Address at the 21st Convocation Ceremony (Special) in Paris, France


Your Excellency, Ambassador Geofrey Prewariye,

Nigeria’s Ambassador to France.

Alhaji L.A.K Jimoh, Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Port Harcourt.

Mr. Thierry Desmarest, President of Total.

The President of the Institut Francaise du Petrole.

The Dean, IFP School.

The Managing Director of ELF Petroleum Nigeria Ltd.

Dr Chris A. Tamuno, mni, Registrar and Secretary of Council, the University of Port Harcourt.

Officials of the Family of Total Worldwide.

Officials of the University of Port Harcourt.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Nigeria in Perspective

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my country, Nigeria, is often referred to as the Giant of Africa. To many of you here who have either visited, lived in or have had some dealings with the continent of Africa, from Algeria in the North, to South Africa in the South, or from Senegal in the West to Somalia in the East, that expression may be familiar. We may ask who then is a giant? And for my response, let me rely on the definition given by the New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, International Edition, which states, among others, that a giant is someone of exceptional ability; anything large of its kind.

With a land mass of 924,000 km, Nigeria can be described as having a vast expanse of land. In the area of population, Nigeria’s current head count of about l50, million is by far the largest in Africa, making one in four of every African, a Nigerian. Nigeria has fought for freedom alongside the oppressed globally but especially in Africa and has willingly committed itself, at great human and material expense, to bringing peace to it neighbours. The involvement of Nigeria in the struggle to extricate South Africa from the shackles of the evil regime of apartheid, the gruesome war of liberation in Angola, and the fratricidal armed conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, let alone Nigeria’s frequent economic assistance to its less endowed neighbours and its visibility and leadership role on the African political scene, all serve as ready examples. These, you can say, are the features and actions of a big and towering figure and to these extents; Nigeria can be truly regarded as The Giant of Africa.

However, with a GDP per capita of $875, a gross income per head of $308 and with about 60% of its population living below the poverty line and subsisting on less than one US dollar per day, Nigeria’s economic indices are very unfavourable. Nor can solace be taken in the health indices of the country. With a life expectancy of mere 50.9 years, a cumulative death rate of 13.76/1000, and an infant mortality rate of 70.49 per 1000 live births, Nigeria has some of the worse health indices in the continent of Africa. Accordingly, Nigeria’s Human Development Index is put at 0.463, thus categorising it as a country where the quality of life” is very low and placing it towards the bottom of the Human Development Index list of various countries, not just in Africa, but sadly, in the world. These indeed are not the features of a giant. They probably and more correctly, describe those of a Lilliputian, a dwarf or a midget. It is this paradox of a nation with vast arable and rich land mass and a correspondingly large population of able-bodied men and women that has been unable, over the years, to provide a better quality of life for the generality of its citizens that constitutes Nigeria’s greatest challenge.

Meeting the Challenge through Education

Since the attainment of independence in 1960, the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has sought to meet this challenge of a poorly performing economy, widespread poverty, disease and ignorance, with varying successes. The Nigerian agrarian based economy of the 1960s and early 1970s, with the ripple of massive employment and multiple export products was gradually replaced by a virtually single commodity-based economy when crude oil was discovered in Nigeria. Military incursions into governance on the promise of more responsive and accountable governments left the nation steep in corruption and with a virtual collapse of infrastructure.

However, since 1999 when there was a return to democratic governance and the readmission of the country into the global comity of nations, there has been a renaissance in Nigeria with very strong efforts that are, more determined than ever, being made to tackle the nations many problems and to offer a better quality of life to its people. While not neglecting the exploitative and extractive hydrocarbon industry, stringent efforts are being made to diversify the nation’s economy, especially in the areas of agriculture, including the cultivation of products for domestic consumption and for export, as well as tourism. Technological advancement as a means of job creation and for the furtherance of national development is being pursued with seriousness, while the eradication of corruption is receiving more than the usual lip service. Government has instituted a National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy [NEEDS] which is designed to make a fundamental break with the failures of the past and to lay a solid foundation for sustainable poverty reduction, employment generation, wealth creation, and value reorientation. NEEDS will work by addressing the issue of poverty and inequality, the weak and inappropriate public sector, poor economic management and the hostile environment for public sector growth. It hopes to empower the people of Nigeria, promote private enterprises and change the way government does its work.

