Atiku Abubakar : Beyond Terrorism – Education and Sustainable Development

Atiku Abubakar:

“One of our biggest challenges will be to

demonstrate that there is nothing wrong

with western ideas, and that western

education is good. No culture contains only

good aspects or aspects that can all be

transplanted elsewhere. We must embrace

those elements of Western culture, including

Western education that will help us move

forward as a society. For instance,

education is the key to unlocking

opportunity, prosperity, and progress. In

Nigeria, education can and should be this


By Atiku Abubakar.

In a way it is difficult to believe that this is

the 10thFounder’s Day of this dream we call

AUN, the American University of Nigeria,

Yola. The years have passed rather quickly.

But they have been very memorable,

challenging and rewarding years. That we

have turned this wilderness, in the middle of

nowhere, so to say, into this high quality

centre of learning, character moulding and

community service is truly amazing. I thank

all those who have contributed in one way or

another to the immense progress already

made here. In that period we have

transformed many lives not only of the

students and staff who have traversed these

campuses but also those in the local

community and beyond.

The journey has certainly been bumpy. We

have faced numerous challenges, with each

year bringing its unique challenges. Looking

back, however, I am relieved that we have

braved another challenging year since the

last Founder’s Day. The insurgency in the

North East, which has had devastating

effects on thousands of people, tested our

resolve – but it also confirmed that we the

AUN community can respond to mistrust and

cruelty with care and love. The national

elections earlier this year created

uncertainty – but they also restored hope for

our democracy, and the values we stand for

as a country. The change in government has

raised high hopes and false fears – but it has

also given all and each of us an opportunity

to play our part in the collective effort

needed to re-build our nation.

Looking ahead, there are still plenty of

clouds, but they pale in comparison to the

silver lining on the horizon. Insecurity is

still pervasive, but the terrorists are no

longer growing in strength, thanks to the

sacrifice and commitment of the security and

intelligence services, the decisive leadership

of the senior defence staff and their

Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu

Buhari, and the support and cooperation of

the local communities and regional allies,

including Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.

The economic slowdown that our country is

experiencing comes at the worst possible

time, but it also forces us to re-balance our

economy and to put our public finances on a

broader and more sustainable foundation.

Our government’s fight against corruption is

disrupting business as usual, but it is a

boost for Nigeria, and for the bright and

hard-working students in our schools and

universities. With the inauguration of the

federal cabinet just this past Wednesday

greater confidence is likely to be reposed in

our economy by investors both local and

foreign. This will breathe much needed life

into the economy and get more people

gainfully employed.

These are all part of the change that the

new government and ruling party promised

Nigerians. However, change doesn’t just

happen – it is the product of the hard work

of extraordinary men and women. We must

contribute to that enterprise of changing our

country for the better for the benefit of


I’m grateful to all those who decided to

tackle the problems we’ve almost come to

tolerate. The governors in this zone have

helped in tackling the insurgency crisis and

have been advancing infrastructure

development under very difficult

circumstances. I salute them. Here, in

Adamawa, we see that it is possible to build

and repair roads, that hospitals can be

assessed and re-stocked, and that school

teachers can be screened and redeployed

where needed. I’m sure that before long,

we’ll once again travel and trade without

fear, that public services will improve, and

that we will even be able to joke about the

bad old days when little worked, and when it

seemed that no one cared. And I know that

once we get to that point, someone will talk

of the AUN’s fierce and fearless leader –

thank you, Margee– and remind us that some

people did care, and many tried to make

things work. And many of those are right

here at AUN. I thank you all.

I’m proud that the AUN community has

stubbornly refused the logic of conflict:

amidst the turmoil, and defying the odds,

academic life went on; research continued,

courses were taught, exams were held, and

degrees were awarded. The Adamawa

Peacemakers Initiative demonstrated that

everyone can make a difference: by investing

in the provision of knowledge and skills, by

helping families reunite; and by reminding

ourselves that misery is not an option.

I’m humbled by our students’ and staff’s

defiance of the politics of fear, and I would

like to thank them and their families, the

board of trustees and all friends of AUN, for

keeping the AUN dream alive.

We must all be courageous and embrace

peace. Fear does not develop a society.

Violence does not build schools and hospitals.

Conflict does not construct roads or build

factories. Together we can and we shall

overcome the fear and mindless violence that

threaten to hold us back.

Of course it won’t be easy. Winning a war is

hard, but keeping the peace will be harder

still. Once the fighting ends, we must heal.

We must re-integrate victims and enable

them to live their lives unburdened by the

past. Those who were displaced need a home,

whether they return to their villages, or stay

in Yola. And we must confront the truth

about what happened, deliver justice, and

restore the rule of law. We must reconcile,

and as if this weren’t enough, we must also

move on: Life before the terror was no doubt

better, but it was nowhere close to being

good enough. We can learn useful lessons

from our experiences with insurgency in the

Niger Delta and the reconciliation and

reconstruction that followed. Let us

remember that the victims of this insurgency

include some of those who have tormented us.

