For the third week now, I have been bringing you this series about one of the most cerebral traditional rulers in our country—a king who can hold his own either in the cerebral boardrooms of big corporations or the traditional setting where native African intelligence is required.
A modern king who is a blend of the old and new, who is moving the society forward, not allowing himself to be trapped in a time warp. The king who sees leadership from the point of view of solving problems for the common good. I ask for his definition of leadership and he waxes professorially: “Leadership is understanding the challenge that you have and trying to direct it and find solution to that challenge, working with people and convincing people naturally to follow you, not necessarily because you have the brightest idea, but because you have the natural ability to get the best out of the team, or out of the people, and the best will come out.”
“To my people, I don’t decree anything,” His Royal Majesty, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe declares. “Occasionally, by the time you have people who just want to be nasty, then you have to decree, but normally we discuss and a decision comes out of it. They are convinced that either good ideas come from you or that you have the ability to get good ideas out of them. At the end of the day it is for the interest of the common good. Leadership to me is the ability to get the best out of the people around you and to be seen and recognised as one to follow because you can take them to the next level.”
Even the king needs refueling. For five days in October he goes into a spiritual retreat, seeking the face of God, praying for more wisdom to rule his domain. That is what Ofala, the paramount festival of Onitsha people is about. Ofala is about self-renewal. It is a ritual akin to the mythical phoenix that is reborn out of its own conflagration. Onitsha people don’t play with their king and their grand festival. From all corners of the world, they troop home or keep tabs on it. See them in their oversized hats filled with colourful feathers. See the red-cap chiefs. See the age groups and the titled men. See the Ozos. See the Agbalanzes. See the young men mimicking the warriors of ancient times. See the women clad in calico white. Hear their music, the gongs, the bells, the flutes and the array of traditional musical instruments without English names. See the monarch coming out to dance and blessing his people like the Pope. See the people lining up to pay him homage. Even priests in cassocks come to pay homage, quoting: I Peter 2:17: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”
The Obi’s palace is like a mini-stadium festooned in the green colour of the main sponsor of the festival, the Nigerian telecoms giant Globacom under the “Glo Heritage Series” which passionately supports the culture and traditions of Nigerian people. Call that sophisticated marketing thinking. But it is beyond marketing. In his goodwill message Dr. Mike Adenuga, chairman of the next generation telecoms company and the grandmasters of data said: “Ofala Festival, for us in Globacom, is an important vehicle which has been used to drive social integration, promote peace and community development. But more importantly, the festival immortalises a lofty heirloom of the Onitsha people.”
According to him, Globacom had been supporting Ofala festival for the past six years “in line with our vision to identify with initiatives that empower us as a nation and raise future leaders who will not only be exceptional in their professional endeavour but will also be worthy ambassadors of our cultures and traditions. This was why we instituted the Glo Heritage Series to support festivals that help the realisation of this noble cause.”
In an exclusive interview in his palace which is part of my forthcoming Mike Adenuga biography, the Obi of Onitsha praised Nigeria’s entrepreneurs for being the key drivers of Nigeria’s economy and the people to look up to if the recession facing Nigeria is to come to a quick end, leading to economic renaissance. Singling out our two foremost entrepreneurs Mike Adenuga and Aliko Dangote, the Obi said they are both game-changers who are doing audacious things and contributing a lot to the Nigerian economy. “They are basically generating productivity out of the system, comprising human capital, finance, material and so on. I have had not any deep but enough interaction with both of them. They see opportunities where others don’t see, and they have this global perspective. There is something there and they can link them up and create a whole new enterprise, a whole new opportunity. They are visionaries and if you shut down the Dangote Group today and you shut down the Mike Adenuga Group today, my goodness, there will be a dent in Nigeria’s GDP. Not just the two of them, there is a host of other Nigerian entrepreneurs doing various types of things. Otedola is there. Chicason is there. Innoson is there. We need more of such entrepreneurs who see possibilities and have the courage to pursue those possibilities and turn them into realities. It takes a special quality.
“I have not met Mike Adenuga in person. But we correspond and we exchange messages through intermediaries. We have flown once together on a flight, we never spoke with ourselves. Globacom is a major corporate sponsor of the Ofala Festival for the past five years, so we deal very closely with Globacom. I have had to deal with him, but not face-to-face. He is a busy person. Two, he is a Nigerian of an exceptional character, he is passionate in whatever he gets involved in. Like he says, he is committed to grooming the Ofala to the highest level until Ofala becomes a cultural icon for Nigeria. He is a greater supporter of causes and people he believes in. And he is a man of very strong conviction. If you convince him, he backs you up. And knowing what he is doing to support culture and traditions in terms of festivals in Ijebuland, his own domain, you know what he has done there with the Awujale’s Ojude Oba festival. Then there is the Lisabi festival in Abeokuta and Oke ’Badan in Ibadan. And I know they are talking to Ife, so he is taking iconic festivals around the country, giving them support. For me, that is the mark of patriotism. He loves his country, the people and the culture. In fact one can write a book on the role of Mike Adenuga supporting Nigerian festivals.”
Yes, the king is right. From the sponsorship of Nigerian festivals to ‘African Voices’ on CNN to Glo CAF Award, picking Africa’s ‘Footballer of the Year,’ you can see a clear pattern to the mindset and passion of a man’s altruistic love for Africa and love for excellence. You can see an Afrocentrist, a man committed to seeing the continent grow and develop to its fullest potential to rule the world. That is an aspect future biographers cannot ignore. In all my years of research on this man, I see a man who sees the world as his oyster and his benchmark, a man who says that Africa cannot but produce world-class products and services. I remember an incident in the biography when his foreign technical advisers were telling him at the onset that Nigerian telecoms should grow gradually, starting from the not-too-sophisticated technology. An adamant and clairvoyant Mike Adenuga wanting to move straight up the value chain said: “I want nothing but the latest telecoms technology being used today on the streets of London, New York and all the top cities of the world.” It was the wisest decision of his telecoms odyssey. He stood his grounds and that led to the “per-second billing” coup which became glo’s entry point strategy. Today, it is about leadership in the data race. And glo is walking the talk as Nigeria and Africa’s grandmasters of data with its speedy, undersea optic fibre revolutionary technology. It’s all in our forthcoming book.