By Mazi Paul Ibe
Atiku Abubakar is a remarkable businessman and politician whose vision and foresight earns him the respect of many. He is a man that translates his vision and passion into reality. He is a selfless politician that cares for the progress and development of his society.
The Turaki Adamawa, who has transmogrified into Turaki Nigeria, has exemplified in his own life, and in his enormous generosity, his belief in the possibility of progress and in the role of education as a force for individual and national transformation.
A poor orphan, as a young man Vice President Atiku Abubukar (1999-2007) was raised in rural Jada, Adamawa in northeastern Nigeria and was educated, in part, by volunteers from the US Peace Corps. Their own generosity and self-sacrifice, and their encouragement and belief in him, laid a foundation upon which the young man constructed a formidable brilliant business and political career, and a record of philanthropy unmatched in Africa.
It is impossible to write about the development of education in Nigeria without an acknowledgment of the immeasurable contributions of Atiku. Rotary International and American National Peace Corps Association have recognised the former Vice President for matching his passion with his purse. Appropriately, the American National Peace Corps Association honored him with the Harris Wofford award in 2012. “No private business man in Africa has worked harder for democracy or contributed more to higher education than Atiku Abubakar,” his citation at that event speaks eloquently.
Holding both a Royal Society of Health and a Law degree, he was an early promoter of the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), the progenitor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as he pursued a career both in public and private life, culminating in his being twice elected as Vice President of Nigeria, always refusing to serve in Nigeria’s military dictatorships. Frustrated with the inability of the PDP to enthrone internal democracy as an integral party policy, Atiku parted ways with the party he had helped found to pitch tent with the progressives under the umbrella of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Having lost to President Muhammadu Buhari and conceded defeat in the contest for the party’s presidential primaries, Atiku Abubakar has left no one in doubt as to why he is a democrat par excellence. He deployed his assets to the then Buhari presidential campaign, working in concert with other stakeholders in the APCto a resounding electoral victory. Long after that historic election, his support to the success of President Buhari is unassailable.
For many years he has used his own fortune to foster education in Nigeria. He has provided scholarships, both in Nigeria and abroad, to thousands of needy Nigerian students. He has built hundreds of schools throughout Nigeria, culminating in first the ABTI (now AUN) Academy for primary and secondary students, and then eleven years ago – with the help and cooperation of American University in Washington, DC – the founding of The American University of Nigeria in Yola, Adamawa State – his home town. “I get enduring joy from seeing my people empowered with jobs, skills, income and opportunities through the investments I make in my homeland,” was his profound response to why he continues to risk his investments in his home state of Adamawa even in the midst of the conflagration in the North east region.
By identifying education as a major area of his passion and investments, Abubakar stands out as a unique man who spends money wisely to impact positively on his people. As his most visible and largest charity, the American University of Nigeria has arisen in only eleven years from the empty fields of rural Nigeria to become an institution of 1500 students with a faculty from 40 countries, a focus on sustainable development as Africa’s first “Development University,” and most recently the winner of an award from the American Library Association for its pioneering work in the development of one of the world’s most sophisticated e-libraries. It is the only American-style University south of the Sahara and is already recognized as one of the leading universities of West Africa.
The establishment of the world-class AUN in Yola, Adamawa State in the insurgency prone North East of Nigeria is the strongest proof of Abubakar’s passion for education. Though a private university founded by the former Vice President, the about 60 percent subsidy provided by his intervention, affords both the children of the rich and poor access to world-class education.
Specially gifted children, regardless of their parental backgrounds are also afforded the opportunity to better their future through this first-class university. Even the vulnerable, among them the Chibok girls who escaped Boko Haram captivity have found accommodation in the academy operated by AUN. The university not only helps students acquire first rate degrees, but promotes entrepreneurship courses to meet the challenges of the Nigerian realities. By giving its students the skills for entrepreneurship, Atiku is helping the students to bootstrap themselves in life. Inspired by his awesome early life experiences when he had to struggle for himself because he was an orphan at vulnerable age, Abubakar is using education as key to transforming people’s life.
Today, the API initiative is getting more than cursory look as a viable model for dealing with strife in multi-religious communities.
His early contact with the American Peace Corps in the 60s had fired his enthusiasm and commitment to causes that promote and advance education and peace. Finally, his generosity has extended to the United Kingdom where he has endowed a Professorial Chair in African History at Oxford University. His selfless generosity is an inspiration to Nigeria, all of Africa, and indeed the world. Even his harshest critics will acknowledge that indeed the Turaki Nigeria is truly Atikulated.
*Mazi Paul Ibe, Media Adviser to Vice President Atiku Abubakar (1999-2007), writes from Abuja.
Atiku Abubakar, The Turaki Adamawa: Tryly Atikulated At 69
By Mazi Paul Ibe