Welcome Address to the Set of 2020

It is my duty and joy to welcome you, the class of 2020, to the University of Lagos. It is not an easy thing to get into this University – especially to be one of the new students at our Engineering faculty. There are several reasons to be proud. The competition to be here is as stiff as it is to enter any other university in the world! Of course, there are several of you who may envy your colleagues that have been able to “escape” from Nigeria with our difficult infrastructural challenges and get to places where things are easier. I will still want you to congratulate yourselves on your achievement and tell you some reasons why you still can eke out a bright future for yourself.

Akinsete, Awojobi, Adekola, etc. were some of the big names that arrested my ears 42 years ago when I was in your situation. At that time, this same building was the most wonderful large building I had ever seen in my life! Those people were the embodiment of knowledge and they dished it out to us as we marveled! I still remember Professor Awojobi, then just 36 years old, teaching us Engineering Graphics. Students from other faculties would sometimes like to come and peep just to hear him talk!

A lot of waters have passed under the bridge since my time as an undergraduate. Our roles as lecturer and professors have changed tremendously. It is important for you to be fully aware of this and adjust well to make the best of your time here. You are at the university of Lagos in two senses: Spatially and temporally. The spatial aspect is more immediate because the environment is the most important thing to our senses. There are the buildings, the lecturers, the classes, and of course your classmates. You may be surprised to hear me say that the most important people here are NOT your lecturers! Who then are more important? Your classmates, roommates, colleagues from other faculties and many others that are your companions as you try to make sense out of your place in your nation and the difference you can make! Of course, your lecturers are important! But, unlike in my days, we are no longer the storehouses of knowledge! The Internet has deposed us! You can check now if what we are teaching you is up to standard! In fact, you can, by virtue of modern communications facilities, reach the same kind of information available to every other student in the world!

Why are then then paying us to be here, you may ask? We are your coaches. We are more experienced than you are and can guide you. As we do so, you will be fully engaged in ideas sharing with your mates. That is one of the great reasons why you are lucky to be at the University of Lagos. Our Engineering is difficult to enter. Your papers must all be at one sitting and they must include Further Maths! Not easy! But that has selected for you, some of the most competitive group of students you will ever meet! You may have been a local champion in your old school where mommy and daddy got you spoon-fed and provided a lot of help to keep you ahead. At Unilag, you will have to struggle harder, longer and more intently as your neighbor was also a prodigy like you! Together, you will navigate the worlds of engineering and other interests that may contribute to making you the kind of person that can make a difference to your family, your nation.

In the temporal aspect therefore, you can see that you are passing through the most impressionable part of your lives.

I want you to be ambitious. One of the biggest problems of the African mind is the absence of serious ambition. Once a Naija man can be a little better than his neighbor, he appears satisfied! If there is no electricity, and you get a small noise maker that helps you to watch Manchester United, you are already in heaven! You seem to forget that the same electricity is available to young people in Singapore 24 hours a day! And that there is absolutely no reason why Enyimba, the people’s Elephant, cannot be more popular than Manchester United! What do they have? Football grass fields, one ball, 22 men and hundreds of thousands of passionate fans! With some clever marketing, this nets them more money than Nigeria’s oil in its most comfortable price regimes, can get Nigeria. More depressing is that the City State of Singapore, smaller in population and size than Lagos, can actually consume over 60% of Nigeria’s oil! That is the meaning of industrialization! It is lack of ambition that will cause a Minister of Aviation to steal two jeeps! Two jeeps! Even for all their rapacity, our thieves are not sufficiently ambitious! Why, for example, cannot the Minister of Aviation ensure than Nigeria can buy 100 of the latest wide body jets such as A380 of B777 and then steal two of them at the cost of nearly 1 billion dollars each! But once he/she can drive two jeeps in a convoy and use sirens to chase others from the road, even if they cannot comfortably get to where they are going, they are already satisfied!

Remember that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, MarkProtea meeting Zuckerberg, etc., were impressionable young people when they created the future out of their big ambitions! Be more ambitious about building the future. If, for example, you are an Aristo and have access to more money than you need, do not think that joining a cult is the thing to do! Be more ambitious! Cause your money to provide 50 Raspberry Pis for your classmates and begin to competitively build projects that can control equipment and you can later market and make even more money! Internet is replete with projects that you can order parts to do that can mop up all the time you have. If you don’t have a lot of money, you have to think even harder! The futures belongs to the hardest thinkers!

Another problem with we Africans is the level of noise we can tolerate. In fact, my time in Canada as a postgraduate student convinced me that we are all deaf here! Those people only talk in whispers while we keep shouting. It appears that students here cannot have an intellectual feast. Only loud feasts are allowed. Of course, boys will be boys! I grant you the need to unwind once in a while. Yet, the state of permanent noisemaking to the detriment of your health, rest and tranquility; it is something to be avoided because will not help you to think!

