Good Afternoon AUN!
Before I begin this speech, I have something to say.
As we gather here today to celebrate this moment; a moment for which many families have longed wished for, I would like us all to give a rousing round of applause to all the parents and families who have made the sacrifices to see their children through to this very moment.
Some four to five years ago, you sent these children young, innocent and, in many ways, naive of the real world, to the faculty and administrators of this institution.
And today these faculty members and administrators hand back to you young adults, bright eyed, confident and, in many ways, more aware of the world today than you were at their age.
I ask that we all join hands and applaud the faculty and administrators of this institution for this task and for making today possible.
To the members of the graduating class, you are privileged – not because of the material wealth of parents and families, but because of the richness of your interactions, the quality of instruction and most importantly the experiences which propel you into the world that awaits you outside the fences of this place that you have called home for the last several years.
Today marks the commencement of your journey of independence and your attempt to realise your dreams, hopes and aspirations.
As we look ahead, it is important that you put into perspective what the last few years have meant to you.
The friendships you made here are going to be lifelong relationships that you will learn to call and rely on as you go through life with all its surprises and challenges.
The environment here allowed you to express yourselves without any stereotypes attached to your position, but with the complete candour and rigor of intellectual debate, the world out there would not be that lenient nor will it be flexible and accommodating.
The lessons you learned here are without great repercussions to you; the outside world can be very unforgiving when errors are made.
Such is protection offered to you over the past years that will cease to exist to you as you transition to the next phase of your lives to become great men and women.
So, what exactly is in the next phase?
To illustrate the next phase, I shall read to you a poem written by Rudyard Kipling to his son: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or, being hated, don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise; If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to broken, and stoop and build ‘em up with worn out tools; if you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again at your beginnings.
And never breath a word about your loss; if you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”; If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch; if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; if all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son…you will be a Lady my daughter!”
The context of the present Class of 2010: You are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth. Basically, civilisation needs a new operating system; you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. This planet came without a set of instructions.
Still, there are basic and sensible rules that seem to have been forgotten like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded.
Be the change, make a difference in the society you are in.
There is invisible writing on the back of the degree certificate you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring your decoder, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and Nigeria Needs You!
Let me provide a short story of Nigeria. Our past, the present and why you have to create the future, your future.
50 years ago, at independence, life as we know it was much different from the way it is today.
There were several aspects that influenced and shaped our ways of life in remarkable ways.
From a period before the 1950’s and right up to the early 1990s, this country’s men and women, young and old, rich or poor, cherished and used NIPOST and the railway system.
Do I hear you say what!?
It sounds so archaic and old fashioned, but listen; in many top economies today people like yourselves still use the railways and get mails through the post offices from post men and women.
Did you know you could take the railway from Kano to Lagos?
Did you know you could get on the train and ride it all the way from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri?
Why Lagos? Why Port Harcourt?
Because the railway line started from the Apapa sea port in Lagos, and the Port Harcourt port, thereby connecting the sea to the rest of the country.
Unlike today where you have trailers carrying petrol/diesel and trucking ship containers over long distances, the trains carried these cargoes to the closest locations to you.
The trains had first class cabins, with full service restaurants, second class cabins and coaches as you have in planes, with the attendant pecks.
Thousands of people worked on the railways or managed the many train stations spread across the different rail systems.
It wasn’t very fast, but it was safe, secure and affordable.
People did business along the rail ways and managed their lives based on the coming and going of the trains.
In Nigeria the same way you would take a train in the UK from London to Manchester or in the USA, a train from New York to Washington DC, so you could in Nigeria.
Have those days gone for good? Have things become better or become worse?
What role can you play in taking the good of the past and remodeling or retooling it to fit the challenges yet to come?
You may not know how much the railway would have impacted on the economy in terms of job creation and easy and regular movement of goods and services cheaply and timely, too.
Statistics published in the HISTORY OF NIGERIAN RAILWAY reveals that the rail system at the height of its performance in 1963/64 carried 2.5 million tonnes of goods. A decade later, the tonnage had dropped by one million tonnes. Similarly, 12 million passengers used the rail system in the same period and within the decade the numbers had dropped to 6 million.
Now we don’t see the trains any more. Again, over to you.
I love writing and receiving letters. Letters from friends and family; letters of appointment.
Once upon a time to communicate you wrote a letter.
Why did you write letters?
We wrote because there was a post office in every town or city in Nigeria.
