‘Success in life means being relevant to society’
Words of the late American poet and educator, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, that “lives of great men all remind us that we can make our lives sublime and departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time,” define his philosophy about life. Indeed, Dr. Fassy Adetokunboh Yusuf had his eyes set on causes that would make him relevant to the society from the moment he could take decisions on issues that concern him. Today, he is a multi-dimensional scholar of international repute with over 50 publications including books, chapter publications, articles, projects and research engagements. He has also attended conferences, workshops, seminars and other intellectual and capacity building programmes in over 40 countries in the six continents of the world.
With a Diploma in Journalism in 1974 from the School of Journalism and TV, England, Yusuf proceeded to bag a Certificate in Public Relations from the Chartered Institute of Public relations (1975); Diploma in Advertising and Marketing from the Communication, Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation, London (1981); Communication, Diploma in Marketing from the British Chartered Institute of Marketing (1983); and Advertising and Marketing Diploma with Honours from the Communication, Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation, London (1984).
He bagged his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 1984 from Brunel University/Henley Business School, United Kingdom and his Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Mass Communication in 1997 from the University of Lagos. Still hungry for knowledge, Yusuf enrolled to study Law at the Ogun State University, Ago-Iwoye and graduated in 2000 with Second Class Honours. In 2009, he enrolled for his Ph.D studies in Communications (Media Policy and Deregulation) and was awarded the degree in 2014. Last year, he became a Chartered Secretary and Administrator from the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators of Nigeria.
With these qualifications, Yusuf says he is still willing to acquire more knowledge. According to him, his multi-disciplinary status as a scholar was not dictated by circumstance but the outcome of determination backed with hard work. “It’s not by circumstance but by dint of hard work, perseverance and a vision that saw beyond the ordinary. I wanted a situation where no matter what happens, I will be relevant to the society.
There are many people who started very early but could not finish well; so I wanted to finish well. I thought that I started well very early in life and should be able to sustain and enhance the situation. And it was only by being an exceptional voice or scholar or both. So, I kept on improving myself; I kept on being relevant and all that. So, even when I was the Commissioner for Information, Youth, Sports, Social Welfare, Community Development and Culture; and Alternate Commissioner for Health in Ogun State from 1994 to 1996, I was studying law and people thought I was crazy. They were like how could a commissioner who ought to be enjoying money go back to the university to pursue a degree. But to me, even if there was money there, I could not have compromised myself because I have been a social critic all my life. Besides, I discovered early in life as a student of Awolowo and some great philosophers who saw life beyond the ordinary that money is a material thing that is worth pursuing but not worth dying for. Knowledge is worth dying for; excellence is worth dying for. So, I have always been after excellence and knowledge,” he notes.
According to him, his quest to be in tune with the times informed his decision not to restrict himself to a particular discipline. His words: “I have always believed in diversification because this is a developing economy. So, specialisation could be dangerous because it will be difficult for you to predict with exactitude the profession that will take you to the Promised Land.
“For instance, time was when journalism was at its peak. You can imagine what is happening in the media industry today. Some journalists have not been paid for three to four months. Also look at the emergence of the social media; it has made nonsense of the traditional media to the extent that people don’t read newspapers again. A time was when the circulation of Sunday Times was about 500,000 copies per day while Daily Times sold about 450,000 copies. Let’s not expose ourselves but you can imagine the combined circulation of national dailies in the country presently. Sometimes I ask my students which newspapers they read most and some of them will tell me that for one month they have not read even one newspaper; that they will always see everything they wanted on their phones. So, it’s only some of us who are traditional patrons of the newspaper and the chief executive officers (CEOs) of organisations that still read newspapers.
“So, my decision to diversify and be a multidimensional scholar has paid off not in terms of naira and kobo but in terms intellectual satisfaction and job enrichment. When I want to do consultancy now, I’m able to look at a particular assignment from different perspectives and dimensions. When I was to be appointed the MD of Duy Series in 1989, what singled me out was my MBA. All my contemporaries had either a degree or a professional qualification but in my own case both. So, you must always learn to be a step ahead of your contemporaries so you can have a competitive edge because we are in a world of competition.”
He explains further: “Look at the race between China and America. Time was when everything we needed to do was with Britain; time was when everything we needed to do was with the U.S. Now, we are focusing on China. Do you know what will happen in another five or 10 years? Can you look into the crystal ball to determine what will happen in the next five years? If anybody had told you 30 years ago that social media would determine the pace of global economy you would have probably doubted it. I read somewhere that the total turnover of Facebook, Google and the rest is more than the entire economy of Africa. So, you must keep pace. If you don’t keep pace you will be dropped. I did M.Sc in Mass Communication; after that I studied law; then my Ph.D; then Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators and all the rest. And if I see an opportunity somewhere again, I will take it,” he said.
