In the recently concluded 2023 presidential election, the youth demographic participated heavily for various reasons but unfortunately, the outcome was below expectation. This resulted in disappointment with the system. However, a key lesson from this experience is that while striving for excellence, setbacks are inevitable. How can individuals, particularly Nigerian youths, recover from not just political letdowns but other obstacles? Femi Paul, a maritime lawyer and Senior Pastor of Grace Assembly Church, Lagos, in this interview with David Ijaseun, explained how to navigate roadblocks on the path to excellence. Excerpts:
How do you define success, and how can young people measure their progress toward achieving it?
It can be challenging to convince people that success cannot be measured in terms of money only in a world where success regrettably appears to be defined by large sums of money and excessive, lavish displays of wealth.
In my opinion, beyond success, it is the significance that should be celebrated! Attaining significance makes you a success story, but being successful doesn’t necessarily make you a significant person!
Our vision at Grace Assembly captures this profound thought: “At Grace Assembly, we inspire people to become the very best before God and among men as they experience transformation that comes through the immutable word of God.”
What do you believe are some of the biggest obstacles to achieving excellence in Nigeria, and how can they be overcome?
That is a fundamental question. The opposite of excellence is mediocrity. The language of mediocrity goes like this; Let’s manage it like that! It is still okay like this now! Leave it like that, your own too much sef!
But excellence goes beyond that. It’s not just about making money. It’s refusing to associate with inferior things and standards.
Having the opportunity to travel from when I was a little boy (I started travelling around the world from the age of 9), and that broadened my perspective early in life. As a result, I feel those systems I admired could be replicated here if only our people would subscribe to the culture of excellence. When we do that, we would bring home what hitherto had to travel abroad to enjoy! Then, getting a visa won’t be a big deal or Testimony anymore.
We need to celebrate and reward excellence more because it is what society celebrates and rewards the youth will pursue.
What role do you think mentorship plays in helping Nigerian youths achieve success, and what advice would you give to young people looking for mentors?
Clearly, it’s much easier to understand and replicate the success you are privileged to see, under study at close quarters than the success you admire from afar off. That’s the advantage of good mentorship, our youths really need it.
I think that before you can pick a mentor, you should be able to X-ray what makes somebody a delectable personality that you would want to be like. And it’s beyond what’s on the surface. You can see somebody who seems rich and sleek, but you don’t work out the source of their wealth and they don’t add value to society. When that happens, Slow Down! So, the first thing to do is to know what drives the seeming success of the person you are admiring and secondly, find out what the principles of that person are.
“Some of us have to take up the responsibility of infusing excellence into the psyche of our youth. This process is called enculturation.”
As a professional with experience in the Oil and Gas Industry, what advice would you give to young people aspiring to enter this field or any of their fields of choice?
I think it has to do with competence, it really doesn’t matter so much what you studied in school. Education should broaden your mind and it should get you to the place of cyclical and analytical thinking. Work is about solving problems, bringing solutions to the table.
For instance, even though I am a lawyer, I was able to work in the shipping industry, and that was even before I moved into the oil and gas sector for more than four decades. I had no oil and gas training, except that I studied maritime law.
But beyond the technicalities, I learned other things I needed to know just by reading and observing the goings on and I made it to the top. It wasn’t a difficult thing.
How can Nigerian youths develop a mindset of excellence in their personal and professional lives, despite disappointments and other challenges?
Excellence is not given, it is taught or acquired. It is more than a mindset, it is an identity. Some of us have to take up the responsibility of infusing excellence into the psyche of our youth. This process is called enculturation, we displace the prevalent culture of mediocrity with the infusion of the culture of excellence. But it’s not going to be a walk in the park, because culture is hard to change.
Could you please share your journey to becoming a lawyer and a pastor and how you balance both roles?
My journey to being a lawyer started with me wanting to be a professional and I wasn’t really particularly interested in the sciences, and being that I had a good command of English, I chose to study law.
Crossing over to be a pastor was not a choice, I was called by God and I had to leave maritime law behind and my several degrees in law to serve. But the good thing for me is that being a pastor, I am anointed to understand the law of God, and by being a lawyer, I am trained to understand the laws of men.
Being familiar with the laws of men makes it easier for me to understand and interpret the laws of God. So I guess that made my transition from lawyer to pastor easier.
The fact that most of the laws of men, most and generally derive from the Oracles of God, which causes an interesting interplay of both laws, also worked in my favour!
What role does faith play in your approach to achieving excellence, and how can young people integrate their faith with their pursuit of success?
My faith plays the major role in my approach to achieving success. First of all, the Bible says I am made in the image and likeness of God. God is the epitome of excellence and intelligence. And also Prov 22:29 (NKJV) actually alludes to the word excellence. It says, “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men”.
So excellence is something that should be in the DNA of every person created in the image and the likeness of God. I realize that a lot of people do not understand identity. You can only go as far as you believe yourself to be capable of. Consequently, because I see excellence in my DNA, it is natural that I want to excel at everything I do. And so that is really what drives my approach to excellence.
What practical steps can Nigerian youths take to develop their leadership skills and become effective agents of change in their communities and beyond?
I believe it is difficult for people who have grown up in environments and cultures that value mediocrity to pursue leadership qualities and be successful, but it is possible. I believe the first step is for as many of us as possible to help young people develop a strong sense of identity. Is identity personal in the face of a bad environment and subpar surroundings? Therefore, having an identity starts to influence how you think and act in all circumstances.
Also, in your opinion, what are some practical steps that Nigerian youths can take to bounce back from disappointments, both in politics and other areas of life?
Bouncing back from disappointment is not so easy. One of the things we notice now is all our youth are living in Nigeria out of disappointment. They can’t see the way out of the pain. I mean, you have to stay in the race to be able to win it. I will say that what do you need grace for if you are not in the race? The words grace and race have only one alphabetic difference; the letter G, and that G starts with God. What do you need grace for? If you want to stay in the race, I think the youth need to encourage each other not to quit.
And in terms of politics and other areas of life, it’s the same thing. Some things would look like a 100-meter dash, but when you get into it, you find out it’s a mile. Race, so you need to stay in it to be able to see through to the end, and generally, young people are hasty and they want things done so fast. Many do not understand the process. So we have a duty to let them know that some things have to go through a process. And not everything will be at microwave speed. Politics may take some time to change significantly, as it does in other areas of life.
From your experience, how can the Nigerian educational system be tweaked to better equip young people with the skills they need to succeed and achieve excellence?
That’s a big one. The educational standard has dropped significantly. I had my first degree, an LL.B. In 1982, I went on to the University of London, and I went to Oxford, Greece. Princeton College of Petroleum Studies and all that. Education plays a significant role.
I think we all just need to pitch in our own little help, in any way, with any educational institution in Nigeria. The lecturers are discouraged; they’re all poorly paid, and so are all our teachers.
I think it’s easier to do that from the government than from the private sector, but we won’t give up. I just want to say that everybody who had the benefit of a sound education in Nigeria should not just take that and walk away. We need to try to rebuild it.