slashes’ of endeavour. My beginning was 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 homes 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 those who have been my friends for over 40 years can attest to this.
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 dehumanizing. 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 say that leadership decision is most important at personal level. You must have a vision, know what you want to become, know your strengths and then push for those strengths.
Because I didn’t want to be poor, I wanted to confront failure in different ways; I had to try my hands at different things. I wanted 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 was how I grew up.
I grew up in 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 me a part of their family. That was the sort of society that we had then. So, I knew that a lot of people contributed to my upbringing and to my well being. The minimum that I can do therefore, is to recognize what God has done for me by trying to give back to Society as well. That explains why perhaps, I have my hands in a few pies and not just in one pie.
But of course, it all beings from the image of who you want to be, what you think that you can become and how you push for it, 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. There are examples of people who succeeded in life because they conquered the shores of their villages, moved to Lagos and other places and conquered from their remotest areas.
There is nothing that is impossible; there is nothing we can’t achieve once we set our minds at it. I think that as young people, you should feel encouraged to try your hands in many things; if you fail in one area, try something else and then go back to what you tried earlier and failed. You probably would have learnt a few more things. But in the end, once you are determined to succeed, and you will not allow yourself to be put down, you will surely succeed.
It seems that you had a very clear sense of what you wanted to be in life and that you are the architect of your life. This underscores the very importance of personal leadership but there are people who knew what they wanted to be but failed in execution. People who set out to do stuff but stumbled. How do you juxtapose that with strategic planning and purposeful accidents?
I think that it would amount to a fallacy for anyone to say that he knew what he wanted to become and worked to become that thing exactly and that it was all by his 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 that I tried but 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.
There has to be some other power that propels you to become the person that you want to be if you set out to be that person. 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. He had no formal education and things were tough. It can only be by the grace of God that we got the opportunity that came our way as we moved on with life.
However, there is a saying that heaven helps those who help themselves. It is fundamental and it is essential for us to know that whatever we set our mind to do and we invite God into it, then it is going to happen. This is not to say that you are not going to meet accident on 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. Collaborate with other persons and explain your issue to them, maybe they have the same experience that you just had and they can help you navigate your way out of your circumstance.
Don’t be shy to ask questions, there is nothing like ‘a stupid question’. You just might be surprised that the answer could come from your security man, the man on the street. I have had to share my experiences and my needs with everybody. I’m an open book and along the way, God helped me to become the man that I am.
The world today is experiencing amazing shift; what was celebrated yesterday has become outdated. We are experiencing disruptive technologies; so much so that if we don’t step up our game, we will live in antiquity in contemporary times. This also applies to leadership because what worked yesterday may not work today. What is your portrait of a contemporary leader?
A leader must be visionary. A leader must envision a future that does not exist, he must see opportunities as they unfold, he must look at the trends in the world, that’s what makes him or her a leader. A leader must have that competence. The leader does not need to have the technical knowhow but must have the capacity to manage situations. He or she should be able to identify things that are likely to affect the people and affect the administration.
For instance, a lot of people have acknowledged that oil as a depleting resource would in the next few decades be a thing of the past and that ICT is the oil of the 21st century. A leader must begin to change the curriculum in schools to align with that vision. Once you see an emerging trend, you must equip your people with the adequate tools for them to succeed in a very highly competitive 21st century.
When former US President, Bill Clinton was campaigning for President in 1992, he went to the state of Michigan and told them that the industries they run are not going to produce the goods and the skills needed in the next century. He told them that they would be found wanting in the evolving and emerging market. He promised that if they gave him their votes and he became president, he would immediately train the people to acquire the skills that they need to succeed in the 21st century”.
That was a leader who knew that what obtained in Michigan at the time would not work for them in future. He knew it and he prepared the people for 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.
As a leader, 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.
What is your vision as a leader and as entrepreneur? How do you approach it?
If I get the opportunity to lead my state, one of the key indicators that I will check is how do we expand the economy to accommodate the teeming number of persons in the state and those who are going to be part of the population in the future. For instance, in 1960, the population of Britain was just 52 million. Nigeria had the population of 46 million in 1960. By 2015, the population of Britain was 62 million, Nigeria was 185 million. And by 2070, Nigeria will 550 million, Britain will be 82 million. So, in a hundred and ten years, Britain would have added 30 million people to their population but Nigeria would have added 500 million people to her population, with a corresponding increase in Rivers State and even more. Are we prepared for that? So, a leader must find a way to prepare for that population.
