On June 16, former Nigeria’s Vice President and AUN founder told the maiden Africa Summit of Nottingham University held in England that the contribution of AUN to the economy of Yola is in the neighborhood of $400 million.
H.E. Atiku Abubakar is industrialist and one of Africa’s most prominent philanthropists. He was sharing his thoughts on Africa’s quest for development, with special reference to the African Development Bank’s top five priorities. Interim President LeGene Quesenberry represented the Founder at the summit.
The Founder listed the development priorities and said AfDB’s choice of areas and plans to assist the continent will surely make a huge and very positive difference. However, he noted the absence of education on the Bank’s list, and said education should get more attention.
“In the same town, Yola, where we have our school system, we established a printing press, built our own hotel to cater to visitors, established a beverage plant to, among other things, manufacture still drinking water, and fruit juices.
“We established petrol and fuel stations to help serve our businesses and the public. We also established a radio and television station to help publicize what we do, in addition to providing distance learning.” He went on to point out that on ground is a logistics company to support these various entities.
“Education should indeed be one of the top priorities for Africa. While education should be the primary responsibility of governments, it is also clear that Africa’s educational challenges in the context of competing demands and available resources are beyond the capacity of many African states.” The Founder recommended that the private sector be encouraged to do more in providing high quality education under clear standards maintained by the governments.
“The AfDB and other development banks can identify some public and private educational initiatives for support through, for instance, improving educational infrastructure including libraries, ICT, laboratories, and technical workshops, and support for transitioning to renewable energy such as solar and wind.”
Using the AUN experience, the university’s founder underscored the huge costs involved. “It is what confronts the typical investor. The huge infrastructure gap means that as an investor, you often have to provide your own electricity, water, and even roads to your business locations. That discourages investors.”
Abubakar noted that small businesses are often scared of having to provide ancillary services to a major establishment.
In the light of these problems, Abubakar was delighted that Africa’s leaders recognize these challenges and the urgent need to address them. Also noting the continent’s concerted efforts to make progress in all five areas identified by the Bank, including seeking out new development partners such as China to help with infrastructure improvement, he nevertheless cautioned that, “The current efforts are not adequate...much more needs to be done.”
Abubakar summarized those priorities to include electricity and power generation, feeding the hungry, industrialization, integration, and improving the quality of lives. He went on to illustrate how he learned from experience that investing in education was the best legacy anyone could bequeath to posterity.
Having achieved what he described as “modest success,” he thought that beyond philanthropy, education would be his best gift to society. “To some people, trying to build an excellent university in Yola might seem irrational. To run the university, we had to provide access roads, provide our own water through boreholes, build and run our own power plant, provide our own telephone and internet infrastructure, pay for a private security force, and so on.”
Would it not be more cost-effective to use that money to provide scholarships for students to study in places, such as Nottingham, he asked. The former Nigerian VP said no. “I wanted to help develop my country in deeper and more holistic ways. It would be counter-productive to facilitate the brain drain out of Africa. Africa needs these bright young people... to understand the problems in Africa,” he contended.
While AUN and its subsidiaries can treat some of the infrastructure gaps as important investment opportunities, having easier access to financing, many small businesses lack the resources to engage in that kind of self-help, he noted. “Small businesses, the real engine of job creation and employment, are most affected by the infrastructure and other inadequacies.” He pointed out that it is cheaper and more socially valuable for the state to provide much of the needed infrastructure, including doing so in partnership with the private sector. “Infrastructure provisioning and a supportive regulatory environment will encourage more private sector investment and employment generation.”
Besides education, Abubakar pointed out, “security” does not feature among the Bank’s top five priorities. This, he felt, was a serious omission. “It is a top priority for African countries. Security is a huge challenge, and if not addressed may impede the implementation of the Bank’s plans, especially for fragile states. Africa’s public security challenges include terrorism, piracy, kidnappings, armed robbery, and banditry, herders and farmers’ clashes, and inter-ethnic and sectarian conflicts.”
He urged African states and development partners to deepen their cooperation in the area of security, including security sector reforms, to instill democratic norms and respect for human rights, improve electoral systems, deepen democracy and accountability, and reduce corruption.
By Innocent Nwobodo