Category Archives: Africa and Nigeria

Presentation of Nigerian Higher Education Foundation’s Integrity Award

On September 30, 2015, Jonathan Fanton attended the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) Awards Gala, where he awarded the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega. Professor Jega is the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria. He received the NHEF Integrity Award for his role in preserving the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic process.

 I am delighted to be here with you today as we celebrate the past and future accomplishments of NHEF and recognize its generous supporters who have contributed to the progress of Nigeria. It is indeed a special honor and pleasure this evening to present the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC).

Fifteen years ago, as President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I chose Nigeria as the country to focus on as part of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. It was an initiative by the MacArthur Foundation in partnership with three other foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie—based on the fact that we all believed that education was critical for Africa’s renaissance.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development. Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities? The reverse is also true, as we know all too well. Authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades. It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day. There are many building blocks, but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education. This seems to be undeniable. For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

MacArthur selected four Nigerian universities upon which to focus our work: Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Ahmadu Bello, and Bayero University. We stayed with these universities based on three qualities of their Vice-Chancellors: vison, leadership, and integrity. Our awardee tonight, Professor Attahiru Jega, was the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University. I got to know him and work closely with him during his tenure. He demonstrated all three qualities then and, subsequently, in his role as the overseer of Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections.

Two years ago when NHEF was kind enough to honor me, I said in my acceptance speech:

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over. Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage. A Nigeria who fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

Let me say here how proud I am of my friend, Vice Chancellor Jega of Bayero, who has taken on the challenge of leading the Independent National Election Commission. Next year’s elections are critical to Nigeria’s future: they must be—and be seen to be—fair and clean. Ordinary citizens will engage more vigorously in building their country if they have faith that the government is of, by, and for the people.

As all of you in the audience know, Nigeria went through a remarkable democratic transition earlier this year, with the election of President Buhari and the peaceful transition of power from President Jonathan. The underpinning of this transition was a robust and transparent electoral process, one that was widely accepted as open and fair.

The key architect of this electoral process is today’s awardee, Professor Attahiru Jega. In his role as Chairman of INEC, Professor Jega laid out the roadmap for the elections as early as 2010, put in place an enormous infrastructure of biometric and polling stations, and oversaw vote counting and tallying. Professor Jega showed outstanding integrity in the face of tremendous political pressure to make sure there was no interference in the process, and to ensure that votes were tallied correctly. Most importantly, his calm leadership under pressure when votes were being announced ensured peace and stability.

For these reasons and more, I am delighted to present the NHEF Integrity Award to a dear friend and a remarkable individual, Professor Attahiru Jega.

Remarks for the King Baudouin Foundation

On May 13, 2013 Jonathan Fanton delivered a set of opening remarks to the King Baudouin Foundation, which supports initiatives across the globe aimed at improving living conditions and quality of life for different populations. Here, Dr. Fanton discusses successful strategic planning and fundraising strategies of universities.

Jonathan F. Fanton
King Baudouin Foundation
May 13, 2013

Let me begin by thanking Jean Paul Warmoes for the opportunity to talk with you about the role of strategic planning in fund raising success. I am especially pleased to see colleagues from Nigeria where MacArthur has invested $60 million in strengthening higher education. I have visited Bayero, Ibadan and Port Harcourt many times, indeed am an honorary alumnus of Bayero and Ibadan.

I have seen the planning – fund raising nexus from both sides. In the 1970s I ran Yale’s large capital campaign in a turn around year. I was Vice President for Planning at the University of Chicago. And President of the New School for Social Research for 17 years when fund raising was a matter of survival.

I say both sides because I spent 30 years raising money for universities and 10 years granting money to universities. Let me give you a little background on the MacArthur Foundation. It works in the US and 60 countries around the world granting on average about $200 million a year, much of it to universities. Its focus in the US is urban renewal, affordable housing, juvenile justice reform and how technology is impacting the education of young people. It has offices in Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and India. Outside the US it works in population and reproductive health, conservation, human rights and international justice, peace and security, and migration and mobility. In Russia and Nigeria it seeks to strengthen higher education and research.

MacArthur’s Nigeria work was part of a Partnership for Higher Education in Africa with the Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon, Hewlett and Kresge foundations that together invested $440 million in nine countries over 10 years – South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya, Egypt and Ghana.

MacArthur’s strategy was to work with four universities as models to show that wise investments could bring measureable improvement. Bayero University, Kano, Amadu Bello University, the University of Ibadan and Port Harcourt University were our choices. When the Vice Chancellors gathered in Chicago to inaugurate the program, I said this:

“Our interest in higher education proceeds from a simple faith that an independent scholarly community supported by strong universities goes hand in hand with a healthy, stable democracy. In fact, I do not think there is an example of a democratic society without strong and independent universities. And we know only too well the reverse is also true: anti-democratic regimes cannot tolerate academic freedom.

Of course we care about universities not just for their contribution to building a healthy democratic process. Universities are the source of good policy advice essential to rebuilding the economy, of scientific and technological discoveries in health and other fields, of trained personnel to staff the legal system, businesses, municipal governments, environmental agencies, and all the rest. …

We know there is a lot to do to bring your universities to its full potential — to make them the best they can be. But that is our goal  — to help you achieve selective excellence, not incremental coping through a steady stream of compromises and rationalizations. … I am a firm believer that ambitious goals can be easier to achieve than modest ones.”

By ambitious goals I meant a long term vision for the university. That is the critical starting point for a strategic plan which in turn is essential to a successful fund raising effort. Donors, be they local or international, private foundations, corporations, government agencies or individual favor a university with a clear vision, a comprehensive strategic plan backed up with specific timetables for implementation and a budget indicating where donated funds will be invested.

MacArthur asked each university for their strategic vision. Common to all was strengthening information technology. But there were particular needs for each, rebuilding the Sciences at ABU, starting a gas and petroleum engineering program at Port Harcourt, establishing a faculty of Agriculture at Bayero, developing a distance learning capability at Ibadan.

And we encouraged all universities to both increase and diversify their sources of support. As I said at the ABU convocation in 2004, “… governments should (not) be the sole source of funds. After all, a government strong enough to give a university everything it has, is also powerful enough to deprive the university of everything it is. Dependence is the enemy of intellectual freedom … that is why public universities in most countries try to maintain a degree of autonomy by diversifying their sources of funding.”

You will hear later in this program from Robert Kissane, president of a premier consulting firm, CCS, which, with MacArthur support, worked with alumni and leadership of four universities to create a fund raising plan, prepare a case statement, organize alumni, build a prospect list of foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals. You will also hear from Wale Adeosun, President of the Nigeria Higher Election Foundation, which MacArthur created to receive tax efficient donations in the US.

Looking back on MacArthur’s work in Nigeria, I wish we had invested more in the strategic planning process, perhaps made a consultant expert in strategic planning available as a partner to the fund raising consultant. I was reading a piece about strategic planning the other day authored by Anthony Knerr, one such consultant.

Dr. Knerr is Managing Director of AKA|Strategy, a strategy consulting firm that has assisted a wide variety of leading universities and colleges and other nonprofit institutions in the US, Europe and beyond.

He is very clear about the planning-fundraising connection when he wrote:
“Successful fundraising depends upon clear strategy. Those organizations that have gone through the difficult work of thinking through their mission, aspirations and objectives have the best shot at raising significant philanthropic resources. Those institutions that have not done so lack a compelling rationale to discuss with prospective donors, may raise money for the wrong purposes and are likely to underachieve their financial targets, possibly significantly so.”

He cites several “critical ingredients” for a successful strategic plan.

First, the planning process matters and must reflect the culture of an institution and its moment in history. In a complex university that process might start by having each Faculty or School prepare a plan to be reviewed and integrated by a university-wide Planning Committee. The Committees at both the Faculty and University level should be representative and must have a strong chair approved by the deans and President. And the process should engage the entire university community, Board, faculty, administrative leaders, students and alumni.

