Nigeria not fair to Nigerians— Obi

The speech at the Valedictory Session of graduates of Physiology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University at Okofia, Nnewi, where I represented Mr Peter Obi.

Three days ago, on the 26th, His Excellency Mr Peter Obi was a Guest Speaker at the 6th Annual Lecture of the Board of Fellows of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria at UNIZIK. As he left, he mentioned he would phone me about a function on the 28th, which he was struggling to plan to attend.

However, he did not call back until early yesterday morning, around 3 am. He referred to the event he mentioned, the 2024 Valedictory Session for Physiology Graduates where he was invited as one of the keynote speakers and requested I should represent him as it had become clear he would not make it. He reminded me how the event was initially scheduled for a different date, and how he was en route to attend before receiving the news of its postponement.

Next, I needed to inquire about the message he wished to convey to the new graduates, reminding him of his role as the Guest Speaker. We spent the next hour on the phone, with me diligently noting down his message. As I relay it to you now, please understand that I am merely a mouthpiece, repeating the words of the master for the enlightenment of the new graduates, who, through this very act, are being sent into the world to contribute their knowledge towards making it a better place.

Judging by the looks on your faces, most of you are still in your early twenties. In popular parlance, one might say “nyabinghi anya” or “Akwobeyi beans akwo.” When we say this of you, it means that you are still in the march of your lives. And the person speaking through me, Mr. Peter Obi, is already in the June of his life. Therefore, he speaks to you from his rich experiential pedigree – he has seen it all. He is speaking from the pedestal of wisdom.

As I discussed with him regarding the message to be conveyed, I recall a beautiful piece I read in the eighties as a young Seminarian, written by the then Mr. Hyginus Aghaulor (now a Priest). It was entitled “Arrow in the Quiver.” Fr. questioned: “Have you ever seen floods and the consequent erosion demonstrate their anger? The only grammar meaningful to them is destruction. But construct gutters, and you would have tamed the irrationality of the floods; build dykes, and their destructive instinct would be turned inside out. It becomes an opportunity. The once insane floods would then be channeled to irrigate the thirsty vegetation on the plain. Life flourishes!”

We all resemble floods at various points in our upbringing. Some of us were raw savages entrusted to different educational institutions to be refined into human beings, especially now parenting has gone to the dogs. Good institutions do their utmost, but poor institutions exacerbate matters. Regarding Nigeria, despite criticisms of academic institutions, Nnamdi Azikiwe University remains one of the finest. Therefore, you are fortunate to have been educated there.

Upon your graduation, you are conferred or have been conferred with the degrees of this University, which, like degrees everywhere, attest to moral and academic achievements. You are now released into the world to contribute to its enrichment. Thus, you are sent forth as a finished product, an ambassador of this institution.

Schools are expected to exert civilizing effects on students. This is what you are expected to demonstrate. From experience, it is evident that throughout your life, the umbilical cord between you and your alma mater will not be severed. I asked Mr. Peter Obi why he believed this. Let him speak directly to you: “Did you follow Hilda Bacci when she entered the Guinness Book of Records? She was widely celebrated. As you may recall, I was among those who visited her.

Shortly after, Madonna University claimed her as their own. They proudly recounted how she was an exemplary student and how the formative influence of Madonna University prepared her for the achievement she attained. This illustrates that you continue to be an ambassador of your alma mater for as long as you live.”

Not Done, Obi continued: “On 18 May 2016, Johns Hopkins University, where Chimamanda Adichie obtained her master’s degree in creative writing, conferred upon her an honorary doctorate in recognition of her outstanding contributions to literature. Through this award, the university sent a clear message: ‘Girl, you are harnessing the knowledge gained within our institution in a truly remarkable and positive manner.”

Thus, you will find personal fulfilment, your loved ones will be proud of you, your institution will commend you, and society will applaud you when you fulfil your existential purpose as one who has been adequately prepared to tackle the challenges in society.

A few weeks ago, I attended the valedictory lecture of Rev. Fr. Professor Boniface Obiefuna, where he bid farewell to the institution he had served for many years. The lecture was a nostalgic reflection on his life, covering his birth, education, priestly life, and teaching career. He also shared with us his eccentricities and humorous anecdotes. Today, you are expected to engage in a similar reflection, assessing your life’s journey so far. While Professor Obiefuna did this at the age of seventy, you are still in your early twenties, so I say, ‘Anyabehe Anya’. But I ask, who is the driver of your life’s journey? We shall return to this question later.

While delivering the 6th Annual lecture on the 26th of this month, Mr Peter Obi emphasized the need to dismantle the criminality that has come to define Nigeria. Today, as a result of the cumulative effects of poor governance and criminality, Nigeria is in a state of crisis, a situation that is all too real. The country has failed everyone, including those who perpetuated the criminality, who are now living in fear.

