Senator Abe's speech at TEDX Port Harcourt

Good morning everyone. My name is Magnus Abe. I am a lawyer by training, but currently, like you heard, I am a politician. That is not a very popular thing to be in Nigeria right now, but we  are doing our best. I am not here to talk about politics.

I am here this morning to contribute a bit of my own experience to TEDx Port Harcourt, the alternate verse, to try to share with you some of the experiences I have had that have shaped my way of looking at things and my way of responding to things.

Initially when I was invited to be part of the TEDx experience in Port Harcourt, I said no. But  a few things happened around me that made me change my mind and I decided to come here and share a bit of my story.

The first thing that happened was that a friend of mine, a lady who lives in U.S.-she is actually a Nigerian-and she has a son who has actually never been to Nigeria. This boy is growing up. He has his own values, he has his own way of looking at life. He has his own understanding of what success means and what the future should hold. 

The mother was very worried about  his views and the way he was going, and so she called me up and asked me if I could spare some time to talk to her son. I agreed. I got his number, I called him, we talked a few times. And I told him to try and write down his goals and visions in life so he could discuss them with me. When he did that and we talked over the phone, I found myself thinking that there were quite a few gaps in the way he was looking at the world, in the way he was looking at himself and the future, and the way I would see it from my own perspective.

So I decided to do what my own father  always did any time  we had issues that we couldn’t agree on. I decided to write him a letter, because I felt that doing that, I would be able to share my own perception of what he was doing with him without necessarily trashing his own visions and views.

So while I was thinking of  writing this  letter, I got a call from my wife and she wanted me to talk to my own son basically about the same thing. And in talking to me, she sounded exactly like the mother in the U.S. So this time, I didn’t need a phone. My son is right here with me in Nigeria. We got into some father and son engagements. And in  talking to him, I found out that my own son also sounded exactly like the young man in the U.S.  And so I decided to share my own experience, my vision and understanding of what being successful could mean to people at this time. So I came to Port Harcourt to share that experience with everybody, that is you and me.

Part of why I decided to do that is that I understand that everybody wants to be successful, and there is really every incentive for us to be successful. In fact, success in today’s world just goes beyond the ability to pay your bills and to meet up with the expectations of  society. Success includes the ability to influence your environment,  the ability to be able to affect  things around you and a whole lot of other things.  There is a lot of pressure on young people to be successful.

Now, in being successful, a lot of people seem to define success in terms of something you get at the end of life’s journey, you know, a destination, and your journey ends when you become successful. But I understand success differently. You have to be successful everyday. And you cannot be successful on your own, by yourself and to yourself. Your success must involve your community, it must involve people, it must involve compassion for others, it must also make room for other people to be successful.

So in trying to piece together what I understand by this and share it with you, I went back to my own life how I started my journey in politics.

A long time ago, that was about 1996 when the politics of the Fourth Republic was starting with the formation of the party called the UNCP, I was a lawyer, I was in my office when some politicians from my place came to invite me to come and contest for the house of assembly at that time.

Now, I had a friend then who was like my idol. He was my mentor. He was the richest person I knew. He had a Jaguar, he had a Bentley. He was very well educated, very wealthy, and very very intelligent and  I adored him. He used to spend a few months in Nigeria but most of the time he lived outside the country. So whenever he was around, I made every effort to try to spend as much time with him as I possibly could. He was my role model. He meant a lot to  me. 

Now, when these politicians invited me, I decided to go and talk to this my idol about what I had been asked to do and my decision to go into politics. He kept me in his house till about 2 am. He encouraged me. He told me that in fact, that is the best news he has heard, that this was an opportunity for us to change the course of our country, for us to do things differently, for us to change the way people looked at politics in Nigeria, that he felt that I could do all these things, and that I should go ahead and contest the election, he would sponsor me, he would fund me. He told me I shouldn’t  look at it as something I was doing myself, I should look at it as something we were going to do  for Nigeria, and everything that would be involved, he would cater for it.

I had no more  reason to talk to anybody else. I left his house  that day, I was practically working on the air. And then, I had told these politicians to come back in a week, there was no need to wait for one week after what he had told me. I called them back immediately. I was ready and I was good to go. And so we started.

Every week as we went around, I was borrowing money, I was running around, and I would go back to my mentor and my idol and say, this is where we have gone, can I have some money now to do the things we had promised? And he told me no, he didn’t want to give me the money piecemeal, he was going to give me enough money to take care of everything and take care of the elections so that even if he was abroad when the elections would come up, I would not need to ask anybody for anything, I should just go ahead, he was trying to gather enough money together to make everything work for me.

And so I would go back, I would borrow money, I would run around, and I would go  back to him the next week, and he would say no, the money was so much, he was still putting it together. I never doubted him for a minute.