Second, I have already mentioned the importance of thinking big, setting forth a compelling overall vision and clear statement of mission. That mission should connect to the economic, political and social progress of the nation. In some situations, it may be useful for the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor to set forth a mission statement as an hypothesis to be tested by the Planning Committee.

Third, the planning process must focus on the key issues and opportunities and not get diverted by trying to address every question large and small. Plans that are driven by positive possibilities will be more inspiring that those that are
dominated by problems. What are the university’s comparative advantages? What makes it different? are key questions.

Fourth, the planning process should be evidence based, the product of rigorous analysis, that draws on data. Get the thinking straight and leave to a second stage the communications plan, the lofty sales rhetoric.

Fifth, I think it is useful to have a clearly set schedule for developing the plan, dates for the individual school and faculty plans and for a draft of the university-wide integrated plan. There should be room for open debate within the committees and time to seek additional information. And while opinions will differ on this point, when possible I favor a series of public discussions about the draft and time to make adjustments based on what is learned.

Sixth, Anthony Knerr recommends, and I agree, that the document coming out of the process, in his words “should be concise, crisp and big picture …. (including) the organization’s mission and vision; delineate four to five key strategic objectives with underlying goals for each objective, lay out means of measuring progress … and provide an implementation plan, and often, a financial plan in an appendix.”

Seventh and last, we all know of plans that are well done but sit on the shelf, unimplemented. Sometimes that reflects an out of touch process where the substance of the recommendation doesn’t fit the reality. Sometimes it means the process was not politically sensitive, even divisive. More often it is due to the absence of an implementation plan driven by the university leadership team – President, Vice Chancellors and Deans.

To make the plan real for members of the university community, and potential donors, I recommend a Quick Start Fund : a set of visible improvements for what money can be raised quickly. These improvements should bring benefits to the university community that will be felt and appreciated, lift morale, create a buzz that the university is on the move.

Leadership needs to identify a list of such giving opportunities before the strategic plan is complete and have some money lined up in advance. Indeed building the development staff and large prospect list and cultivation of the prospects should be underway even before the planning process is complete.

The overall plan will most likely cover a 5 year period. The quick start fund should be the first 12-18 months and build confidence that the overall plan is doable.

Let me conclude where I began. Every institution is different. Each of your country contexts is distinctive. There are no magic formulas that fit all circumstances. I have tried to offer some suggestions to get you thinking. Some may make sense to you, some may not.

With all that said, I am convinced that most international donors, foundations, corporations, development agencies, will look favorably on institutions that have a clear mission statement and a robust strategic plan. This is not a field of dreams, “Build it and they will come.” The strategic plan is a starting point, the raw material that trustees, alumni, development staff need to launch and execute a successful fund raising campaign.

Let me end with a passage from my ABU Convocation – in which I quoted Nelson Mandela who said:
“In the history of nations, generations have made their mark through their
acumen in appreciating critical turning points and, with determination and
creativity, seizing the moment. A new and better life will be achieved only
if we shed the temptation to proceed casually along the road — only if we
take the opportunities that beckon.”

Amidst the many perils of this moment, opportunities also beckon. I urge
you, therefore, not to proceed casually along the road but rather to seize
those opportunities: to build on the remarkable progress you have already
made; to remember that a university embarked on an upward path must
keep climbing to avoid the temptations and traps that might cause you
to stumble; and to go forward as a true community with each member
dedicated to the success of all, and all committed to the success of each.

That might be said of the spirit in this room. Let us hope that history will record that this conference was a turning point through which private fundraising across the continent of Africa took a major step forward. Our collective goal is a change in culture, within universities where all faculties step forward to help raise funds, in national culture where tax laws should incent private giving which is honored by society, and among international donors who have strengthened confidence that investment in African universities will be well used and bring results – for stronger universities which contribute to economic and social development and advance our quest for just, humane, democratic societies at peace.

Nigeria Report 2012: Still Cautiously Optimistic

Nigeria 2012: Still Cautiously Optimistic
Jonathan F. Fanton  — November 2012

In November 2012, Jonathan Fanton visited to Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria to commemorate the school’s 50th Anniversary Convocation and help dedicate a new Data Center. During his stay, Dr. Fanton discussed the state of higher education in Nigeria, as well as the country’s commitment to human rights advances and its political leadership. Below is his report on activities from the trip.


Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria invited me to its 50th Anniversary Convocation to dedicate a Data Network Center.  ABU is one of four universities MacArthur has supported in Nigeria for over a decade.  This was my fifth visit to the University, which awarded me an honorary degree in 2004.

Even though the Convocation occurred during Thanksgiving I agreed to participate because of my deep commitment to Nigeria and its universities.  I gave due consideration to security issues in light of the Boko Haram suicide attacks but decided the benefits outweighed the risks.  Fewer foreign visitors venture into Northern Nigeria these days so my presence was especially welcomed.  One NGO leader said he has been using my visit to encourage other Western donors to come to Northern Nigeria.

While in Nigeria my long-time colleague and friend, Kole Shettima, Director of MacArthur’s Nigeria Office, organized several interesting meetings, reunions with NGO leaders and former government officials with whom I have worked over the years.1  In the human rights and democracy building fields I met with Clement Nwanko, Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, Innocent Chukwuma, Director of CLEEN (and newly appointed Ford Foundation Director for West Africa), Emma Ezeazu of the Alliance for Credible Elections, and Saudatu Mahdi, Director of WRAPA.

I met with former Attorney General Akin Olujinmi and his former deputy Yemi Akin George, Former Chief Justice Uwais who chaired the Election Reform Commission.  I also met with the senior staff of the National Human Rights Commission and Attahiru Jega, Chair of the Independent National Election Commission. 2

To get an overview of the state of higher education I met with Julius Okojie, head of the National Universities Commission, A. O. Adigun, Deputy Executive Director of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, and Dr. Aminu Ibrahim, Director of the ICT Forum.

At ABU I met with the Director of three MacArthur supported Centers of Excellence, the Vice Chancellor of ABU and the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano.

ABU 50th Anniversary

ABU is one of Nigeria’s leading universities, one of the flagship institutions in the North.  It enrolls 40,000 students, has over 2,200 academic staff and offers degrees in 87 departments across 12 different schools.  Like all Nigerian universities it fell into disrepair during military rule.  MacArthur played an important role in its revival through thirteen grants worth about $10 million.  Among the MacArthur initiatives:

  • Building the fiber optic backbone opening the way to modern computer centers.
  • A revolving fund through which over 1,000 academic staff purchased personal computers.
  • A significant investment in laboratory equipment for classrooms and a central research laboratory for advanced faculty research.
  • Strengthening the central library with journal subscriptions and digitizing the catalogues.
  • Funds to enable 125 faculty members to finish their terminal degree, many abroad.
  • The establishment of three Centers of Excellence, Rural Finance and Entrepreneurship, Development Communication, Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health.

I was pleased that our role was recognized with a Vice Chancellor’s merit award at the 50th Anniversary Convocation.  And that President Goodluck Jonathan singled MacArthur out for praise in his keynote address, delivered by Vice President Nnamadi Sambo.

MacArthur also helped strengthen the University’s alumni and development office so the University is now ready to launch a $312.5 Million capital campaign.

The Convocation came in two parts, both held outside in the main stadium.  Friday featured the undergraduate degrees and Saturday the post-graduate degrees.  Saturday was the main event of the 50th anniversary.  The pageantry had an English look to it but the feeling and exuberance were distinctly Nigerian.  As I sat between the Chief Protestant Chaplin and the Chief Imam and embraced the massive crowd of faculty, students and their families, I felt very much at home.  As I looked over the thousands of people present I noticed only two other white people, a change from when I first came to the University.  But I did not feel different or out of place or, except for that one moment, think about race.