How are you going to achieve that?
You have to communicate it. A leader must be able to understand what the issue is and you must be able to get a buy in of the people who are being led. You must communicate the difficulty. Our people are smart people; they understand an issue when you express it to them. And then you express it with the passion that makes them believe this is about them, and that they have to take ownership of it. All of us want to enjoy the good life; and so, if we find impediments in the way, and we find a leader who is trying to lead by example and is ready to tell us that this is going to be an issue and this is how we should go about it, and he goes about it transparently, in an inclusive manner, everybody will buy into it. So, a leader must be an effective communicator. You have to be able to communicate the ideas to the rest of the society and they must buy into it. That way, you are able to move on seamlessly.
In Nigeria, there are tensions everywhere. There is economic stress, there is divisive rhetoric, there is primordial hatred, there’s factious politics, there is sectarian violence, there is militant pastoralists (herdsmen) and there are other multiple localized conflicts in the regions around the country. There’s endemic corruption, there’s a clamour for restructuring. All of these are pulling the federal administration in many directions. What is your take?
Well, it’s not an easy one. We are in a situation in this country where we need to be prayerful and sincere. There has to be some elite consensus. Unfortunately, the elites are also taking advantage of the rest of us. People are taking advantage of the different issues to project themselves and to get something out of this terrible situation. We do not love ourselves. We need someone that has integrity and will be willing to lead in a transparent manner; that is visionary and is able to get stakeholders to the table. People would listen, once you have them behind you as a leader, then you will be able to rein in all of those persons who are opportunists within the system. But you must be able to lead in a way that people understand your leadership and they key into it and they allow you to lead them and set the goals. If you are transparent, you would be able to communicate what you are trying to do and Nigerians would understand where they are and they would know what the real issues are. The truth is that some people are taking advantage of what is going on.
Recall, that in different sectors and at different times, we have had to come up with solutions that we thought would work for all times; that’s how we came by the Federal Character and the Quota System. These were some sort of solutions that people felt we needed at those material times. But there’s a shift in the universe about a lot of things and what worked yesterday may not work today. A leader must therefore understand that those compromises that were reached in the past that helped to secure the fabrics of our society, may not work for us today and sincerely seek better ways to confront the issues. It takes a leadership that is sincere, that has integrity, has a solid vision and is able to communicate that vision to the rest of the people. Let us not deceive ourselves, we all can do something about it and that is why I have said that leadership at a personal level is very important. We all can resist these things; a few persons are benefiting from the situation.
When they say that Nigeria has an inflation rate of 16%, it means that there’s plenty money in circulation. But the truth of the matter is that the money is in too few hands and the rest of us are angling and are suffering and looking for things to do. So, you find that in any of these situations, some persons who have found themselves in positions of influence and opportunity would seek to manipulate the system to get the most benefit from it. What these persons ask themselves is how does what is going on benefit them at a personal level? And if it doesn’t benefit them, then it must be benefiting some other people. And because it is not them, they have to resist it.
At various levels of governance, we must as a people, have something that assures all of us that we have a common future, we must have shared aspirations, shared values, and we must work and insist on insightful, purposeful leadership. And encourage the leadership to do right; if they can’t do right we have to change that leadership. The power is in all of us, all we need is to find that courage. And it is not easy; but courage they say is fear that has said its prayers. Let us not be deficient in the courage and in the mentality that is necessary for us to pursue our aspirations either as individuals or as society.
You once said that you don’t need to be voted into any political office to discharge your God given responsibilities. Now that you are running for governorship, wouldn’t people perceive you as hypocritical?
Well, the two are not mutually exclusive. That I can do what I have to do without being elected into any position does not mean that I cannot seek to be elected into any position. They are not mutually exclusive. What I meant was that everybody who has an opportunity should try to use that opportunity to impact the lives of those who don’t have opportunities. We must help those of us who live in the shadows of life. We can make life a lot easier for people if we begin to imagine their situations and try to help. And so, you don’t have to be that senator, you don’t have to be governor to be able to do that. As I said also that there are two very important moments in the life of everybody, ‘the day you were born and the day you realized why you were born’. Some of us have realized that we were born to serve.
Growing up like I said, we had strong institutions that supported our dreams but today, those institutions are weakened and nobody is trying to ensure that we re-establish those strong societal institutions. It is not how much money that I can throw into your bank account that would guarantee your great future. What will guarantee a great future for you is that I work to ensure that the institutions are strong and strong enough to carry your dreams and aspirations.
