Building Bridges: The Nigerian Experience
I am very feel truly elated to be here today, amongst my fellow Hubert H. Humphrey Fulbrighters!
When I got the invitation to deliver the keynote speech at this event, I had no hesitation whatsoever in accepting. I knew it would be an opportunity for me to catch up with some of my old friends who have been busy in their different locations across the country making that difference we were taught during the programme. Furthermore, I looked forward to participating in the activities of the Fulbright Fellows Alumni Association. Due to my present job, I have not been as active as I would love to. I also consider this a wonderful platform to share with the wider audience my Fulbright experience and how I hope we all can use our individual and collective experiences as Humphrey Fellows to make a difference and build bridges.
I thank my colleagues in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows Alumni Association Nigeria, for the honour in inviting me to be the keynote speaker at this year’s event. I also thank the Public Affairs section of the US Embassy for keeping in touch with the Association and assisting it to remain focussed and result-oriented.
It is my great pleasure and honour to welcome everyone, to the activities of the 2015 Humphrey Week taking place in our beloved State, Lagos. I know that every Humphrey Fellow in this hall today, and those who could not make it to this august event, must be proud to see that our Association is growing stronger and that her members are indeed helping to make the difference all over the country. I feel very proud to be counted as an alumnus of this international exchange programme
This year marks the 75th anniversary of educational exchanges between the United States of America and the rest of the world. I am glad that the HHH Alumni Association Nigeria is a part of the celebrations. Since yesterday, the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows have been involved in a series of activities not only as part of our usual Humphrey Week, but also in commemoration of this great milestone.
I want to acknowledge the diligent efforts of some of our members who have continued to give their time and resources towards keeping the activities of this Association alive. While I acknowledge their contributions, I must observe that in life, it takes just a few committed individuals to make a difference in any endeavour. As Margaret Mead, the great American scientist said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed,’.
There is no doubt that being a Fulbrighter is a worthy achievement for anyone who is privileged to be so selected. Think of the stringent process prospective recipients go through before they are chosen and in the end, only a select few go on to experience the programme. As an exchange programme, it offers a recipient the opportunity to live in an academic environment the United States of America for a specified period of time, during which one is engaged in a series of activities that include academics, workshops, internships and travels. The essence of the programme is to develop the individual, give him or her wider perspective on life and career and thus help unleash the leadership potential within. Recipients are then sent back to their respective countries and the real sector where they settle in to make a difference in their chosen careers. In a simple expression, they are sent out to be bridge builders in their communities and the larger society.
In building bridges, Fellows invest social capital and use their leadership qualities to push for positive change. The HHH Fellows are found in all spheres of life and across the globe. One consistent attribute of the typical HHH Fellow is that he or she is a role model and a purveyor of that change society deserves and which it so dearly craves.
I look back with nostalgia on my own days at Boston University as a Humphrey Fellow. The Programme gave me the opportunity to widen my horizon, not just professionally but in a 360 degree manner. I had great academic experience and I was taught by some of the great minds in America. The Programme also gave me the opportunity to work with great public finance professionals in the state of Massachusetts and thus deepen my understanding and practice of public finance. I travelled round the great country of United States of America and my eyes were opened to the results of human endeavour when people are committed to making a change in their lives and in the societies they live.
For me one of the major takeaways from my exchange programme is the undying belief in the ability of the human being to make a difference and to succeed, regardless of what challenges one encounters. I learnt to dispense with the word ‘problem’ and to replace it with ‘challenge’. This was very useful to me during the election campaigns. In this world, there will always be challenges and it is the individual who perseveres that triumphs.
I used my time during the Exchange Programme to make great friends from all parts of the world. I came back to Nigeria reenergised and with a greater sense of resolve to improve my immediate and larger societies.
You will agree with me that in the past decade, the Nigerian society has been facing increasing challenges. Beginning with insurgency in the Niger Delta, kidnapping and the vandalising of petroleum facilities, the country faced the global economic and financial crises of 2008/9. The stock market collapsed and global financial turbulence has remained an enduring phenomenon. Even though the Nigerian economy has been experiencing slow recovery ever since, the onslaught of the insurgency in the North East of the country and the dramatic drop in the price of crude oil, our dominant foreign exchange earner, have led to very challenging times. We have witnessed the significant shrinking of the middle class and a disturbing widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. Social ills are on the rise and in various parts of the country
In the midst of these, Lagos state has managed to remain among the most attractive locations for those who want to realise and live their Nigerian dream. We have managed to sustain the momentum of growth of the state economy in spite of the increasing population and the need to provide utilities. This is taking place even in the face of inadequate and decaying infrastructure.
Pause a while and think of the challenges that we face in Lagos State. We are the fastest growing city in the world and easily the biggest in Africa and still growing. The Lagos State has since 1999 worked tirelessly to midwife Lagos along the path of a modernising megacity.
Under my government, we have focussed on doing even more. We are determined to make Lagos globally competitive; the model megacity that will be the destination of choice for all. While we continue to improve our infrastructure, there is the equally formidable challenge of building the social bridges that will make for harmonious and mutually rewarding society.
As a megacity, Lagos is home to a diverse range of peoples and cultures. Diversity of this dimension presents both very huge potential risks and rewards. This mix of history, biology and culture into a relatively small space and time, presents enormous challenges that could boil over if we do not take deliberate and concerted actions to address them. However, seeing the opportunities inherent in the challenges is where the Hubert Humphrey Fellow can make a difference.
This is where the skill of bridge building, as espoused in the HHH programme comes in handy. Each HHH Alumni must step out and be part of addressing this challenge. It is what is required to build the Lagos or any society that we will be proud to hand over to our children.
As both leaders and followers, we must resolve to be part of the bridge building process. Just yesterday, some of our members participated in outreach programmes to school children in Lagos state. Visitations have been arranged in the past in support of the less privileged and there are occasional talk shops to address matters of topical interest. I also know that the HHH members are very much law-abiding and pay their taxes as and when due. Those are critical elements in the bridge building project.
I want to conclude by urging all Humphrey Fellows, and indeed all those who are in this gathering today, to continue be active in building social bridges. Let no one think that the little efforts at bridge building do not count. It is indeed those few steps that really do count. Let us start now and do not wait for the larger opportunity before you commence.
I would like to draw the attention of all of us to a Zig Ziglar quote which says, ‘You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great’. Let us all start now and we can then become great bridge builders.