My tour of the campus was very reaffirming.  Laboratories once barren now well equipped, a vibrant computer lab, a state of the art fiber optic network providing fast, reliable internet connections to over 40,000 faculty and students, a Cisco Telepresence system, a library with fully digitized records and a computer center, and more.  Most touching were the faculty who stopped us on the street to thank MacArthur for providing support to finish their terminal degrees or to buy a personal computer.

The meeting with the three Directors of MacArthur supported Centers of Excellence was reaffirming.  The Centers all speak to strengthening the connection between the University’s curriculum and society’s needs.

The Center for Rural Finance and Entrepreneurship will offer undergraduate, master’s and certificate programs.  Its Director said the central goal is “how to make the market work for the poor.”  When fully operational it will produce one hundred graduates a year.  It already is offering workshops on micro financing and how to revive faltering small businesses.  It is also running pilot projects on rice farming.

The Center for Development Communication is training students to produce materials on best development practices in health and sanitation, conservation, combating lead poisoning, sustainable fisheries among other topics.  It will soon start an on-line graduate program on conflict reporting for journalist with the support the British Aid agency DFID. This year it enrolled fifty-two students (from 150 applications) and for next year there are three hundred applicants. Most applicants to the program are employed by governments, donor agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Graduate Program in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health is offered through the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program. NFELTP aims to improve public health systems in Nigeria through training of field epidemiologists and public health professionals and conducting high-quality research. By offering coursework in veterinary epidemiology, the program also looks at the connection between animal diseases and human health.

We had a good meeting with Abubakar Rasheed, Vice Chancellor of Bayero University where MacArthur has made 11 grants worth $9,535,000.  At Bayero MacArthur has supported a faculty revolving fund for personal computer purchases, fellowships for 75 faculty to finish terminal degrees, and journals for the library.  MacArthur made major investments in a new Computer Center and in a strengthened Department of Agriculture.  Recently MacArthur supported the creation of a Center of Excellence for Research on Dry Land Agriculture which will be dedicated in January 2013. It has already established relations with universities in Egypt, Syria and Israel. The Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives on Agriculture joined our conversation and promised to help the Center to establish linkage with universities in India.  The Vice Chancellor gave us an exciting report of a University on the move with a new School of Medicine that includes allied health and dentistry and nursing.  Agriculture and Engineering are being expanded. All new will be departments of fisheries, food science and forestry.  As the University adds modern disciplines that prepare students to meet Nigeria’s needs, BUK has also started a Center for Shariah Studies.  And while MacArthur has not directly invested in these new initiatives, it did strengthen the technology infrastructure which makes them possible.

I checked in on two other MacArthur projects that serve more than the four universities.  The Committee of Vice Chancellors, which MacArthur support has strengthened, has started an equipment purchasing consortium based on a model MacArthur pioneered with the International Science Foundation.  The idea is to get aggregate orders for scientific equipment to get a favorable price.  As important, this program trains university staff in the best use and maintenance of the equipment.  Under the IFS program, $3.2 million of equipment was purchased for 4 universities in Nigeria.  The CVC will continue the program and expand it to more universities.

The CVC also provides safe space for Vice Chancellors to talk about common problems, offers training workshops for new Vice Chancellors, recommends best practices on issues like standards for outside employment by faculty, and guidance on practical issues like enhancing campus security.  It is also gaining in sophistication about how to use alumni to advocate in Parliament for larger appropriations for higher education.

Another MacArthur project meant to serve many universities is the expansion of the availability of bandwidth and sharing best practices in bandwidth management.  To advance ICT at universities across Nigeria, MacArthur supported an ICT Forum that now has thirty-five full members and many associate members.  It includes federal, state, polytechnic and private universities as well as research centers.  I met with its Director, Dr. Ibrahim Aminu, who told me about workshops the Forum was convening on topics like Internet services, alternative power supplies for ICT, the management of ICT resources.  A recent workshop in Kaduna attracted representatives from fifty-three institutions.  Other workshops are on such topics as e-learning and building local networks like the one in Kaduna linking eighteen institutions.

In addition to MacArthur funds, the Forum is supported by membership dues, consulting fees and recently a grant from Google.

I had time to reflect on MacArthur’s work in higher education at the lengthy Convocations.  I think the Foundation really made a difference, meeting practical needs on the ground, giving hope where there had been resignation, raising aspirations for higher quality and better connections to the needs of Nigeria.
Human Rights

MacArthur has supported 20 human rights organizations over the years focusing on access to justice, police reform and strengthening institutions like the National Human Rights Commission.

Our meeting with the Commission’s senior staff was encouraging as I noted clear improvement compared with five years ago.

A recent amendment to the Act creating the Commission provides direct funding from the Federation Account, no longer filtered through the Ministry of Justice.  Previously the Justice Department appointed – and could remove – members of the Commission.  Now they are appointed by Parliament.  Perhaps most important, decisions of the Commission now have the force of law.

We met with the senior staff of the Commission and were heartened by what we heard: there had been an increase in the number of complaints coming forward to the Commission from 5,000 in 2003 to 40,000 this year. Eighty percent are being resolved.  Domestic violence, child support, police abuse are getting increased attention.  But the Commission staff concedes that more needs to be done to monitor the implementation of its decisions.

The National Action Plan (supported by the Foundation) is under revision. Going forward it will focus on issues such as rights of the disabled, internal displacements, discrimination, religious intolerance and ethnic tension.  A new department of conflict prevention has been added, more field offices are planned (from current eight to thirty-six over time) and human rights officers will be placed in each Ministry.  The Commission hopes to do an annual State of Human Rights report.

Nigeria will be up for a Universal Periodic Review by the Geneva Human Rights Council in 2013.  The Nigeria Commission will use that occasion to push domestication of international protocols such as Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women  to which Nigeria is a signatory.

I talked to several leaders of civil society about the ICC and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights and was pleased to see a clear shift in views about international justice. On previous visits most conversations about the International Criminal Court were negative.  This time I heard support for domesticating the Treaty of Rome, for ratifying the protocol that would give individuals and NGOs in Nigeria direct access to the African Court, and for expanding the mandate of the African Court to criminal matters.

I had a follow-up conversation with Dooter Malu, Principal Legal Officer at the Human Rights Commission, who had interned at the ICTY and the ICC and is a strong supporter of a system of international justice.  He favors extending the jurisdiction of the Regional Court to criminal matters because it has a lower threshold for accepting cases than the ICC and therefore could prosecute offenders who fall below the ICC leadership level.

Dooter had worked on the Kenya post-election violence case which opened his eyes to the fact that election-related violence in Nigeria might become of interest to the ICC.
Both he and MacArthur program officer Goodwin Odo thought the new prosecutor Fatou Bensouda from Gambia offered an opening to rebuild support for the Court in Africa.  Odo also thinks the Habre Case is a golden opportunity for Africa to show the world it can handle high level cases.  He hopes the African Union will form a hybrid panel to move the case, long stalled in Senegal, forward.

Our conversations with Yemi Akin George and Dei AdeKunle, Special Assistant to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General brought encouraging news on justice reform.  There is a draft law on Criminal Justice Administration pending before the Parliament which includes:

  • Alternatives for incarceration for first offenders of non-violent crimes.
  • Better data systems,
  • Required magistrate review of pre-trial detention cases after thirty days,
  • Guidelines for plea bargaining.

George thinks it has a good chance of passing.

