The golden jubilee celebration of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, peaks this week with the celebration of a man whose equal has not been found in northern Nigeria. The university named after its founder is a legacy to be enjoyed by this and future generations in a nation currently facing both educational and leadership crises.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, the one and only Sardauna of the Caliphate, established A B U because he wanted to build a "power" house - a citadel of learning that would drive development in the north and the nation as a whole. The dream was to integrate indigenous intellect with worldwide cosmopolitanism. And, as the first premier of Northern Nigeria, Sardauna Bello strove to actualise that dream in a society that was - and still is - highly conservative and built on strong religious tenets. It was a bold move, though it must have been tough, given the fears of cultural adulteration and meaningless adaptation of alien values and cultures that could, in the long run, destroy the fabric of the proud society ensconced in its beliefs and traditions.
Though he never obtained a university degree himself, Gamji Mazan Kwarai appreciated the value of knowledge in nation building and development. According to the A B U founder, "the cardinal principle upon which our university is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on the grounds of race, religious, or political beliefs. This principle is enshrined in the University Law. Only through freedom of membership and freedom of enquiry and research can a university be drawn into the full ferment of thought from which new knowledge comes. Only if it adheres to those freedoms can it become truly great...[But] our character must reflect the needs, the traditions, the social and intellectual heritage of the land in which we live... We must develop our own pattern to suit our present background and our future needs. Our university must grow out of our own soil. We shall be a truly Nigerian institution and not the mirror image of some alien body..."
Those words of wisdom are even most relevant now that our collective survival as a nation is threatened by misguided and self-serving individuals at all levels. They are pertinent now that the education system has almost crumbled and the purpose of university education seems to have been lost in the country. We hope the current authorities at A B U and other universities would appreciate those words uttered 50 years ago by the sage. Given the level of infrastructural decay, intellectual decadence and the flight of knowledge in our institutions, it will be interesting to see how those in charge can tackle the much-needed development challenges in their institutions.
Luckily for A B U, it currently has the "SALVAGE A B U" project. It is a task worth doing. To save other institutions around it from going down completely, A B U must be freed from the clutches of intellectual bankruptcy presently destroying the education system in Nigeria. It is the duty of every alumnus of A B U to commit to salvaging his/her alma mater.
Eulogies, reminiscences and pledge-making will, hopefully, end this week with ceremonies marking A B U's 50th anniversary. After then, it should be time for hard work toward the realisation of Sir Bello's vision.