We must begin to understand that, that is the fundamental principle of life and that when God gives you an opportunity, you have to find a way to spread that opportunity. But if you want to be able to do that at a humongous level as I seek to do, then you may also wish to have the opportunity of managing state resources in a way that enhances the living standard of the people. The two are not mutually exclusive and there’s no hypocrisy.
Again, you said that you were born to help humanity. We notice that you have been receiving leadership and philanthropy awards. Do you feel fulfilled when you take these awards?
The truth of the matter is that I have avoided taking awards in every way possible; and that’s just the simplest truth. Every day I get inundated by people who want to reward or recognize me. And I say that that is not the essence of life for me; it’s not the reason I do the things I do. I do the things that I do because I believe that those things can be of help to humanity and I have to do that. People did it for me yesterday when they had the opportunity and if I do have today, then I have to do it. So, charity is something that I like to do. The Awards are things that sometimes just come; and sometime because of the weight of the pressure that is put by the organizers, you just may have to attend and take those awards. Otherwise, I like to do my things quietly. I like to do the simplest things; identify with people I may never know and I don’t even have to know them. But I live with that self-assurance that there is a God who is watching our every action and will be happy that I helped His humanity. So, we have to be not just human beings; we have to be humans.
The quality of followership is the challenge of leadership itself. Our people can’t challenge leadership, they are very docile, they subscribe to “stomach infrastructure”. People just won’t challenge the status quo, they can’t make leadership accountable. What’s your take on that?
Well you know I think it is defeatist for you to think that you can’t hold leaders to account. That’s the whole essence of challenging the leadership, the leaders must have to account for the mandates that you gave to them. How have they used that mandate? How have they worked to ensure that there was an improvement in your living standards? And then you can insist that they don’t return to office. We don’t understand the enormous powers that we have. If we realize that the people who have held us hostage are less than 1% of the population then we will know the enormous powers in our hands to bring about that change that will put leaders on their toes.
Only recently, we had a sitting president lose an election in this country. It was thought impossible before but it happened because the people set their minds to it and said no we won’t take this and it happened. The power of incumbency has been proved to only be as solid as people who would allow it to be. So, you can always challenge your leaders to do the things that you want them to do. You can always insist that they don’t push you around and that you know what you want. So, I think that we have come to that point where we have to do a value reorientation and ask ourselves what are those things that we seek to have as a people? And begin to push for those things. Insist that our leaders listen, we have had no variety in our lives as Rivers people; just the vanities of our leaders that we have had to endure. And that I think has become distasteful to a lot of us. However, if you don’t take action nothing will happen. My father told me growing up that except you say I am, nobody will say thou art.
What would be your legacy?
The story of my life is still being written. But I know that your legacy is the lives that you have helped. That’s the only legacy that you have. The lives that you have helped. It is not what you’ve done for yourself or what you’ve done for your family. It is what you’ve done for those people who are not even remotely connected to you. That is your legacy. So, for me I want to be known as that good man who tried his best to help at every opportunity that he had. So, whether it’s a man I meet on the streets, you’re my friend. I’m friends with the lowest people in society and friends of the highest society because I’ve walked all of those difficult terrains myself. So, it’s not difficult for me to identify and to embrace people. Everybody is worthy of my embrace; it doesn’t matter who you are, you are worthy of my embrace and what gives me satisfaction is that I’m able to put a smile on some other person’s face.
How can one be an epitome of leadership in a system where the only way to succeed is by compromising integrity?
Compromises are essential in politics and in every human endeavour. But you cannot compromise on the basics; on the standards. For instance, I can reach a compromise to say okay, at this point in time I could do with 40 rather than 45. That’s compromise too, but a compromise that affects the character of what you are trying to do is a compromise that you must avoid. So, a compromise that does not allow you to deliver the goods is a compromise that you must avoid.
