By Tunde Olusunle
His best efforts to observe his birthday quietly as has been his preference over time, differed from the thinking of many others. I had indeed asked him two weeks before the date if he would approve of a public presentation of my handy, newly published compendium of essays on him, as part of the event. He intoned that the President of the American University of Nigeria, (AUN), Dr. DeWayne Frazier, indeed created a window for cake cutting on the draft programme of the “Founders Day” scheduled for Saturday November 25, 2023. The event is held in his honour on the 25th day of November every year, to commemorate his birthday. He said he advised Frazier who is fairly new on his schedule, that the Founder’s Day lecture itself sufficient commemoration of a day that is very special to him.
The public presentation of the book of essays he advised, should be planned for the first quarter of the new year. By that time according to his wise counsel, subsisting electoral litigations arising from the 2023 polls would have been substantially dispensed with. The national political temperature aggravated by unprecedented ballot thefts, unrivalled judicial indiscretions, and unthinkable disenfranchisement of the electorate in several instances, would have calmed somewhat, especially with the imminent yuletide. If he thought he had wriggled free of plans to celebrate him, however, his eldest son, Adamu Atiku-Abubakar and some of his siblings had other ideas.
Adamu, incumbent commissioner for Works and Energy Development in the administration of Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State is growing into a good student and budding exemplar of his father in politics and public service. He surreptitiously convened a meeting of critical stakeholders from four contiguous local government areas in the southern zone of Adamawa State to discuss and buy-into a suggestion by his peers and good self. Enthusiastic participants came from Toungo, Ganye, Jada and Mayo Belwa local government areas, to articulate a week-long series of events to mark the 77th birthday of the older Atiku Abubakar. These included council chairpersons, commissioners and the Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mohammed Jidjiwa, from the aforementioned four local government areas.
The lineup of activities for the “Atiku week” included: a football tournament tagged the “Atiku Unity Cup;” a day to reach out specifically to the indigent and an “Empowerment Day” for would-be entrepreneurs. Specific days were also set aside for “community service,” “visitations to educational institutions within Atiku’s primordial catchment;” “finals of the Atiku Unity Cup” and a jum’at service to round up the festivities. Each of these activities were scheduled for different days between Friday November 17 and Friday November 24, 2023. Not too many people would wish for a better, richer, activity-packed birthday programme.
Atiku arrived to tumultuous reception at the Yola International Airport on Monday November 20. It was his first visit since his hard-fought judicial battle challenging the declaration of Bola Tinubu as winner of the Saturday February 25, 2023 presidential election in which he contested and felt arguably robbed. Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, the first woman to occupy such a position in Nigeria’s north east, Professor Kaletapwa Farauta, led the reception party on behalf of Governor Fintiri. She was accompanied by members of the Adamawa State executive council and senior state officials. Farauta extolled Atiku’s uncommon grit and zeal in bolstering democracy and popular rule in Nigeria. She noted that the former Vice President had etched his name in the documentation of Nigerian politics as a brave battler for fairness, justice, equity, rule of law and best practices in the nation’s fledgling democracy. Her speech was intermittently interrupted by loud applause by the audience and approving nods as she delivered her homily about the presidential flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), at the last general polls.
Atiku thanked the Adamawa State Government for putting up such a grand reception for him on what was supposed to be an innocuous and routine visit to his home. He applauded the Fintiri-led government for its notable strides in the provision of infrastructure in the state, and for the attention it is paying to education and healthcare development. He assured of his availability at all times, to offer guidance and admonition. He restated the place of Adamawa in his heart, a state he desired to serve as governor, won the applicable election in December 1998, before fate intervened in his political course. Atiku noted he was thankful to God for his modest contributions to the socioeconomic life of the state and expressed the hope that other well-meaning patriots will contribute their tokens by continuing to investment in Adamawa State.
Wednesday November 22, Atiku visited his boyhood school, the Central Primary School, Jada. In his post on his *X* handle, (hitherto twitter), Atiku wrote: “Nostalgic: Today I returned where it all started, my alma mater.” The quality of buildings and facilities in the school suggest it has benefitted from Atiku’s legendary large heart. Not too many public schools in rural Nigeria are anything close to the new storey buildings in the school. The former Vice President toured the premises even as excited school children poured to the balconies of their classrooms and waved happily at him, a gesture he returned. He subsequently presented scholarships and awards to outstanding students in the Ganye chiefdom of the state, a gesture he enthused, brought him tremendous joy and fulfilment.
