The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Bartho Okolo, on the Occasion of the 52nd Founder’s Day Lecture of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka
On behalf of the management, staff and students of the University of Nigeria, I am delighted to formally welcome you all to our University and to the activities marking our 52nd founders’ day celebrations.
I feel honoured by the presence of the Honourable Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, who is also representing the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and visitor to the university, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR. Over the years, our honourable Minister of Education has shown encouraging interest in the affairs of our university and her presence here is a further demonstration of this interest and support. Let us all welcome her with a resounding applause.
May I also welcome very warmly our special guests, especially our Chairman, His Excellency, Ambassador Arthur Christopher Mbanefo, CON, MFR, FCA, our 52nd founders’ day lecturer, Mr. Mustafa Chike-Obi, our alumni, friends and stakeholders and the Press, who have all come to join in our celebrations.
The founder’s day celebration of the university is an annual event during which we remember and honour our founding fathers. The celebrations also serve to remind us of the vision, foresight and courage that led Nigeria’s first president, the Rt., Honourable (Dr) Nnamdi Azikiweand his distinguished colleagues in the Eastern House of Assembly, to establish this university only 5 days after our country gained independence from British colonial rule in October 1960. In addition, it is a time when we reflect on the extent to which the original vision of our university has been preserved, as well as a time to strategise on how to advance this vision in our present and future development.
Today’s lecture is one of the highlights of the activities lined up for the 52nd anniversary celebration. It will be followed tomorrow by the endowment of a 20 billion Naira development fund. The endowment lecture will be delivered by the Executive Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha.
The celebrations will close with a thanksgiving service at the St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Nsukka Campus. It is my desire that we shall all participate in these activities which have been lined up to mark the coming of age of Nigeria’s oldest university.
Our founders’ day lecture is about the oldest and most prestigious of the public lectures organized by the university. The lecture serves to create a forum for frank discussions on issues of global and national relevance. Therefore, the honour of delivering the founders’ day lecture isreserved for men and women of uncommon accomplishments, especially those whose stories and achievements can truly inspire the university community and the youth of our dear country.
Over the years, guest lecturers drawn from virtually all walks of life have taken advantage of this forum to proffer opinions and solutions on a range of topics ranging from the environment through the global economy, education, entrepreneurship to governance.
In keeping with this tradition, as the 52nd founders’ day celebration approached, we went in search of a man-of-the moment, a newsmaker and one whose personal achievements would also serve to inspire us all.
At a time like this, when the entire world is still smarting from an economic recession that led to the collapse of financial institutions across the globe; an economic recession which has continued to threaten otherwise strong economies in America and Europe, there is no better choice of a guest lecturer than the man who has been saddled with the enormous responsibility of managing the huge bad loan assets of Nigerian banks.
In Mr Chike Obi, the managing director of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), we have a first class mathematician with distinguished pedigree, whose story represents a classic example of “brain gain”. He is a thoroughbred and patriotic Nigerian who returned home after honing his skills in the Diaspora. On his broad shoulders rests the huge responsibility of managing the bad loan assets of our banks, estimated at over 4 trillion naira. Inthis position, the impact of his decisions and actions on the overall state of the Nigerian economy will be far-reaching. Expectedly, his topic, “sustainability as a key in life, business and government”, addresses an important issue in virtually all aspects of human existence and conduct.
A lecture of this magnitude would not attract the significance it deserves without a Chairman who is equally befitting in both authority and candour. In our Chairman, His Excellency, Chief Arthur Christopher Mbanefo, MFR, CON, FCA, The Odu Osodi Nkata Ukwu-Mbanefo III of Onitsha, we have a top rate diplomat, who was once Nigeria’s ambassador plenipotentiary andpermanent representative to the United Nations; an internationally acclaimed chartered accountant, who was once the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and, more importantly, a senior citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our Chairman has also been involved in the management of the petroleum resources of the country as well as in university management.
He has been the Pro-Chancellor of three first generation universities, namely University of Lagos, Obafemi Awolowo University and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I am tempted to add here, that during the civil war years, our Chairman also served as the Minister of Commerce and Industries of the defunct Republic of Biafra. As the saying goes, our Chairman has seen it all. His presence here today adds grace, clout and diplomatic finesse to our celebrations.
It is my expectation that the bringing together of these two compatriots, who represent the best of Nigeria from two different generations would serve as a good blend of the past, the present and the future, which is essentially what our celebration today is all about.
As a university with a rather unique history, we draw enormous goodwill and glory from our past, while our energies and intellect are spent on dealing with the present and strategising for the future. As the current custodians of the vision that gave birth to this legacy institution, we are conscious that our responsibilities go beyond merely keeping the gates of the university open and admitting and graduating students as a routine. Instead, we have a duty to preserve the vision and to build on the achievements of our forbearers. This thinking has been at the centre of the task of rebuilding the University of Nigeria which my administration continues to pursue with relentless passion.
As the oldest and one of the largest universities in the country, we are faced with the problem of dilapidated and inadequate infrastructure, which must be addressed urgently if the universitymust sustain its reputation of excellence. In addition, we must also stand up to newer challenges brought about by globalization and advances in technology and, the resultant changes in pedagogy, research and administration. Thus, whatever status or reputation our university attains in the future will be determined to a great extent by how we deal with these challenges today.
This explains why meeting these challenges has been the preoccupation of my administration and will continue to be the focus of the university going forward. However, our ambition of being a 21st century learning centre is being hindered by the inadequacy of resources to fund some of the requisite infrastructure upgrade. Therefore, at every forum like this, we take advantage of the presence of distinguished guests, representatives of government, the private sector, alumni and friends of the university to renew our call for support to enable us continue on the laudable task we have embarked upon to empower our youths by providing adequate basic global infrastructure and facilities. So far, the responses from government, the private sector and individuals have been enormous and it is our hope that many more stakeholders willlend their support in due course.
Despite the challenges we face, these are interesting times at the University of Nigeria. Our campuses are witnessing a major comprehensive rehabilitation – the first of its kind since inception 52 years ago. This has resulted in a significant improvement in the state of infrastructure, facilities and the general environment. A long-term solution is also being found for the problem of greying and retiring first and second generations of academic staff. The expected impact on academic activities and output will add significant value to our effort to return our university to the forefront of teaching and learning, research and development, knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination, human capital resource development and community service.
As we mark the 52nd Anniversary of our great institution, I would want to reassure you, distinguished stakeholders, that our university is in safe, competent and committed hands.
As always, we are proud of our past, mindful of the present and confident of the future.
Once again, I welcome you all to our founders’ day celebrations and thank you for finding time to come.
Professor Bartho N. Okolo
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