Celebrating Nigerian Icons  


Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Attahiru Jega are one of a kind. Diverse in their professional callings, but united by a common course: the desire for a better society, a society free from want, injustice and anything that can deny humanity of its dignity. They are not just professionals, they are people committed to excellence who are living beyond themselves and the world has noticed their contributions. Charles Ajunwa writes

Nigeria is a nation blessed with abundant human and material resources, but like the revered Chinua Achebe in his novel, ‘Chike and the River’, Nigerians are living by the bank of the River Niger and yet washing their hands with spittle.
It is disheartening that in a country where a few individuals can boast of billions of naira in their bank accounts and even in their septic tanks, about 5,000,000 citizens are facing starvation, over 10.5 million children are out of school, hundreds of thousands of graduates are roaming the streets in search of non-existent jobs while mothers and their babies are dying of common ailments that can easily be treated if only the hospitals in the country have not become mere consulting centres.
In Nigeria, greed and selfishness are reigning supreme, Nigerians are hungry, institutions are begging for the right leadership, no one seems to be listening. Many have argued that, Nigeria has more than 100 registered private jet owners, and that if these private jet owners can contribute a little to the less-privileged in the society, a lot could be done to alleviate the poverty in the land.
But the likes of celebrated novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a young woman who is using her God-given talent to shape a better world and of course, the banking whiz kid, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and a few others, have shown that there is hope. They have demonstrated over the years that wealth is not about self, but touching the lives of others in the society.
They have initiated projects that not only show their commitment to the overall development of Africa and its people, the projects are also models that can be replicated globally for the good of all. This of course may explain their recent global recognitions and election into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a prestigious group of world leaders with an uncanny quest to find solutions to the challenges facing humanity.
In separate letters welcoming them into the 237th class of the Academy to be inducted on the 7th of October, 2017, Don Randel, Chair of the Academy’s Board of Directors describes them as a group of individuals whose talents and expertise will enrich the life of the Academy and strengthen its capacity to spread knowledge and understanding in service to humanity.
“In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honour of election to the American Academy is also a call to service,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “Through our projects, publications, and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause and produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”
Indeed their election into this Academy is meant to offer them a bigger platform to support humanity and working with other large-hearted men and women from across the world to accomplish their own goals of touching lives in Africa and Nigeria in particular.
For Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, former Managing Director, Access Bank and President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange who was elected into the Business, Corporate and Philanthropic leadership section of the Academy, giving is life. According to him, what is the worth of doing things that are for self without any benefits to others?
“If you develop yourself at the expense of others, you will gain little satisfaction unless you are from the very warped realm,” he said in a recent interview.
“I am full; around me everybody is starving, how do you enjoy it? My home is beautiful, everywhere around me is slum, how do you enjoy it? And so on. For me, my environment and the community that host me must prosper as I prosper. I very much believe in the concept of shared prosperity.”
Aig-Imoukhuede last year instituted a project that focuses on strengthening the public sector by building the capacity of the people as a guarantee for real development for Africa. The project, the Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) is aimed at transforming governance across Africa’s public sector by inspiring young people through AIG Scholarships at University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government (BSG).
Speaking on the initiative, he said there was nothing more important than building the human resource of the country. According to him, if the public sector has the same quality of persons that are available to the private sector, Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s story would have been different.
He finds it difficult to comprehend that in the 60s and 70s, the public sector in Nigeria and most African countries had the best brains the continent could offer and the effect was tremendous, but today, the reverse has become the case, brilliant professionals would rather work for the private sector or move to Europe or America with heavy costs to the development of the continent.
Widely acclaimed Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has been doing her country proud in recent times. Apart from the numerous awards she has won, just last month she was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she thus became the second Nigerian to be so honoured, after Professor Wole Soyinka.
As one of the world’s leading feminists and an insightful cultural critic, she has become quite influential on the global stage over the years, continually gaining recognition. The author who earned a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins’ Writing Seminars in 2003, is no stranger to awards and has amassed quite a number already.
In May 2016, Adichie was awarded an honorary degree by the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, United States. Her novel, Americanah, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2013. In 2008, she won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant.
A year ago, Adichie was listed among Time’s 100 most influential people. Last November, she received the award for the ‘Best of The Best’ female fiction writer for the last decade by the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and also made the list of 100 most influential Africans by the New African Magazine. And in January 2016, she made Ventures Africa’s list of 15 African Creatives To Watch Out For.
Professor Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, who was elected into the Public Affairs and Public Policy section of the Academy, is former Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano. He served as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from June 8, 2010 to June 30, 2015 after conducting the election that brought into power, President Muhammadu Buhari, an election adjudged to be relatively free and fair. The peaceful manner in which the election was conducted was acclaimed by both the local and international communities.
Jega is a former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and was an opponent of the Babangida military government in the early 1990s. Politically leaning towards the left, as ASUU President he was closely associated with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and continued that connection throughout his career.
He is widely seen as an astute intellectual with a strong sense of ethics and morality.
Also elected into the Academy is Professor Akin Mabogunje of the University of Ibadan. He was elected into the History section in the Academy. He was the first African president of the International Geographical Union. In 1999, he was the first African to be elected as a Foreign Associate of the United States National Academy of Sciences. These four will join other 224 Foreign Honorary Members from 19 countries elected by the Academy.
The American Academy serves the United States as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue, and useful knowledge. As one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centres, the Academy convenes leaders from the academia, business, and government sectors to address critical challenges facing the global society.
Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has sustained its objective of serving the nation as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue, and useful knowledge. Through studies, publications, and programmes on the Humanities, Arts, and Education; Science, Engineering, and Technology; Global Security and International Affairs; and American Institutions and the Public Good, the Academy provides authoritative and nonpartisan policy advice to decision-makers in government, academia, and the private sector.
The Academy’s membership of 4,900 Fellows and 600 Foreign Honorary Members includes many of the most accomplished scholars and practitioners worldwide. The Academy frequently sponsors meetings, lectures, panel discussions, and informal gatherings around the United States. Topics are drawn from Academy projects and studies as well as the research and writings of Academy members.
Members contribute to Academy publications and studies in science, engineering, and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts, and education; and American institutions and the public good.
Election to the Academy is considered one of the nation’s highest honours since its founding during the American Revolution by John Adams, John Hancock, James Bowdoin, and other scholar-patriots who contributed prominently to the establishment of the new nation, its government, and the United States Constitution
It is expected that the election of these four patriots will usher in a new dawn of development and quality leadership for Nigeria especially now that the country is at cross roads, plagued by poverty, ignorance, underdevelopment and bad leadership.