Address by His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe, CFR, mni, MBA, LL.D (Hons), Dsc. (Hons), Obi of Onitsha (Agbogidi),
Protocols . . .
I should start with gratitude to God Almighty for making today possible and bringing us together safely and peacefully. We trust in Him for an orderly and harmonious proceeding and safe return to our various destinations. I also thank the Federal Government for deeming me worthy to be Chancellor of this great citadel of education and learning founded by, and named after, one of the three noble founding fathers of modern Nigeria, His Excellency, The Right Honorable, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto. I was in awe and trepidation on learning that I would become a successor to Alhaji Sir Ahmadu, who was the first Chancellor, but also thrilled to be succeeding my good friend and royal brother, His Eminence, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar, CFR, mni, Sultan of Sokoto, who vacated this position to become Chancellor of the University of Ibadan last Tuesday.
Between these two eminent scions of the great spiritual leader, Usman Dan Fodio, a lot has happened in the history of this institution. A mustard seed that was sown on 04 October 1962 with four faculties, fifteen departments and 426 students has now grown to some twelve academic faculties, a post graduate school and 82 academic departments, in addition to institutes, specialized centres, colleges, and a student enrolment of some 35,000 from every State in Nigeria, Africa, and the world at large. Ahmadu Bello University has also nurtured two other universities and has some thirty colleges of education and schools of basic studies around the country affiliated with it. This university is by far the largest and most extensive in sub-Saharan Africa and boasts of a most impressive roll of alumni. Becoming Chancellor of such a great institution must, therefore, be perceived with utmost humility and sense of responsibility. It is on this note that I also sincerely thank the entire university community for accepting my appointment. I do not bring much to my role as Chancellor except a sincere commitment to work with all stakeholders to move the university to even greater heights in its quest to serve God and humanity according to its founding philosophy. Whilst the position is commonly seen as largely titular and honorary, I believe firmly that anyone so elevated has a duty to reciprocate that distinction by giving all within his ability to advance the cause of the institution. An occasion such as this affords one the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing soul searching in our polity. The recent change of political leadership in the country has given us a new perspective on the state of affairs in the country, particularly the national economy. But, the thrust of my remarks will not be on the economy, but rather on our mindset as a nation, which, if not changed, will frustrate every measure to redress the economic decline. Here are a few paradoxical situations to ponder:
We spend unbelievable amounts importing petrol and subsidizing its retail price whilst our three refineries with adequate capacity to meet our national requirement are literarily moribund, despite huge sums spent on endless turn around maintenances; smaller and less endowed countries successfully operate their own refineries optimally and do not suffer scarcity.
Nigeria is probably the largest importer of electric generators in the world despite our endowment with natural sources of energy, such as petroleum, coal, hydro and solar energies, and the huge sums spent by successive governments on the power sector. On the other hand, a smaller country, Ghana, takes gas from Nigeria and generates most of its electricity requirements.
Our food import bill, spent mostly on rice and wheat, is about $22 billion annually, yet our country is blessed with vast arable land and a large population of young jobless people that can be usefully deployed to agriculture.
Road construction in Nigeria is more expensive than most parts of the world, yet our roads are breaking down faster than we build them because the traditional mode for heavy haulage, namely, railways, pipelines and waterways, are comatose; a trailer load of petrol from Mosimi to Maiduguri causes more damage to our roads than the value of the product being transported.
A majority of our State Governments have recently taken the so-called “bailout loans” for recurrent expenditure, meaning that future generations are being inflicted with the burden of the profligacy of the current generation.
The same contradictions exist in many other aspects of our national life such as education, health, manufacturing, public service, governance, etc. But, it all boils down to a simple message, namely, that we may have lost our bearing as a nation with the discovery of petroleum in the 1950s. A false sense of national wealth has turned us into a nation of frolickers and hustlers, who are fighting one another for a greater share of the proverbial national cake, and spending it extravagantly, rather than leveraging the God given windfall to build a stable, diversified, and more prosperous nation. As the volume of production and market value of petroleum have fallen, that is, as the national cake has shrunk in size, the competition and struggle for a stake in that cake has become more intense.
