-By Alaba Yusuf
“Education is the only solution to the problem of perpetual poverty and slavery” – Former South African President and world acclaimed Freedom Fighter, Madiba Nelson Mandela
It is needful to here affirm that I have never met in person Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria, 1999-2007. So this piece must and should be seen and understood in its purest context as a public commentary taken from the perspective of personal enhancement for peak performance, through communal development and nation building.
Unlike his former boss ex President Olusegun Obasanjo, whom I have had the privilege of interviewing exclusively in year 2000 at the Gatwick Airport VIP Lounge, United Kingdom, for Noble People Magazine; an opportunity created by the then Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’, Prince Bola Ajibola, MBE. Vintage OBJ had told me ‘Nobody was Safe’ in the race against global terrorism. There was no thought of the human locust we now call Boko Haram then, some 14 years ago.
Months later I also had a scoop with the late amiable and affable first lady, Stella Obasanjo, who incidentally intimated me at a Park Lane West London Hotel that she would love to be remembered for her care for the less privileged children of Nigeria. Recall she ran a pet project, Child Care Trust. Former Minister of Justice and World Court judge Prince Ajibola also did the honour of walking me into her presence saying, ‘Mama Olu, I have brought some people to query you.’ A banter to which the pint-sized fashion icon replied politely thus: ‘You are my father in law, Baba Oko mi, may your wish be done.’
Truly, I hardly know the person of Turaki Adamawa, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Unlike former Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, retired, to whom for a few years I was a member of a speech writing team. I even travelled across Ghana with him in a chartered plane as a media analyst; together with his aides and friends such as: the late civil engineering mogul Alhaji Abdukadir Sanusi Dantata; retired Brig. Gen Halilu Akilu; the ever savvy special assistant Alhaji Ibrahim Ismail; upwardly mobile business tycoon, Tayo Amusan, and a few others. It was an official tour that coincided with Ghana’s Republican Day 2005, under the auspices of ex President John Kuffour, who, together with his elegant wife and cabinet members, hosted us variously at Akosombo Hills, Osu Heritage Castle, the State House and city centre Banquet Hall.
Surely, I know IBB to some extent. But I never made monetary gains through him contrary to public perception of his persona. However, it was an honour to have worked with his ever brilliant team. It was a beauty to watch him deliver one of the speeches I crafted for him at the One Year Memoriam for the late Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mohammed Bello; at an event chaired by Charly Boy’s oldman, which the ‘Area Father’ musician also attended with pleasure. There, IBB and the now ailing veteran Supreme Court judge, Chukwudifu Oputa, whom he fondly called ‘Socrates’, publicly embraced each other before the cameras, several years after the dust had settled on the famous ‘Oputa Panel Truth Commission’. The venue of that occasion was the Merit House, Maitama, Abuja, almost a decade ago.
Meanwhile, having not met a man in person is not equal to not being able to understudy him from afar. People still study philosophers and interpret characters that they have never met. Therefore, this attempt to do an article on Atiku stems from my many years of painstaking and panoramic study of this immense star that nobody could easily ignore in the Nigerian socio-political firmament. Contemporary history even chronicles Atiku as the humble follower of Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, former number two man to Obasanjo, as military head of state (1976-79) A selfless Atiku later stepped down from the presidential race for Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, during the primaries of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, which the latter won on June12, 1993; but was annulled by the IBB military regime.
So, why this article on Atiku at this material moment of political permutations, national conference and village square discussions on the future of our nation? Answer is: my recent visit to the American University of Nigeria, AUN, hitherto known as the Atiku Abubakar University.
At this juncture, let’s quickly stamp the view that my trip was not at the instance of the former Vice President, whose homestead is Jada town in Adamawa State. Rather, it was a group of aspiring young undergraduates wishing to become world leaders, with the name Society for Ethics and Leadership, SEAL, who invited some mentors from across the country to visit that citadel of great learning sandwiched in the very hot Sahel climate of Yola. Among the eggheads called were Professor Sam Temple, Ethics and Metaphysics specialist from Calabar; pep-talk maestro Olakunle Soriyan from Lagos; multi-talented theatre impresario and politician, Barrister Richard Mofe-Damijo, RMD, from Delta; and yours truly closely in tow. But Atiku, AUN founder, was nowhere near the event. We understood his own yearly event comes up every November – the Founder’s Week!
Amazingly, at a time that we all bemoan the rotten state of education in our nation, Atiku’s AUN stands out as an inspiring and fertilising oasis in the wilderness of academic and socio-cultural lamentation and degradation. This is no Public Relations pitch at all; not a stunt or any form of spin-doctoring gimmicks. For good performance requires no glossing over.
The vast varsity sited next door to a Law School, along Lamido Zubairu Way, Yola Bypass, near Jimeta town, has lecturers from across the globe. We met a couple of them from USA, Europe, Cameroun, and Caribbean Islands. This serene and tranquil literary community also houses various hostels, lecture rooms, entertainment centres, 24-hour buffet restaurant, libraries, fire station, a 3-star hotel, power station, quality staff quarters, recreational points, and a host of other infrastructures.
Furthermore, there are feeder schools from crèche to primary and secondary levels all within the university’s vicinity. In fact, AUN is one institution where balanced nutrition is helping to nourish and polish both the biological and psychological education of its multi-cultural and inter racial scholars. Undoubtedly, and unlike most private tertiary colleges in the country with higher tuitions, AUN is head and shoulder above in terms of qualitative and quantitative skill acquisition, knowledge exploration and attitudinal provision.
Essentially, there is a vital lesson in this long chronicle about the man Atiku. Here was a poor shepherd boy, a mere nomadic herdsman, who through the dint of dedication and hard work, after an accidental encounter with Western education, pulled up himself from the slope of poverty and despondency to an enviable pinnacle, as an emulative headman of hope, proficiency and efficiency.
In fact, the role of education in Atiku becoming an articulate Man with the Midas’ Touch cannot be underestimated -socially, economically, politically and philanthropically. Imagine the myriads of street urchins and area boys and girls amidst us today. How about the colony of half-baked graduates and untutored lecturers? No wonder the hydra-headed banes and menaces choking up our daily lives! The lesson from the Atiku-inspired American University of Nigeria, AUN, is that as a nation, Nigeria should invest in relevant technological and entrepreneurial vocations, in order to make, create and innovate –apology to Apples co-founder, Steve Job, of blessed memory.
Finally, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is a living tablet of Madiba Nelson Mandela’s sage adage, that: education is the only prescription for curing mankind from the illness of starvation, superstitions, perpetual political slavery, poverty and maladministration. Thus real investment in today’s people is the route towards securing an equitable, just and peaceful world for our children to live tomorrow. Time, therefore, beckons that we draw from the fountains of sound education as a veritable locomotion for making good leadership thrive in order for our fatherland to survive.
The Writer, Alaba Yusuf, is an international publicist/journalist, strategist and commentator based in Abuja