Excellence: Transcending a Cliché

Excellence: Transcending a Cliché

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 3:14 am


Ademola Araoye


By Ademola Araoye

I will therefore indulge myself and the curious that are here by sharing with you the tentative outcome of my ruminations on the mandate of this Center of Excellence. The thoughts have traversed the crucial challenge of defining, codifying and internalizing the steely perimeters of excellence, the continuous process of its actualization since the advent of time and its manifest constructions as I understand them. In broad strokes, I also navigate the ramifications and implications of the search for excellence in the context of our contemporary times and particularly against the background of the peculiar imperatives, particularly the perceived convenient retrogression of excellence in national life associated with contemporary Nigeria as state and society.
Excellence, like the ultimate truth, is demanding in its undiminished timelessness and at the same time its perpetual immediacy. It is transcendental, yet very specific to each context in time and space that it defies in the same breadth. In its absolute expression, excellence is essentially holistic in its irreducibility, a concrete crystal abstraction grounded in its timelessness yet defying time, space and locale. Every age, every generation across time must grapple with these paradoxes in perpetuity in its continuous search for the ultimate truth. This sterling factual is undiluted, raw, pure, fresh and pristine. It is thus the very pinnacle of human endeavor. Excellence is the force motorizing the evolution to and advancement of the Homo Sapiens, human soul, the human spirit and the constant refinement of the integrated and collective essences of raceless humanity thriving in its timelessness. When a society pauses its search for excellence and lends itself to contentment with the mediocre, it must wither and ultimately die. The evolution of time matters in the odyssey.
Speaking of time, it is a great feeling for us all, as individuals and collectively as a community, to be accorded the privilege of being alive. It is definitely a good day to be alive, even in a treasonous season as we seemingly are trapped in. Time is defined by its peculiar vicissitudes, both in the lofty heights which the benevolent human spirit can attain as well as the unfathomable depths of depravity to which the existential derogatory can descend. Nigeria has lived through both. In the constancy of this jousting, perseverance is a critical asset. This is a defining imperative as every era is characterized by the preeminence of its unique imprimaturs that are forged by both the leading lights of enlightenments in their excellence and the reactionary notorious and villainous. The latter a bane of constructive progressivism. This constitutes an eternal juxtapose of clashing ultimate opposites. The search for the resurgence of excellence in Nigeria; in the academia, in cultivated attitudes, in values and morality, and their critical percolations in state politics and policy, societal mores and values and communal ethics thus has its strenuous connotations. That implies that the pursuit of excellence as a public value underpinning public policy and the search for the public good naturally elicits certain certitudes in the existential realm. Therefore, integral to the search for excellence are certitudes that may even be contrarian and partisan as against the undiminished public good in their contentions. Excellence is a search for the ultimate truth of the holistic universe. The constant search for excellence assures the sustenance of a delicate equilibrium of the totality of that engaged humanity and a necessary continued social balance in the universal community, however the perimeters of that universe. The key point is every entrenched status quo, no matter how appealing it may appear to the partisan, thus perpetuates the destructive germ of decay and disequilibrium. That is why the celebrated wisdom of a century may qualify as an unmitigated folly in a new generation. That is ineluctable, given the very dynamic character of human engagements in its strive for continued existence, progressive communal interaction, and the assured constancy in the transformation of reality that result from the denudations and contaminations of time. Time compels humility. The mutual confrontations of fixated affiliated gladiators, mobilized on both sides of the seemingly irreconcilable aisles, like light and darkness, can be foolishly ferocious. This grinding interaction in the process of shifting entrenched paradigms provides a context to our daily strivings. That is especially so in dealing with public governance and leadership. This is a granite reality to consider in building a TETFund Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. This timely Center is what we have chosen to christen as the Abuja Leadership Center.
Constructing excellence therefore presents diverse elemental challenges in the permanence of the disequilibrated conditions of global humanity, and, even more excruciating, in the specificity of the Nigerian universe. Where are the truly excellent ones? What happened to our icons? Nurtured or born excellent in an inexorably perverse season of anomie and in a land scotched in the deliberateness of conveniences and morbid conditionalities. And, forgive me as I mean no offense. But this is not a rhetorical verbosity, nor dizzying vituperation of despair.
