Africa needs a million people like Atiku,says Prof. Pastor



                                    Bishop Matthew Kukah and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar

By Danlami Nmodu

At the 2012  graduation ceremony  of American University of Nigeria,AUN ,Professor Robert Pastor showered encomium on former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who had the vison to establish the tertiary institution  in Yola,Adamawa state.

Pastor  narrated a story which he said typifies the former vice president’s rags- to- riches tale.While admonishing the graduating student not to get use to poverty  the professor ,in what was dubbed the commencement address  said, “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.”

He continued, “That young student might have been Atiku.  Born poor in Adamawa State, the chances are that he would die poor and powerless, but he refused to get used to it.   He walked barefoot for 20 kilometers on a path reconstructed on this campus.   He was determined 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.”

Speaking in the same vein he added, “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 problems.”

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 opportunity.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.”

Read the full text of  Professor Pastor’s Address :

Don’t Get Used to It

An Address By Prof Robert Pastor

His Excellency, Your Royal Highness, Bishop Kukah, Chairman Al-Haji Joda, President Margee Ensign, distinguished guests.

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 and a legacy to the Lamido and the Graduates of the Class of 2012.

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 and the staff, to President Ensign, her 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.

If you feel tall today, it is because you are standing on their shoulders.

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 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 substantial funds for the public interest.   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 are that he would die poor and powerless, but he refused to get used to it.   He walked barefoot for 20 kilometers on a path reconstructed on this campus.   He was determined 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 roadblocks 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 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 was appointed Vice President at AU, and the President 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, 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?”  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, and 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 It is the first wireless university with a fiber-optic connection and has already become the best private university in sub-Saharan Africa.

​– 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.

​–We stand in a hall and on a campus that did not exist seven years ago.  Today, AUN stands as a beacon to all those who believe that a vision, determination, and perseverance can overcome a palm-reader’s prediction.

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 await you.

“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 about everything.

​– 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.   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 fulfil 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 Nigeria.

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.

 

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.    And, indeed, the World Bank has estimated that it takes far too long to set up a business in Nigeria than in most countries.  Nigeria ranks 133 of 192 nations in trying to set up a business.   To file all the permits and forms could take a year.   These rules too can change.   You can change them.

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 problems.”

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 opportunity.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 – 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 in life – you will say:  “I will never get used to it.”   And you will change it.

Thank you.

 

Being the text of Pastor’s Commencement Address at American University of Nigeria, Yola

May 19, 2012

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