What about the youth whose futures have been squandered by the country? Let me reconnect the dots by quoting Fr. Aghaulor once again: “Like yam – -tendrils, youth is delicate and ready to take the bent he is given. He is like clay at the hands of the potter. Whatever is seen or heard immediately leaves its impression on the youth’s personality. Youth’s emotion, if not well directed can burst at any time like a dormant volcano; the consequences can be destructive as an unguided flood.”

Father wrote as if addressing our country today: Tell me, what the country has done for you that would make the idea of patriotism meaningful? This is why people like us often appeal to you not to hold the country accountable for its sins, but instead to strengthen your resolve to use your education to contribute to changing the system. You cannot achieve this by being part of the rigging of elections in the future, but rather by upholding the highest moral standards for the country.

Having disappointed you, you are now your most trusted and competent driver. What schools have done in your life is to illuminate the path or show you the way to go. It is up to you to build the barriers and channels of your life to direct your energy towards productivity. Have you experienced dejection in your life?

The least effective way to recover is not by heeding others’ advice, but by listening to yourself. Hence, the best advice is that which we give to ourselves. Therefore, your success as you enters the world depends largely on your efforts to remain focused in life, to paddle your own canoe on the understanding that you are your own safest driver. This was the reason that when Tsze-Lu asked Confucius, “What constitute the Higher Man,” he replied, “the cultivation of himself with reverential care.”

As graduates of Physiology, you are expected to have studied the subject. Beyond the 18th century, when it became an independent science, its foundational work was laid by figures such as Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. The contributions of individuals like Harvey, Bernard, and Pavlov drew heavily from theirs. Even Descartes’ mechanistic view of the body, which likened bodily functions to mechanical processes, contributed to the development of Physiology. This demonstrates the interconnectedness of knowledge.

As you strive to contribute to the advancement of learning, do not isolate yourself like an island. Reach out to others, and collaborate with different fields, as humanity strives to conquer the world and build a better society.

Although Nigeria has not treated you fairly, Peter Obi encourages you to continue loving her and not hesitate to take actions that will help the country rediscover itself. However, due to limited opportunities in the country, he does not advise against travelling to other parts of the world in search of better opportunities.

He has always recommended emulating the Indians. They are often seen worldwide, striving to improve themselves through further education and thereafter engage in productive ventures, notably, bringing back the knowledge they acquire to their homeland. As some of you travel abroad, keep the Indian example in mind.

Though Mr. Peter Obi frequently emphasizes the importance of STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), as a philosopher, he values how philosophy has enriched his perspectives. During our conversation that evening, he instructed me to remind you that despite the emphasis on science, you should strive to become well-rounded scholars and not allow yourselves to become fragmented. Let him address you directly once more.

“Besides acquainting yourselves with great physiologists like Harvey, Bernard, and Pavlov, dedicate at least two hours per week to enriching yourselves with these exemplars of civilization. Befriend eminent poets such as Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, Dante, Petrarch, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Racine, Moliere, Goethe, and Soyinka. Engage with outstanding statesmen spanning from Hammurabi to Winston Churchill, and the Ziks of Nigeria and with profound thinkers like Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, Archimedes, Lucretius, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Newton, Kant, Darwin and Ojukwu. Familiarise yourselves with exceptional prose writers such as Demosthenes, Cicero, Seneca, Rabelais, Montaigne, Milton, Voltaire, Achebe, and Chimamanda. Explore the works of eminent historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, and Gibbon. Lastly, seek inspiration from great saints such as Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Tansi, as well as influential opinion writers like Okey Ikechukwu, Rueben Abati, Segun Adeniyi, Dan Onwukwe, Comfort Obi, and Robert Obiorah. I would not deem you educated unless you count many of these luminaries among your acquaintances. Nurture these relationships, and you will undoubtedly be shaped by the company you keep.”

Although Mr Peter Obi emphasizes the importance of being your drivers, he also urged me to remind you of the value of having credible role models. While you may have had role models during your student days, you may need to seek out new ones with different perspectives as you enter the world. He asked me to share a fascinating story with you: When Themistocles was presented with two suitors for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he chose the man of good character over the wealthy one, saying, “I prefer a man without money to money without a man.”

This wisdom should guide us in selecting role models – individuals who inspire and guide us. Role models teach us valuable virtues like hard work, honesty, and integrity, and their noble lives enrich our own.

We should seek out individuals who embody these virtues, rather than those who merely flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, sometimes annoyingly in the conscious, but often the misplaced grandeur of their having arrived. “Finally, he requested I remind you to always remember your last day this school, and these teachers who labored so patiently to turn you into what you are today and what you promise to become. Most importantly, he wants you to remain close to God.”

In conclusion, Mr. Peter Obi’s message is that of hope, inspiration, and guidance. He encourages you to be your drivers, to seek out credible role models, and to cultivate your minds with a well-rounded education. He reminds you that your alma mater will always be proud of your accomplishments and urges you to make a positive impact on society. As you go forth into the world, you must hold on to the values of hard work, honesty, and integrity, and strive to build bridges between science and society and contribute meaning to your communities and the world at large.


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