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Stats: 1061215 members, 1231578 topics. Date: Monday, 20 May 2013 at 02:25 PM
|Even Atiku Was Once Shoeless by 13volts(m): 10:21pm On May 26, 2012|
How Atiku made American University of Nigeria
May 26, 2012 | 12:51 pm
His Excellency Atiku Abubakar, Your Royal Highness,
Bishop Kukah, Chairman Al-Haji Joda, President
Margee Ensign, distinguished guests.
The granting of honorary degrees to the Lamido, a
Bishop, and a Pastor assures that we are all blessed
today. I am deeply appreciative of the degree and
Is this not a remarkable cavern of a building? Very
few thought that the North of Nigeria could have a
building this large, and even fewer thought it could
be built in one year. They were wrong. They under-
estimated the American University of Nigeria. This is
a monument to determination, a legacy to the
Lamido, and a demonstrable statement that the
Graduates of the Class of 2012 have a special
We are here to salute and celebrate your hard work
and achievement and inspire you to build on the
educational platform that you received here. You
have made it this far not just because of your talent
and hard work but because of your family and
friends, your professors, Administration, and the
staff, and especially to President Ensign, whose
energy, creativity, and infectious enthusiasm inspires
the campus and gives it a smile. You should also
thank Dr. Ensign’s two predecessors as President,
and Chairman Al-Haji Ahmed Joda and the Board of
Trustees, who have loyally given their time, advice,
and financial support to establish AUN. Graduates, if
you feel tall today, it is because you are standing on
the shoulders of so many.
But none of this would have been possible without
the vision and the astonishing generosity of His
Excellency Atiku Abubakar. No one in all of Africa
has given more than he has to promote education.
Mo Ibraham created a great Prize for freely-elected,
clean and competent African Presidents.
Regrettably, there is a short list for that prize. But
with the exception of Ibrahim, no other African
businessman has contributed a small fraction of what
Atiku has done for decades. His Excellency Atiku
Abubakar is unique among African leaders in
establishing a world-class private university.
Now let me tell a story.
Don’t get used to it
When I was in the Peace Corps, a palm-reader came
to my village, and he read the palm of one of my
young students. He said: “You will be poor and
powerless until you reach the age of 40.” My
student’s face turned pale, but he had the wit to
ask: “What happens after that?” And the palm-
reader said: “You’ll get used to it.”
That young student might have been Atiku. Born poor
in Adamawa State, the chances were that he would
die poor and powerless, but he refused to get used
to it. He walked barefoot for 20 kilometers to get a
good education. Some of his teachers were
American Peace Corps Volunteers, who stimulated in
Atiku, a curiosity, a spirit of inquiry, a determination
never to “get used to it.”
Atiku went into public service, then business, and
then electoral politics where he won the
Governorship and finally Vice President. None of
these steps were easy. He faced formidable at each
turn in the road, but he always persisted. He had a
dream of creating a great private university in Yola,
and he turned to American University in Washington
for advice because Jamilah Abubakar had just
received a PhD there. Louis Goodman, then Dean of
AU’s School of International Service, and a Board
member of AUN since its beginning, visited and
convinced me to come.
I had just been appointed Vice President of
International Affairs at AU, and President Benjamin
Ladner asked me to lead a team to Nigeria to
determine the feasibility of establishing such a
University. When I arrived here, the land was dry,
the heat was oppressive, and the poverty was
pervasive. It was hard for me to see how a
University could grow in this soil. I suggested a
different location. ”How about the French Riviera?”
He laughed. “”Or how about Abuja?”
Atiku had a different vision. He saw a University
that could lift Yola and Adamawa up like Stanford
University lifted Silicon Valley in California. He saw
a University that would attract the very smartest
students in Nigeria and Africa and give them an
education that was better than anything they could
get on the Continent.
He persuaded me and my team, and we convinced
American University. President Benjamin Ladner
strongly favored the partnership, and his successor,
Neil Kerwin, asked me to convey to all of you how
proud American University feels at the partnership
that developed and matured between AU and AUN.
Together, all of us worked 24/7 to build the
institution we see today, which has 1400 students
and 100 faculty and today graduates its fourth class.