One important counter to this trend of improvements are the abuses by the military and police in the effort to contain and root out the Boko Haram group responsible for 275 suspected attacks in 2012 responsible for 815 deaths (roughly 1,500 since 2009). In response, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency and the Nigerian Joint Military Task Force (JTF), which is comprised of police, military, and intelligence officers, have reportedly killed hundreds of members of the public with no known links to the group as “collateral damage.” The JTF has also allegedly burnt homes, stolen money, tortured suspects, publicly executed suspects, and held detainees for months without a trial. Human Rights Watch has called on the ICC to enforce Nigeria’s compliance with the Rome Statue and the Nigerian military to investigate the human rights abuses of its soldiers.3  Daniel Bekele, head of the Africa Division of HRW, has stated: “Nigeria’s government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from violence, but also to respect international human rights law.”

I was not able to piece together a clear picture of Boko Haram.  A common view is that poverty and youth unemployment in the North have been the seed bed for this hydra-headed movement.  And that its origins go back many years, partly religious, partly economic and social.  Most people I talked to believe heavy handed tactics by police and military have escalated the tensions and that political leaders have failed to open up a dialogue.  Some believe that northern politicians have tried to use Boko Haram to discredit Goodluck Jonathan.  Most people I talked with concede there is outside influence from groups like Al Shabab, most evident in training in such tactics as suicide bombings.  But the prevailing view is that the root causes and main actors are local, at least so far.

One thoughtful person said, “there is no one approach – the problem is complex, needs more study and the solution must be a mixture of carrots and sticks.”  Another stressed the need to “address underlying causes – the inability of the state to meet the needs of its citizens, persistent poverty, youth unemployment.”  Still another NGO leader said bluntly, “we can’t defeat the terrorists with force alone.  We need to disaggregate the groups and separate the foreign trained terrorists from the locals acting out of despair.”  Most thought President Jonathan should pay a visit to the Northern states where the trouble is centered and take the lead in opening a dialogue even as he steps up military action.  And he should get a youth jobs program going in the North in a visible way.

I was surprised to see how many people believe the terrorist problem will fade.  We heard of more vigilance by the general population.  And there are organized leadership efforts to promote dialogue.  A new Kano Peace Forum will meet for the first time on December 10th.  Among the members will be the BUK Vice Chancellor, Chair of the Civil Society Forum, a representative of the Crown Prince, three religious leaders, the Army and Police Commanders.  The idea is to have an open conversation which will include the topic of excessive use of force by security personnel which have been counterproductive.

Contrary to my expectations, I did not feel any personal insecurity during my trip. Perhaps I was reassured by the 12 armed soldiers standing behind the VIP section at the Convocation. On the 3.5 hour drive between Abuja and Zaria we passed through many check points. On the return trip Saturday night we passed by a military barracks in Kaduna that was the target of a suicide bomb 12 hours later, a reminder that the security risks are real. And there was another assault on a military prison in Abuja showing us that the terrorists could strike in the capital district.

Just after I left Nigeria, the ICC announced an investigation into the actions of the Boko Haram. Presumably the ICC’s presence in Nigeria will also send a signal to the government that if it uses excessive force in combating the Boko Haram (with increasing civilian casualties) the investigation could be widened to include government action.

There is no question that the government’s inability to curb the tension in the North has undercut Goodluck Jonathan’s popularity.  Virtually everyone I talked to was critical of the President, basically saying he was not up to the job.  As one NGO leader put it, “The President is laid back, narrow minded, captive of a tight inner circle, not in touch with the reality across the country.”  Another told me, “people are depressed about where we are.  The President is not smart, poor at analyzing the issues and just plain weak.”

This is much more negative than I heard on my last trip when Jonathan appeared to be exceeding low expectations.  But it does not surprise me.  I met him in March 2009 when I gave the Yar’Adua lecture in Abuja.  The speakers platform gathered in the “Green Room” for informal conversation before the event, former President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, former President Obasanjo, former Vice President Abubakar and a withdrawn man dressed differently than all the rest.  He sat next to me on the couch but it was not easy to get a conversation going.  Shortly I learned he was Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.  I wrote in my report, “there is skepticism that Jonathan could succeed Yar’Adua were the President to resign for health reasons…he is uncomfortable in the Abuja political environment and does not inspire confidence.”  Mercifully President Yar’Adua arrived and I was rescued from the awkward silence.

Emma Ezeazu of the Alliance for Credible Elections, told me, “the only thing that can save Jonathan is a better performance – but that is unlikely”.  Ezeazu said he needs to move on corruption, go after people named by the Commission he has appointed.  He needs to improve security, make progress in reliable electricity which is the key to economic development, and produce jobs, especially for the youth.

People seem convinced he will run for a second term.  But most think he will first have to fight for the re-nomination within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  where there is significant opposition.  Former President Obasanjo has resigned as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the PDP and publicly criticized Jonathan for being weak on terrorism.  Northern politicians are restive because the PDP had adopted a sectional rotation policy.  After Obasanjo it was meant to be eight years of leadership by a Northerner, Yar’Adua. But when he died Vice President Jonathan from the South succeeded him. Many in the North believe the PDP candidate in 2015 should be from the North.  So there is likely to be a challenge for the nomination.  The Governors of Niger and Katsina states have been mentioned.  Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu gave a rousing speech at the ABU convocation lecture that seemed to me close to a declaration of his candidacy.

Meanwhile the opposition parties, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) are in serious conversation about an alliance.  There is a meeting planned for December 18th that may yield a “manifesto for the opposition parties.” 4  And a recent summit of NGO leaders concluded that they had made a mistake in staying out of politics in 2011, “How can we be bystanders while our country is aflame” one leader asked.

In addition to the leader of the CPC, Buhari, another name often mentioned is Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Speaker of the House, from the ruling PDP. Other names talked about include the Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, who is alleged to be backed by former President Obasanjo and Governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shema.

Over the years I have learned not to handicap Presidential possibilities so early.  Often a late entrant will rise to the top of a party’s ticket.

So one scenario has Jonathan winning a tough PDP primary and, in a weakened state, facing a united opposition.  And then losing the election, forcing the first turnover to an opposition leader in a democratic election since Independence.

A second scenario has Jonathan losing the primary succeeded by a more viable candidate probably from the North, who beats the opposition which may not be as unified with Jonathan out of the running.

There are obviously variants in which Jonathan wins a tough primary and wins a close general election.  Or the opposition prevails over any PDP candidate.

Several people opined that they thought Jonathan would accept the result of the election if he lost which all by itself would give him a place in Nigeria’s history.

In my 2006 report I concluded that the fact – and perception – of a fair election in 2011 was essential to keeping the people’s faith in democracy.  Fortunately, as Justice Uwais put it, “The 2011 election was far better than 2007 and international observers pronounced it free and fair.”  And since then several state governors elections have been good.  Uwais chaired an election reform panel that produced a widely praised set of reforms, 70-80% of which were implemented.

But more remains to be done.  Among the key Uwais recommendations unimplemented are (according to him):

  • Create a commission to judge electoral offenses,
  • Create an independent body to audit party performance,
  • Make it easier for independent candidates to run.

We met with Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, Chair of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) with whom we had worked when he was Vice Chancellor of Bayero University Kano.  By most accounts he has done a good job at INEC restoring public confidence in the agency.  He listed lessons learned from the last elections.

Be patient, listen to complaints and follow-up on every complaint even if the odds are the complaint is not correct.
Logistics require more advanced preparation.  “We underestimated the challenge” he told us.


  • Voter education needs to be continuous, not a burst of activity just before the election.
  • Better staff training is needed for the 450,000 voter registration staff and the 320,000 election monitors.
  • Get more funding and get it early, by next year to prepare for 2015 election.  For the last election INEC got only 60% of the budget it requested.

As for goals for 2015 and forward, Jega told us:

  • INEC should be well established so that fair elections are routine and the institution is not dependent on Jega.
  • Reduction of violence and intimidation.
  • Better turnout, a goal of 65-70% compared with 50-55% in 2011.
  • Develop alternative dispute mechanisms to cut down on post-election litigation.

