Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the University of Ibadan’s 60th Anniversary Dinner
March 3, 2009 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa

I begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor for organizing this Diamond Jubilee dinner to coincide with my visit. I also thank him for his kind introductory remarks.

I regret that the pressures of travel and Board meetings prevented me from participating in my alma mater’s 60th anniversary convocation in November last year.

On Saturday, I will give the 10th Shehu Yar’Adua lecture at the Yar’Adua Center in Abuja, with the current and former Presidents, President Kikwete of Tanzania, government ministers, and many prominent Nigerian leaders in attendance. I will have an important audience. My topic is the centrality of higher education to the economic and democratic development of Nigeria.

I will start by reaffirming MacArthur’s enduring commitment to Nigeria. We began our work here in 1989, during the military regime, concentrating on population and reproductive health. In 1994, we opened an office in Ibadan. When democratic rule returned, we expanded our program to include human rights and the rule of law. Over the years, we have supported more than 300 organizations and individuals with grants totaling $100 million.

In June 2000, 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 another correlation 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. Democracies depend on open debate about policies, debates informed by solid evidence from university research. Public intellectuals educated at universities deepen the discourse about policy choices placed 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 energy for improvement 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 a dozen universities in different regions of the country. Not surprisingly, Ibadan was an early favorite.

I recall the meeting organized by Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, the current Minister of Health, in June 2000 at the University College Hospital Ibadan. I recall eminent scholars such as Professor Ade Ajayi, Professor O. Akinkugbe, Professor Ayo Banjo (who later became the Chairman of Council of the University of Port Harcourt, another of the universities we support), and Professor Kessy. Garba who made brilliant presentations on the hopes and challenges of higher education in Nigeria and the role of Ibadan as the flagship institutions.

I also recall my meeting with Professor Ayodele Falase, your esteemed colleague and my friend, during my subsequent visit. We had robust discussions with your Senate and members of Council and students. Professor Tayo Shokunbi, your former Liaison officer, gave us confidence that MacArthur funds would be well managed and used at Ibadan.

One of the tests of leadership is how well an institution weathers transition. Professor Ayo Falase effortlessly handed over his responsibilities to Professor Olufemi Bamiro ; the position of MacArthur Liaison Officer moved from Tayo to Professor Akinsomoju and now to Professor Gos Ekhaguere.

These exceptional people made the case for Ibadan. Time has shown that our decision was the right one. Ibadan 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 the campus and each time I see the progress with my own eyes.

MacArthur has made grants worth over $10 million responding to the university’s highest priorities. Sometimes the project had an immediate, visible impact that brought hope of further improvement. But we also funded projects others would not, or set a challenge for local business and government agencies to meet. A computer challenge grant, faculty development programs, the automation of library catalogues, development of a strategic plan, the new central laboratory for advanced scientific research, and distance learning were in the mix.

And I am so pleased and proud when I see what you, faculty, staff, and students have accomplished since our partnership began:

  • The number of formal linkages with outside universities increased from 4 to 47;
  • The percentage of lecturers with personal computers went from 15 to 90;
  • The student/computer ratio increased from 60:1 to 4:1;
  • The number of networked computers went from 15 to 2,500;
  • The percentage of campus units covered by Local Area Network increased from 10 to 90.

Your research efforts are impressive. I think of your collaboration with Northwestern University to study HIV/AIDS prevention services in rural communities and to stop AIDS in its tracks. Your Institute of Medical Research and Training has earned worldwide praise for its studies of parasitic diseases, and its National Polio Laboratory is leading the way in immunization programs. The Department of Virology is finding new ways to use Nigeria’s biodiversity for drug development, agro—forestry, and insecticides. And that is a small sample.

As I walk around the campus, I see significant improvements because of the generosity of corporate bodies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria, First Bank, Afribank, Celtel (now Zain Nigeria Breweries, Shell Petroleum; funding agencies such as the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF); also worthy of mention are buildings by individual donors such as Prof Fola Aboaba, Chief Kola Daisi and Dr Emmanuel Egbogah.

We are proud of your sense of responsibility and care for the community, and pleased to have been able to support your efforts. I think of the University’s HIV/AIDS program that trains students to educate their peers about the danger of the disease and how to prevent its spread — it has now reached more than 10,000 students, saving lives and changing risky behavior. And of the outreach program to children at the Ibadan Juvenile Correctional Facility — many of them abused, neglected, or emotionally disturbed — led by your Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit.

By any measure, these are remarkable accomplishments, and you can take great pride that you have achieved so much in a short spell. This is the story I will tell President Yar’Adua at dinner tomorrow night, and to the larger audience on Saturday.

I mentioned to Femi last year that this will be my last visit to Ibadan as the President of the Foundation. Our Foundation has term limits for its board members, president, and program staff. I am grateful for all I have learned in my time at MacArthur, grateful for the opportunity to visit Nigeria and to develop a deep connection to its people, vibrant cultures, and great institutions.

This University is one of them — a place of serious scholarship, high ideals, and hope for a brighter future. Universities, like families, develop characters. When I think of Ibadan, I think of its courageous leadership, its optimism and high ambition, its creativity and determination, its commitment to the people of this region and to the nation. It is a family I am proud to be a part of. Even as I retire from MacArthur, you may be assured of my constant loyalty, interest, and affection. And I shall return.

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