A protégé’s outpouring in tribute to Pat Utomi at 65
One moment he’s addressing a group of youths seeking inspiration and the next moment he’s off to the airport to catch a flight to speak to a senior management team only to thereafter be on his way to listen to a group of widows with barely time to catch enough rest for the next day’s class at the Lagos Business School. Then add the endless media appearances and unending smattering into politics and civil society causes. This is how Pat Utomi’s life runs, typically.
Call him a ‘Master Dabbler’ and you won’t be wrong. With the unending penchant to foray into virtually every human sector, Pat Utomi continues his quest for his holy grail couched in the terminology he ever so fondly bandies as ‘the common good.’ Utomi’s propensity for contribution to virtually every sector of national life is phenomenal. His sheer capacity to possibly be all things to all people and the ease with which he so often fits into various contexts is nothing short of gifting.
It is difficult to aggregate, let alone try to quantify, the contributions of Professor Pat Utomi to the Nigerian project. From business to education to religion to entertainment to politics to social reengineering, Utomi easily passes for the quintessential generalist. This modern-day scholar continues to defy time by sustaining an exceptional sense of national relevance for over four decades.
Meeting him was pure providence. My late uncle and mentor, Capt. Ufot Udo Ekong of the then Nigeria Airways, in his bid to push me firmly into my entrepreneurial calling of publishing and motivational speaking figured it out. He reasoned that if I was truly serious about not getting a job and striking it out on my own, having just completed my NYSC, then Pat Utomi should be one great person to meet. So, as he was wont to do, he gave me his business card with a note – after all, he was a captain and no one was going to turn him down.
Upon arriving the Lagos Business School that fateful 19th of December, 2001, I met the place a near graveyard only to be disappointed by the security staff who informed me that the school had closed for the Christmas and New Year holidays and I would have to return in January. God would appear to have other plans. Barely two minutes after walking away dejected, I heard a shout from one of the security staff running to catch up with me only to tell me that surprisingly, Pat Utomi had just driven into the premises to pick up some papers he forgot to pack for work during the holidays. I wasn’t going to let this pass me by as I raced back to the LBS premises to hand him the note from my uncle. The rest is history too long to recount within this space.
I would go on to interview and feature him in the Achiever’s Manual and he in return would ask me to stick around for various projects both at work and at home thus transforming me into both protégé and understudy. Before long, he had smuggled me into his famed flagship programme, Patito’s Gang, first as an observer and thereafter a full induction as a gang member. He even went a step further to ask me to create a version of the programme for more youthful gang members known then as Patito’s Gang Phase 2 which featured a host of his other protégés such as Taiwo Akerele who would go on to become Chief of Staff to the Edo State Governor, Linus Okorie of GOTNI, Fela Durotoye who ran for president recently, Dr. Elevis Ukpaka, Niyi Adesanya, amongst several others.
As a ‘Generalist’ of our time, Patito has a contribution for almost every aspect of national life and this is what perhaps makes him an interviewer’s delight. Like him or hate him, the man clearly has the uncanny capacity to be all things to all people. From industry to industry, nobody plays the shapeshifter better than Pat Utomi. And from location to location, I have yet to find a Nigerian with as much a footprint given his ever-ready disposition to get up and go practically everywhere. This is clearly one aspect of his life that I deliberately chose to not nip into.
Utomi has been criticized for having his hand in many pies, yet many can’t seem to make out how he manages to stay relevant to an ever-expanding spectrum of groups and stakeholders.
Criticized by some for having his fingers in many pots, the Utomi brand has nonetheless held up quite well. He has managed to participate in his many and varied pursuits without being stretched thin – he continues to have something to offer whenever called upon and with a genuine willingness. Apparently, his stock has continued to rise. Not many can boast of so much dabbling without the existential consequence of a tradeoff.
For some of us close enough who have tried to encourage him to slow down in a bid to manage him out of this ‘madness’, we have failed most woefully, painfully realizing that the best solution is to simply let him be. After all, Patito, as he is fondly called, is a gift that keeps on giving.
Upon reflection about why he is such a moving target, I think I have managed to come to the realization that it comes down to service and a deeply personal quest for, in his words, ‘immortality’. What will the next generation think of my role? Was I just part of the numbers or did I speak up or raise others? Did I change society or was I complicit by looking the other way? These are the questions he battles with daily.
How about his imperfections? Sure, he has them aplenty for he is human after all. Admirably, he is very often the first to own up to them. In this era of sycophancy, this tribute does not seek to sing out all tunes in praise of Pat Utomi. He very often opens up about his weaknesses and oversights in a rather relaxed manner of one embracing such inadequacies and with a willingness to just keep trudging on. Contrary to misconceptions in some quarters, the Pat Utomi I know never plays the self-righteous card.
There is a running joke in my family whenever I call my mother and ask how my dad is doing. She always responds with ‘which of them?’ The black one or the ‘oyinbo’one? Such was the extent of his influence that even my parents couldn’t but attest. Little wonder during my wife’s birthday in August 2016 at my residence, my father (now late) on sighting Patito embraced with joyfully while uttering the words; ‘thank you for finishing the work I started on this boy’.
In the end, the best way to judge a leader is by their contributions. Some leaders are considered eccentric, others egocentric, Pat Utomi is ‘other-centric’. In my almost two decades as his protégé and understudy, I have watched him consistently and unhesitatingly give of himself in service to others. Prof Utomi has served more than he has been served. Service to others is part of his DNA. This is what drives him – To Serve is to Live. I have watched him take many, train them and table them as near equals and without strings attached. A lot of what I am and where I am today, I owe to this godsend. Prof, I am truly proud to call you my mentor. Here’s wishing you a truly happy 65th birthday and continued service to humanity.
Essien, CSP, West Africa’s only certified speaking professional is currently the Special Assistant on Communication and Strategy to the Director-General of NIMASA.