So the next week, I would go back, and then I would come back again, he would say no, come back the next week. We went on and on and on. In that whole time, I was accumulating debt, but I was also working in the community, because I actually believed the inspirational message that he gave to me.

And then finally, one day I came to see him, and he said I should come back the next week Tuesday in the morning at 9 :0’clock. And so that next week Tuesday, I came back and I met him at 9: 0’clock. He said the money was ready but they were bringing  it from Aba. It was a lot of money and he needed to put it together. He told me to come back at. 3:00pm. I was so happy and I went back.

At about  3:00pm, I came  back to his house. When I got to his house, the gate was locked. I was hooting on my car, nobody came out. So I came out of the car and started banging on the gate. And then the security man came out and asked me what I was doing  here. I said Oga asked me to come back at 3:0’clock.  He was like,  ah, what  did you mean? But you were here in the morning? I said yes, I was here in the morning! He said ah, he didn’t tell you that he was going to America today? I said no, he didn’t tell me. He said well, he has gone back to America and he is not back till next year!

It was like my world had come to an end. The only reason I didn’t have a heart attack that day was because I didn’t have a heart attack that day. The sun went out. And then, I didn’t know when I started crying. I was weeping like a child, I was sobbing and people had gathered on the street to watch me.

This security man took me into the gate house. He kept me there while I was crying. He went  to buy a bottle of Ragolis water, he washed  my face, he tried to talk to me but I couldn’t hear because I was sobbing and I was sobbing. I was in that security house for over two hours with the gate man, he was talking to me, consoling me. He inspired me afresh. He got me to know that whatever man had promised me, I didn’t need to depend on any man. Even if this man had failed me, I could still go ahead and achieve all the things that I wanted to achieve.

He talked to me. You wouldn’t believe that he had no education. You wouldn’t believe that he was just a security man to a very wealthy man. But by the time that man finished with me that day, I was able to get up, get into my car and drive back. I was able to understand that my life and politics was not over. I was able to believe that I could still go ahead and achieve great things despite the greatest disappointment that I had ever suffered at that time.

This man was a security man at the gate. My friend in whom I trusted, that I adored, that I believed in so much was a billionaire, but his word was not worth anything to me at the time I needed it.

No matter what you are, no matter who you are, without integrity, you are nothing. If your word does not mean anything, your success also cannot mean much.

You cannot succeed where you are not involved with the community, when you cannot turn around and look at the challenges that others are facing .

There is a famous quote by Alexander Pope where he said:

“Then  teach me heaven to scorn the guilty bays;
drive from my breast this wretched lust of praise;
unblemish’d let me live or die unknown;
Oh grant an honest fame, or grant me none”.

If you cannot have your success unblemished, sometimes what you may define as success may not actually make you successful in the eyes of others. If you cannot contribute to the growth of other people, if you cannot participate in the community, if you see success as a destination where you would arrive at the end of your struggle, then your whole struggle may not be worth anything, because in the course of your journey, you are not successful.

My father would always say, and I later got to know that he got that from the Sanchrist. He would tell me all the time that listen,  “yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every dream a dream of happiness and makes every vision a vision of hope. Look ye therefore to this day”.

Success is what you do every single day. Success is how you affect people everyday of your life. Success is how you contribute to others around you.

When I was a child, I remember a day my mother was so miserable, so I followed her to the market. I carried her wares. I stayed with her in the market and at the end of the day, I had about 30 Kobo on me and I bought her a red bangle.I discovered that I later grew up to be a man. I bought a car for my mum but she did not value anything as much as she valued that red bangle that I bought for her as a child. If I had waited for me to grow old and have money before I could make my mother happy, my mother probably would have died a very miserable person.

So yes, we can be successful. Yes, we can join the rat race-and we should join the rat race-because what puts you in the rat race is that  your bills start chasing you and you have to keep running so that your bills don’t overtake you. If you allow your bills to overtake you, they will overwhelm you. So to stay ahead of your bills, and  to stay ahead of the competition, you are already in the rat race whether you like it or not, but in the middle of that race, you must remember that you can’t go it alone. You must remember to turn around to look at what is happening to other people.

I say to everybody that the night sky is alway that much more beautiful when there are so many stars in the sky . If you are the lone star in the sky and you cannot make way for other stars to shine, then you may not be as successful as you would like to think of yourself.

So in pushing our way forward through life, it’s important that we remember that success in the terms in which we understand it is important, but success in the terms of the contributions you make to the lives around you is just as important.

Success is something you do every single day of your life, it’s not the destination of your struggle. Indeed, that is the struggle itself.

Thank you and God bless you all.