I was listening with some apprehension to the Master of Ceremonies as he was about to introduce me because he had said, just after His Excellency, the Governor of Kaduna State spoke, that he wasn’t going to comment on his height and that of His Excellency, Lionel Zinsou, the Prime Minister of Benin Republic.

So as I knew that it would be my turn next, and since Mallam el-Rufai and I have contested on this issue of who is taller, I asked the organizers whether they have decided by putting the Prime Minister just before me, they had decided that they want to hear the long and the short of the matter. So, I promise to be brief.

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Benin, His Excellency Lionel Zinsou; His Excellency, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai; His Excellency, the Governor of Ogun State, represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr Taiwo Adeoluwa; the Chancellor, Covenant University, a great man of God and an exceptional social entrepreneur, Bishop David Oyedepo; the acting Consul-General of the United States Embassy; the Vice Chancellor of Covenant University, Ota, Prof Charles Ayo; and our host, the founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation and Chairman of Heirs Holding, Mr Tony Elumelu; the 1,000 young entrepreneurs from all over Africa; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

May I warmly welcome you all to Nigeria and to Ogun State. I am particularly excited that the next generation of Africans have learned early the value of working together. You will not even need the binding force of the African Union or ECOWAS or any of the regional bodies to teach you to work together, you are already building friendships and business contacts across borders, which is as it should be. And we are all grateful to the man behind this dream, Mr Tony Elumelu. Mr Elumelu has demonstrated the daring spirit of the entrepreneur by investing substantially in the ideas and visions of so many young entrepreneurs.

The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program is one that deserves all of the commendation and acclaim that it is getting and Mr Elumelu himself deserves commendation, not just for putting his money where his mouth is, but for helping shape the future of the continent by building confident young men and women who will direct its affairs in the coming years.

Africa stands at the threshold of greatness. After many years of being referred to as the Dark Continent, recording the bleakest figures in poverty, health care, literacy, and general human development, the world today sees Africa as the last frontier for development and lucrative enterprise. This is both logical and inevitable as a fact of history.

But while entrepreneurship, free enterprise and talent are the hardware of growth of businesses and economies, the critical software is character; character, used in its most profound sense. Enterprise, commerce and even societies cannot endure without high values and moral content. The values of self-discipline, deferment of gratification, hard work and innovation, integrity (and I will return to this briefly), respect for credit and obligation, respect for the rule of law, the prompt payment of taxes and obligations. These are the critical components of successful economies and countries anywhere.

Permit me to elaborate. Neither talent by itself nor business acumen can sustain businesses. Self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, to save and to invest, to bear losses and disappointments and continue are critical. But even tenacity of purpose and discipline are not sufficient. At the core of enduring success is integrity, simply put honest, trustworthy behaviour consistently, and I emphasis consistency in honest and trustworthy behaviour. Trust is the currency of business, when trust fails, all fails. This leads to the point of respect for credit and obligation.

The simple meaning of this is that enduring entrepreneurial success can only come when the entrepreneur is known for respecting relationships and other obligations. Credit is the live wire of commerce. Failure to meet payment obligations destroys the lifewire itself. The borrower must be reliable and must respect the obligation to pay, otherwise credit will eventually dry up.

The payment of taxes and other obligations is not a mere moral or civic duty. For the businessman, it is a demonstration of fidelity to the economy and the provision of resources for public infrastructure and services which all businesses need. You cannot be an entrepreneur in a free enterprise system and expect the system to continue to work effectively for your benefit when you are a tax dodger. Good public infrastructure and services are crucial to commerce and industry. Payment of taxes and obligations for the entrepreneur is a matter of self-interest; it isn’t a mere civic duty.

And this leads to the last point, which is the respect for the rule of law. This simply means complying strictly with the law of the land. The rules, the regulations, the conventions of the business environment in which you work. A strong governing structure from the day you begin your business, with a commitment to playing according to the rules. Many think that you can cut corners, so long as you are not caught. Let me assure you that only a fool thinks that he is smarter than everyone else. One day you will be found out, and then all the reputation, the wealth and the acclaim will come crashing. Many of us have witnessed the collapse of some of the great business icons and the great business names around the world. And we know now that enduring success comes from a strong commitment to law and ethics. Respect for the law is not just a platitude; law and order is crucial for an orderly and peaceful environment. Business cannot thrive without rules and regulations.

Economies cannot develop without social entrepreneurship, but I will come to that also in a moment. Let me say that Tony Elumelu’s initiative goes beyond creating entrepreneurs. He has shown by this project that social entrepreneurs, that is creating opportunities for others using commercial methods and strategies is fundamental to development.

Africa has the largest number of the poor and unemployed per capita. This is a serious problem and we cannot run away from it, so it’s clear that economies cannot develop without social entrepreneurs. Businesses like governments must today support projects that offer opportunities for all. This is why I want to charge you all, in your own little ways to become like little Elumelus, doing your own bit to create opportunities for others. Africa indeed today stands ready to seize the future. I say so because of you young entrepreneurs who are here. Your creativity, innovation, talent and most importantly strength of character is our future.

Let me say how extremely proud I am of you all; I am convinced that you will succeed because you have started very well indeed. I am sure that your countries and our continent will be safe in your hands.

Congratulations and thank you very much.

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