— Ex- Mission President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
By Tony Nwankwo
Cornelius Tay’s three-year leadership as President of the Nigeria Lagos Mission, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, came to an end on June 30, 2019.
After three years of attempts by the Nigerian press for Tay to weigh in on several national, leadership, religious and corporate issues, he finally agreed to open up and speak to the press. He explained that he needed to focus 100% on his voluntary missionary service and said the last three years of his life in the service of the Church have been the most fulfilling, having occupied top positions in the marketing and management profession in Nigeria for over 40 years.
“My work in those three years was to be close to and visit with hundreds of people who desired to know about Jesus Christ and to teach them the Gospel. In the humble homes of these people, I particularly appreciated the interest of many people in knowing the teachings of Jesus Christ relative to the Gospel and how such teachings can be helpful to them in having peace of mind, as well as preparing them for the hereafter. Although these three years have not been an easy time for me, I am grateful for achieving the critical objectives of my calling to preach and invite thousands to come unto Jesus Christ”, Tay summarized his experience.
In a letter on the 30th of May 2019, the leadership of the Church in Salt Lake City, US, formally informed Tay of the completion of his missionary service and expressed appreciation for his service and role as the President of the Nigeria Lagos Mission. So after three years of missionary/clergy work, Cornelius Tay is now fully prepared to take on another challenge and share his unique depth of experience wherever needed.
During the period of his service, Tay and his wife successfully cared for, taught, trained and provided leadership for more than 400 full-time Missionaries from all over Nigeria and eight African countries. They continue to provide mentoring for many of these men and women in their various countries, strengthening the bond of friendship and common purpose of promoting the “good news” of the restored Doctrine of Jesus Christ.
In this chat, Tay speaks on good leadership, politics, Nigeria and self-fulfilment. Excerpts:
Capacity to lead
As far back as the 1960s, I would say that I have been privileged to live and play leadership roles. From 1969 up to now, I have been involved with one form of leadership or the other… as a leader in my secondary school days to the university, in my career and in management. For the past fifty years of my life, I have had the special privilege of operating in a leadership capacity. The capacity to lead is a spiritual gift. It is not acquired by inordinate ambition or selfish motive. It is made possible by divine competence, the willingness and the availability, as well as the passion of that person to achieve goals through self-motivation and the motivation of others. I hold the position that this model of leadership is less about self and more about others. It aims to bring out the very best potentials in things and people in a natural way. Spirituality drives this type of leadership capacity to the extent that it becomes sustainable and therefore brings out good in all people and circumstances. At the end of these three years as Mission President of the Nigeria Lagos Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I have personally experienced a most remarkable era of my entire life. This is because, from a background of leading organizations and others to achieve corporate goals, I have consecrated my resources to lead a large missionary force of men and women who have committed themselves and similarly dedicated their time for the advancement of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve and work for the Redeemer of all mankind, Jesus Christ in a direct way over three years.
You see, leadership is about carrying your “cross”. And once any leader, in any capacity, can identify that there is a “cross” to be carried in that position, that individual is halfway to the success zone. In any leadership position, there must be challenges. A leader must stand up for what is right. This is lacking in Nigeria today. Leaders must be able to demonstrate, by their character, the true essence of integrity. Those who accept to lead other people, organizations and institutions must be ready to make sacrifices. Leaders take responsibility and aim to create and maintain order and build a good character that will live with all and everything they have responsibility for. Leaders should look at everything that faces them as a challenge, and something they have the capability to overcome
Nigeria as a nation
I look at Nigeria and I ask myself the question: Can we be a better nation? By the nature of my assignment, the question I ask when I meet with people who desire to know more about the Gospel or the Doctrine of Jesus Christ is very simple. Can knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ make you a happier and better person? When they say yes, then we begin to have a common ground to talk. So it is the same way I look at our nation and I ask the same question. Over 60 years that I have seen this nation operate as an entity, and having an understanding and a feel of what the nation was, prior to Independence in 1960, my conclusion is simple. We are generally under-performing as a nation. And this is so because the nation lacks the depth of leadership competencies at the most critical points that are required to transform peoples lives. When leadership has the capacity to motivate people to arise and do the right things, that is when the collective force of our rich human capital begins to bring about exceptional changes for good. And the vast natural and potential resources of this great nation can become beneficial to the majority of the people. I still believe that this can be achieved, and optimum performance of Nigeria as a nation can be attained and sustained for the good of all. We are not there yet. Some of us may pass on and never see it come to pass. My desire is to see all stakeholders in sovereign Nigeria resolve to make the deliberate and critical changes to evolve a common vision that would be the basis for the government to transform this nation. Any effort that fails to realize that changes need to be made urgently is a waste of time and resources. If we are waiting for Government or professional politicians to evolve a vision for this nation that will become the platform to transform all other arms and institutions of this land, it’s going to take a long time. Nigeria needs leaders who will have a very clear vision; and who will pursue that vision with clearly defined goals. I have never lost hope in Nigeria because we have potentials. And this gives me joy that all is not yet lost for this great nation.