The steep gradients of the heights to scale in the pursuit of greatness vary according to the coloration of the human contexts of the adventure or essential struggle. This human context may be deconstructed as existential immovables expressed in terms of the sociological construction of the society, the debilitating contours of contesting visions and of mores, the character of hegemonic, even if upended, values and their partisan alignments, attitudinal orientations and indeed distortions of the overall weltanschauen. These contending world views are founded otherwise on relative, and thus limited, conceptions of fundamental understandings of the ideational foundations of the very universe each strand of humanity inhabits.
Meanwhile, excellence may an abstraction of absolutes, its concrete and physical manifestations are easily gauged in practical metrics designed for universal deployment. These provide the guard rails for the authentic excellent. Yet, so often the guard rails are appropriated by the quack in counterfeits of this unambiguous defined universal standard. If any system in practical demonstration flunks the universal parameters, then it is no advancement of excellence. Unfortunately, that is where we stand in our society today with the pervasive substitution of acclaimed universal measuring barometers in global standards with politically driven counterfeited nebulous calibrations. We have seen the denudation of global standards of excellence nationally in cynical sleight of hand in political policy making that has percolated to the very tap roots of our society. This has eventuated a wholesale degradation of our very humanity. We almost withering thrive in a deleterious cul de sac as our thoroughfares to excellence are blocked by the pervasiveness of sheer mediocrity as a national culture and badge.
Cynicism thus pervades our national drive to excellence. I need not bore you with the odious litany of our illustration of the national penchant to cut corners. We are all mired in the dominant logic, or illogic, of devastating conveniences that are deployed either directly or as passive participatory beneficiaries or victims. It is natural that this cynicism has been pronounced in the reactions to the announcement of our determination to build a center of excellence in public governance and leadership at our great University of Abuja. In many vernaculars, I confront the cynical charge. How dare you? But I know that the cynic panics. And we boldly respond WE DARE. Accordingly, please be assured, distinguished academics in varying realms of human endeavors, that despite the morale extinguishing impact of the paralyzing cynicism, we are at the cusp of a great resurgence. And, together, WE, as a community, will ride the high tide of transformation envisioned by the leaders at the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) who in their proactive futuristic engagement with excellence have wisely given us the opportunity at the University of Abuja to dare build a center of excellence. We thank TETFund as we partake in this soothing dream.
Today in time is the opportunity of an unstinting privilege to be able to join this community founded on a great vision of excellence in all its ramifications. UNIABUJA serves as a propeller and an anchor to a vision of a sterling unity forged from diversity as an iconic Nigerian nation, still a nation in being, celebrated by determined visionaries of an unfurling future, despite the incertitude manifest in the very frailty of the textured fabric of the wonderful conditions of the Nigerian humanity.
The Abuja Leadership Center is the baby of all of us gathered here. It is up to all of us to give a helping hand. The four or so core staff cannot by any stretch of imagination undertake that leap of faith in the rejuvenation exercise alone. We want to count and Trust in your positive interaction with the Center that is an integral constituent of the University of Abuja.
Meanwhile, we are where we are today because of the solid direction, motivational drive and an empowering push given by Vice Chancellor, Professor Abdul Rasheed Na’Allah. The visionary leadership of the Vice Chancellor has been complemented by the assured amiability of Registrar Yahya I. Mohammed and the constant consideration of the man who holds the purse strings, the man that I refer to as the custodian of the oxygen tank, Mallam Rufai Ahmad Babba.
Also, everyone that I have interacted with in this community in whatever capacity has simply proven that the University of Abuja is made up of dignified men of ideas and intellectuals who are constantly pushing the boundaries of human possibilities in all realms. This is befitting of a university thriving in enviable reputational solidity. True excellence is associated with an unending process of positive cognitive contamination to achieve a distillation of ethical, value, attitudinal syncretism from a plurality of tested ideas and visions. The Abuja Leadership Center is indeed well located in an environment that would facilitate the advancement of its mandate.
Indeed, it is a good day to be alive.

Being excerpts of a statement as the Inaugural Annual Retreat of the Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFund Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja on Tuesday, 8 June, 2021.

Professor Ademola Araoye is Director, Abuja Leadership Center.

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