Emma Ezeazu of the Alliance for Credible Elections set some additional benchmarks.  He agrees with Jega’s list, especially the emphasis on stronger logistics.  But he would give more attention to how parties chose candidates.  He believes the quality of leadership in the country will not improve until all parties put forth stronger candidates chosen through a democratic process.  He believes INEC should have the power to monitor party primaries.  Help should be given to parties to computerize their membership rolls.  He also thinks INEC should publish election results from the precinct level up to encourage public reality testing of the results, including the number of people voting in a locality.  He points out this can be done by INEC without additional laws.

ACE recommends a different procedure for selecting INEC members: have the National Judicial Council nominate three to the President for final selection.  He concludes that “Jega has done well but there will not always be a Jega.  So now is the time to reform INEC.”


As I complete a visit to Nigeria – and a report on the visit – I always push myself for a bottom line assessment: How are things going?  To get ready for that moment I often ask people I have known for some time now, “are you more or less optimistic than when we last met, than you were say five years ago? “  Hear some of the responses.

Emma Ezeazu said, “I am optimistic – we are moving to a more stable democracy.”  Judge Uwais: “I am optimistic about the future of both political reform and the economy.”   Yemi George told me, “I am optimistic about the future.  Democracy has come to stay, the elections are good, reflecting the desire of the people.”

In 2009 I wrote that cleaning up the electoral process was essential to Nigeria’s survival as a nation.  The problems of poverty, inequality, corruption, poor electric supply, are not going away soon.  Expectations will continue to outpace performance.  The only real safety valve is the belief that citizens can choose their leaders, exert some measure of control about their destiny.  In 2006 I concluded, “Time is precious, because every year the underlying foundation for democracy gets stronger more good people get invested in a shared future as hope replaces the disabling forces of cynicism and despair.”

I conclude that the improvements in the electoral system have bought time – years not decades – for there to be real improvement in people’s daily lives.  And it is that hope that reflects itself in the bottom line judgment of the smart people we talked to.  And it is that sentiment that will lead Nigeria to pick a new leader in 2015 capable of uniting the country and moving it forward. So count me among the optimists.

The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation Award Acceptance Speech

On September 23, 2010 Jonathan Fanton accepted an award from The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation and discussed the MacArthur Foundation’s initiatives in the African country. 

NHEF Acceptance Speech

September 23, 2010

I thank the leaders of The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation for this award which I accept on behalf of my colleagues at The MacArthur Foundation, especially Kole Shettima and Raul Davion.  Of the 80 countries around the world where MacArthur works, Nigeria is number one in my heart, the place I visited most often, made the best friends, and care most deeply about.  I love Nigeria and its people and I am optimistic about its future.

I want to congratulate NHEF for organizing a full day of excellent discussions.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be with so many colleagues with whom I have made common cause for over a decade, especially Vice Chancellors Briggs and Bamiro.

A robust system of higher education is essential to realizing our collective ambitions for Nigeria.  And those ambitions bring us together tonight to reaffirm and redouble our commitment to Nigeria’s great universities.

I am proud that MacArthur has so far made grants worth $35million to higher education in Nigeria focused on Ibadan, Bayero, ABU and Uniport.  But we have also helped the whole system through bringing down the costs and improving access to internet bandwidth, making available the JSTOR archive of digital journals to all universities, and helping universities acquire and maintain advanced scientific research equipment.  And we are honored to partner with international companies like Shell and Total local businesses like First Bank and a growing number of alumni.

As a result of our collective efforts, we see new laboratories, libraries, IT Centers, research institutes ready to serve a new generation of students and their teachers who have completed their Ph.D’s at first rate universities at home and abroad.
But these new beginnings need to be nurtured by Nigerians everywhere.  MacArthur started the NHEF to appeal to Nigerians working abroad, especially in the U.S., to give back to their homeland, to invest in its future at this critical juncture.  MacArthur can bear witness that every dollar we have given has been used wisely, has produced results.  It is now time to compliment major donors with a broad based campaign for gifts, large, medium and small, and I hope you will help.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development.  Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities?

For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over.  Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage.  A Nigeria that improves the quality of lives of its citizens can blaze a trail to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.  A democratic Nigeria that respects human rights at home can encourage, perhaps even compel, higher standards in Africa and beyond.  A Nigeria that fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

Let me say here how proud I am of my friend, Vice Chancellor Jega of Bayero, who has taken on the challenge of leading The Independent National Election Commission.  Next year’s elections are critical to Nigeria’s future: they must be – and be seen to be – fair and clean.  Ordinary citizens will engage more vigorously in building their country if they have faith that the government is of, by and for the people.  I believe passionately in Nigeria as it is poised to begin a new era of genuine democracy.

It is said that, “all work that is worth doing, is done in faith”.  Tonight, looking around this room, full of energy and high expectations, I have faith.  I believe, with each of you, that the best years of Nigeria are just over the horizon.  Together, we can each contribute to a future in which knowledge is translated into right actions, and right actions into the creation of a globe that is more just and free than it has ever been.

I have faith that through education, research, and reasoned discourse, we can create a humane world at peace.

Allow me to close by saying:

For all you have done, I salute you.
For all you are doing and will do, I applaud you.

Together we can make a difference.  Let us leave this glorious occasion committed to supporting Nigeria’s great universities.

Introduction to the Panel Discussion

Honorable Minister Chukwu, my distinguished fellow panelists:  It is a pleasure to be here with you all today.  I am delighted to be with my old friend, Professor Nimi Briggs, one of Nigeria’s most outstanding university leaders, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, a leader in transforming Nigeria’s financial situation. And I take special pleasure in sitting on a panel with Dr. Funmi F. Olapade (FOON-me F. OH-la-Fa-dey), winner of one of the MacArthur Fellowships, known as The Genius Grant.  I am pleased that so many of my friends with whom I have made common cause, including Vice Chancellor Bamiro of Ibadand and Ngozi Obonjo Iweala who was a great Minister of Education.

MacArthur has worked in Nigeria since 1989 making grants worth $83 million to over 100 organizations over that period.  Our largest commitment has been to higher education, $33 million, mainly to four institutions that we believe could set the standard of excellence for all Nigerian universities:  Ibadan, Bayero, ABU and Port Harcourt.

Our other work is in human rights and the rule of law and women’s health with a focus on reducing maternal mortality.

We choose higher education because we believe there is a direct link between a strong and independent university system and democracy.  Ask yourself this:  do you know of a strong democracy anywhere that does not have a robust and independent system of higher education?  The reverse is certainly true:  authoritarian regimes do not tolerate intellectual freedom.  As Nigeria advances its transition to democracy, the training of a new generation in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship is essential.

The second reason that we choose higher education as our main focus is the topic of this panel:  the inextricable link between higher education and economic development.

Respected international studies show that university graduates ordinarily earn 50% to 100% more money on the average than a person who stops at secondary school.  Those with degrees are usually employed under better working conditions, helping them enjoy better health, avoid disabling injuries, and live longer.  They are also more able to reason, communicate, plan, organize their lives, and manage their finances.  Their self esteem and confidence are higher than those of other people, their interests broader, and their ambitions greater.

And what is good for the individual is also good for society.

Studies show that a person with more education is likely to pay more in taxes and help increase the productivity of the overall work force.  University graduates also tend to have fewer children, with lower maternal and child mortality rates.  They are able to contribute more to society while needing less from government.  Their children are likely to perform better in school, which means those children are more likely to attend universities themselves and thereby multiply the benefits of a higher education down through the years.

