Crisis, Education and Africa’s Recovery
Being Chairman’s Remarks at the 2016 Zik Lecture Series, at the University Auditorium,
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State.
16 November, 2016.
I heartily welcome today’s Zik Lecturer, Mr Raila Odinga, to Awka and Nigeria. Please enjoy the warm hospitality of Nigeria and especially the great people of Awka and the South East.
I am told that the Igbo, as an ethnic and cultural group, originated or first settled around this area of Igboland, the Nri-Awka axis. The man in whose name we have gathered here today, the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, is without a doubt the greatest Igbo man to come out of Nigeria.
It is fitting, therefore, that the Zik Lecture series is endowed in the federal university that bears the name of this remarkable African of Igbo extraction, a university that is located in the area where the Igbo are said to have originated. Like Oliver Twist I call for more of such endowments and support for this university and others across the country. I hope that more lectures and chairs are endowed in this and other universities across Nigeria and indeed Africa. We must not forget that in words and deeds Dr Azikiwe transcended Igboland and Nigeria. He was the Zik of Africa.
I sincerely thank my friend, and long-time political associate, Senator Ben Obi, for endowing the Zik Lecture series in the Faculty of Social Sciences of this young and dynamic university. Ben is reminding us that the evidence of good living is more than just binging on isi ewu, nkwobi and beer. It is more than driving the most expensive cars or living in the most elegant mansions. It should include support for others and our institutions. It should include actions that ensure that we are remembered for something meaningful, productive and enduring.
I understand that our Guest Lecturer, Mr Odinga, will speak on the Crisis of the Nation State in Africa. So permit me to steer clear of that topic in my remarks. As you know, I like to stay out of trouble. Instead, let me say a few things about the kind of philanthropy that brought us together at this event and why it is so important for the revival of education in Nigeria.
You may recall that public education began as a private and voluntary endeavour in our country. Christian missionaries built the first schools. As more and more of our people embraced Western education and as the need for trained labour force grew, the colonial government stepped in and expanded educational opportunities. This was continued in the post-colonial period by our regional and local governments. A few public spirited Nigerians also established primary and secondary schools to further expand educational opportunities for our people.
With the sudden increase in government revenues in the 1970s, mainly from crude oil exports, government virtually monopolized the provision of education in the country. Access was expanded, infrastructure was increased and scholarships were provided while the cost to students and parents was significantly subsidized.
As we all know, the fiscal environment has drastically changed. Our governments are struggling with a multitude of challenges amidst dwindling revenues. While we must insist that the provision of good quality public education remains primarily the responsibility of government,
philanthropic individuals and organizations must step in and assist in a variety of ways.
The importance of education to modern societies and their peoples cannot be overemphasized. Education is too important to be left in the hands of government alone. And good quality education should not depend solely on the ebbs and flows of government revenues. It is education that took me from a small village in Adamawa to the position that I have attained today, and helped me to make the modest contributions that I have made so far to our country and humanity. And every Nigerian child should have similar opportunities to reach his or her full potentials.
I could not have gone to school if my parents were required to pay for it. That and the importance of education to nation building is the reason why I strongly believe that primary and secondary education should be free and compulsory in our country and indeed across Africa. That way every child gets to acquire basic education to help them improve their lives and help us produce an enlightened citizenry. That is how it is in the countries that we look up to as models of development.
What education has done for me and my commitment to it is the reason why my biggest philanthropic endeavour has been in the field of education. In the educational village that I established in Yola, our focus is not just providing students with high quality education from kindergarten to university. We are also focused on providing them with the skills to become leaders in their various communities and countries. That is why we involve them in the lives of the surrounding community so they become part of the solutions to the challenges those communities face. Thus critical thinking, problem solving and leadership development are integral parts of their educational experience. And we provide scholarships to many deserving students from across Africa to help them fulfil their educational aspirations.
That way our youth will be in a better position to find creative ways to solve the myriad of social, economic and political challenges facing African states.
This gathering also provides me with the opportunity to urge those of us involved in university life as as students, faculty, and administrators to address our minds to the decline of scholarship in our universities in all its dimensions.
Let me in particular talk about the exchange of ideas, the hallmark of universities. Many of us are old enough to remember when our universities were vibrant centres of discourse, scholarly research and intellectual debates. It is obvious that that tradition is eroding to varying degrees across our universities and other tertiary institutions of learning. We should revive the tradition of inviting people who have distinguished themselves in various walks of life to come to our universities to share their ideas and experiences and be challenged on those in lively conversations and debates.
How do we, for instance, expand the political space for more democratic solutions to our development challenges? How do we promote more formal trade among African states to make it at least as easy as it is to trade with non-African countries?
How can we promote interconnected transportation infrastructure across Africa, especially roads and rail?
And can we remove ideological, religious and cultural blinders and borrow policies and practices that work to help our various countries and the continent move ahead? What will it take to get us ashamed and angry to help motivate us to move ahead as a continent?
I commend the Faculty of Social Sciences of UNIZIK for organizing today’s lecture, and bringing a distinguished African to deliver it, an African who, going back to his distinguished father, can be said to have had a front-row view of the crisis of the nation-state in Africa. I urge you to continue with this tradition of bringing distinguished lecturers from all over Africa. Cross fertilization of ideas and experiences remain critical to the mission of universities.
We should also go beyond that to encourage more inter-African educational exchanges among students and faculty even as we exchange with the rest of the world too. Such exchanges would help as we try to understand the crisis besetting us and find solutions to them, including, perhaps the crisis of the nation state.