Saturday November 25, 2023, Steven Titus, President Emeritus of the Iowa Wesleyan University in the United States, delivered the inaugural address for the Founder’s Day. He described the university as “one of the greatest, boldest and most consequential universities on the entire continent of Africa.” He extolled the AUN as a “vibrant legacy of the founder, Atiku,” who was being honoured at the same event. He celebrated Atiku as “a man of peace and unity, a leader who listens more than he talks, who inspires those around him, who is empathetic and appreciates the dignity of every human being.” Dr. Titus saluted Atiku’s abiding faith in his country Nigeria as a land of possibility, and his conviction that education is the fuel and inspiration for the crystallisation of that possibility.
Titus further noted: “The Founder was an 11-year-old orphan who had barely enough to eat. Today, the Founder is a world citizen and tested leader of the largest and most complex country on the continent.” Espousing on Atiku further, Titus submitted: “It was the gift of education, the gift of opportunity and teachers who cared, and the value of hard work that ensured his pathway to success and service at the highest levels. Through the Founder’s vision becoming reality, AUN is offering you and those who came before you and those who will come after you, the gift of education and opportunity.
Atiku’s paper at the event was titled “AUN in the Age of Socioeconomic Crisis and Emerging Disruptive Technologies.” He thanked Dr. Steven Titus and everyone who made out time to be at the event with his beautiful family. He welcomed DeWayne Frazier whom he noted had always been enthusiastic about Africa and heading the AUN. Atiku alluded to his two previous applications to be President, before his triumph at the third attempt. He expressed the hope that Frazier will demonstrate commitment to the ideals of the institution and changes in its overall administration. The era of deviation from the set goals of the university, arbitrariness in decision making and profligate management of resources, Atiku observed, must henceforth be consigned to the past. He expressed optimism in Frazier’s capacity and ability against his demonstrated interest in the university. Atiku enjoined Frazier to constantly remind the world that the AUN is alive and thriving albeit an oasis of excellence in its part of Nigeria.
The AUN, Atiku advised, must be heard in the crowded marketplace of private education in Nigeria, or painfully lose out. The university faculty he admonished, should be responsive to dynamics in the national and global economies so as to be guided in articulating its programmes and offerings needed by intending students. Atiku implored the university to grow its numbers and to build up its finances in order to be more self-sustaining. He thanked the new AUN President for facilitating a few more programmes in the institution’s bouquet of courses, within his brief stint at the helm. Atiku reminded Frazier of the urgent need to “modify and update inherited practices to keep up with the changing financial situation of the unit and that of prospective parents and students.” According to Atiku, “new technologies are emerging that will completely change the face of education as we know it, and by implications, educational institutions. The direction of those changes is not entirely clear, but will include greater individualised learning.”
DeWayne Preston Frazier who was inducted as the sixth President of the AUN, confirmed his excitement and optimism for the future of the university. He expressed confidence that together, stakeholders in the university will achieve great things and continue to be a beacon of knowledge, enlightenment and progress. Dr Frazier explained: “I am committed to upholding the values and principles that have been the foundation of this university. Values such as excellence, integrity and service that permeate through the entire campus. I will follow and uphold our bylaws like never before as I accept them with great honour. When you do things rightly, God will bless you… this is a promise.” Frazier acknowledged Atiku as a man of big dreams who, 20 years ago, envisioned the very first university in Nigeria to “adopt the American model of higher educational, offering a liberal arts-based education that promotes critical thinking, creativity and experiential learning.”
At the Founder’s Day to honour Atiku were several dignitaries including Governor Fintiri and his Deputy Farauta; Chairman of AUN Board of Trustees and Governing Council, Ben Obi, CON; and Mustafa Barkindo Aliyu, (Kauran Adamawa) who represented the Lamido Adamawa. Former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoaka, SAN, as well as Members of AUN Board of Trustees and Governing Council, among others. The event was a befitting finale to a string of activities and events carefully planned and executed in honour of one of Adamawa State’s and Nigeria’s most prized prodigies. It was a cherished season of reconnection with his roots and origins for the “original homeboy.”
Olusunle PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA.
Pix above: Atiku, (l) with Prof Maxton Gidado, SAN, at the birthday reception for the former Vice President in Ganye chiefdom