— AUN is the first wireless university with a fiber-
— AUN has had uninterrupted education since its
doors opened. Its graduates have gone to some of
the best graduate schools in the world. American
University has hosted 49 AUN students, and they
have scored at the top of the class at AU, and some
are enrolled in AU’s graduate schools. —We stand
in a hall and on a campus that did not exist seven
years ago. Today, AUN is a beacon to all those
who believe that a vision, determination, and
perseverance can overcome a palm-reader’s
prediction. Stanford took a century to become
great. AUN went from conception to reality in four
years, and in another four, it became the best
private university in sub-Saharan Africa.
Last September, on the 50th Anniversary of the
Peace Corps, a new prize – the Senator Harris
Wofford Prize for Global Citizenship – was given to a
leader in the developing world who absorbed the
spirit of the Peace Corps through his work with
Volunteers and contributed to his country by his
support for education and democracy. The first
recipient of this award was H.E. Atiku Abubakar.
Permit me to show a video of the Gala Event when
the award was received by Adamu Abubakar, the
son of the Founder and a member of the Board.
Nigeria and Africa
Graduates, you have earned your degree, but this
only begins your journey. Your education has opened
a door to a more fulfilling life, but many other doors
“The mind,” Plutarch once wrote, “is not a vessel to
be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” At AUN, your
Professors have tried to light the fire of curiosity and
knowledge. It is now your responsibility to keep it
kindled – to not get used to inertia and not be
discouraged by failure.
- If you can’t find a job, try to create one for yourself
and, then, for others.
— If people dispute western education, tell them
that education is not eastern or western, it is
universal, and every person has the right to learn
?- If people exclude other views or religions, remind
them that the greatest era of Islam, Christianity,
Judaism, and all other religions occurred when they
opened themselves to all ideas and religions. The
greatest scholars of all religions agree that the path
to heaven is through enlightenment and education,
not violence and coercion. True liberation is possible
only for those who open their minds to education
every hour of every day.
- If people say Nigeria is corrupt, and Africa is poor,
remind them that change has started. For the last
six years, Nigeria has sustained an annual economic
growth rate of about 7% – one of the highest in the
world. And change will keep coming because you
will be the agents of that change.
Woody Allen once told another graduating class:
“You are at a crossroads. One path leads to utter
hopelessness and despair. And the other path leads
to total extinction. I hope you will have the wisdom
to choose correctly.”
Your choices are much better because you have the
talent to fulfill Nigeria’s promise. Your generation has
a huge agenda.
— You have much to do to ensure that the entire
country benefits from its petroleum. Other countries
— from Norway to Brazil — have shown it can be
done. Nigeria can too.
— You have much to do to diversify the economy so
that agriculture, manufacturing, and innovation will
replace oil and gas as the source of sustainable
development. Other countries have shown it can be
done. In 1980, 80% of Mexico’s exports were oil.
Today, 80% of Mexico’s exports are manufactured
goods. Nigeria can also diversify.
?—You have much to do build power lines and
roads. China and Turkey has done that, and so can
- You have much to do to unleash the
entrepreneurial energy of Nigeria.
It used to be said that Nigerian government officials
gave the state an honest day’s work. The problem
is that it took a week. The World Bank has estimated
that Nigeria ranks 133 of 192 nations in allowing its
entrepreneurs to set up a business. Filing permits
and forms could take a year. These rules too can
change. You can change them.
There are two kinds of people in the world. People
who think they can, and people who think they
can’t. They’re both right. AUN thinks you can, and
so do I.
John Gardner, one of America’s wisest men, who set
up a group called “Common Cause” to mobilize the
people of America to keep it true to its ideals,
looked at the American political landscape in the late
1960s and said: ”What we have before us are some
breathtaking opportunities, disguised as insoluble
Atiku didn’t get used to the poverty of Nigeria’s past
or to a dry field in the middle of Yola. Others saw
an insoluble problem. He saw a breathtaking
I hope every graduate will try to replicate his story
and show his perseverance. His life was not always
charmed, but when he had a setback, he did not
allow himself to be depressed or discouraged.
He picked himself up and moved forward. Africa
needs a million people like Atiku.
“A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns
to its original dimension.” So said Oliver Wendell
Homes, a great American Justice.
Graduates of 2012, and I include myself since I now
have a class ring and a diploma: Let’s resolve
together that you will go forth from here, the
American University of Nigeria, with a new idea.
You will be the agents of a modern, progressive, and
ethical Nigeria. When you see the flaws in this
country, and when you face setbacks in life – you
will say: ”I will never get used to it.” And you will
Robert A. PastorAmerican University of Nigeria, Yola
[Speeches/AUN Commencement – Final - May 19,
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