And, think, we must. The nation is broke! Oil prices are low. In fact, some of your parents and sponsors may struggle this year! Yet, you are lucky to live in these interesting times. It is in these times that Nigeria will finally get rid of its dependency on crude oil. Crude oil, crude cassava, crude mango, crude exports and crude anything has not, cannot, will not make any nation great. What contributes to the development of any people is the addition of value. That is the primary calling of an engineer. The surveyors are part of the people that will engineer the future that is why in Unilag, it is part of Engineering. Every problem you meet, discuss with your mates, not how best to complain about it, but whether an idea that can make its solution contribute to our progress cannot be brought out! Then you are thinking like an engineer!

I welcome you to the Faculty of Engineering, University of Lagos. I am proud to be the dean of our faculty as you enter our university. It is my desire that the hopes and aspirations that made your parents invest in your education will be met and surpassed. It is my prayer that Nigeria will become a better place because of the education and human development that will be yours here.

Dangote & Arsenal

One of the lessons I have learned in life is that you should not offer free advice to a rich man. Even if he were to listen to you politely, it is very likely that, in his mind, something is telling him that “if you were that wise, how come you did not become rich like himself”? This article, despite the title, is not a free advice to Mr Dangote – reputed to be the richest black man alive.

Growing up in a provincial town in the early sixties, there were three primary schools and three secondary schools within two kilometers of my childhood home. Most of these had lush, green and well-maintained playfields for games and football. The school I attended was a Roman Catholic Teacher’s College with two primary Schools on the same large compound. There were at least three football fields in shared among them. I cannot remember any time of year (rain or shine) when these were not well-maintained as the white missionaries sometimes did the lawn mowing by themselves using motorized mowers.

The competitions among schools in those days were so fierce! You could cry all day if your team got defeated. The winners would be on their way, singing through the town: “Three tororo l’a fun won, tororo/E lo fi jeba n’ile yin, tororo, etc.”

I later went to secondary school in a nearby town. My secondary school had a Roman Catholic Novitiate attached to it. I can picture in my mind’s eye now, that we had three football field and another playfield of a similar size. Again, these were always green and well-maintained. The rivalry between secondary schools in football competitions was a notch higher than what I experienced in Primary school. Inter-house sports, Amateur Athletics Association, etc. were so competitive. By the end of the first decade after independence, I had left secondary school. The Gowon regime took over the schools and there was a nose-diving of facilities thereafter.

These days, when I see primary and secondary schools that ask parents to pay hundreds of thousands if not millions of Naira, I shudder to remember what we were given almost free of charge in those days.

Fast forward to the 21st century. I am no longer a football fan. However, my present job puts me in contact with young people on a daily basis. I am often appalled by their slavish following of foreign sports especially football. They talk in the first person plural about these clubs as their very own clubs! Initially, I thought it was a joke; I used to laugh! Now I know we are dealing with a very serious matter.

Three years ago, I wrote an article, “Against Manchester United” http://oafak.com/2012/06/against-manchester-united/. I was drawing the attention of young people to the implications of their preference for foreign sporting activities. I was concerned to ensure they know that there are serious economic issues connected to these organizations. I wanted them to know that supporting their own clubs at home can actually create jobs for them in the future and that it is actually enlightened self-interest to support home clubs. In another article, “How to get zero in Olympics”, http://oafak.com/2012/08/how-to-get-zero-in-olympics/, written only two months after that, I tried to draw the attention of readers to the fact that unbridled consumption of foreign sporting products cannot help us develop economically. It cannot also allow us to unleash the capabilities of our own youthful population. I did not hesitate to offer free advice to the youth since they were not usually very rich people!

Now, I am dealing with a more difficult issue. Mr Dangote, Nigerian super-rich man wants to buy Arsenal Football club! This to me, is the most terrible display of self-immolation on several grounds: 1. There are more football lovers in Nigeria than in the UK. 2. There are so many possible levels that the intervention of good investment in maintained infrastructure can do to transform our lot. 3. As a business venture, there are great opportunities to develop these as businesses and make profit eventually.

The kind of schools with well-maintained fields that I alluded to are no more to be found in Nigeria. At least, when they exist, they are not available to poor people like I was in my youth! Rent a block of six flats, you are ready to start a school! The concept of a missionary school as a community center where you can hold meetings, have sporting activities and even take some free fruits home belongs to a forgotten generation. Today, a whole state, with a large slate of civil servants, may not be able to maintain a couple of football fields for their teeming youth population! On “Environmental Saturdays”, these youth use the opportunity of reduced vehicular traffic and turn the hard asphalt road to their make-shift stadium! For goal posts, two pairs of stones will do!

A rich man facing this reality and having investible capital takes a decision! It is to go to England! In London, I saw a location with 47 seven football fields where parents take their children on Sunday mornings to play! The government officials are busy enlarging their wardrobes and awarding themselves “hardship allowances”; those sufficiently powerful are busy sharing out the minuscule play areas in the planned parts of town – turning them into monstrously large estates they sometimes lock up! The few schools that still have land are facing encroachment from powerful neighbors determined to choke the schools with “developments” on lands that children should use for play.

Please, Mr Dangote, leave Arsenal alone! Do some justice to the children at home! Set an example by doing this in Kano and let the southern rich men follow your steps!