Societies also gain from the research that universities help perform, enriching the economy for all by bringing technological advances to industry, communications, and agriculture.  There are good examples from Nimi’s university, UNIPORT.  The Nigerian film industry, the third largest in the world, Nollywood, is incubated by the Department of Theatre Arts.  Graduates of the Institute of Petroleum Studies are playing a strategic role in the oil industry.  And the Malaria Research Laboratory is poised to make significant contributions to malaria control in Nigeria and Africa.

Elsewhere, Ahmadu Bello University has been designated a W.H.O. center for yellow fever and influenza and made progress in the study of parasitic disease.  It has discovered new more productive varieties of sorghum, maize, cowpeas and cotton.

Ibadan has a partnership with Chicago’s Northwestern University to improve the effectiveness of HIV/Aids prevention services in rural areas. Bayero and Ibadan are offering entrepreneurial training programs so essential to economic development.

I could go on, but you get the point:  University teaching and research are contributing directly to training a new generation of entrepreneurs, skilled personnel for the oil industry, new and more productive crops, and better health outcomes for the population – all essential to realizing Nigeria’s great potential.

So I take great pride when I walk around the campus’ and see MacArthur’s work: a new library and senate building at Port Harcourt, an information technology center at Bayero, a distance learning center at Ibadan and new science labs at ABU.  And I am thrilled to see how the universities have used our support to leverage other funds.  And here, The University of Port Harcourt under Nimi Briggs and Don Baridam, stands out as its capital campaign has raised $25 million from the likes of Shell, First Bank and Bayelsea.

I conclude by saying that I have great confidence in higher education in Nigeria and feel that MacArthur’s money has been well used.  I applaud the NHEF for helping tell this success story to the wider world, particularly here in the U.S.  Let us hope that what has been accomplished will encourage those who love Nigeria to give generously to its universities and for businesses looking for a good investment in Africa’s greatest nation confidence that support for universities will translate directly into economic gains for ordinary Nigerians, but for smart international investors as well.

Universities as Strategic Partners in National Development, University of Port Harcourt Convocation Lecture

In May 2010, Jonathan Fanton spoke at the 26th convocation of The University of Port Harcourt.

May 2010 Jonathan F. Fanton, President Emeritas John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, His Royal Highness, Oba Akran of Badagr, the Wheno Aholu, Menu Toyi 1, (OFR).  The Chairman of the Governing Council Dr Dan Shere, Vice-Chancellor Dan Baridam, deputy vice-chancellors, and other principal officers of the university, distinguished guests, eminent faculty, students and friends:  All other protocols observed.

Let me begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor and the Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, for his gracious words of welcome and by expressing my admiration for the strong leadership he is providing for this institution and for higher education in Nigeria.  I also appreciate the kind words of introduction by the University Orator.  Port Harcourt is doubly blessed to have one outstanding leader follow another.  It was my privilege also to work with Professor Nimi Briggs, whose determined vision sparked this University’s renaissance.

To you all, I express my appreciation for your warm welcome.

It is a great pleasure to be back at Port Harcourt and to join you in celebrating the 26th convocation of The University of Port Harcourt, UNIQUE UNIPORT.   The special role of the University is the theme of my remarks today.  I well recall my first visit here in June 2000 as The MacArthur Foundation was considering which universities in Nigeria to support.  Vice Chancellor Nimi Briggs and Professor Mbuk Ebong gave me a full tour including the unfinished library, science labs without equipment, empty fields designated for student dormitories, a computer center and more.  There was no doubt that Port Harcourt, like other universities, had been neglected during years of military rule.

But there was a spirit on this campus that gave me hope that MacArthur’s financial investment would help transform Port Harcourt into a quality university by international standards.  I think back to a meeting with students in the Vice Chancellor’s conference room.  As a former university president, I knew that talking with students was a good reality test.  And so it was.   I heard from students wanting to work in the gas and petroleum industry who were taking courses in labs with no equipment.  They were not complaining, only telling the truth in a mature and thoughtful way.  I was impressed with their spirit, their determination, and their optimism that they would live and work in a better Nigeria.  But to prepare for that future, they needed access to modern laboratories, the internet and faculty trained to international standards.  I came away from that meeting excited by the possibilities at Port Harcourt and convinced that MacArthur should help.  The Foundation made a commitment to the University based on its leadership team, a vision for its future, and its critical importance to the Niger Delta.

The University has used our funds wisely and exceeded our expectations.  I am honored to be here at Vice Chancellor Don Baridam’s final commencement and bear witness to the tremendous improvements on this campus.  He should be justly proud of what has been accomplished here under his outstanding leadership.  His clear vision, high aspirations, practical wisdom, collaborative style, hard work and tenacious pursuit of resources have galvanized our collective financial and spiritual investment in a UNIPORT that is a unique beacon of hope.  Hear his words, “My vision for the University is for it to be ranked one of the best in Africa, renowned for its ground-breaking institutional research, innovation and knowledge transfer.”  Your university is well on its way to meeting that goal.

As I walked around the campus this morning, I saw with my own eyes the most dramatic transformation I have witnessed anywhere.

Among the physical changes I noticed are:

New School of Basic Studies
New Faculty of Management Sciences
New Faculty of Clinical Sciences
New Entrepreneurial Center
New Alumni Hostel
New International Center
New Faculty and Laboratory of Dentistry
New Three Lecture Halls
New Intra-Net Hub
New Senate Building
New Faculty of Social Sciences
New Four Student Hostels
New Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management
New Emerald Energy Center for Petroleum Economics, Policy and Strategic Studies.

The transformation of this campus is truly breathtaking.

We are proud of all this progress made possible by the most sophisticated university advancement program in Nigeria. The Capital Campaign, launched in 2007, has already raised more than $30million and is poised to exceed its $50 million goal.

I recall the critical moment when sights were set high for fundraising.  Egbert Imomoh, then Deputy Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), and I convened a productive meeting at Aristo House that created the Friends of University of Port Harcourt.  That group now includes SPDC,  Schlumberger, Moni Pulo, Chevron Nigeria, Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited (now Total E &P Nigeria Limited), Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG)  and other leading private sector companies, as well private individuals like Dr. Ebitimi Banigo, Mr. Ferdinand Alabraba, and others who support the University generously today.  I am glad that MacArthur could do its part with four grants worth 5 million dollars to help with the campus fiber optic backbone, the new Senate building, automation of library records and fellowships abroad for 37 faculty to complete their Ph.D.’s and enhance their scholarship.

But it is not only in the area of physical infrastructure that I noticed significant changes.  The quality of academic programs has improved dramatically.  Consider the facts:

  • Faculty who have studied abroad have brought home ideas for improvement. I think of Dr. Ekele [A-kay-Kee] who following training at the University of Kwazula Natal, returned to the University’s Surgery Department to set up a new Endoscopy Unit for non-invasive plastic surgery. Another faculty member, Dr. Ilimalo of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology trained at the University of Cape Town and returned to establish the only In-vitro Fertilization unit in the Niger Delta.
  • All your academic programs in the 52 Departments are fully accredited by the National Universities Commission and the professional bodies.
  • Port Harcourt has consistently been ranked by the NUC as among the best universities in Nigeria, often in the top five and number one in 2003.
  • Your university is the second most sought after institution in Nigeria for admission by prospective students.
  • The University’s College of Health Sciences has been judged to be the top program by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
  • The University’s engineering program has placed second at the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ International Conference in Denver, Colorado.
  • Your Malaria Research Laboratory and the Regional Centre for Biotechnology have received support for new equipment from the World Bank as centers of excellence.
  • And with this recognition of enhanced quality, UNIPORT has been sought after for academic partnerships by institutions around the world and here at home.  Some examples: the IFP School in Paris, Doris Duke Institute for Medical Research, The Universities of Pretoria and of Cape Town and two others in South Africa, and in the U.S. with Pittsburg State, Jackson State, and Louisiana State universities.