The anticipation of getting a response, the thrill of having your name read out that you had a letter waiting for you excited you.
What was the advantage of writing?
It improved your ability to spell, it made you develop smooth and attractive handwriting, it helped to improve the skill of gathering your thoughts and putting them on paper.
The post offices were central to the community.
Apart from receiving and sending letters in post offices, you could also send and receive money orders from friends and family.
Then if you needed money or your provisions had run out, you would write home.
Because we don’t write letters anymore, the post offices are gone.
Gone also are the post masters and mail carriers who numbered in the thousands.
You don’t know these people.
But bring back our post offices, create jobs so that our youths do not walk the streets looking for jobs.
Your generation is a lucky one.
During the short span of your life, two developments in the field of communication technology descended on us, leaving us flabbergasted and trying to send us back to school in order to communicate with you.
First is the internet. Some of us are trying to learn how to upload and unload and download; browse and surf away from the beaches.
There is also a cafe where coffee is not served but one sees a number of young people taking their turn on the computer.
We are not used to this but we are learning.
My generation will still prefer writing letters to sending emails.
But we realise that you are in a hurry. But in spite of our delinquency, I will like to assure you that my generation will do whatever it takes to assist you to reach your desired destination at whatever speed you choose to proceed.
We are proud of you and of your achievements in this field. So far, statistics shows that we are 157th in internet hosts but we are 29th in internet users currently estimated at over 11 million.
My generation can appreciate why you are in a hurry.
Last month, about 1.3million students sat for the combined JAMB examination.
Six days later, the results were out online.
Our worry is how many of these students would be as lucky as yourselves to attend any tertiary institution and graduate in time.
You have a problem on your hand. How many who graduate will be in employment.
The answer you may discover lies in a single interest rate for loans to agriculture, education, manufacturing and housing, with two digits tenor.
And most importantly a one point agenda: ENERGY.
Another development is that of the GSM. Today if you need money you would flash your parent.
Flashing is a dreaded word.
You know you have to part with some money either for credit or for something else.
We are learning to live with the new vocabulary brought by the new technology. What about texting?
A new language I prefer to call textis has evolved and is murdering the English language as we the oldies know it.
I believe within a few years one would need a textis dictionary to comprehend the texts you send to your parents.
This is largely the past; to speak about the present I am a political economist and so I shall speak to you in numbers and hard data.
These come from the 2010 CIA World Factbook, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, and last year’s World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.
- We are the 33rd largest country on earth; we have the 8th largest population. Do the math: we’re the eighth largest family living in the thirty third largest house.
- We have two of the 170 most populous cities in the world in Lagos and Kano.
- We have the 12th largest workforce in the world – greater than Germany, France, or the United Kingdom.
- We rank 19th in the world for our arable land and 33% of it is in use. We rank 21st in our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for agriculture.
- We rank 33rd in the world for our known renewable water resources.
- In 2008, we were the 16th greatest producer of oil daily. In 2007, we were the 8th greatest exporter of oil. Natural Gas looks a little healthier. We are the 251 greatest producer and although we are virtually tied with the United States as the 101 greatest exporter, we have the 7th largest proven reserves.”
- We may be only 15th in internet hosts, but we are 29th in internet users currently estimated at over 11million.
- We have very few landlines in our Telecommunications Industry, but we are running 16th in the world with somewhere around 63 million mobile phones.
- We rank 208th in our average life expectancy of 47 years. You have a lot of work to do. People live longer in Sudan, Somalia, South Africa, and Chad. And we have the 11th worst infant mortality rate at 9.5%.
As a political economist, I am interested in what these rankings and numbers say about Nigeria.
So, what do they say? To me they say two opposite, disturbing, and challenging things:
Nigeria is a wealthy and fortunate country in many many ways.
But we Nigerians are not working well enough or hard enough to enrich Nigeria and Nigerians.
Remember what your degree certificate says…..You are Brilliant and Nigeria Needs you.
The World Needs YOU, You will be remembered not for what you have gained, but for what you have given.
You are the present and the future; we are largely the past. You must shape your future better than we have created the past.
Late President Kennedy mobilised and challenged the youths of America by exhorting them to among other things: Ask not what America can do for you but what you can do for America.
Unfortunately, my generation has stood this exhortation on its head. We have changed it to ask not what you can do for Nigeria but what Nigeria can do for you. Don’t listen to my generation as we say or practise our own version.
