VP’s Keynote Address At King’s College 111th Founder’s Day Lecture

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Let me begin by thanking the President of the King’s College Old Boys Association, Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim-Imam, for the invitation to speak at this 111th Founders Day celebration.

For decades, King’s College has produced many of Nigeria’s and indeed the worlds brightest and best in practically every field of human endeavor and it is an honour to join you in  celebrating 111 years of that excellence with you all today. While saying this, I lay aside all rivalries and all old quarrels between my school and King’s College because today is a day of celebration and it will be most impolite to even sound competitive.

 Today’s theme, “Education: The Way Forward”, is not about looking back, it’s time to brace for the future. Although these days speaking of the future is almost irrelevant because before you complete the word, the so-called future has arrived.

Let me set down a few thoughts that might help in thinking through the issues. First is that we must recognize that our main endowment as a country is neither crude oil nor any other mineral resource, it is our people. Nigerians are Nigeria’s greatest asset. Second, our economic aspirations and our capacity to compete in the global economy depend on how effectively we empower our people to fulfill their potential. Our human capital reserves determine the quantum of useful foreign direct investment coming into our country, the emergence of local innovators, the growth of productivity and the eruption of an entrepreneurial revolution. Third, the national conversation on education will be futile unless it also addresses the concerns faced at the lower levels of our society; the problems of out-of-school children and the huge deficit in education of girls. Fourth is a point of utmost importance, we need a laser focus on productivity, character and civic education. Fifth is a related point, it is quite clear that we have to change both the substance of education and the methods of educating our children.

This is because this generation of young people need to be prepared for a world that thinks, operates and rewards differently from what we were accustomed to. I will elaborate only on the fourth point.

I think our educational design and content must take into account our current moral and social circumstances, our physical and mental constraints as a people. We are gifted as Nigerians with a confidence, resilience and mental acuity that is by any standard exceptional.

This is probably best demonstrated in how we excel even in other countries in sciences, medicine and even politics. But our attributes do not free us from, what Edward Banfield describes as “the moral basis of a backward society.” This is the self- interested, family centric society where often the public good is sacrificed for personal or parochial benefit. So, education must lift the mind of the young beyond self, it must teach the primacy of community, of the good and the well-being of the collective over self. Every nation that has prospered has had to come to this accept this as norm. One of the strong points of the education many of you and I received was character, moral and ethical behavior, hardwork, diligence, trustworthiness, self-denial, honesty, truth, fairness.

Even in today’s severely compromised moral environment, I must say that I have come across and worked with many from King’s College who have demonstrated the strength of character that a well-established moral compass brings. No developed nation has managed to skip this point and succeed. There must be, as a rule, a prevailing moral standard, corruption or deviance must be the exception, not the rule.

Secondly, and here I will conflate the thoughts of Papa Obafemi Awolowo and Prof Olumide Olusanya, a Professor of Architecture, where they argue that our education must imbue both skills and the mental magnitude required for creativity or productivity. Creativity is the capacity for value added in the transformation of material.

Material in this sense may be either abstract as in notes of music transformed into melody, or physical, as in cotton transformed into fabric. The wealth of a nation is after all, not in the material resources available in the land, but in the productive capacity of the people; the way in which a people are equipped to add value to whatever it is that they find.

The matter of productivity or creativity as the path to recognition and success is not a light matter, it is fundamental to the development and wealth of a nation and its peoples.

So, our learning environment must emphasize ideation and introspection; thinking minds trained to think from conception to actualization. We must release that capacity to build physical and mental structures, concepts and processes much bigger than ourselves.

When people are nurtured in the notion that rent seeking or the prebendal capture of wealth or benefit by assess to power, is the path to success, then the society will not prosper. A few will capture all the resources, everyone else will be poor or on their way there. On the other hand, when young people are taught that creativity and innovation, with a business and personal culture of integrity, hardwork and diligence will find huge rewards, then the foundations for the good and prosperous society is laid.

So, where productivity is not the path to success, but capture, then corruption is inevitable. Corruption is symptomatic of societies that prefer a path different from creative and productive enterprise to wealth.

Finally, there is also a matter that I believe we must address and it is with the challenges of government investment in education. The truth is that government resources alone cannot drive education, especially of the quality we know our nation needs.

Many of us who had the benefit of high-quality secondary education have seen how in one generation, our schools have become a depressing shadow of themselves. We can bemoan this problem for another generation, but nothing will change if we are not prepared to invest our resources in changing the narrative.

King’s College Old Boys’ Association (KCOBA) for example, have between them the resources, the connections, locally and internationally, to set King’s College on track to being one of the best secondary schools in the world, a status that it was barely four decades ago.

The best schools in the world are beneficiaries of the commercial or altruistic investments of private individuals and corporations. All that is required is the will, the funds will follow.

Let me again congratulate you all for these 111 history-making years and wish King’s College a much greater 111 years ahead.

Thank you very much and God bless you.