Africa’s Solution Providers

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The American University of Nigeria’s eighth commencement marked another release of its graduates who have been nurtured to solve Africa’s problems, writes Solomon Elusoji

On the sunny morning of May 14, many hundreds of people gathered inside the Lamido Aliyu Musdafa Commencement Hall of the American University of Nigeria, Yola. It was the eighth Commencement, and 210 of the Class of 2016, who have been educated to provide solutions to real-world problems, celebrated as they received their diplomas. For those who love Africa, it was a time to dream.

The graduands, who were clad in billowing red academic regalia, marched in a triumphant flag procession of the 37 countries represented in the AUN community. A United Nations of sorts!

Some of the high-profile personalities present were AUN Founder and former Nigerian Vice-President, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar; AUN Board of Trustees Chairman, Akin Kekere-Ekun; the Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, Martin Babale; the Rwandan Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Stanislas Kamanzi; Special Adviser to the Kano State Governor on Education, Dr. Bakari Ado Hussaini, who was representing the Governor of Kano State; the Lamido Adamawa, Dr. Muhammadu Barkindo Aliyu Musdafa, and many more.

What makes the AUN Commencement important is that for the eight years since 2009, each marks another release into the world of graduates, who have been nurtured to solve real problems. The American University of Nigeria prides itself on being Africa’s first and only development university, and the education it offers its students is geared towards helping them develop the creative abilities to look into their communities, seek out problems, find the solutions, and implement them.

The university was founded by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in 2004. Fully aware of the exponential power of sound education based on the American values of creative thinking and problem solving, the Founder sought to create an institution that would nurture creative solution providers and leaders who would go on to populate Africa and solve its many problems. AUN was his answer.

After more than 10 years of existence, AUN has grown from strength to strength, with every Commencement launching brilliant minds who have gone on to excel in top graduate schools abroad, start technology companies, make their way to top multinationals across the world, and solve real-life problems.

AUN’s President, Dr. Margee Ensign, formally opened the Commencement. Her speech was one of gratitude and hope. The Class of 2016, she noted, was the first to “fully live out” AUN’s mission as a “development university”, as witnessed by their tireless work in community development programmes, especially at a time when the militant Boko Haram threatened to overrun the region.

It was the Class of 2016, the President reminded the audience, who started the new Community Development (CDV) classes, which had a focus on understanding development challenges and learning about solutions. It was also these students who produced reading materials in local languages and tutored people in the community. “From the outset of their education at AUN, they began to see how their coursework links directly to the problems and the opportunities of the real world,” Ensign said.

As Boko Haram intensified its massive displacement of people in 2014, it was also these students who were “…on the front lines – day after day – week after week, distributing food and other supplies assembled by the AUN-Adamawa Peace Initiative to the countless thousands in need.” Ensign described them as “courageous, thoughtful, innovative, and skilled,” before sending them out as AUN ambassadors, with a mission to help make the world a better place.

What followed were three rousing speeches from three of the top graduands, the Class Valedictorian, Mr. Gregory Beti Tanyi, who graduated Summa Cum Laude, and the two Class Speakers, Ms. Maryam Maina Ma’aji Lawan and Mr. Kingsley Celestine Jima. They expounded on the life-changing education they had received, and the succinctness, clarity, and intelligence of their oratory spoke volumes.

“AUN has drawn a thin line between the classroom and reality, hence re-affirming itself as a development university,” Lawan said. “We have been equipped with the skills to develop our community through community service, sustainability programmes, and social entrepreneurship.”

Valedictorian Tanyi, a Cameroonian, had been the best at GCE (General Certificate of Education) Ordinary Level in Cameroon in 2010. “Amazingly, what makes AUN Africa’s number one development university was what we learned during this period,” he said. “We learned not to allow external circumstances to define us.”

After graduation, Tanyi, who graduated with bachelors in Telecommunications and Wireless Technologies, intends to be at the centre of the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution by creating technologies that will enable blind people to use the internet with relative ease.

Jima, the other Class Speaker, was as articulate and as brilliant as his peers. “I am happy to be part of this generation,” he said in a speech that went down memory lane to tell the sublime story of the Class of 2016.

The guest Commencement Speaker was Dr. Mustapha Abiodun Akinkunmi, a financial economist and technology strategist, who holds the political post of Commissioner for Finance in Lagos State. He told the audience a story: In 1990, during one of America’s major recessions, he founded Technology Solutions Incorporated (TSI) in New York, a company which focused on warehousing and software application development for its clients, clients which included major institutions delivering financial services. He made a lot of money from that venture, but due perhaps to his youth he also lost a lot of money. But since he had honed valuable skill sets on his journey to wealth, he was able to bounce back and return his career to a sounder footing.

“My advice to you from this story is in creating value, rather than the cautionary tale of blowing money as a youth,” he told the graduands.

The word ‘value’ defined Akinkunmi’s speech. All the stories he told during the speech, all the analogies, were geared towards encouraging the enthusiastic graduands to “create something that will add value,” a task which AUN had fittingly prepared them for.

Then it was time for the conferment of degrees. Of the 210 graduands, 29 received graduate degrees, while 181 received bachelors; 46 of the undergraduates with Honours.

The highest degree, Summa Cum Laude, was conferred on four of the first degree students, Ebenezer P. Dariye, Daniel I. Egbe, Teyim M. Pila, and Gregory B. Tanyi, this year’s valedictorian. Magna Cum Laude was conferred on nine students and seven others graduated Cum Laude.

In the graduate category, two received a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), 14 the Postgraduate Diploma in Management, seven the Master of Technology (IT), five the Master of Technology (Telecommunications), and one the Postgraduate Diploma (IT).

The School of Arts and Sciences produced the most bachelor’s degrees with 81, followed by the School of Information Technology with 68, and the school of Business and Entrepreneurship with 32.

Now graduates and certified alumni of the university, the 210 graduands, were inducted into the AUN Alumni Association in a quick ceremony led by the Alumni relations coordinator, Peter Paya.

In a goodwill message on the occasion, the National Universities Commission, the federal agency responsible for regulating universities in Nigeria, called on other Nigerian universities to emulate the AUN culture of constant innovation and community engagement, which has led to the creation of various humanitarian efforts like the USAID-sponsored “Technology Enhanced Learning for All (TELA)” programme, “Feed and Read for Boys and Girls,” “Waste-to-Wealth,” and several others.

“Seeing my son graduate from a good university like this gives me so much joy,” Mercy Abia, a proud parent, enthused amid all the jubilation and merriment that brought the Commencement to a happy close.