With your experience in leadership positions, any political agenda?
Politicians are not the ones who are going to save Nigeria. I am not saying this to make any professional politician feel that their role is not important. Their role is important. But it should not be the dominant role. When a nation considers politicians as the dominant players who will shape the nation’s destiny, a big mistake is made. The great nations of this world are built by various groups, all of them with a strong desire to perfect their institutions. Not through political means alone, but by the collective capabilities and capacities of those who manage the institutions. I cannot sit here and tell you that there is a formula to change what we see on the ground today. But I know that God has not forgotten Nigeria, neither has He stopped favouring Nigeria as a country. With time, the right would prevail over wrong; greed and selfishness will give way to the love of others; the power of love will replace the love of power at critical leadership levels. And the people would become the beneficiaries of the great blessings that God has endowed this country with.
I am not a politician. I have never been a politician and I will never be a politician. I am interested in the politics of the nation. I am interested in political parties, more because of what parties should stand for, which is meaningful ideologies. I am interested in knowing who means well for this nation and how they are elected. I am interested in how people are governed and what opportunities are provided for them to live good lives. I will support organisations that mean well for the nation and her people, I will support programmes that will drive the economy in the direction that will bring good to the people. But the level of poverty among our people today saddens me, to the extent that Nigerians have become beggars in their own land. This is not the kind of environment that would bring the joy that our Creator promised us as His children for our mortal existence. God does not want us to suffer. He has not created us to suffer. God’s purpose for us is to have joy. For this God has blessed the land. He has not pronounced the blessing upon the land for just a few, but for all Nigerians. So what we ought to be thinking about is how we are going to get to the point where we would have that blessing and joy.
How can we achieve genuine leadership when Nigeria is divided by tribalism and religious intolerance?
What I can say is this. And this is what we are taught by living prophets in our midst today. If there is going to be peace in the land, it is because of righteous leadership working in unity with many equally righteous men and women across the land. In this scenario, the masses would be the beneficiaries. So, if you look at in levels, all those who constitute the overall leadership of this nation, are required to replicate their best values in multiple levels below them. And the responsibility of these leaders will be to ensure these value trickle down; with the responsibility of sharing the common good with the masses. If these critical levels are not appropriate or effective at the level of the masses, the nation’s progression will naturally slow down. Well, there is hope for Nigeria. These things will come to pass. I have worked in and travelled across many states of Nigeria and what I discovered is that hope is not lost. The moment we talk and amplify things that have the colouring of hopelessness or divisiveness then we are going to undermine any possible rescue plan for Nigeria. Hope is not lost. Despite the fact that in many things we are going down, I can also say that in many things we have the potentials for greatness. I do not see any form of crisis or conflict that would destroy this nation. While the middle class and youth look up to those at the top, we all must be wise and do what is right. We have to change our ways and do what God has commanded us to do. We must live right.
Memories as Mission President
I will miss the simple families and hundreds of individuals across all faiths I have met in the cities and remote parts of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Kaduna, Plateau States as well as Abuja who I have shared the message of the restored Gospel with or engaged in positive discussions about God’s purpose for our existence on Earth. All those people are looking for answers to questions of the soul and I am grateful for what we are learning from one another as they became more knowledgeable and understood the purpose of their lives. It is a different world from sitting in the corporate office of Toshiba in Singapore or sitting in the UK office of many international Clients in my corporate life. It is different. These ordinary people and families are looking for peace, joy or some kind of hope that there will be a better tomorrow. Wishing to know more about Jesus Christ and what He taught. They have not known Him well enough. Those are the things that I am going to miss. I will miss hundreds of young full-time Missionaries who served with me in the past three years. These young men and women from different countries of West Africa – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire, DR Congo, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, and Nigeria have also had life-changing experiences that will make them assets to their families, communities and nations. These are the things that I am going to miss. They are not corporate matters, they are ecclesiastical. But I am okay. There is a time for everything. And as to the question, what will I do after this phase, I know not. But my focus to the last day in this Mission will remain the Savior’s work, for which I came here in the first place.