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Letter to young Nigerians: Facing the new decade Part 1

Every citadel of learning derives its claim to greatness from the reputation and accomplishments of its students and staff: the great academics and scholars to whom has been given the enormous task of instructing, guiding and inspiring the minds and talents that are destined to define the future. Your task is possibly the noblest anyone could ask for, yet often without great reward or even gratitude. But we thank you today for your great and priceless service to this and coming generations.

It is most pleasing to learn that the proverbial seed planted less than a decade ago, the Federal University, Dutse, has not only produced four sets of graduates already and tomorrow by the grace of God, a fifth set, but has also grown so bounteously to now have over 7,000 students spread across 6 faculties, including a College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Yours is the first among the set of Universities set up by the Federal Government in 2011 to establish a College of Medicine and Health Sciences. Congratulations! Equally remarkable are reports of the great exploits being recorded by the University in many fields that amply validate the promise of the fruitful synergy between town and gown. Let me cite just two such examples, in recognition of your relevant and innovative research efforts. First is the Federal Ministry of Agriculture selected your University to host the Agribusiness Incubation Centres.

The second has been your response to the security challenges besetting our nation today, you elected to express a shared commitment to the national search for solution by being the first among your peers to mount a programme on Criminology and Security Studies, thereby demonstrating your relevance and proving that the university should not just be an incubator of ideas, but also a solution provider. Congratulations on these sterling achievements. And to the students of this university, and especially the graduating class of 2019, let me just say congratulations and well done! The future is certainly very bright indeed. Madam Vice Chancellor, my lecture titled “Facing the New Decade”, a topic you graciously allowed me to choose, is really directed at the young men and women here in this arena today. I count myself among those young men and women and I hope that those of us who are here also see ourselves as young men and women. The reason why this is addressed to the young people here is first, the young men and women, students of this University, are the future of our country.

Secondly, that future has already arrived at our doorsteps, perhaps much faster than we expected. For the next few minutes permit me to take you on a brief journey into this imminent future, how it will affect us all and my humble suggestions about what you may need to do to make the best of it. Let me begin by making a few general statements and perhaps some predictions. First is that the next few decades will present tremendous opportunities for getting well-paying jobs and lucrative entrepreneurship opportunities all over the world. Anyone will be able to access many of those jobs without even having to move from your own country, in some cases even without leaving your home

There will be a truly international market place of ideas, talents and opportunities, but to access that market place, you need to become, in many senses, a global citizen by your own effort. Self-education and self-development will be important.

Second, technology in its various iterations and applications will be crucial in all and every aspect of human existence. The greater our access to technology, our adaptation and application of the ideas we have, the more successful we are likely to be. The third is that we are today in the most advanced moment in human history, and on a daily basis, knowledge and its applications grow in leaps and bounds. For the first time in human history, anyone of us can be heard or seen all over the world by live-streaming without owning our own satellite TV station. We can share ideas with millions of people in seconds on Facebook or Instagram.

It was Arthur Clarke, the British Science Fiction writer, who said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is not different anymore from magic.” If you follow some of the trends in technology over the past years in particular, much of his statement appears true, as the coming years look set to be one of the most spectacular magic shows ever. Last year, DeepMind, which is a learning outfit, announced that one of its healthcare algorithms could detect over 50 eye diseases as accurately as a trained doctor. Only recently, we witnessed the trial run of an Artificial Intelligence, AI, a newsreader on the Chinese Xinhua News station, and the unveiling of a digital assistant that can mimic the voice of humans with uncanny likeness. It is called ‘Google Duplex’. There are provinces in China that are now trying out AI teachers in remote villages where graduates and young people are not likely to stay. In 2018, there was a world-first recording of an Artificial Intelligence system engaged in a two-way debate with a human opponent!

The fourth and perhaps the most important point I wish to make today is that the abundance of natural resources such as we have in Nigeria, oil and several minerals, even talents, mean little or nothing unless we are able to creatively and by using innovation and adding value, add to whatever it is that we have in terms of talent or resources. Let me put it differently, the difference between poverty and wealth or mediocrity and high achievement is creativity, or the capacity and willingness to add value.

This is the reason why Apple, manufacturers of the iPhone and iPad, make more money in four months than Nigeria earns from oil in one year. Apple sells the product of the ingenuity of the human mind, ideas translated to products, services and solutions that millions are prepared to pay for. And because the capacity of the human mind for creativity, generation of ideas and for innovation and invention is limitless, the source of wealth of innovative companies and individuals is literally limitless.

On the other hand, oil drilling and selling, and other extractive activities without adding value by refining and developing a whole petrochemical ecosystem cannot yield optimal profit or create the jobs and wealth. Similarly, the mere fact that you have large tracts of arable land for agriculture does not mean you will succeed in agriculture or become wealthy, or even as a nation, feed yourself. Anybody can plant a seed and expect a harvest, but the reason why most farmers, our subsistent farmers, remain relatively poor is that they add no value to what they produce by processing, packaging or making other products out of the raw harvest. And also, because many times they do not have access to cutting-edge innovations and inventions in farm inputs and farming techniques. Those who can add value to the farmers’ harvest become wealthier than the farmer. So the growers of the raw materials are the weakest in the value chain and the poorest.

-Yemi Osibanjo

Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria

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