Thus, today, there is tension everywhere – Niger Delta, Boko Haram, MASSOB, industrial strikes, armed robbery, kidnapping, ethnic rivalries, tension between and within the political parties, etc, The sum total is that our national mindset, particularly amongst the upper and middle classes, which includes most of us in this audience, has been focused on the consumption, rather than the creation, of our national wealth. Consequently, I have a distinct feeling that the current efforts to re-set our economic bearings and improve our wellbeing must be accompanied by a national crusade at restoring and re-asserting our core values as a nation – a commitment to justice, equity, mutual respect, hard work, transparency, modesty, and, above all, a sense of nation or a belief in our Nigerian-ness. Such a crusade must transcend partisanship and sectional interest and reach out to all levels of our society on a sustained basis. So, what has a university got to do with all of this? I dare say, everything! Education and learning are not an end but a means to achieving a better world and future for our children. Thus, our universities, as centres of education and learning, must constantly engage with our national challenges, and be sufficiently strong and dynamic to effectively do so. In my brief interview in the current edition of ABU News, I stated that good education is the greatest investment that a parent can make in a child, or a nation in her citizenry. It is human capital that indisputably drives all aspects of development. As the breeding ground for human capital and the advancement of knowledge, the university must willy-nilly be central to the transformation that this country aspires to, and deserves, for true greatness.
But, we must also ask if our educational system, particularly at the tertiary levels, is in a position to meet this yearning challenge. An occasion as this is not a proper forum for a full dilation on this broad issue, though one cannot resist the recent reference to The Nigerian Education System by Professor Peter Okebukola, former Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Universities Commission, as being anchored on “sinking, sandy shores”. Nevertheless, I would like to identify four issues that I feel demand some serious and immediate contemplation by the ABU and other leading universities in the country.
1. Today, the demand for tertiary education amongst our teeming population still outstrips the ability of our universities to cope; it will remain so for the foreseeable future. This is notwithstanding the near exponential growth from one University College in 1960 to 141 universities today with an aggregate student population of over 1.8 million students. Such rapid growth poses a danger of dilution in quality unless investments are sustained, particularly in the training and development of faculty and staff.
This university and its sister first generation counterparts must therefore continue to devote particular attention to research and graduate education to fulfill their own need and that of the many younger institutions that will increasingly be calling at their doors for recruitment.
2. There is a mismatch or imbalance in number, quality, and discipline between the needs of the employers of manpower and the output of the universities and tertiary institutions. This situation raises the dual questions of unemployment and un-employability, and demands a closer cooperation between the universities and employers in curriculum development and deployment of resources in order to optimize the employment market. Again, this is an opportunity for this university to play a leading role.
3. The above reduction in the mismatch in demand and supply, even if achieved, would still leave a situation where opportunities for salaried employment will continuously decline proportionate to growing university output and national economic expansion and diversity. Thus, the emphasis in university education, going forward, must be placed on nurturing entrepreneurial, self-starting, and self-reliant citizens, who will create employment, not seek employment. We in A.B.U can be exemplary on this, also.
4. In order to successfully address these and the myriad of challenges facing the universities, a more secure financial base becomes imperative as a prerequisite for effective pursuit of long term plans and strategies. There are two aspects to the financial challenge, namely, seriously creating independent sources of income over and above government subventions and grants from donor agencies, and becoming more prudent, modern, and innovative in the management of available financial resources.
With its founding philosophy, history of growth and development, enviable location in this ancient kingdom of Zaria and proximity to the metropolitan cities of Kaduna and Abuja, and a most illustrious roll of alumni, I am convinced that Ahmadu Bello University is eminently positioned to rise above these and other dynamic challenges facing our tertiary education system, and significantly enhance its leadership position in improving the world that we live in. Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have spoken at length for an occasion such as this. In summary, my message is that this great university is well positioned to play a leading role in the positive and sustainable change that His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari seeks for our
nation. I, therefore, call on all stakeholders and people of goodwill to join hands and support the university to achieve this lofty goal. As your Chancellor, I will do my own honest best in this regard.
I thank you all for your attention.
21st November, 2015