It was a breezy Wednesday evening with the weather app forecasting light showers - a portent for good fortune among the incurably religious. A well-appointed audience largely made up of corporate whiz kids from global corporations, blue chips, senior management and top performing employees of Sterling Bank Plc, were upbeat as they anticipated engagement with the enigmatic Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laurate and living legend. The venue was the luxurious Head Office Annex of the bank in Lagos.
Kongi, as Professor Soyinka is fondly called by a cross section of the culture community, arrived in style in company with Mr. Abubakar Suleiman, Chief Executive Officer; Mr. Yemi Odubiyi, Executive Director; Mr. Emmanuel Emefienim, Executive Director, all of Sterling Bank. They were his host at the maiden edition of the Sterling Leadership Series which was aptly themed - 'Corporate - Culture Intersection'.
In his welcome remark, Mr. Suleiman described the literary giant as a living legend whose large body of work is positively influencing people on the continent and across the globe. He disclosed that one of the works of Professor Wole Soyinka that helped to shape his life as a youth is a little publication entitled:The Credo of Being and Nothingness. He said the book had a profound effect on his thinking and changed his perception about life.
Although he needs no introduction, Professor Wole Soyinka was introduced by poet, author and publisher, Ms. Lola Shoneyin who handed over proceedings to the cerebral Mr. Odubiyi. It was a question and answer session anchored by the fine banker of encyclopedic learning - a clear case of a polymath meeting the oracle.
The highly engaging conversations between the two crisscrossed leadership, building strong institutions, racism, migration and arts with answers laced with double entendre drawn from complex bodies of knowledge.
Professor Wole Soyinka's expansive responses delivered in true oracular fashion deconstructed the current knotty issues of migration, particularly the death of thousands of migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, the indifference of some developed countries to the plight of migrants, mass burial, loss of identity and hopelessness of majority of young people as well as the on-going xenophobia in South Africa.
In a response to a provocative question leadership and future of Nigeria, he subtly berated the younger generation for lethargy and connivance with the old brigade to shut themselves out of leadership. He charged the Nigerian youth to brace up and challenge the status quo because the political elite will not surrender power without a fight. Wole Soyinka urged the audience to be good followers by holding leaders accountable for their stewardship from time to time.
Professor Soyinka added that Nigeria has been unfortunate to be led by the bourgeoisie who think that leadership is their birthright. In Marxist philosophy, the bourgeoisie is the social class that owns the means of production during the modern industrialization and whose societal concerns are the value of property and the preservation of capital to ensure the perpetuation of their economic supremacy in society.
Over the years, Soyinka has distinguished himself as a rare breed and a man of courage. Besides other remarkable achievements in the academia and public life, he has to his credit two remarkable public institutions. One is the Palm Wine Club, which he co-founded as an undergraduate at the University of Ife and the other, the Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC).
He applauded Sterling Bank's initiative to send its employees home to collect their PVCs in preparation for the general elections, describing it as civic solidarity. He encouraged the electorate not to give up on the country's leadership because the signs of another change are already showing.
According to him, banks should take the initiative and promote artistic entrepreneurs, saying the contribution of arts to the society is mostly underrated. He enjoined Nollywood to wake up so that banks can invest more in their business because it is a viable industry. He regretted the extinction of art works across the country, remarking that many art works have disappeared from Oyo to Bida, among other notable art centres in the country.
He commended Sterling Bank's decision to specialise in five key areas of the economy under the acronym of HEART: Health Care, Education, Agriculture, Renewable Energy and Transportation. "I really appreciate your effort in the transportation system while I encourage you to put some effort in the railway system. Solar power is very good, and I use it sometimes in my house in Abeokuta. I will like to see PHCN fully destroyed."
The choice of Soyinka as guest speaker at the first edition of Sterling Leadership Series further affirms the bank's commitment to promoting arts and cultural productions. Certainly, the bank is certainly driven by the believe that art and cultural productions are a part of the larger economic ecosystem. It is much more than delighting people and can be an important part of a nation's economic development and growth strategy.