Sunday, November 15, 2015 5:06 pm
By Atiku Abubakar.
In a way it is difficult to believe that this is the 10thFounder’s Day of this dream we call AUN, the American University of Nigeria, Yola. The years have passed rather quickly. But they have been very memorable, challenging and rewarding years. That we have turned this wilderness, in the middle of nowhere, so to say, into this high quality centre of learning, character moulding and community service is truly amazing. I thank all those who have contributed in one way or another to the immense progress already made here. In that period we have transformed many lives not only of the students and staff who have traversed these campuses but also those in the local community and beyond.
The journey has certainly been bumpy. We have faced numerous challenges, with each year bringing its unique challenges. Looking back, however, I am relieved that we have braved another challenging year since the last Founder’s Day. The insurgency in the North East, which has had devastating effects on thousands of people, tested our resolve – but it also confirmed that we the AUN community can respond to mistrust and cruelty with care and love. The national elections earlier this year created uncertainty – but they also restored hope for our democracy, and the values we stand for as a country. The change in government has raised high hopes and false fears – but it has also given all and each of us an opportunity to play our part in the collective effort needed to re-build our nation.
Looking ahead, there are still plenty of clouds, but they pale in comparison to the silver lining on the horizon. Insecurity is still pervasive, but the terrorists are no longer growing in strength, thanks to the sacrifice and commitment of the security and intelligence services, the decisive leadership of the senior defence staff and their Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the support and cooperation of the local communities and regional allies, including Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
The economic slowdown that our country is experiencing comes at the worst possible time, but it also forces us to re-balance our economy and to put our public finances on a broader and more sustainable foundation. Our government’s fight against corruption is disrupting business as usual, but it is a boost for Nigeria, and for the bright and hard-working students in our schools and universities. With the inauguration of the federal cabinet just this past Wednesday greater confidence is likely to be reposed in our economy by investors both local and foreign. This will breathe much needed life into the economy and get more people gainfully employed.
These are all part of the change that the new government and ruling party promised Nigerians. However, change doesn’t just happen – it is the product of the hard work of extraordinary men and women. We must contribute to that enterprise of changing our country for the better for the benefit of everyone.
I’m grateful to all those who decided to tackle the problems we’ve almost come to tolerate. The governors in this zone have helped in tackling the insurgency crisis and have been advancing infrastructure development under very difficult circumstances. I salute them. Here, in Adamawa, we see that it is possible to build and repair roads, that hospitals can be assessed and re-stocked, and that school teachers can be screened and redeployed where needed. I’m sure that before long, we’ll once again travel and trade without fear, that public services will improve, and that we will even be able to joke about the bad old days when little worked, and when it seemed that no one cared. And I know that once we get to that point, someone will talk of the AUN’s fierce and fearless leader – thank you, Margee– and remind us that some people did care, and many tried to make things work. And many of those are right here at AUN. I thank you all.
I’m proud that the AUN community has stubbornly refused the logic of conflict: amidst the turmoil, and defying the odds, academic life went on; research continued, courses were taught, exams were held, and degrees were awarded. The Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative demonstrated that everyone can make a difference: by investing in the provision of knowledge and skills, by helping families reunite; and by reminding ourselves that misery is not an option.
I’m humbled by our students’ and staff’s defiance of the politics of fear, and I would like to thank them and their families, the board of trustees and all friends of AUN, for keeping the AUN dream alive.
We must all be courageous and embrace peace. Fear does not develop a society. Violence does not build schools and hospitals. Conflict does not construct roads or build factories. Together we can and we shall overcome the fear and mindless violence that threaten to hold us back.
Of course it won’t be easy. Winning a war is hard, but keeping the peace will be harder still. Once the fighting ends, we must heal. We must re-integrate victims and enable them to live their lives unburdened by the past. Those who were displaced need a home, whether they return to their villages, or stay in Yola. And we must confront the truth about what happened, deliver justice, and restore the rule of law. We must reconcile, and as if this weren’t enough, we must also move on: Life before the terror was no doubt better, but it was nowhere close to being good enough. We can learn useful lessons from our experiences with insurgency in the Niger Delta and the reconciliation and reconstruction that followed. Let us remember that the victims of this insurgency include some of those who have tormented us. The reconciliation process has to include those who lay down their arms, renounce violence and seek rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.
