Remarks by Jonathan Fanton on Receipt of Honorary Degree from Bayero University
March 1, 2009 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa

I begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor for this honor, and for his kind words. And may I now ask you to observe a minute’s silence in honor of the late Musa Abdullahi, your former Vice-Chancellor, esteemed colleague and my friend.

For me, Musa was an inspiration and formative figure. His ambitious vision for Bayero, his energy and determination, his generous spirit and firm principles, showed me how much great leadership can achieve. Under his guidance, this University has prospered and grown.

Musa’s words as he left office remind us of his achievement, his warmth, and his humility: “My objective … was to run a purposeful and result-oriented administration, humane and based on teamwork by all members of the University” and to leave it “a much better place … in terms of academic and physical developments, administrative structure, the sense of belonging by all members of the community…. The final judgment of the extent to which this objective has been achieved can only be provided by posterity.” We who celebrate his legacy can affirm that he met, and exceeded, his best hopes.

One of the tests of leadership is how well an institution weathers the transition to a new vice chancellor. It is to Musa Abdullahi’s credit that his successor, Attahiru Jega, has taken up the reins seamlessly, bringing fresh energy, imagination, and a bold vision for Bayero’s future – well expressed at your 24th Convocation, when he said: “If there is one university in Nigeria today capable of making the prestigious list of the best 200 universities in the world in the near future, it is no doubt Bayero University Kano.”

This University is twice blessed to have leaders who rank among the best in Nigeria, indeed in the world.

My profound thanks to the Council of the University, the Senate, the Vice-Chancellor, and all members of this University, for honoring me with this degree.

I regret that the pressures of travel and Board meetings prevented me from joining you yesterday to participate in the main convocation.

I am especially pleased and privileged to be honored along with two distinguished Nigerians, symbolizing MacArthur’s honorary citizenship of this nation.

MacArthur has an enduring commitment to Nigeria. Our work began during the military regime in 1989, when we were restricted to the population field. We opened an office here in 1994 and, when democratic rule returned, we expanded our work to include human rights and the rule of law. Over the years we have supported 300 organizations and individuals with grants totaling $100 million.

In 1999, we began exploring how we could help universities. We knew that Nigerian universities had suffered under the military regime – no surprise, because authoritarian governments the world over punish universities. But there is another correlation that impressed us: can you think of a healthy democracy that does not have strong, independent universities? Universities and democracies go together because democracies depend on an informed citizenry, able to make wise choices about its leaders, and on open debate about policies, informed by solid evidence from university research. Public intellectuals educated at universities deepen the discourse about policy choices, placing them within the history and tradition of a country. And skilled professionals trained at universities harvest university research to propel economic growth, so important to a fair distribution of resources.

And so MacArthur decided to work with universities as Nigeria embraced the most promising opportunity for democratic development since independence. Our plan was to choose a few universities with the potential to set the standard for others. We wanted to show the Nigerian government that significant, but feasible, investments could unleash the pent-up energy for progress as talented faculty and students were given the tools to improve their universities.

Rather than give small amounts to many universities, we decided to concentrate on just four. Site visits were made by experts to 11 universities in different regions of the country. We know how important regional balance is in Nigeria. Not surprisingly Ibadan and ABU were early favorites, and Port Harcourt won out in the South.

There were many candidates for the fourth slot provisionally earmarked for the East. But we faced an unexpected puzzle. Another university in the North had captured our hearts and minds. The site-visit team was deeply impressed by Bayero University. The University’s enterprise and vitality were evident in a fine new library under construction, courses in business and accounting that were generating much-needed revenue, and a growing web of international collaborations, including those with the universities of Wisconsin and Iowa.

So, we had a problem: would we take two universities from the North and leave the East uncovered? A lively debate ensued. I came to take a look for myself.

I recall the meeting with the Vice Chancellor and with the University Senate in its chambers in June 2000. Musa Abdullahi was masterful in his quiet but passionate articulation of a vision for the university: clear goals, but also a grasp of practical steps to achieve them. He encouraged others to speak so we got a sense of a team, a unified community of scholars and administrators who would work together. We met with students who eloquently expressed their dreams and high ambitions.