Happily, government now realises that investment in education is the key to success in its drive to change the fortunes of the people of Nigeria for the better. Although still grossly inadequate, government has, in recent times, greatly increased its subventions to all segments of the educational sector of the nation. Furthermore, cognisant of the multiplier effect the establishment of universities has on national development, government has recently approved the establishment of many more universities in the country, which now stands at 64, consisting of those owned by the Federal and State governments as well as private individuals and organisations. It is envisaged, that these universities will address themselves not just to the issues of manpower production for national development but also scientific advancement and value re-orientation.

The University Of Port Harcourt

Our university, the University of Port Harcourt is the foremost university in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, the home of the country’s oil and gas industry. It is also a major player amongst tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria. Established by decree in 1977, the university consists of two colleges, eight faculties and five academic/professional institutes. So far, the university has produced graduates who are holding their own satisfactorily in their various endeavours within and outside Nigeria.

In 2000, with the supervision of the Governing Council and Senate, the university launched a new drive that was directed at converting the institution into a,

forward-looking and dynamic institution which is seriously engaged in its calling and is reaching out to its local, as well as, international communities.

Accordingly, the university has aggressively pursued international cooperation and linkages with institutions of higher learning and forged bilateral and mutually beneficial relationships with the private sector, industry, governments and other stake holders in education.

I am pleased to announce that the university has reaped immense dividends, over the years, from this new forward-looking, progressive and determined posture of which our relationship with Total and its subsidiary Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd, serves as a shinning example. For it is this organisation that has to a large extent, sponsored the establishment of the Institute of Petroleum Studies [IPS] at the University of Port Harcourt, under its Sustainable Development Programme.

The Institute of Petroleum Studies of the University of Port Harcourt, in collaboration with the Institute Francaise du Petrol Paris, trains high level manpower for the Nigerian Petroleum and Gas Industry. Both the admission of students, and the conduct of examinations are jointly carried out by staff of the two institutions and on graduation, a certificate that is jointly signed by the two institutions is given to the graduate. What a wonderful cooperation between university and industry! What a wonderful example of cooperation between institutions of learning in different countries.

Encouraged by this phenomenal success of the IPS, the university wishes to press on with its leadership role in education in the Engineering Sciences in Nigeria, especially in Petroleum and Gas Studies. The Senate of the university has approved the establishment of a Petroleum Museum which will serve as a repository of artifacts, information, documents, machines, and everything that is associated with oil and gas. Although the outlook of the proposed museum will be global, its concentration will be Nigerian, where oil was first discovered in a village called Oloibiri, in the Niger Delta region of the country, in 1958. The university also wishes to extend its educational activities to the countries of the Gulf of Guinea under the Gulf of Guinea Commission, which are rapidly assuming some global strategic importance on account of the discovery of large quantities of oil and gas in the area. While thanking Total and its subsidiary Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd., for a wonderful relationship with us so far, I take this opportunity to formally extend an invitation to them to show interest and to collaborate with us in these two important ventures.

Congratulations and Expression of Gratitude

Let me now welcome you all, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to this Convocation Ceremony of the University of Port Harcourt, the 21st in the series, and the first ever to be held outside the premises of the university. Next I wish to congratulate Mr Thierry Desmarest for being found worthy by the Senate of the University of Port Harcourt for the award of the Degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa.

As you receive this honorary degree today and sign the honorary degree register and so become an alumnus, I urge you to associate yourself at all times with the good course of the university.

I thank the IFP school Paris for hosting this event. I also congratulate the institution for the outstanding success that has attended our relationship. May this industry/university relationship continue to flourish and may the friendship between France and Nigeria grow even stronger.

I thank you all for your attention.