Just like the insurgency itself which spanned borders, our efforts at peace, reconciliation and reconstruction must span borders as well. In Nigeria, we must strengthen the economic, commercial, and political ties among the different and diverse states that make up the Northeast, and between the North East and the rest of the country. In the same vein, we must turn the wider conduits of fear into pathways to opportunity. Just as we cooperate with our neighbours in Chad, Cameroon and Niger in the fight against insurgency, we have to work with them to put the North East on a path to development. We need well-managed open borders that encourage trade in goods and services, that attract investment, and that allow us to look beyond the oil we may or may not find in the Lake Chad basin. Even if crude oil rents would help us pay for basic infrastructure and services, we cannot afford to repeat the errors of the past. We need productive jobs, and this means we need functional agricultural value chains, light industries, and access to regional markets. We must resist the temptation to think that restoring what we had before the insurgency is all we can ever hope for. We must think bigger, dream bigger dreams, and we must move forward. An economically dynamic north east with rich and vibrant social and cultural life will keep our youth here, attract more diverse talent to the region and deny insurgents a fertile ground for recruitment.
One of our biggest challenges will be to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with western ideas, and that western education is good. No culture contains only good aspects or aspects that can all be transplanted elsewhere. We must embrace those elements of Western culture, including Western education that will help us move forward as a society. For instance, education is the key to unlocking opportunity, prosperity, and progress. In Nigeria, education can and should be this key. Should we reject the advances in science and medicine, or the modern means of transportation and communication or the immense advantages of the massive amounts of knowledge available on the internet, just because they came from the West? Let us not forget that the West borrowed from other parts of the world, including Africa, to get to where it is today. So the West does not have exclusive ownership of even the things we call Western; they belong to the human race.
Dear friends, I am sure we all agree that our youth are our most valuable resource, and that education is the best way to mobilise and empower this resource to sustain economic, cultural, social, and political development. I think we also agree that we have done a poor job of managing other valuable resources, and that we have suffered as a result.
Let me be clear: nothing justifies the mindless violence and destruction by those who wrongly believe that God wants us to close our hearts and minds, to wind back the clock, and to live in fear and misery. But our failure to value and reward education explains why some of our youth think they have nothing to lose. Thus, they sometimes think that violence and other forms of criminality offer a better option. We can urge them to drop their guns and pick up tools for other kinds of productive trades. But they are more likely to listen if we teach them how to use those tools, and if they can make a living using those tools in those trades.
Ladies and gentlemen, a little more than a decade ago, when we broke ground for this campus, our vision was to build a state of the art education facility in a part of Nigeria that desperately needed a boost. When I look around now, I know that we are on the road to achieving this vision. Of course, there is still a lot to do; like any other top university, AUN will always be a work in progress. But today, the American University of Nigeria is an extraordinary and an amazingly welcoming island.
We have built this island knowing that it can never replace a public education system; knowing that it is an alternative for a fortunate few – and hoping that it would be an inspiration for everyone else. I still hope this will happen, but we must think harder about the ways to ensure that our University does not become a bastion of privilege, but a beacon of hope. Although we know too little about our young– because the absence of reliable statistics–we know that too few finish school, that those who do rarely learn enough and that our public universities seldom advance knowledge.
I don’t say this because I’m proud that we’re doing better, but because I’m worried about the gap between the education and the recognition students get at AUN, and the education and the recognition they get elsewhere. Because I’m worried that we may squander our human resources, much as we squandered our petroleum resources.
My dear friends, I have a dream that our Academy and our University will continue to grow and prosper, but in my dream, they are surrounded by thousands of public and private schools and universities that share our civic commitment, that emulate our thirst for knowledge, and that compete for the best and brightest students. Because those students they deserve to have a choice, and because there are too many problems for us to solve, and because we can’t solve them and have a future unless our youth believe they can build one.
Ladies and gentlemen, l ask you to support not just AUN, but education reform. We must persuade federal, state, and local authorities to provide universal, free, and valuable basic education; we must convince lawmakers, teachers, and unions to encourage competition among schools; and we must encourage government and the private sector to give public universities the leeway, and the ways and means to catch up with their international peers.
Let us have this type of island all over the north and all over Nigeria. And let us ensure that no youth is left behind.
Remarks by Atiku Abubakar, GCON, former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Founder, American University of Nigeria, Yola, at the 10th Founder’s Day Celebration of the University, at Yola on Saturday, 14 November 2015.