Full speech of Atiku Abubakar at in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, at the 11th Founder’s Day Ceremony of the American University of Nigeria (AUN).
Let me join President Ensign and the MC in welcoming you to this year’s Founder’s Day ceremony of this university. It doesn’t feel that long ago when we broke ground here for what is to be the first private university in Northern Nigeria, and the first American university in Sub-Saharan Africa. Here we are today at the 11th Founder’s Day of this dream we the AUN.
Looking back and looking around, we have made tremendous progress. The little acorn is growing into a promising oak. But there’s a lot still left to be done. As you know, the work of building a great university never really finishes. A university is a living organism. It has to keep growing; it is continuously nourished. It becomes ever more complex but also integrated, more extended, and more interesting.
This past year has been particularly challenging for us and for the country. The country’s economy, which had remained weak, slid into a recession. There has been little public spending as the new government in Abuja and most state capitals try to figure out how to proceed with governance, just as oil production and revenues plummeted. And when citizens, including parents, have little income to spend, especially in the midst of uncertainty, the effect spreads to various sectors of the economy, including higher education.
But it was also a year that saw significant improvements in the security situation in the North East, our catchment area. The commitment of the Federal government and the state governments in this zone, as well as the support of the governments of our neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, have pushed back against the violent insurgency and improved the security of citizens in the area. The improvement in the security situation also means that some internally displaced persons have been able to return to their homes and try to resume normal lives. I would like to specially acknowledge the efforts of our security forces in making these possible.
However, more still needs to be done to restore normalcy in this area. The insurgency remains. The insurgents still occupy a specific geographical space. They still retain the capacity for occasional deadly attacks. Many citizens in the zone still remain vulnerable and live in fear; and we cannot say that the problem is over until every displaced person is able to return home, to the office, to the market, to the farm, and resume normal activities. We cannot say it is over until we rebuild the schools, the churches, the hospitals, the markets, and the homes that had been destroyed. And we cannot say it’s over until the survivors of this insurgency receive the help they need, including psychological therapy to deal with the trauma that they have been through. I visited an IDP camp on Saturday and had the privilege of teaching a math class to some children. But the site of hundreds of children running around and unable to attend school was very gut wrenching. It still breaks my heart. So we cannot say the insurgency is over until all the displaced children return to their schools.
And, as I indicated last year, it would not be enough for people to simply return to their pre-insurgency lives. We must do better than that otherwise we would only have papered over the wound without really treating it. People must return to something better, to hope, to improved schools, to improved economic opportunities, to freedom of worship and improved inter-religious harmony. People must return to the realization that it is ok not only to be different but also to learn, including so-called Western education. You see, Western education really belongs to humanity since different parts of the world contributed to that which we now call Western education and culture. In any case, nobody says we must take everything that is associated with that culture; we can take that which helps us improve our societies while ignoring that which doesn’t.
And we must no longer wait for socio-economic and political problems to fester for a long time before we tackle them, the way we routinely wait for small potholes on our roads to develop into huge gullies and death-traps before we try to fix them, if at all. That should be a critical lesson of this insurgency.
So let us take immediate steps to put our people to work. Let’s fix our roads, bridges and schools and other infrastructure. Let us expand schooling in this zone and other parts of the country. Let’s expand enrolment, and hire and train highly qualified and motivated teachers who are paid well. Let’s resolve to strictly enforce the law that makes primary and secondary education free and compulsory in this country so that every child stays in school until at least the age of 18. Let us expand vocational training in addition to improving our universities and polytechnics. Let us expose our youth to entrepreneurship as part of their education, to help us to really create employment and grow the economy and incomes in a sustainable way. Germany seems to offer a great example on vocation training and apprenticeship. We may want to carefully study its system to see how we can adopt elements of it for our country, our people and our economy.
When we take these measures that expand educational and career opportunities for our young people, we give them hope; we give them positive things to aspire to. We must demonstrate to our youth that living is far better than dying. When we provide them these opportunities we are likely to see more of them receive the kinds of awards and honours that were bestowed on these outstanding people that were so honoured here today.
But we should not stop there. Citizens are not just about jobs and incomes. We have to take measures to facilitate citizen engagement, especially the youth. Our young people have to take greater interest in public affairs. And I am not just talking about voting in elections. They should be organized and participate in debates on public policy and community service. And as a country, we have to find ways to lift up those who need help, to give voice to the voiceless, to listen to the voices of those who feel marginalized and left behind, and find ways to address their concerns. The recent Brexit referendum in the UK and the November 8 Presidential election in the US hold important lessons for us. Being established and stable democracies they had peaceful outcomes. We may not be that lucky because of the fragility of our democratic and other public institutions.
To our students I say your handwork and sacrifices are worth it. You are among the privileged. So take full advantage of the opportunities you have. Education is an opportunity and remains the key that unlocks opportunities and opens new horizons. And in the contemporary world, those without education and requisite skills will have a harder time attaining social mobility. This is the world of big data, of coding, of genetic engineering, of 3D printing, of renewable energy, of artificial intelligence, of self-driving automobiles, of space tourism, of inter-connected devices (the internet of things), and of social diversity and inclusion. You have the opportunity to prepare and equip yourselves for that world so that you, your families and your country are not left behind.
I sincerely thank the leadership of this University under the tireless Dr Margee Ensign. I salute the faculty and staff, all of you that make this place work.
Let me also thank the Board of Trustees, under the very smart and meticulous Akin Kekere-Ekun, for its work over the past year and the preceding years. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the state and federal governments for the improved security in the environment within which AUN operates. I congratulate those honoured here today. You are truly deserving of your awards.
Let’s all rededicate ourselves to improving this university, this dream, and this region and our country.