The concern with quality and global competitiveness of products of Nigerian universities received critical attention today with Dr. Adaora Umeoji, the Deputy Managing Director of Zenith Bank putting on the table a checklist she thinks can solve the problem. Likely to echo around Nigeria and even come under attack from enthusiasts of alternative paradigms of the crisis of quality and competitiveness of graduates of Nigerian universities, the DMD’s position nevertheless altered the tone and texture of Convocation Lectures around Nigeria which is usually a dense treatise rather than a ‘problem-solving’ pragmatism. As Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka and Pro-Chancellor of Veritas University, Professor Godfrey Onah puts it, Dr Adaora altered the tone by directly speaking to the graduands and their world after the university.
According to Dr Umeoji, the answer to the problem is for graduates to move beyond academic and practical knowledge to learn Softening Skills. That, said Dr Umeoji who got a standing ovation for the 48 minute long Convocation Lecture of Veritas University, Abuja Friday is how products of universities can position themselves in terms of global competitiveness and excellence. It was a position she said she had prepared herself to advance in accepting to deliver the Convocation Lecture. The well attended lecture had clerics, academics, political and business leaders, some of whom left before the occasion eventually took off. Among them were Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who inspected newly constructed structures on the fast rising campus as well as former Chief Executive of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia. Both had other engagements as to have waited to attend the lecture, said Professor Hyacinth Ichoku, the Vice-Chancellor of Veritas University, Abuja. The 7th in the series is the first Convocation Lecture to be held inside the university campus.
The climax of the Convocation Lecture was when Dr. Umeoji announced automatic employment at Zenith Bank for Best Graduating students at the university’s convocation tomorrow. This is more so that the university’s Department of Computer Science is getting twenty laptop computers from the bank. The ovation was loud enough to bring a hall down, said Intervention correspondent at the venue. Even the usually calm Vice-Chancellor not only joined, he asked for a repeat performance and the audience granted it.
The Convocation Lecture which ended with the speaker telling the graduands to make a choice out of the art philosopher’s typology of people: those who see; those who see when they are shown and those who don’t see. Her argument is that the graduands have been technically, morally and academically equipped and had also gotten the Soft Skills exposure for competitiveness and excellence as to be in a position to make such choice of where they see themselves going.
The Softening Skills contention she posed is informed by her analysis that, irrespective of whichever job a graduand applied for, personal attributes is the reality of today and those who failed to imbibe them risk expiring. Her checklist straddles Vision or visioning; Passion; Communication Skills; Positive Attitude; Integrity; Work Ethics; Team Work; Adaptability; Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Skills. For her, Vision is important because, without such a mental map of where one wants to go, one could end up where s/he did not plan to land. Similarly, passion or the compelling desire for something is an enabler of mobility. In her presentation, Communication Skills was emphasized to be more than blabbing one’s way out but about elements associated with body language so that one does not miss the first opportunity to make an impression.
To convey her sense of Integrity, Dr. Umeoji relied on the narrative of the childless Chinese Emperor in search of a successor and who deliberately distributed de-fertilised fruits to potential successors, asking them to come back later with their gain. Calculating that the Emperor would be pleased with whoever came back with a leafy product, the youngsters went and got own fruits with magnificent yields except one who did nothing to his. The Emperor regarded him as the only one with Integrity. And so on and so forth.
Her position challenges the old argument that good, balanced education and associated sharp, analytical mind prepares anyone to be capable of handling any other challenges in life. Now, she is saying that Softening Skills “is the trend and reality of today”, making her to be located in what is generally regarded as the ‘problem – solving’ School powerful in some of the Business schools she attended, such as University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton as well as Harvard Business School. Zenith Bank where Dr Adaora is the DMD is reputed to be the biggest bank in Nigeria.