SPEECH DELIVERED BY PROF. STEVE AZAIKI AT THE MEETING WITH 300 STUDENTS BENEFICIARIES OF THE AZAIKI FOUNDATION on the 11th of February, 2023. Auditorium of the Bayelsa Medical University, Yenagoa.
I am quite happy to be here today to welcome all of you to this event and to congratulate the beneficiaries for participating in the educational programme of the Azaiki Foundation and receiving the support that we provide for different categories of persons. We are here to celebrate the relationship between the foundation and the beneficiaries of its programmes, which has led to the expansion of opportunities for many, especially in the area of education.
The benefit you have derived from the Foundation is part of what inspired me to establish the Foundation. I have always thought about how our society can be competitive and be prosperous as well as how each individual can maximize their capabilities and attain the highest development their potential can afford them. There are several things that have to be present for that objective to be realized; but among the factors that create room for a life of achievements and fulfillment, education ranks as one of the highest.
For about two decades now, the Azaiki Foundation has demonstrated an unflagging commitment to promoting human capital development as a means of achieving its objective of promoting our collective progress. The dream in each of our hearts is to have a minimum standard of life where we can feed ourselves, maintain good health, have stable family life, and attain the highest feasible level of education. These are aspirations that are basic to modern human life. They also constitute the dream of the Azaiki Foundation for our people. These are the goals the Foundation was established to pursue.
In pursuit of its objectives, the Foundation has, over the years, deployed resources to address certain key aspects of the life of our people. We have provided bursary to help smoothen the path of students through institutions of higher learning. We have paid the school fees of many students as a means of keeping them in school and avoiding dropout.
Today, we are awarding bursary to 300 students of the Niger Delta University, the University of Africa, and the Bayelsa Medica University.
To equip our students for the technology-driven economy, we distributed laptop computers to them. This helps to ease their research and learning; the last time, 100 laptops were distributed to beneficiaries. We plan to give out more laptops.
Knowing that academic work in school needs to be complemented by other kinds of training, we organized a leadership training programme by the internationally recognized GOTNI Leadership Centre. Fifty Bayelsans were sponsored to Abuja for that programme. I believe they have been equipped to play leadership roles in their various fields of endeavour.
Building the capacity of our people, especially through education and skills acquisition, has always featured prominently in my work as a government official through the years. While I served as Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government, I propagated the idea of foreign scholarship for undergraduate and graduate studies. The government accepted and implemented the idea, and more than a thousand students were trained in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries. Those who benefited from that programme are today a solid part of the manpower pool in Bayelsa. Bayelsa and, indeed, Nigeria owe former Governor DSP Alamieyeseigha a debt of gratitude for this scholarship programme that has benefited our nation.
Even afterwards, when I wasn’t occupying a position like that of SSG, I proposed a scholarship programme for sending 29 of our students to study at the Lincoln University in the United States and was lucky to have a listening governor in the person of Henry Seriake Dickon who, out of his love for education, graciously approved it. Those students made us proud, one of them coming out as the best graduating student and the valedictorian for that year. If they didn’t have that opportunity, they probably wouldn’t have been able to develop their potential that way. Someone had to create the opportunity.
Many of the projects I have attracted to the Yenagoa/Kolokuma-Opokuma Federal Constituency as a member of the House of Representatives have been projects targeted at equipping our people for the challenges of the new economy. We are building a skill acquisition centre at Polaku. We have renovated schools, added new classroom blocks to existing schools, and provided learning facilities to schools. The idea is to equip and empower our people. And that’s what we are doing today, in this place.
As a private citizen, I established the Azaiki Public Library to give the reading public free access to some of the most sought-after educational materials. Apart from the physical books available in the library, there’s an e-library component that gives access to more than 30 million books. It is a world-class library. The National Librarian, Prof. L.O. Aina, after visiting the library, said, “the library stands as the best I have seen in our country… it is a gift to Nigeria”.
Let me use this opportunity to appreciate Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who as president of Nigeria, took time out of his busy official schedule to commission the library.
The Institute of Science and Technology, Yenagoa is another expression of my zeal for serving our people through the provision of opportunity for research and learning. The Institute is devoted to conducting research in science and technology and using the findings to solve practical problems in our society.
Beyond that, we also established the International Society of Comparative Education, Science and Technology to promote studies that would lead to improvement of teaching and learning in Nigeria.
Lovers of the arts can find the Museum of African Arts and the Niger Delta Museum as places where they can see and appreciate art pieces collected from across the world, particularly Africa and the Niger Delta. We established those museums so that we can learn our history and culture by interacting with their tangible expressions.
My love for education is well known. It has made governments at different levels to appoint me to different academic institutions governing Council. I was a member of the Governing Council of NDU and later became the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council. The Federal Government also appointed me as a member of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Technology Akure. My focus while serving in those positions was to see how we could improve the administration of the educational system and create room for better learning experience.
