By CHRISTINE ONWUACHUMBA
Lion Olatunbosun Okpeseyi is a man of many parts. Aside his good background in law, linguistics, management and marketing, he has also undergone decades of training to burnish his skills in leadership.
To Okpeseyi the saying: ‘To lead is to serve,’ is a watchword every leader should have as core value… Hence he adopted this nugget not just as leadership principle, but his life’s philosophy. With his royal background, many of his type would abhor things concerning the poor, and rather opt for fellow elite. But he is different and deeply devoted to philanthropy and empowerment for the less privileged and the vulnerable.
To drive this urge, he found a credible platform in the Lions Clubs, a century old international charity organisation, spread over 200 countries. After years of active membership, exemplary show of generosity and leadership, he rose through the ranks to become the District Governor (DG) of the District 404A1, one of the four districts of the association in Nigeria.
Here, he tells how his mother influenced his life, how he handles tough times and why Nigerian leaders should adopt service as their target.
What is the story of your background?
I started my early education in Owo, Ondo State at the St. Patrick Anglican Primary School. Later, I attended the Owo High School for my secondary education, then to College of Advanced Studies Ayotilerewa in Ondo State.
After that I proceeded to the University of Benin where I studied Linguistics and African Languages. My next step was the University of Lagos where I got a Masters Degree in Industry and Labour Relations. I did a law course in the Igbinedion University. From there I qualified for my Bar programme at the Nigeria Law School Lagos. So I am a legal practitioner, a certified auctioneer, an arbitrator with practice covering real estate and intellectual property.
I also belong to various professional bodies. I am a member of Nigeria Institute of Management, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK), Institute of Directors (UK), International Trademark Association (INTA) USA and so many others.
How was growing up in Owo?
I had a normal childhood.
Where you born a very privileged child?
I want to see my privilege from the angle of moral upbringing from parents, not from wealth. We never had everything… No one does. But we were made to be content with what we were given. We were made to see and appreciate people. I tell my fellow Lions that I was raised to see women as equal partners. I was not trained to see myself as their superior, but that didn’t make my mother to shy away from telling my sisters to be humble and submissive, also they must be confident enough to defend themselves at all times. We were trained to look at values not wealth.
Tell us about your parents’ occupations?
My mother was a businesswoman. If I should talk about her I would go on and on. She went to Government School Owo. And one of the good things I enjoyed about my mother was her handwriting. She had this old cursive type of writing. She was one of the first distributors of Okitipupa Oil Palm for NIFOR. The first tanker of oil that came into Ondo State was from her. She was into wholesale trading of palm oil. She had a cold room too. She was the first Iya-oloja they had in Ijebu-Owo, and she was the patron of all the Iya-oloja before she died. My father served in the police before he went into a successful timber and lumbering business.
Your family background seems illustrious, is it proper to say you had a rosy childhood?
The joy of every adult is to look back at your childhood and say, ‘what have I gotten from my parents?’ I don’t want to deny the fact, that what I got from my parents were enough to propel me into the future that I now have. So if you call that rosy then I will take it hook, line and sinker.
Do you have a role model?
Every discerning man should look up to people. Essentially, without sounding patronizing, the late DG of Our district, whose term I have been elected to complete, late Chief Olushola Dada, was a man I respected so much. I could say he was a role model to me. I really appreciated his life style. He was a descent man with a simple life style devoted to service, an achiever and a man that had a caring heart. So yes…. He was my role model!
What are some of those things you learnt from him?
I learnt that as a Lion leader, if you want things to work, you must be prepared to work with people. No matter how lofty your ideas and programmes are, you need people to execute them. So what do you do? You encourage them, You listen to them, you treat them with respect and speak to them courteously and with love even when your message to them might not be palatable. You don’t rub things in their faces.
Did you foresee being elected DG of the Lions Club?
First when you join an organization, you don’t join because you want to lead, you join because you love the objectives of that organization. Authority stems from responsibility. Don’t see your commitment to that organization as a pathway to actually position you for leadership. How are leaders identified within an organisation? It is your ability to shoulder and prepare yourself for responsibility. So I joined Lions Club because of my need to serve. Leadership in the Lions Club is not about ambition, but all about rendering needed service. Service is not what one should shy away from. It is not about position, but our commitment to service. Are you ready to serve? Are you ready to deal with the objectives and carrying people along? Because it takes a lot to lead, and in Lions Club we don’t have a servant-master relationship, rather it is a servant-leader relationship. As a leader you are the first servant of the club. And that is our principle.
And my leading the district today is by providence, because we didn’t expect the shocking death of our late DG – Lion Olushola Dada. If we all had a choice as members of his cabinet, we would have prayed for him to live longer; but he has been called home and we must now continue with his legacy. He was a great man. He was a man that we love to celebrate. He was a great leader and mentor. He was generous in conduct, character and utterances. We were part and parcel of his vision.. So we are now charged to see that his vision never dies and that, we shall do..
What should people expect from your tenures as DG?
We would continue with the projects of the late DG. We plan to build a dialysis centre at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, that was his dream and we would not let it die. We are going to continue with it because service is a continuum, where you stop others would follow. There would be no disconnection on my watch. We are also going to emphasize on some of our international objectives and programs and campaigns like fighting preventable blindness, protection of our environment, Diabetes, feeding the hungry, Youth empowerment programs etc.
I strongly believe that the care for people is a noble thing and if you make it your objective, God will reward you, because we are God’s temples on earth. we must do His bidding. Caring for people is key, and when you show care to every human being, it goes to show your respect for God.
You have people of all ages in the Lions Club, as DG, how would you carry along, and cater for the different interests of these age groups in the club?
First you need to ascertain the fact that service is for all, whether old or young, and we all are wired for connection. There is a connection between the old and the young, the old need the agility of the young to move things forward, while the young wants the experience of the older ones to navigate through life. We shall galvanize the two.
Essentially, our Leo programs have instilled that on our minds already. So we don’t impose anything on anyone… The Lions Club is an organized NGO registered to serve the people. That is our core value. Lionism is for all – young and old. And we’ve designed our programs to instill the culture of service to humanity on all our members especially our youth, through our mentoring and empowerment trainings.. Service is our prime goal and that is the focal interest of our entire members.
Bad leadership has always been the bane in Nigeria, as a leader of men, how do you think the country could enhance and improve the lot of their leaders?
If you impose the culture of service on people, the face of governance will change. Our leaders have to understand that when you find yourself in a position of authority, you are there in trust for the people. Your authority comes from the people. Authority stems from responsibility, not by the measure of power you wield over your citizen.
You are robbing them or misapplying the authority given to you when you disregard thief feelings. So those in leadership should first and foremost seek to discharge their duties responsibly and protect the trust bestowed on them. If a leader lacks all these then he or she should not call self a leader, rather a despot.