And, at home:

The University of Maiduguri; The Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the University of Calabar and the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

UNIPORT is unique.  The story of Port Harcourt’s transformation is a model for all of Nigeria higher education.  And as higher education goes, so goes Nigeria.  I want to talk with you about the importance of higher education for Nigeria’s future.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development.  Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities?  The reverse is also true, as we know all too well:  authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades.  It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day.

There are many building blocks but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education.  This seems to me undeniable.  For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over.  Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage.  A Nigeria that improves the quality of lives of its citizens can blaze a trail to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) worldwide. A democratic Nigeria that respects human rights at home can encourage, perhaps even compel, higher standards in Africa and beyond.  A Nigeria that fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

With these aspirations in mind, let us reflect on two basic connections.

The first is between higher education and national development.

The second is between higher education and democracy.

The statement of purpose on the University’s website provides the text for our reflection:

“The academic objectives of the University of Port Harcourt shall be to contribute to national development, self-reliance and unity through the advancement and propagation of knowledge and to use such knowledge for service to the community and humanity”.

There was a time a decade or so ago when experts argued that it was better strategy for developing countries to invest in primary and secondary rather than higher education.  Studies were done purporting to prove in dollars (and naira) that it made more sense to invest in early schooling, even if that meant neglecting colleges and universities.

Fortunately, this is one case where the views of experts have changed. Several years ago, an international Task Force on Higher Education pointed out what should have been obvious, which is that primary and secondary education are essential, but not sufficient, to empower people and nations to compete successfully in the global economy.

Now I certainly agree that as many young children as possible should be taught to read and write and make simple calculations.  Nothing matters more.  But we must be careful not to create a false choice between higher education and learning at lower levels.  We must strive for the right mix between the two.  Chronic problems of poverty, ill health, and illiteracy will not be solved without effective programs from first grade all the way through graduate school.

Let us be clear.  First-rate universities are not a luxury; they are a necessity.  It is essential to spend what it takes to establish and maintain them, because great nations grow from great universities, and Nigeria belongs among the great nations of the world.

But why is higher education so central to development and democracy?  Let me begin with the individual.

The numbers vary from country to country and from year to year but a university graduate ordinarily earns 50% to 100% more money on the average than a person who stops at secondary school.# Those with degrees are usually employed under better working conditions, helping them  enjoy better health, avoid disabling injuries, and live longer. They are also more able to reason, communicate, plan, organize their lives, and manage their finances.  Their self-esteem and confidence are higher than those of other people, their interests broader, and their ambitions greater.

And what is good for the individual is also good for society.

Studies show that a person with more education is likely to pay more in taxes and help increase the productivity of the overall work force.  University graduates also tend to have fewer children, with lower maternal and child mortality rates.  They are able to contribute more to society while needing less from government.  Their children are likely to perform better in school, which means those children are more likely to attend universities themselves and thereby multiply the benefits of a higher education down through the years.

Societies also gain from the research that universities help perform, enriching the economy for all by bringing technological advances to industry, communications, and agriculture. There are good examples here at UNIPORT. The Nigerian film industry, the third largest in the world, Nollywood, is incubated by your Department of Theatre Arts. Graduates of the Institute of Petroleum Studies are playing a strategic role in the oil industry. As foreseen by the Ashby Commission, UNIPORT is leading in meeting the human resource needs of the South-South.  Scholars in your Malaria Research Laboratory are poised to make significant contribution to malaria control in this country and Africa. Your intensive care unit has become a model for others.  The sandwich teacher training program of the Faculty of Education attracts students from across the country because of its quality and flexibility.  And these are just a few examples.

It should come as no surprise that studies show a direct and substantial link between improvements in higher education and a rise in national prosperity and health. Such research – whether in medicine or chemistry or engineering – is essential to helping Nigeria mine its most valuable resource: knowledge. That rare essence is not found in the ground, but in its people.  Rivers State should not only be the Treasure Base of the Nation because of oil but also the source of rich human capital educated and trained at UNIPORT.

I have been talking about how higher education is good for development. Just as important is the role a university can play in building and sustaining a democratic society.

A great university is characterized by the democratic values of fairness, transparency, and wide consultation.  It sets the standard by which all other institutions, public and private, should be judged.  It carries within itself the conscience of a society, keeping alive the vision of what a nation at its best can be.

A university also provides practical lessons.  When students are challenged by their instructors to analyze arguments, look for fallacies, and verify facts, they develop skills in critical thinking that are assets to all citizens in a free society.  So, too, when young people rouse their intellectual curiosity to pursue independent research inspired by their own interests and ideas.

Here at the University of Port Harcourt, students conduct campaigns and hold elections.  They serve on committees and develop proposals for change.  They learn how to build coalitions and count votes.  They interact with each other in ways that encourage civility, embrace complexity, and nurture the skill of knowing when to compromise for the greater good.  These are qualities that ignite democratic progress and that burn away the ignorance and self-absorption of bigoted ideologies.

There is, after all, nothing inherent or inevitable about democracy.  Democratic habits must be learned, which means they must be taught.  To understand how important this is, consider that bigotry, intolerance, and violence may also be learned and taught.  No one is born hating anyone else.  That is something we learn when the educational process is perverted and people are taught not how to think, but what to think — not to seek knowledge but to accept false myths and stereotypes as truth.

The finest universities attract talented students from around the world, from every region of a country, from every ethnic and religious group, providing a venue where differences can be understood and respected, where national identity can be forged through shared ideals not at the expense of the other.

As students become more accustomed to democratic ways, they begin to appreciate the truism that living in freedom is not only about the enjoyment of rights; it is also about the fulfillment of responsibilities.  Democracy appeals to our sense of justice because it dares to assert that legitimacy in government comes from the collective whole, not just the privileged few.  However, this thesis falls apart if citizens do not rise to the challenge by exhibiting restraint, tolerance and sound judgment, based on evidence not ideology – all qualities nurtured at universities like Port Harcourt. Graduates of this University will lead Nigeria’s citizens by the power of your ideals and the inspiration of your example. Indeed the decision by UNIPORT students to contribute to the Capital Campaign through a voluntary levy is a good example of shared governance and responsibility.  Your contribution has assisted in building the Faculty of Management Sciences and Clinical Sciences.

So it is no accident that universities are where the democratic leaders of today and tomorrow are developed.  UNIPORT graduates have been governors, ministers, judges and members of parliament.  Many are leading figures in the military.  And you have produced a Vice-President and an Acting President for Nigeria. I invite you to look around this hall at the students who are present among us today. Now imagine them in a few years, a little older, and perhaps even a bit wiser.  In their hands will be the new Nigeria, one either floundering about in a sea of troubles or, as I believe, confidently guided by their hands and sailing steadily towards a democratic shore.  And on that shore will be a fair and just society with opportunity for all.

As you can tell, I am optimistic about Nigeria and its future, your future.  Optimistic because I have seen with my own eyes, the progress made, not just at universities, but in other fields where MacArthur works, like women’s health and the rule of law. A pilot project in Kano has reduced maternal mortality by 44% and is being brought to other parts of the country by the Ministry of Health. In the human rights area, New Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedural Rules have made access to justice easier and more effective.

But, I am realist, as well as an optimist.  I know there is much more to do, in higher education, in health, in the rule of law, and in improving the standard of life for millions of Nigerians still living in poverty.

I also know that this has been a challenging time with uncertainty about leadership at the national level.  There could hardly be a more difficult test for a young democracy.  But Nigeria is meeting the test: the business of government continues, the economy is weathering a world-wide recession, civil society groups are flourishing — in short, “things have not fallen apart”.

