The life of a nation is determined by the education it affords its youth. From its universities and schools, a nation derives its leaders and those who shape its society, for good or for bad.
Our nation faces many challenges, some imposed on us by forces beyond our control, some self-inflicted due to the errant ways of past leadership and governance.
Nigeria stands at the threshold of sober decisions. The ways in which we have grown accustomed to running this nation suddenly no longer suffices. If we are to continue as we have done over the years, that malpractice will deliver us into the vise grip of national failure. That which we used to do and laugh at ourselves for in our errant ways is no longer a joking matter. It is now fatal.
We must reform and do so quickly and with alertness to the severity of the circumstances mounting about us.
I am here today because I believe in the achievements that can be wrought by good education when properly applied. If I thought our cause was lost, I would have absented myself from this noble event; yet, I could not because this event symbolises the hope and potential of our collective purpose and effort.
This convocation represents more than just an academic rite of passage. It represents the dedication of a gathering of reformers, creative thinkers, builders and achievers to a purpose greater than each person’s individual pursuits. You represent a community of ability and learning, the whole of which is greater than the sum of its parts. You represent the path way to a better, more prosperous land. That path must be taken for we can’t go back because the falsely comforting ways of the past have now turned to dross before our very eyes.
As such, you must match love of nation with personal excellence. Education without patriotism degenerates into selfish pursuit; it promotes a cunning that serves the individual but undermines society. And patriotism without education and wisdom writes the tale of fatal mistakes committed with the best of intentions.
Today, I stand here on behalf of all awardees asking you to make history. We ask because we know you can do it. I also ask because I know it must be done.
That we dedicate ourselves to this task on this day in this place is most appropriate, for Abuja is our capital city. It is the place that best symbolises our unity and epitomises our collective desire to build a strong and reliable nation. We must turn that shining symbol into an even more brilliant reality. The University of Abuja is integral to this process.
As such, this institution must realise its important position in the educational salvation of our youth and the rejuvenation of our nation.
I therefore congratulate the Vice Chancellor and his team for how far they have built this institution of learning. I urge a continuous commitment to quality and excellence. This University, numbered among the new generation universities, must strive in the tradition of groundbreaking scholarship and research. Inspite of the challenges of infrastructure and funding, this university must not compromise its academic standard. It must seek to pursue initiatives that will make it overcome the ever present and common limitations. Our nation, like other nations,need developed minds and a high level of intellectually curious minds that can think through our problems and offer solutions before night falls.
Having said this, let me thank the University, the Vice Chancellor and Faculty for the honour bestowed on me and these even more distinguished Nigerians than myself, such as Chief Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President of Nigeria; Justice Idris Kutigi, former Chief Justice of Nigeria; and Justice Maryam Aloma Muktar, former Chief Justice of Nigeria.
I am doubly honoured to be asked to speak on their behalf, for these very eminent Nigerians awardees, I express the utmost thanks and gratitude to the university. On behalf of all Nigerians, I want to thank these other awardees for the great service and sacrifice done our nation. You have done well and we are proud of you all.
We accept these awards with humility. The awards are like tonic to our souls and will drive us unto greater sacrifice and service. On their behalf and with their permission, let me lend our voices to the tasks of nation building still before us.
Nigeria stands in the corridor between greatness and failure, between progress and collapse, between hope and despair. Our fate depends on whether we summon the courage to take the bold steps ahead and move in the direction of progress. We must turn our present challenges into opportunities for the re-engineering of our nation’s economic challenges. The University and our educational system have a role to play in these.
We look up to institutions such as yours to provide workable solutions to our problems and also provide us with individuals with vision, strength of character and capacity to reshape our national life.
While confronting multiple major challenges. I believe this government has the chance and the mission to better our society and forge a new model for our political economy. We have demonstrated the courage and determination to change a non-performing government through a democratic election. This electoral success has brought new challenges. These challenges are numerous and we must brace up and confront them.
We dare not rest on the satisfaction of electoral victory alone. We must continue our strive towards democratic governance that can usher in a progressive era of broad prosperity, development, democracy and human dignity for our people. This is our preoccupation. Our desire.
If you asked me to describe the state of the nation, I would say it is a difficult but encouraging one: we are emerging from a period of great moral uncertainty in which vice and virtue were too often indistinguishable and too often confused, one for the other.
We must ask – are we hopeless due to the sordid nature of the past 16 years? No. Are the challenges left behind too much to surmount? No.
Even though the nation, before, stood half in the light of progress and half in the darkness of injustice, there is much hope because we now have a government committed to a new era of discipline and prosperity. The journey we have embarked upon will not be easy. It requires us all to make sacrifices and persevere until we achieve. Nigeria needs some fundamental restructuring, both politically and economically. Not the constant tinkering and patching we often resort to. We must therefore begin with fundamentally restructuring the economy if we are to rid ourselves of joblessness.
Agriculture remains a key pillar in our development. We must return to the days when Nigeria had surplus food and exported. Now we import too much food for our own good and security.
Our small farmers sink under the reality of rising costs and too little income from the crops they raise. Moreover, we annually lose arable land to desert encroachment. I believe the current administration under President Buhari has set its priorities right in this regard. Our farmers will once be proud again. We believe farmers need to earn a sufficient enough income that will bring prosperity back to their families. They must be encouraged and supported.
A vibrant agriculture sector will produce enough food for domestic consumption and for export, thus earning foreign exchange as it did decades ago. It will also create and maintain jobs.
We must also create jobs for our growing urban populations. We must create production to meet the rapidly expanding population. This means changing the oil export model upon which our economy has for too long been based. This means shifting to were human labour and ingenuity now feature as the catalyst of economic development and wealth creation. This means the creation of industries. This means government must embark on fiscal policies and programmes that encourage industrial development and employment to create the openings and opportunities that shall employ many.
As a progressive government, we have as one of our top priorities the lifting of 20 percent of Nigerians out of poverty within the first four years of our administration.
To happen, the state must be a catalyst for job creation and economic development that touches all the people and not just a narrow growth that benefits a small number.
We shall do this by implementing a national industrial policy linked to a national infrastructural plan and a national employment strategy.
Before our children can dream of a university education, they must first enjoy the foundational education of primary school. Our position is that we make a special effort to draw all children to school, particularly the poor. We cannot afford to allow poverty to keep children out of the classroom. If so, we are suborning a life of ignorance and poverty for millions of our young ones.
This progressive government is committed to providing all school-age children one free meal daily. This seems a simple thing. But it is also wise and prudent. A hungry student does not learn. If the child is too hungry too often, he stops attending school altogether. By this programme, students will more eagerly attend because their stomachs, as well as their minds, shall be fed. Parents will encourage children to attend because this will take the children off the streets while also alleviating pressure on the family to feed the children.
This current leadership will anchor its efforts to re-build Nigeria on massive industrialisation and the re-structuring of the economy to allow for growth. Then will hope be rekindled for millions of our people and a country of great potentials and possibilities will emerge.
The future starts today for all our graduates. As I congratulate them, I also counsel them to anneal themselves for the future that lies ahead of them. It is a challenging and hardy one. Things will not be handed to you on a silver platter or on any platter for that matter. However, it is also a hopeful one for those willing to work at it. You shall be the architects of a new political economy that will lead to a better Nigeria. The opportunity to be part of building a new country beckons.
I urge you all to assume your proper role in this just mission that years from now many of you shall be on a stage as these distinguished Nigerians are today, and that your names and your deeds will be forever written in the book about how this nation changed itself for the better and for the good of all its people.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu is National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC).