Text of The Speech Delivered by the Pro-Chancellor, Senator Gbemisola Ruqayyah Saraki at the Maiden Convocation Ceremony of Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State on Saturday 21, September 2019.

PROTOCOLS.

Graduates, family members and staff, it is indeed an honor to be part of this celebration, the maiden graduation ceremony at Federal University Otuoke, as the Pro-Chancellor of the Governing Council of the University, appointed to oversee its affairs, and such a pleasure to share in the intensity of emotions that fill the air as our graduates close this chapter of their life stories.

For such an august occasion that we are witnessing, permit me to crave your indulgence and your patience in allowing me to address our Visitor and our guests and share with them, our journey thus far that has culminated in our arrival at today’s event. After doing that, again permit me, as a parent, a mother, to directly address our children, the celebrants of today, our graduates, who, without them, we will not be gathered here this morning.

One of the United States Supreme Court Justices, Sonia Sotomayor, once said,

“Education has a more important value than money. It is deeply important to our growth as people and as a community. Education exposes you to what the world has to offer, to the possibilities open to you”

Your Excellency, while my fellow Council Members and I thank you for this privilege to contribute to the development of the educational sector, we assure you that we have been mindful of the arduous task before us, especially that of building and sustaining a University of international standard. Many are the demands of such a duty, which requires not merely a lofty vision, but the will to work tirelessly towards actualizing the vision; and the discipline to carry out the social contract within acceptable codes of conduct. Through it all, our young and future leaders remain the primary focus, the main objective and the priority. Today is their day and we salute them. For our University, today’s convocation is a beginning and also for some of us, an end at the same time.

Universities have two primary missions: to be a place that delivers knowledge and teaches the student how to tackle real-life professional problems, and to deliver graduates who are suitable for the modern industry

Permit me Your Excellency, to recall something you said at the 32nd Convocation of the University of Ilorin in 2016

“Government is uncomfortable that our citadels of learning which should be training grounds for probity; social justice and decorum have become havens for gross indiscipline, cultism, sexual harassment, immorality, indecency, violence, unnecessary demonstrations and all forms of anti-social behaviours”.

When you appointed us Your Excellency, four years ago, we met many of these challenges on ground. The popular adage that Rome was not built in a day encapsulates any new university, and such building must be on a solid ground of transparency, honesty and accountability. Our community at the University have taken this on board, guided by four principles that have brought us to where we are today; these being fairness, efficiency, solidarity and growth.

When pitted against other new Federal Universities, FUO has daunting infrastructural and personnel deficits that are by no means unassailable. However, without boring you with the details, I am pleased to let you know that progress has been achieved in overcoming some of the initial hurdles in terms of manpower and infrastructure. But the weaving of the strands of a progressive University is still far from over. A lot more has to be done to continue to improve the existing Faculties and create new ones that are capable of adequately meeting the challenges of educating our young leaders in today’s tech-driven world.

Your Excellency, in line with our mandate, the Governing Council has recorded some achievements in the areas of strengthening the structure in the institution through diligent oversight functions and reinvigoration of crucial committees. The current Council Appraisal and Promotions Committee has cleared backlog of promotions and paid verifiable arrears. Similarly, Staff Disciplines and Welfare, Project Monitoring and ratification of crucial management decision designed to move the University forward are part of our success stories. But I feel that the greatest achievement of the current Council and Management is the peace, law and order that we now enjoy. Your Excellency, this explains why it is possible for us to witness this maiden convocation ceremony today.

I must say as the Pro-Chancellor that the Governing Council of FOU has enjoyed a rather robust relationship with the University community during my tenure. Based on several complaints received when we came on-board, we had to put in place a Staff Verification Committee in 2017 to look into issues of sustainable staff discipline and welfare. Our findings are diverse and have formed the basis of implementing existing guidelines and actions intended to correct glaring anomalies and instill equity, justice and fairness in the administration and management of the University. This, we believe, is a step in the right direction.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the recent increased demand in student’s admission into FUO is a mark and result of the strengthened effort of the Governing Council and Management in pursuing the realization of the dreams of government policy objectives in bringing tertiary education closer to the communities.

