I had decided to do more things out of the ordinary to infuse more excitement in my life in 2022, so when Joseph Edgar brought up the idea of a Leadership retreat in Abeokuta, featuring President Obasanjo, I jumped at the opportunity. In my head, the real attraction was an opportunity to climb Olumo Rock to push myself physically and mentally. Nothing prepared me for the life-changing encounter that I was about to experience.
I flew into Lagos from Abuja on the Morning of Friday the 21st of January and joined about 50 other delegates at Mobolaji Johnson train station in Ebute Metta. These turn out the be a group of high achieving intellectuals from a broad range of sectors, and so the engaging conversations commence on the 1hr 30min train ride to Abeokuta.
We arrived and then settled into our hotel rooms relatively smoothly (considering the number of people). Fortunately, it was one of the delegate’s home Cities, so she had a solid amala plug. It was my first time at an amala joint, and I was quite impressed with the service, ambiance, and quality of food.
From there, we went off to the Adire mall where we were spoilt for choice with the rich color combinations, creative patterns, and variety of fabric options. My negotiation skills were tested… I pulled out the few Yoruba phrases that I had in my arsenal, and supplemented with broken English….leaving there victorious with my bag full of goodies, and headed to Olumo rock. I was finally seeing the monument from my history textbook all those years ago.
After breakfast the next morning, we were taken on a tour of the premises featuring a church, 3 Museums, archives (for researchers), etc. The impressive Presidential Library is the first of its kind in Africa and is modeled after US presidential tradition that started with JFK. This tour can’t really be explained articulately – it must be experienced. Key takeaways are:
1) History will be remembered from the perspective of the teller, so we must learn to keep records and journal our process as we progress.
2) We must be known to take a stand and consistently defend what we believe in. We may be ridiculed, imprisoned, and even be killed for our beliefs. As scary as the thought is… All great leaders have experienced this.
3) Exposure – and I daresay confidence – comes from reading wide. When you know better, you act better.
4) The ability to engage, relate with, and unite people from all walks of life will get us further than any other skill. Leadership is influence!
We have lunch, I rush a shower and head down to the auditorium where we are scheduled to meet with the enigma that is OBJ. There’s a slight delay…. a powerful PDP party delegation has ambushed him to join their party…. He firmly informs them that at almost 85 years old, he is now a Statesman, and has passed the stage of partisan politics. He excused himself and walked energetically into our auditorium. All protocols are observed (National anthem etc).
In what seemed like a flash, two and a half hours passed, we couldn’t get enough of his wisdom. He started off by speaking briefly about Nigeria: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow – then the questions started flowing from the delegates. Baba, as he is fondly called would start with a story, which has a way of shaping your thoughts into aligning with the answer… You make of it what you will! He gives you the tools, and you figure it out! Quite a remarkable and unforgettable method of learning for me.
Key takeaways from this session:
To salvage the country, the critical priorities for any LEADER are:
The following morning, the delegates met to deconstruct the experience and decide on the next steps. As one would imagine, in spite of the broad range of backgrounds, it is clear that we all have to courageously take charge and work harder on the Nigerian project – both (a)directly and indirectly; (b)individually and as a group. Subcommittees were formed on Youth & Education, Media &Communication, Agriculture etc to generate innovative ideas and solutions. An endowment was set up to facilitate trips for school children to come and experience the Presidential library; and an advertisement slot to air educational content on the national primetime show “Who wants to be a Millionaire” was donated to the new “Movement”.
Of course, the discussions continued on the train ride home, and I couldn’t help being glad this happened at the beginning of the year…. I met so many amazing people, and went away even more motivated and committed to living a life of impact!