We have made a lot of effort to promote learning among our people. The reason is that I have personally experienced the power of knowledge to open and refine our minds and to empower and strengthen us for great achievements. I am an example.
I spent the early part of my childhood in the small village of Yenebebeli. At 10 years of age, I lost my father, which necessitated my relocation to Yenagoa. I also had some experience of Port Harcourt. Later, I traveled to the former Soviet Union for further studies. The higher I climbed in academics and the more knowledge I acquired, the more I understood the world and how to relate with people of different behavioural patterns and cultures. The role of education is prominent in whatever I have achieved in my life.
Setting up the World Environmental Movement for Africa (WEMFA) to promote a safe environment and the National Think Tank to proffer solutions to the major issues our country faces are both a product of the influence of education in my life.
In the journey of my life, I was fortunate to have received scholarship from the Federal Government up to the Master’s degree level and from the Soviet Union for my PhD programme. Without these scholarship awards my story would have been different. I received that support; and I also want to support others, as we are doing today.
What does that mean? When you have greater opportunity for acquiring the skills necessary for navigating the paths of life, as you do today, you also have the opportunity to climb higher in life. And that is my wish for you. What I have benefited, I want you to benefit, too, and even more.
It is the broadmindedness forged by education that has made it possible for me to bring innovation to my work of representing you in the National Assembly. Since my election to the House of Representatives, I have published each year a journal cataloguing my activities and projects. It is an account of my stewardship which is open for everyone to see. There is also a visitors book into which visitors enter their details, so that we can maintain a record of the personalities we play host to. Each year we also produce a calendar which we distribute to the public.
We have also explored avenues available in the National Assembly for international politics. I was the first president of Nigerian chapter of the Global Organiisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), a position that gave me the opportunity to represent Nigeria in conferences abroad and meet global leaders. Through GOPAC I could add my voice to the fight against corruption from a global pedestal. The fight against corruption is a fight for a better political society and it is a persistent fight that you must continue with.
The National Assembly has also been the platform through which I got elected to the position of Vice Chairman of the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This is a network consisting of more than a thousand legislators from 158 member states of the World Bank and the IMF. During the Annual Meeting of these Bretton Woods institutions in Washington, D.C. last October, I was chairman of one of the sessions. How could that happen if I did not receive a good education?
Supporting your education and intellectual development is my own way of inviting you to take your seat among those who understand that the mind has inexhaustible resources and who are ready to tap those resources for the good of mankind. When the resources of our mind are developed, then improving our lives, our communities and our nation becomes easier. That is how we build our lives and build our nation.
If we consider some of the most prominent Bayelsans, we will see that they are all lovers of knowledge. Dr Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, is a doctorate degree holder who, all through his period of service in government, pursued programmes for the provision of excellent educational opportunities for his people. He was the first leader in our country to randomly select brilliant students and send them to elite schools in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja and other cities. He sometimes attended the PTA meetings of those schools. Governor Douye Diri has also demonstrated his interest in education by executing different projects for boosting learning in Bayelsa. That is what Senator Seriake Dickson, another lover of knowledge, did too when he established the University of Africa and the Bayelsa Medical University. These leaders had the support of their deputies, Senator Lawrence Ewhrujakpo and Admiral John Jonah respectively. We have been blessed with these great leaders, and we should pay homage to them here.
What we are doing here is to follow the footstep of these lovers of education.
What we have done today may be a small thing, but, really, our lives are a sum of little, little things coming together to make up who we are today and who we will be tomorrow. What we need is a little right step today and another right step tomorrow, and we would generally go right and turn out to be the best that we can be. The future greatness is in the little right steps that we take today.
During my secondary school days, I received a scholarship of N100.00 from Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Many students competed for it, but I was one of the lucky few who received an award. It might have looked small, but it had a permanent impression on my heart. It thought me to be grateful for things that look small and made me to appreciate the reason behind every gift.
What we bring to you today also has a reason behind it. It is a little thing, but its impact may just be as powerful as what Chief Gani Fawehinmi did many, many years ago.
As each of you looks ahead to the future, it is important to keep in mind also that a beautiful life is achievable for each and every one of us, because our minds have enough power to create it. So, let us build the creative mind and watch our lives unfold the potential that God has deposited in us. I want to urge you along this path.
Indeed, what the Azaiki Foundation has done today is to shine a light on your path to a greater tomorrow. What we have done today is to give you something, something to urge you on along that path.
The goals we have pursued, the institutions we have established, and the values that guide our actions all demonstrate the motto of Bishop Dimieari Grammar School, my alma mater, which is non sibi sed alis, which means not for me but for others. So, I urge you to take advantage of what has been given to you in the spirit of that motto. Seize the moment and get on the way to fulfillment.
I look forward to seeing you climb higher and higher.
Thank you so much.