Osinbajo To Young Nigerian Graduates: Integrity Is Your Most Valuable Collateral
“I have come to realize that trust or trustworthiness is fundamental to the success of practically everything you will do in life. In other words, if you can build your reputation in such a manner that you can win the trust of others, your bosses, co-workers, clients, business partners, you will be tremendously successful. If you cannot be trusted or people can’t make up their minds whether to trust you or not, you are already on the back foot and you are unlikely to succeed. Trust is the currency of successful business and social interaction. It is more valuable than money because it actually attracts money.” – Vice President Yemi Osinbajo
CONVOCATION LECTURE BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE 6TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF BAZE UNIVERSITY, ABUJA, ON SATURDAY, 26TH OF OCTOBER, 2019.
I am honoured to have been invited to this 6th Convocation Ceremonies of this unique citadel of learning and research, the Baze University. And I am deeply grateful to the Chair of the board of trustees, and my immediate predecessor in office, Arch. Namadi Sambo, for the honour of his personal visit to me, along with other members of the board of trustees, to invite me to this event.
The story of the phenomenal growth of this university in just about a decade is worth repeating. Beginning with 14 programmes in 3 Faculties, to 40 programmes in 6 Faculties, including Basic Medical Sciences, and a Teaching hospital, which is now in view. From structures covering a modest 3,000 square meters and now occupying 49,000 square meters, from 60 staff members to about 620 today and from 17 Students to 1,500 today, Baze University has indeed recorded remarkable progress.
While physical and numerical growth have been in leaps and bounds, so has been academic achievement, prolific research and the students of BAZE excelling in the market place and scholarships all over the world.
But BAZE’s story is also the story of the tenacity, innovativeness, and commitment to education of its founder, visioner and Pro-Chancellor, Senator Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, who in 2011, at the tender age of 41 years, established this university. His hard work and innovation continue to push this place of inquiry and learning to greater heights. I am, of course, especially partial to the University because your Vice Chancellor is a lawyer and as we all know lawyers make the best administrators! Apologies to Arch. Namadi Sambo and all other well educated but “unlearned” professionals here present!
But it is to the distinguished scholars and teachers in the faculties of the university to which the growing academic reputation of this university is owed. And we cannot take that lightly. It is to you that the awesome responsibility of mediating the thoughts and ideas of this and the coming generations belong. We must applaud your immense successes in the journey so far.
We celebrate also and perhaps most importantly, the reason why we are gathered, the graduating class of 2019. Congratulations! Your tassels are now turned to the left like those of us who graduated before you, you now belong to a tiny minority. For instance, according to the National Universities Commission (NUC), about one per cent of the Nigerian population form the total enrolment of students in the 164 universities across the country. Congratulations again.
Also, many congratulations to the parents, families, guardians, sponsors and loved ones of the graduands. This is a special day indeed and I congratulate you specially.
To the graduands, from here on you will be engaging the realities of life; the business of living by making a living. There are some timeless principles that have worked and continue to work through the years.
Permit me to share one with you, the principle of Trustworthiness or integrity. In my relatively modest experience in business, professional practice and, lately, politics, I have come to realize that trust or trustworthiness is fundamental to the success of practically everything you will do in life.
In other words, if you can build your reputation in such a manner that you can win the trust of others, your bosses, co-workers, clients, business partners, you will be tremendously successful. If you cannot be trusted or people can’t make up their minds whether to trust you or not, you are already on the back foot and you are unlikely to succeed. Trust is the currency of successful business and social interaction. It is more valuable than money because it actually attracts money.
The world’s economic systems were actually built on trust. So, giving credit or loans was built on trust. In giving a loan, most bankers will tell you that the first consideration is not your collateral, it is your integrity or trustworthiness, and this is why credit bureaus are developed, to determine the track record of repayment of any potential borrower.
I have said this story on several occasions, but I will repeat here. Many years ago, as a young student doing a post-graduate degree in the United Kingdom, I had a delay in the payment of my school fees. In those days, you had to process your school fees abroad through the Central Bank. I spoke to my counsellor in the University about the problem and she advised me to go to the bank for a loan. I thought, how does someone who has no money get a loan from a bank? But I went; explained myself to a lady across the counter, and to my pleasant surprise, I was given a 600 pounds loan. All I had to do was sign on a piece of paper that when my cheque came, it would be paid to the bank. That was in 1981. They believed my story and trusted me to pay back.