There are challenges that you will meet as you go on in life, but if you want to get into governance for instance and you want to contest an election and you go and mortgage the future of your state, then you have compromised, you won’t be able to do anything. So, you ask yourself, what do I need to be governor for? If am unable to deliver the goods; if am unable to have people enjoy the dividends of Democracy. So why would I have to reach those sorts of compromises? It is possible in this our system to have people of sterling quality, to have people who will not compromise on the principle. The principles must be held very firm and you don’t have to compromise on those principles. But if I have to negotiate, what should be the derivation formula? Will it be 13, 15 or 25%? And I’m moving from 13% and I find that where I want to go is perhaps 50 and I’m offered 25, I can accept that for that time. That’s a compromise that you can reach and then you can come back and tell your people that it was important you reached that compromise because it’s an improvement on yesterday. These are compromises that politicians reach and those compromises must not be self-serving compromises. They must be compromises that will improve the lives of the people that will work in their interest. As a leader, because you have done that with integrity and you are transparent and you have communicated effectively, I’m sure you can get their buy in. but it is wrong if you have to go and compromise in a manner that will make you deficient in discharging the things that you have to do to ensure your people got good education, to ensure that they are able to access the hospital, to ensure that they are able to get jobs’ to ensure that they are able to set up their own businesses and own their homes.
I think that the time has come when all that the government does is not to build roads; it has to be about the number of people you have given job opportunities, the number of millionaires and billionaires that you are able to create. These are some of the things that constitute the content of governance. Of course, compromises are essential in life, but don’t compromise on the principles and there are people who do that on a daily basis who don’t compromise on the principles. Identify them and give them your support, they may not be the very rich persons; they may not be part of the establishment, but if you have the opportunity ensure that you throw you weight behind them.
There’s a high rate of unemployment in Rivers State. How would you tackle this problem of unemployment?
We have moved from a people who chose the type of jobs that they wanted because they are very qualified to a people who today don’t even have jobs and also because most of us have become unemployable. There has to be value reorientation which is very key. We have to begin to equip our people with the tools that they need to succeed in this very highly competitive 21st century.
In education, we have to ensure that people are taught the skills that can make them employable. It’s not just being educated but being educated in the skills that the industries need today, that the employers need today. So, a leader will have to identify those skills that can get persons to jobs and then you have to encourage people to be entrepreneurs.
You’ll find that the informal sector is as strong if not even stronger than the formal sector. So, there’s a whole lot that we would have to do. As a government, talking about River states, we have been blessed with enormous potential in oil and gas and we derive huge revenues from oil and gas. However, I put together a team of experts who said that the biggest revenue earners in Rivers State are not even oil and gas but agriculture and tourism. So, we have huge untapped potential in this state that we just need a government that is purposeful, that will harness these things and teach their people the skills to effectively utilize the opportunities that abound all over.
We need a value reorientation and we need a government that is truly concerned about the people and their welfare. We need a government that knows exactly the things that have to be done today. You have to get people employed. It is not enough for us to spend 400 to 500 billion that is not felt by the people you are governing. So, we have to think about an idea that works for every Rivers man, woman and child.
It is said that the people deserve the kind of leaders they get. Why then do we complain?
Yes, we make leaders and if we accept them for not delivering, then that’s what we deserve because the power is in you to make changes. Leadership at a personal level means you have defined goals for yourself. And if you have a political leadership that does not meet those goals and aspirations, you will have to enforce your right of getting them out of position and putting people that can work for you.
The attitude of the people who are led is also important. You will have to reject that which is bad for you. And you have the potential, you have the capacity to do so. You have to set your mind to do it. Even when God promised Israelite’s Canaan, they had to go through the wilderness to get there. So, hard work and courage are essential. But again, what I didn’t say was that the journey to Canaan would have taken about 40 days but it took a full forty years because people who were asked to move from point A to Point B had doubts as to whether or not they could move from point A to Point B. And so, it took them 40 years to get to where they could have gone in just 40 days. The moment you set your mind to do something, and you believe in yourself, and you know that you should not be deficient in the courage that is necessary to take that step. You will achieve that.
Rivers state is what it is because all of us benefited from the sacrifices and the courage of the founding fathers. We are where we are today because the people who are leaders today are not making that sacrifice, they don’t have that courage to ensure that things happen. Everybody is looking at remaining in their comfort zone and not concerned about everybody else. We need to begin to have us take very positive steps.
When I was going to get involved in politics again after 2015, I spoke to a few friends of mine who forewarned me. One of them said look I came to your office and I saw the way you were handling matters and I was excited. You are very effective at what you are doing. Why do you want to come and get messed up in this system again? There are killers everywhere. So, why won’t you just stay in the comfort of your home and your business in Lagos and leave what is happening? And then I asked him: Are you satisfied with the political leadership that you have today. Of course, the answer was ‘No’. What steps were necessary to take? The steps were clear. But did we find the courage to take those steps? Of course, we did not have the courage to take those steps. Like I said we have to be driven by our convictions and not by our fears. #