MargeeEnsign is the President of the American University of Nigeria, AUN Yola,Adamawa state. In an interactive sessionwith a group of Journalists in her office recently, she spoke passionatelyabout Nigeria, about the founder of the University, Atiku Abubakar and thepeople of Yola and Adamawa state in general. She was of the opinion that investing in Agriculture and embarking onfree education and free healthcare and embracing information technology couldmake Nigeria great again. Editor, NationalTrail, Aaron OSSAI was there and brings you the details.
Ma,what have you to say about the founder of the American University of Nigeria,AUN, Atiku Abubakar as he celebrates his 70th birthday?
Let’s quickly talk about our founders day, this isour loving founders day, everyone is special, this is a little most specialbecause we are also honouring and celebrating the founders birthday.
The founders day is really about the principles thatwe believe in and that he established when the university was built in 2004 andas excellence integrity and services, so today our speakers, the people wehonour, we start with our honest students, excellence and integrity, we give anumber of awards to staff, we give the community service awards for the groupthat are outstanding most in the community, today we have a very specialsurprise for all of you.
We’ve lived through a hard time here, with thisinsurgency and while it rescinded, I will say, we haven’t, we may say love whenthe insurgency ended, they left behind tens of thousands of young childrenalone, and first was the boys we noticed and then last year, the girls. For ayear this university has been feeding and teaching them how to read, about 450children in addition to all of our other work, and it’s been done on the hingestring, with contributions certainly from His Excellency, but many people atAUN, the teachers have been teaching without their salaries, students have beentutoring without a salary.
Something miraculous happened this week, almost 400of them, when I get the exact numbers, I will give it to you as I speak, wetested just to see how we are doing and many of them, 185 are undergoing school,some of them as far as grade 4, so what has been a sense, we graduate themtoday from Feed and Read and it will be a pretty emotional moment, because theyare very poor children, most of them orphans, they are here today, they alreadyhave the certificate but the women who make our bags, creating with treads andwaste to wealth, they will get one of those who raised enough to get themschool fees to move on. So for us that kind of represent what a development theuniversity is supposed to do, so we can’t think of a better way to honour HisExcellency, when at one point in his life was probably like one of thosechildren on the street and look how far he has come. We did a food distribution,as we did, there were over 50,000 hungry people and at one point, he grabbed achild and said, you can be anything, you can do anything and so he believesthat and we believe it too, so expect a few tears today (laugh), so it’s a specialFounders Day, it is always a special moment and I think this one may be themost because, if you look at the data for our philanthropy and our education,he is on top ten thousand around the world, he doesn’t talked about it, hedoesn’t bragged, he doesn’t run commercials on TV, saying I am doing all ofthese, but behind the scenes, he is one of the major philanthropists,contributors to higher education in the world, so today we will honour him inany way we can and thank him.
Doyou have any other programmes on going like the Feed and Read Programme?
Oh we have so many, we have tailor, technologyenhanced learning for all, which is reaching 22,000 out of school children, notthese poorest of the poor in Feed and Read, but children who are still not ableto return to school yet because of the insurgency. We have Peace street sportsthat reached almost 10,000 youths not just in Yola now, but in Mubi, inMichika, all over Adamawa, that’s how we kept youths together, Christians andMuslims children play together on unity team, for basketball, volleyball, wehave so many different projects going on within the community, many funded now.Feed and Read started with the Irish government, tailor is my government (theUS), so slowly, external donors are coming in to support some of our work.Thank you!
When you leave here, you must go to the hotelafterwards because you know, we are doing a ribbon cutting ceremony at thehotel, we’ve just added on a restaurant, a coffee shop, if you can’t find me,that is where I will be hiding, a launch and a gym and a training area. So thefounder will cut the ribbon there and we gonna walk in, we will do something verycrazy may be media people will appreciate this. We took pictures of thesechildren in Feed and Read, and this is how we see them right, and then we gave40 of the boys cameras and say tell us what your day is like and is profound tosee how they see the world, it’s important that this made them a little happy,the fact that they are growing food, holding their little sisters, so that exhibitionis there and the founders media team, he is going to be asking everyone tobetter contribute to the IDPs, so his media team is contributing right there ashe walks into the restaurant for a family dinner, they are going to do acontribution first, go see the photo exhibit, it’s really amazing and I thinkyou can appreciate it, because we think we know how people see the world andwhen you see through their eyes, it’s really quite different.
Ma,talking about your experiencing life here in Adamawa and at AUN and especiallythe interactions you’ve had with Adamawa Peace Initiative, what impression doyou have now about what you use to think of Adamawa , the insurgency that hasbeen in the North and what you have seen to be the real nature of the people …