When my cheque came, I paid back. Trust. I was able to take personal loans and several other loans in the same bank. But a few years after this, it had become impossible for anyone carrying a Nigerian passport to open a bank account in a UK bank. Why? Because many young Nigerians had taken advantage of the trust and abused the trust, taking loans but not repaying. Some thought, “how foolish these oyinbo people are,” and so used credit cards to buy cars, furniture and electronics and ran back to Nigeria without honouring the trust.
In the past few years, many foreign banks have closed accounts of some Nigerians, because of the numerous attempts to defraud on those accounts. So, no matter how much you may have in your account, they just say, “we don’t want your business” because it’s just too much trouble to do business with people who cannot be trusted. So, because of the untrustworthiness of a few, a whole nation is painted black.
Developing trust also means that you must repay when you borrow. Whether it is from a friend, relation or a bank. Credit is the lifeblood of business. You are dead if your credit sources dry up. And they will if you prove that you will not respect your obligations.
In most economies, the sale of goods is by credit. Years ago, many foreign businesses offered credit to local businesses here. I remember a particular businessman who was importing and selling cars many years ago as a representative of a major car manufacturer. The cars were to be supplied to him on credit and the agreement was that he was expected to pay back in 120 days each time. He paid back a few times, then he stopped paying, he kept the money and lived large. I, a young lawyer at the time, had the onerous duty of running after him to recover some of the money. Not too long after, the credit stopped and the business collapsed.
But at around the same time, a businessman running a company called Elizade was doing the same business, buying cars on credit. He kept paying back. The foreign partners found him reliable and trustworthy and 40 years after, he is still in business, even now has an assembly plant. He is the chairman of the Nigerian subsidiary of the Japanese company that he was initially a distributor for. Trustworthiness built a business from nothing to a multi-billion Naira enterprise.
Many businesses today experience problems with dishonest staff. I was speaking to some owners of small businesses about their biggest problems, many mentioned dishonest staff.
A lady who owned a card store, where she made high-quality invitation cards one day was told by one of her customers that her cards were being sold cheaper at a store in another part of town. She discovered that two of her staff, two ladies, were stealing her inventory from the store where they were kept and had opened their own store selling the stolen cards.
Another lady who owned a cake shop complained that her staff would deliberately miscount the number of cakes that were brought in from the bakeries and then sell the excess they created and pocket the money. She said because she had to be physically present at her store all the time, she couldn’t open new branches, thus creating new jobs.
An entrepreneur who owned a small bar and left it in the hands of a manager said that he discovered that his drinks were not being sold despite the fact that several people were patronizing the bar. He later discovered that the manager and the barman were doing something funny. They brought their own drinks to the bar and sold their own instead of his own. So, when he checked his inventory his drinks were intact, but his manager and barman were selling their own drinks to his customers. He owned the bar, paid the rent, but couldn’t make money.
But there is an opportunity here because so many Nigerians and foreigners must do business here in Nigeria. The world is in search of the Nigerian of integrity, the trustworthy Nigerian to do business with or to employ. Everyone wants faithful partners or employees. Even thieves are in search of trustworthy people to keep their money with. Anyone who can show that he or she can be trusted cannot lack opportunities or profit.
There are good stories too; the story of a young Nigerian like you who turned anger to prosperity in Nasarawa State. Retson Tedheke was once a militant impatient with this country. Retson became convinced to renounce militancy in Delta State, he migrated from his native Delta to faraway Nasarawa to set up a farm.
But like most new entrepreneurs, funding was a big challenge for Retson. But a FinTech company called “Kia-Kia”, set up by young Nigerians, and another called Farmally, advanced him loans sufficient to start a small farm. From a mere initial capital base of N1.5m in 2017, Retson, last week, proudly conducted Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State and I, round what is now a vast 3,000 hectares farm worth about a billion Naira and employing 300 Nigerians.
When we visited him. I spoke to the companies that gave him the loans they all said they gave the loans because they could see he was trustworthy and had proved time and time again that he could be trusted. He built a successful farm, on credit without collateral, proving the point that integrity is the most valuable collateral.
Let me say that if you take nothing away from here, take this – your most valuable possession will be that you can be trusted by other people.
Let me again congratulate the graduating class of 2019. You have received excellent education and instruction. Your certificate reads that, “The senate has found you worthy in learning and character”. You are graduating at the most advanced moment in technology and innovation in the history of mankind; you are bound to succeed!
Remember that to whom much is given much is expected, the way up requires more than talent and degrees, hard work, innovation and integrity are crucial, but above all the grace of the Almighty GOD.
So, I pray for you that you will succeed beyond your best dreams and that the honours you receive today will be your least achievement in Jesus name. Amen.
God bless you, thank you very much.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity,
Office of the Vice President
27th October, 2019.