The election next year will be a watershed moment for Nigeria’s young democracy.  It must be – and seen to be – a sharp improvement over the elections of 2007.  Passage of the Electoral Reform Bill now pending before the National Assembly is critical.  And those in leadership must bend every effort to improve the process and call to account those engaging in electoral fraud.

Clean elections are crucial for all democracies, even mature ones in Europe and America.  Nobody should expect perfection in the early years of a democracy.  It took the United States some time to develop a stable party system, abolish slavery, and allow women to vote and more.

But I think it is fair for Nigerians to demand a sharp improvement.  And a sense of progress will be essential to keeping the gap between rising expectations and reality manageable.  Long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville warned of the dangers of rising expectations.

Nigerians are understandably impatient with problems that persist, poverty, corruption, unreliable power supplies, for example.  But building a sustainable democracy depends on the right balance between impatience and patience.  Essential to keeping the balance is confidence that the leaders chosen at all levels really reflect the wishes of the voters.  The people of Nigeria must feel ownership of their government – and share the responsibility for building a fair and prosperous society.

I hope you will not think me presumptuous in making these observations.  I care deeply about Nigeria and its people and I respect the progress that has been made since the return to democracy.  But like many – perhaps most of you – I believe Nigeria is at an inflection point.  The future should be bright given the tremendous human potential in this country, in this hall.  But nothing in history is inevitable.  All of us who care about Nigeria must focus on enabling the bright scenario which, in turn, depends on credible elections next year.

Each of you graduating this year represents hope for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world. I believe passionately in you.  In keeping with Professor Baridam’s vision of making UNIPORT the best in Africa, renowned for its teaching, research, innovation and knowledge-transfer, I believe in your commitment to create a UNIQUE institution that will earn and richly deserve a place of honor in the world.  This University, like all others around the world, needs the continued involvement and financial support of its alumni to reach that goal.

I believe, as well, in Nigeria.  Your country is stronger for the setbacks it has overcome, and wiser for the knowledge it has acquired through adversity.  Nigeria is poised to begin a new era of genuine democracy with a more fully developed sense of itself as one nation, united, independent and free.

It is said that, “all work that is worth doing, is done in faith”.  Today, at this ceremony of clear-sighted remembrance and high expectation, I have faith. I believe, with each of you, that the best years of this University lie ahead, that the best years of this country are just over the horizon. Together, we can each contribute to a future in which knowledge is translated into right actions, and right actions into the creation of a globe that is more just and free than it has ever been. I have faith that through education, research, and reasoned discourse we can create a humane world at peace.

Allow me to close with three brief sentences in admiration of your courage and energy:

For all you have done, I salute you.

For all you are doing and will do, I applaud you.

And for your kindness, patience, and attention here this afternoon, I thank you very much.


For ten years, I was President of the MacArthur Foundation, which is one of the largest private philanthropies in the United States.  MacArthur works in 60 countries around the world in conservation population and reproduction health, peace and security, human rights and international justice.  Nigeria ranks second in MacArthur’s giving outside the U.S. and is the country I visited most often in my time at MacArthur, indeed, this is my third visit in the last 15 months.  And, it is the country that I care most about.

“Investing in the Future of Africa Through Its Universities”

 On September 25, 2005 Weekly Trust Magazine, a national newspaper run out of Abuja, Nigeria published the article below. Written by Jonathan Fanton, it describes recent advances in the higher education system in Africa, with a particular focus on the MacArthur Foundation’s work in Nigeria. 

Investing in the Future of Africa through its Universities

By Jonathan F. Fanton

September 25, 2005

Last week, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the presidents of Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique, and representatives of the continent’s most distinguished universities gathered with six of America’s largest private foundations to celebrate remarkable progress being made in African higher education.

Five years ago, the MacArthur, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations and the Carnegie Corporation of New York joined together to act on their conviction that higher education is essential to economic development and the growth of democracy in Africa.  Seeing momentum for change, we formed the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.  In the last five years, our foundations have provided over $150 million to more than 40 universities and higher education organizations in six African nations, including Nigeria.  Last week, joined by the Hewlett and Mellon Foundations, we recommitted ourselves to this important work. Over the next five years, our six foundations will invest an additional $200 million in Africa’s most promising universities.

As the Secretary General said, “The time is certainly right to re-launch this partnership.  The international community is giving unprecedented attention to Africa’s efforts to realize its potential.  …No single group or institution can meet these urgent needs on its own.  All of us — the Partnership, UNESCO and other UN agencies, and university networks and associations – must work together to support governments and higher education institutions in Africa.”

For the MacArthur Foundation, the decision to focus our investments in Nigeria was an easy one. MacArthur has funded creative individuals and organizations here since 1989, and we have had an office in the country since 1994. We make grants to Nigerian groups working in population and reproductive health, human rights, police reform, and the justice system, as well as higher education. We chose to work with four Nigerian universities showing strong leadership, reform-minded faculties, and a strategic vision for improvement (the Carnegie Corporation is also working with two of them). Our hope is that their progress will encourage other foundations and corporations – as well as government – to invest in the entire system of higher education in Nigeria.

Although many needs remain, the results so far are encouraging:

  • The University of Ibadan is greatly expanding its links with universities in the United States, Europe, and other countries in Africa.  More than 60 staff have completed internships abroad, and thirty international research collaborations are being planned. A multidisciplinary biological research laboratory is being established and equipped with electron and laser microscopes, as well as equipment for molecular biotechnology research.
  • The University of Port Harcourt has forged relationships with private industry to improve its campus. Last year, I toured a new center for information technology funded by Shell Petroleum with hundreds of workstations for teaching and research. And Elf Petroleum Ltd has helped finance a new Institute for Petroleum Studies, which is training a new generation of Nigerians for the country’s oil industry.
  • Bayero University has increased the number of faculty with PhDs, and doubled the number of programs with academic accreditation from the National Universities Commission.  A new Department of Agriculture has state-of-the-art offices, laboratories, classrooms, and equipment; 109 students are currently enrolled.
  • Ahmadu Bello University, known for its science education and research, has used MacArthur funds to equip laboratories in several departments, including Agricultural, Mechanical, Chemical and Civil Engineering, Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry, Pharmaceutical Microbiology, and Drug Development.  Other investments have been made to institute a university-wide strategic planning process.

Each of the four universities has made significant investments in information technology, vastly expanding the numbers of computers on campus and the electronic holdings in their libraries.

Indeed, universities in every country where the partnership is active have made such technology a priority.  For example, the Bandwidth Initiative is a joint effort by 11 universities in six nations to expand the availability of Internet bandwidth sevenfold.  93,000 kilobits per second of bandwidth will be purchased from the satellite service provider Intelsat –increasing capacity by almost 700 percent.  By bundling the demand of several universities, the schools will pay less than one-third of previous costs.  Even more important, students and faculty will be able to access information at speeds approaching those of peers on other continents.

These are only a few examples of the progress being made by universities in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, and Uganda – countries where the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa is active. The gains are heartening, but they are only a start.  We know that to relax, even for a moment, is to slide backward. We believe that the new generation of university leaders and faculty members will accelerate the pace of reform.  And we are confident that new sources of funding from the public and private sectors will continue to grow.

There are many building blocks that comprise a nation—a strong constitution, a well-run legal system, a strong party system, transportation, the right kinds of foreign investment, and more.  All of these depend on leadership educated and trained at high quality universities.

For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity.  For communities, it is the source of common values that can hold a diverse people together.  For nations, education is the source of economic growth.  For citizens who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy, guided by respect for individual dignity and rule of law.

The Partnership’s support for higher education is a pragmatic investment in Africa’s future, helping build African institutions to produce African solutions for Africa’s most profound challenges: poverty, economic development, disease, political stability, and the rule of law.  Africa’s universities—in Nigeria and elsewhere—are cultivating the continent’s most important natural resource: its people.

Jonathan F. Fanton is president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.