We have lived for the past 50 years as a nation in constant transition without arriving at our destination, that is if we knew where that is. We know we have potential but we have never actualised it.
Half a century is too long a learning curve without receiving a diploma of excellent performance.
Our contemporaries in the Colonial College have since graduated and have received their first class degrees.
I refer to one of them- MALAYSIA (1957) which graduated only three years ahead of us.
Malaysia is smaller in population and their society is not as complex.
Malaysian leadership is however larger in vision and in discipline.
It is focused.
The followership is equally disciplined.
DISCIPLINE is therefore key to your success in life.
Don’t ever forget that.
We pride ourselves in supplying Malaysia with palm oil seedlings decades ago, but we are embarrassed by their plantation technology which puts them as No. 1 palm oil producers in the world.
We in turn import palm oil from Malaysia.
You may not be aware that some of the well known brands of car we import are assembled in Malaysia and so are some branded computers and electrical gadgets.
Recently, Malaysian educational system has attracted thousands of Nigerian students.
You are no doubt graduating at a most auspicious time; THE 51st YEAR OF OUR INDEPENDENCE. The representative of our generation here on earth will text us your report card to wherever we may be twenty five years from now and we judge whether you have actualised our nation’s potential in 25 years when we could not in 50 years.
A definition of the future
In essence what your instructors at AUN have prepared you for, are challenges that are not solely Nigerian, but in fact you have been tutored and drilled on how to read, analyse and respond to global challenges.
This mentoring and scholarship has leapfrogged you ahead of several of your peers in many respect.
As an undergraduate from AUN, you should see the world as your playing field not just your country or your continent.
If you accept this premise, then you must be aware of what kind of effort your peers in China, Malaysia, India, Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Russia, South Africa and the United States are all doing to forge ahead.
The discipline and rigor of your learning is what equips you to expand your abilities and adapt in the shortest possible time to situations that you are presented with in whatever shape or context.
As we conclude, in the midst of all the promises you will make to yourself today, there are three key promises that I urge you to reflect on:
- The promise to your generation – That you will, with members of your class, be the conscience of truth and the force of change that your generation possesses.
- The promise to your Alma- Mater – To this institution to which you owe what you are today to, you promise to answer its call, within the best of your abilities when it calls. For it will call, and it’s the abilities of alumni of great institutions to answer the call of their Alma-Mater that has made them the great institutions that they are today.
- The promise to your Nation- As a member of a generation that is on its way out, we have done our part for our great country, and our achievements and disappointments should serve as a great instructional manual to you. You all have a great opportunity to do the right things to make this Nation take its rightful place in the comity of nations.
- The AUN University is designed to mould leaders. You are made to be leaders, to be leaders of thought and leaders of positive change to society. With your business degree, you should look out to be entrepreneurs, from within the arts you should look out to design vivid and creativity perspectives to shape the culture and philosophy of our current human existence. In technology, you should be innovative, be open to ideas, delivering practical solutions to make a tedious life more efficient. In every field of endeavour, your contribution to the community and to society is expected to be valuable and consistent.
You are beneficiaries of the vision and resources of the founding fathers of this great university.
While you may have paid fees, bear in mind that taking an idea from concept to execution means a lot of dedication and sacrifice and resources so that this place can be a worthy place for you to study.
Someday, we would all pass away but we must strive to leave footprints on the sands of time.
One way to do that is to ensure that you contribute to the continuous existence of this institution in every way you can.
This can be largely achieved by being worthy ambassadors of AUN and by developing a culture of making endowments to the university.
A significant part of what keeps the Harvard and Yale brands so prestigious is the amount of endowments alumni such as you have made to the school.
Never let the mission and vision of your university die or dim.
With your contribution to society and endowments to the university, your alma mater shall continue to glow both in sunshine and in shade, now and in a hundred years to come.
The Ivy league brand of American universities succeeded mainly because its Alumni have given back to these universities what they got from them.
At least three of these famous Ivy League Universities; Harvard, Yale and Princeton have a total endowment of 54billion US dollars; that is about 14 billion us dollars more than Nigeria’s Foreign reserve which stands at about 40billion US dollars.
I urge you finally in a 5-year period to return to this institution with nostalgia to reminisce with members of your class.
Faces might change, and the landscape might also change, but what couldn’t change, are the values inculcated in you and the pride you all should have in being graduates of this esteemed institution.
Being commencement address by Mallam Haroun Adamu at the American University of Nigeria, May 16, 2010.