It is this kind of gut that has made Yusuf’s 65 years on earth both eventful and exploratory. As a child, he was deprived of the privilege of growing up under the love and care of his parents early in life, as they divorced when he was just two and a half years old. His grand parents brought him up in his native town, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State. But he counted that childhood experience as a gain.
“It fortified me,” he says. “May be it was fortuitous but I never lacked anything. It never affected me academically; rather it gave me latitude and freedom to be able to be what I wanted to be. To me, being with your parents, you may lose your sense of mission because of over pampering and all of that. Because my mother is from Deghele Island in present day Delta State while my father was a businessman based in Warri, my friends in Ijebu-Ode then called me kobokobo. It was derisive word they used to describe those of us who have anything to do with the east or even from Benin. But I was dealing with them. And you know, because Itsekiri people eat starch, they thought it was the starch that was giving me strength, because no matter how mighty you were, I would beat the hell out of you to the extent that I had my own gang that you dare not play rough with. You have to behave yourself because if you misbehave in school, we will deal with you after school. So, I didn’t feel it much. Rather, I was sympathising with those people who lived with their parents because they were not rugged in my view,” he said.
Thus, he describes his life as an admixture of joy, challenges, tribulations, excitement and constant renewal of faith. Giving glory to God for what he has been able to achieve in life so far, Yusuf says success to him is all about being relevant to society. “Success means being relevant to the society. Success means contributing to the society and making yourself somebody that the society can’t do but to reckon with. You are here to have this conversation with me so I can contribute to national and international discourse. That satisfies me more than naira and kobo. The point I’m trying to make is in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that lives of great men all remind us that we can make our lives sublime and departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time. So, let us be up and doing, pursue our goals relentlessly and ensure that we contribute to the society.
“Awolowo is not known for leaving naira and kobo behind. Herbert Macaulay is not known for leaving millions behind. The legacies they left behind are leaving the society better than they met it. Do you remember what former military president, Ibrahim Babangida and late Biafra leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu said about Awolowo? IBB said that Awolowo was a constant denominator in national discourse while Ojukwu said that he was the best president Nigeria never had. So, if I could not be Awolowo, the little I could be why don’t I try to be? That has been the factor responsible for my quest for knowledge.”
Asked if he feels fulfilled at 65, Yusuf answers in the affirmative but notes that life is a continuum, stressing, “Even after transition, you still have to answer to your creator. So, as long as I’m alive and enjoy good health, I will continue to pursue things that will give me satisfaction in terms of imparting on the society and having global relevance. I have been opportune to travel far and wide — Asia, Europe and the rest of the world to deliver papers. So, I’m fulfilled. You might say I have not got enough money; I wish I could if it’s possible. If it’s not possible, I don’t lose my sleep.”
And so he has no regrets. “With all the catalogue of blessings, to express regret means I’m not grateful to God. I told you that my parents separated when I was two and a half years old; yet I’m able to be what I am today. I’m one of the High Chiefs of the Awujale of Ijebuland, Kabiyesi Alaiyeluwa, Oba Sikiri Kayode Adetona. I’m also the Asiwaju of Obanikoro-Lagos. I also have religious titles and many other honours. I’m the current First National Vice President of the University of Lagos Alumni Association Worldwide. So, what should I regret again. I’m fulfilled. As a person, I don’t look at the problems of life. I see them as things that should spur me to action. Why should I lament? If I lament, God won’t be happy with me.”
On his advise for youths, Yusuf says: “First, they must relentlessly be in pursuit of knowledge and excellence. They should never be satisfied with knowledge. Number two, they must imbibe what I call TAP – Transparency, Accountability and Probity. Three, they must be close to their creator because there are some unseen hands that direct some of the things we do in life.” His wish at 65 is to see Nigeria prosper and become a respected nation globally.
“At 65, I want to see a better Nigeria because this is not the country of our dream. We dreamt of a country flowing with milk and honey but somewhere along the line, we derailed. And what pains me is that while we are still alive, we have been unable to get to the Promised Land where Nigeria will meet and surpass Malaysia, UAE, Qatar and Singapore.
“Don’t forget that at independence, these countries that I mentioned could not stand shoulder to shoulder with us. But now they are better. Look at South Africa that we liberated; now, they are asking our people to leave their country. I only hope that the present administration will be able to pursue relentlessly its economic policies to ensure that this country takes its pride of place in the comity of nations so that all of us can be proud of Nigeria again. As it is, this is not the country of our dream.
“And again, Nigerians should reexamine themselves. We all want good things from life but many of us are not prepared to make any sacrifice. And the younger ones are worse. They do anything for money from internet fraud to kidnapping, ritual killing and all the rest. Let us pause, reflect, ponder and see how we can make this country better than we met it,” Yusuf asmonishes.
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