But we also saw what years of punishment by the military regime left behind. Uncertain power supplies, crowded student facilities, outdated IT systems, limited support or incentives for research, and isolation from global academic discourse.

But these handicaps did not dampen the spirits or dim the hope.

Many individuals impressed. I vividly recall meeting late at night with Dr. Bashir Galadanci, the Director of the University Computer Center, who came to my hotel to outline the Universities ICT plan. And a meeting with Mr. Mohammed Sadiq, a senior librarian filled with knowledge and enthusiasm about digitization.

These exceptional people made the case, and tipped the balance. Bayero became the fourth university selected. Time has shown that our decision was the right one. Bayero has met and exceeded our expectations. Indeed, it has one of the best records among the four universities we support. This is my fifth visit to campus and each time I see the progress with my own eyes.

MacArthur has made six grants worth about $8.6 million, responding to the university’s highest priorities. Sometimes the project had an immediate, visible impact that brought hope of further improvement. Sometimes, we funded projects others would not, or set a challenge for local business and government agencies to meet. A computer loan fund, faculty development programs, electronic conversion of library catalogues, the new Center for Information Technology, equipment for a new department of agriculture were in the mix.

Our aim was to spark a renaissance and Bayero quickly responded. The endowment appeal, launched in January 2003, raised more than $2 million in short order. Further donations, for internet cafes, dormitories, postgraduate and business schools, and a 400-seat lecture theatre followed. Harnessing the goodwill of alumni and business, lobbying state government, and tapping the national trust funds, Bayero has now raised more than $10 million, with more in sight.

I am so pleased and proud when I see what you, faculty, staff, and students have accomplished.

  • Major new programs in agriculture, dentistry, and nursing are responding to critical national development priorities.
  • The number of degree programs is up 26 percent increase between 2001 and 2007, and all are fully accredited.
  • The number of articles by students and faculty published in peer-reviewed journals has more than doubled;
  • The proportion of faculty members with doctorates in the departments of mathematics, accounting, education, and law continues to grow;
  • The number of networked computers leapt from 20 to 600, the percentage of computer units covered by the University Local Area Network increased from 0 to 70, and Internet connectivity expanded from almost none to 5.5 megabits per second;
  • And many of your alumni have achieved high positions. I think of Bayero Hajiya Aisha Jibril Dukku, State Minister for Education; Ma'azu Babangida Aliyu, Executive Governor of Niger State; Abdussalam Muhammad, Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority; Muttaqa Rabeh Darma, Executive Secretary of the PTDF; Isa Zailani, Executive Director of Afribank.

As I walk around the new campus, I see significant improvements to your physical plant: a new Faculty of Agriculture, Library, Musa Abdullahi Auditorium, Business School, Department of Engineering, Hotel and Medical Clinic, and especially the Centre for Information Technology.

I was deeply moved to be asked to participate in the dedication of that Center in May 2004. I remember my first visit with Musa Abdullahi in June 2000 when the university had fewer than 20 networked computers scattered around the campus. Musa and I walked the empty field where he imagined the new computer center would go. Then, four years later, to see a modern, well-designed building with 320 work stations – what a symbol of the “campus that could.”

By any measure, these are remarkable accomplishments, and you can take due pride that you have achieved so much in a short spell. For MacArthur’s part, I can assure you that we have found our partnership always cordial, respectful, mutually rewarding and inspiring. We have learned an important lesson here. Institutions like people have a character. Leadership helps shape the values that animate an institution, the Vice Chancellor, but also the deans and faculty. And students reflect what a university stands for when they venture out into the world of business, government, and non-profit organizations.

Here are the words that come to mind when I think of Bayero University: ambitious, determined, creative, comfortable with diverse traditions and viewpoints, committed to serving region and nation.

I am honored by the degree you have conferred upon me today. I am reminded by how much my understanding of life has been enriched by the friends I have made in Nigeria and how much I admire this nation’s spirit and people.

I am deeply grateful for accepting me into the Bayero family. It seals the bond between me and Bayero. I will always have a deep interest in this university; you can count on my help even as I retire from MacArthur, and please know I shall return.

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