The reconciliation process has to include

those who lay down their arms, renounce

violence and seek rehabilitation and

reintegration into the community.

Just like the insurgency itself which spanned

borders, our efforts at peace, reconciliation

and reconstruction must span borders as

well. In Nigeria, we must strengthen the

economic, commercial, and political ties

among the different and diverse states that

make up the Northeast, and between the

North East and the rest of the country. In

the same vein, we must turn the wider

conduits of fear into pathways to

opportunity. Just as we cooperate with our

neighbours in Chad, Cameroon and Niger in

the fight against insurgency, we have to

work with them to put the North East on a

path to development. We need well-managed

open borders that encourage trade in goods

and services, that attract investment, and

that allow us to look beyond the oil we may

or may not find in the Lake Chad basin. Even

if crude oil rents would help us pay for basic

infrastructure and services, we cannot

afford to repeat the errors of the past. We

need productive jobs, and this means we need

functional agricultural value chains, light

industries, and access to regional markets.

We must resist the temptation to think that

restoring what we had before the insurgency

is all we can ever hope for. We must think

bigger, dream bigger dreams, and we must

move forward. An economically dynamic north

east with rich and vibrant social and cultural

life will keep our youth here, attract more

diverse talent to the region and deny

insurgents a fertile ground for recruitment.

One of our biggest challenges will be to

demonstrate that there is nothing wrong

with western ideas, and that western

education is good. No culture contains only

good aspects or aspects that can all be

transplanted elsewhere. We must embrace

those elements of Western culture, including

Western education that will help us move

forward as a society. For instance,

education is the key to unlocking

opportunity, prosperity, and progress. In

Nigeria, education can and should be this

key. Should we reject the advances in science

and medicine, or the modern means of

transportation and communication or the

immense advantages of the massive amounts

of knowledge available on the internet, just

because they came from the West? Let us not

forget that the West borrowed from other

parts of the world, including Africa, to get

to where it is today. So the West does not

have exclusive ownership of even the things

we call Western; they belong to the human


Dear friends, I am sure we all agree that our

youth are our most valuable resource, and

that education is the best way to mobilise

and empower this resource to sustain

economic, cultural, social, and political

development. I think we also agree that we

have done a poor job of managing other

valuable resources, and that we have

suffered as a result.

Let me be clear: nothing justifies the

mindless violence and destruction by those

who wrongly believe that God wants us to

close our hearts and minds, to wind back the

clock, and to live in fear and misery. But our

failure to value and reward education

explains why some of our youth think they

have nothing to lose. Thus, they sometimes

think that violence and other forms of

criminality offer a better option. We can

urge them to drop their guns and pick up

tools for other kinds of productive trades.

But they are more likely to listen if we teach

them how to use those tools, and if they can

make a living using those tools in those


Ladies and gentlemen, a little more than a

decade ago, when we broke ground for this

campus, our vision was to build a state of

the art education facility in a part of

Nigeria that desperately needed a boost.

When I look around now, I know that we are

on the road to achieving this vision. Of

course, there is still a lot to do; like any

other top university, AUN will always be a

work in progress. But today, the American

University of Nigeria is an extraordinary and

an amazingly welcoming island.

We have built this island knowing that it can

never replace a public education system;

knowing that it is an alternative for a

fortunate few – and hoping that it would be

an inspiration for everyone else. I still hope

this will happen, but we must think harder

about the ways to ensure that our University

does not become a bastion of privilege, but a

beacon of hope. Although we know too little

about our young– because the absence of

reliable statistics–we know that too few

finish school, that those who do rarely learn

enough and that our public universities

seldom advance knowledge.

I don’t say this because I’m proud that

we’re doing better, but because I’m worried

about the gap between the education and the

recognition students get at AUN, and the

education and the recognition they get

elsewhere. Because I’m worried that we may

squander our human resources, much as we

squandered our petroleum resources.

My dear friends, I have a dream that our

Academy and our University will continue to

grow and prosper, but in my dream, they are

surrounded by thousands of public and

private schools and universities that share

our civic commitment, that emulate our

thirst for knowledge, and that compete for

the best and brightest students. Because

those students they deserve to have a choice,

and because there are too many problems for

us to solve, and because we can’t solve them

and have a future unless our youth believe

they can build one.

Ladies and gentlemen, l ask you to support

not just AUN, but education reform. We must

persuade federal, state, and local authorities

to provide universal, free, and valuable basic

education; we must convince lawmakers,

teachers, and unions to encourage

competition among schools; and we must

encourage government and the private sector

to give public universities the leeway, and

the ways and means to catch up with their

international peers.

Let us have this type of island all over the

north and all over Nigeria. And let us ensure

that no youth is left behind.

Thank you.