Pat Utomi, the good looking and chummy- faced professor of entrepreneurship at the Lagos Business School – Pan African University reminds me very much of this famous footprints in the sand painting by Danny Hahlbohm, because every documented activity of his available in the public domain points more in the direction of a man on a mission, his being to leave indelible marks on the sands of our time.
One may not be far wrong to also assume that the erudite professor belongs to that special category of Nigerians that believe in trying, and who are also more comfortable to be judged by history for making mistakes in their several attempts to leave the world a better place, better than the way they found it, rather than not attempting at all. As a result, he is constantly on the case of Nigerian government officials as regards their colossal waste and mismanagement of revenues from Nigeria’s oil resources; this can be seen in his timeless article aptly titled Managing The Curse of Oil.
Both in his public service roles and commentaries in the media, Prof. Utomi has always tried to encourage Nigerians to ‘speak truth to power’; a phrase he coined but which also captures our collective psyche. He was one of the conveners and founders of Concerned Professionals, the non-governmental organisation that brought together like-minded professionals to promote civilian democracy during the volatile days of the Abacha military junta.
Also using the platform of his popular television programme – Patitos Gang, he brings together guests from different sectors with varied experiences and inside-knowledge to enliven the debate on the ongoing Nigerian question.
His autobiographical reflections contained in the book – To Serve Is To Live leaves the reader with the impression of a man that really appreciates the many privileges and opportunities that nature has thrown his way, the Prof admits that he is humbled by everything that has happened to him, starting from the time when President Shehu Shagari made him a special adviser at the tender age of 26. His career has skyrocketed ever since spanning stints at the Volkswagen of Nigeria as general manager in charge of corporate affairs, deputy managing director and acting managing director.
Prof. Utomi has a passion for wealth creation and also practices what he preaches, helping to birth many projects and enterprises in Nigeria which have gone on to provide jobs for thousands of Nigerians, most notably Platinum Bank where he is currently the Chairman of the board of directors. He also sits on the boards of many blue chip companies in Nigeria, and is one of the most sought after speakers in Nigeria and international speaking circuits.
His continued love for selfless service has also seen him help to birth another NGO – The Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) which provides training to Nigerians on leadership and management issues. He also supports various other charities and causes.
Sometime in 2003, members of The Association of Nigerian Students at the University of Greenwich unanimously selected Prof. Utomi as the pioneer recipient of the association’s Outstanding Career Achievement Award, and also to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural award. Despite his very busy schedule as well as associated costs in attending such an event at short notice, the professor who was at the time on sabbatical in far away America honoured his promise and made time for the students whom he described in his speech as the future of Nigeria. His resounding speech on the night was well received by the audience who gave him a thunderous standing ovation in the end.
Also the professor was one of the first people to agree to serve on the board of collegehandouts.com, an NGO that I founded to help make learning resources freely available to Nigerian students.
The professor is surely many things to many people, some have tried to understand how he manages to be involved in almost a million things at the same time, it was even reported in the Nigerian media a while ago that someone had put forward a research proposal which was aimed at studying the leadership and management styles of the professor, with a view to dissecting him, to see what lessons other mortals can learn. All such adulations show an admiration and appreciation of sorts for a man who has come to be regarded as role model for many Nigerians of this generation, including this writer.
While Nigeria is yet to reach the promised land of Prof. Utomi’s dreams, this is hoping that his zeal and passion for public and selfless service will not wane.
On behalf of his many admirers, and the many Nigerians that he has touched their lives, this is wishing him a happy 50th birthday anniversary.