Former United States President, Mr. Bill Clinton, Tuesday called for more efforts from Nigeria to tackle the problems of insecurity in the country.
Clinton, the special guest at the 18th edition of the THISDAY Awards, which held in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, said in his address at the event, attended by a galaxy of personages, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that the Federal Government should tackle the myriads of problems, including insecurity, facing the nation by making universal education available to the youth as well as addressing the problem of poverty.
As part of the ceremony, 15 teachers, from the primary to tertiary level, were honoured for their dedication to duty under the theme 'Celebrating Nigeria's Best Teachers'.
Ten others, including renowned industrialist, Mr. Oba Otudeko, retired Catholic Archbishop of Lagos Diocese, Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie, and Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, were conferred with the Life-time Achievement Awards.
Clinton, who was making his fourth appearance at the THISDAY Awards, explained that education is more important in dealing with the challenges facing Nigeria and the entire world, adding that with the benefit of education, people could take charge of their lives and contribute positively to the development of their countries, especially by taking advantage of Information Communication Technology (ICT).
He said: "It is an age where if we are sufficiently educated, we can be empowered, but with enormous challenges. First of all, all of these new opportunities technology had given us have not yet succeeded in automatically reducing poverty and inequality of opportunities in accessing education, health care. It is a global phenomenon.
"If we really want to take advantage of education, empowerment and information technology, we have to solve this problem. The second problem we have in the world is quite unstable as we all know. We have to stop this problem. One major problem of unemployment is this instability all over the world.
"We have to find a way through education, through the information technology revolution to change the way we produce and consume energy and to change the way we use local resources in a way that sustains them. We have to know how to do this and do it right. And in every case, education will play a major role whether in developed or developing countries.
"We need intelligent people to take a new way to challenge themselves. There is a lot of work to be done but we cannot ever neglect the role of education.
"I am convinced that if we can make universal education, including education in the heart, available to all the young people of the world and give them a chance without their angers, without the kind of divisive feelings that we have built up over our lifetimes, to seize the empowerment of the information technology revolution, then humanity's brightest days lie ahead. And that is why it is important today to honour these educators."
Clinton recalled that when he became the president, he made a list of the 10 most important countries in the world before the 21st century and Nigeria was one of them.
"I would say you have about three big challenges. Like 90 per cent of the country has resources, but you haven't done very well with the oil money. Secondly, you have to somehow bring economic opportunity to the people who don't have it. This is not a problem specific in Nigeria but almost every place in the world. Prosperity has always been concentrated in and around urban areas.
"You have all these political problems - and now violence problems - that appear to be rooted in religious differences and all the rhetoric of the Boko Haram and others, but the truth is the poverty rate in the North is three times of what it is in Lagos and to deal with that, you have to have both a powerful stable local government and a national policy," he added.
In his speech, Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, referring to the honour bestowed on the 15 teachers, said he was happy to partner THISDAY to honour a group of professionals who are important to national development but could easily be forgotten.
He justified the choice of Ogun State as the host of the event, saying that the symbolism could not be lost on teachers, as the state is the gateway to knowledge having recorded such historic achievements as the seat of the first newspaper, the first Holy Bible and the first secondary school in Nigeria.
It was the first time the award went outside Lagos and Abuja.
Amosun promised that his administration would not only sustain those legacies but build on them.
He said the state and the entire South-west Nigeria were eternally grateful to the late Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for introducing free education in the region in 1955.
"Our administration has built on that legacy by introducing functional free education at the primary and secondary levels that includes free textbooks and instructional materials, construction and rehabilitation of school buildings, regular payment of teachers' salaries, training and retraining of teachers, promotion of staff as and when due and construction of world-class model schools across the three senatorial districts of the state," he said.
Editor-in-Chief/Chairman, THISDAY Newspapers, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, who is also the President, Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) who moderated the event, announced a cash reward of N2 million to each of the 15 teachers that were honoured .
He explained that Ogun State was chosen to host the event for relative safety, adding: "It is a safe haven and the governor must be doing wonderfully well in that."
He urged all stakeholders, including the government, to pay more attention to education as "education is key to Nigeria's salvation and we should raise the bar of education in the country."
The 15 teachers who were honoured by THISDAY are: Primary school teachers - Mrs. Victoria Jolayemi, Mrs. Dorothy Ugwu, and Mrs. Christie Ade-Ajayi; secondary school teachers - Rev. Father Angus Fraser, Chief D.B.E. Ossai, Mr. Yakubu S. Dimka, Chief Reuben Majekodunmi, Chief Dotun Oyewole, Mr. John O.B. Adeaga, Bawa Mohammed Faskari, and Hadiza Thani Mohammed; university lecturers - Prof. Iya Abubakar, Prof. Frank Ugiomoh, Prof. Michael Obadan, and Prof. Eunice Nkiruka Uzodike.
In addition to Otudeko, Okogie and Musa, others who received the Life-time Achievement Award were: Osile Oke-Ona Egba, Oba Adedapo Tejuosho; deposed Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki; renowned musicologist, Prof. Laz Ekwueme; a leading entrepreneur, Alhaji Rasaq Akanni Okoya, and Chairman, Chi Nigeria Limited, Mr. C. G. Vink.
A civil war hero, Maj.-Gen. Mohammed Shuwa, who was killed in November 2012 by gunmen in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, was conferred with a posthumous life-time achievement award.
Also, Amosun received an award from THISDAY for his investment in education while his Delta State counterpart, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, was honoured for paying handsome salaries to teachers and for investment in nursery education.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has commended THISDAY for its initiative in honouring teachers.
The NLC in a statement by its Deputy President, Comrade Issa Aremu, lauded the organisation for "dedicating this year's award to labour and in particular the Nigerian teachers in recognition of the critical role of teachers in human capital formation and the socio-cultural and economic advancement of the country.
"THISDAY award commendably compliments the Presidential Merit Award for Teachers and also make the point that awards are not class bound and that dignity of labour is not divisible."
Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Sheriff Balogun, Uche Nnaike and Funmi Ogundare