Your Excellency, from the ambience of individual zeal, we have practically put all hands-on deck to steer the ship of this new University out of the woods of underdevelopment and head it to the path of best practices in academia. In this sense however, it must be emphasized that ours is a young University with poor internally generated revenue (IGR) base; we will therefore continue to call on the Federal Government, our major financer, to assist us in sustaining the current socio-political will of taking our University to the Next Level. We sincerely thank President Muhammadu Buhari led FG administration for the level of various interventions in infrastructural development through capital allocation and TEtfund initiatives. This have changed the face of the University completely.

I must seize this opportunity to thank the Honourable Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu and the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, for their patience and support to and for the University. I must have lost a couple of kilos on the staircase of the Ministry!!

A special big thank you must also go to two of my dear Cabinet colleagues, The Honourable Minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola SAN, and the Honourable Minister for Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu for their particular patience with the Governing Council’s incessant requests, which they both matched with assistance to the University, that we enjoy today. On behalf of the University, we also thank the Minister for the Federal Capital Territory and look forward to receiving our allocation letter for land in Abuja to start building our very own Liaison office, thereby making massive savings to the University’s coffers.

Suffice to re-echo the obvious, that there is still the inarguable need to add to the existing infrastructural facilities as well as deepen intellectual capacity development and research in the University.

We call upon corporate entities, good spirited individuals, the general public, the critical stakeholders in the education sector to give massive support to the efforts of improving infrastructural and human capital needs of this University.

And now I turn to the young men and women of the moment, our graduates.

What is a graduation really about? A graduation signifies many things. It indicates progress, growth, and transformation. When you graduate, it means you are a more mature being, who is ready to start a new chapter in life. Graduation is an exciting opportunity to celebrate your accomplishments.

And I say this to the parents, families and loved ones here, I know that feeling and thought that many of you are having right now – you are probably wondering where the years have gone. As you marvel at your sons’ and daughters’ accomplishments, it does not seem that long ago when these young adults we honour today were toddling off to start school. Of course, living through those years between primary school and graduation may have seemed like an eternity for the students, but I am sure many a parent will agree with me, that to us, it still seems just like yesterday.
As graduates, you graduate in a century still in its infancy at a time in history when our world is dealing with enormous challenges and at a time of change, of button reset on our ethics and values as Nigerians, but also at a time when the opportunities created by those challenges have never been greater.

You are technology natives born and educated in a technological world that was only found in science fiction stories when many of us here were in school. You Twitter and tweet, you Snapchat and you WhatsApp, read books and news on line and your electronic social networking has shrunk the known world. You are the generation that will take the technology of today to new and dizzying dimensions. Yet you must recognize the dark side to all these technological advances, in particular social media, the hate that it can spread and does spread; the disunity it creates amongst us and the mistrust it breeds within us.

You are the ones who will bring solutions to environmental concerns global warming, conservation of natural resources, and development of alternative energy sources, the issues that my generation is only now identifying. You are also the ones that will bring solutions to societal inequalities, being the true keepers of your brothers and sisters and finding ways of redistributing wealth, ensuring no man is left by the wayside. Again, you are the ones that will correct the gender inequalities that women like your mothers and sisters have had to endure and fight against in the past, for you recognize that the enormous wealth women contribute within society goes far beyond just giving birth.

So, this morning, you are poised to start a new chapter of your life’s story.

We celebrate with you, the many unique characteristics that you have discovered about yourselves during your time at FUO; characteristics like leadership and caring, artistic talents, athletic skill, academic skills, musical talents, among the many that you have each nurtured and developed over the years.

However, the greatest gift you leave with is the gift of your Education. It is a gift that your parents and families have given to you. It is a gift that some of you gave to yourselves. You understand much of what that means even today and as you leave here and join the world out there, you will develop an even greater appreciation for this gift.

Armed with the skills and knowledge you’ve attained, I can tell you are eager to tackle this next phase, whatever it might be.

As it all comes to an end, many of you graduates face a time of reflection, celebration, and even confusion.

“What’s next?” “What should I do?” “Where do I go from here?”

Whatever direction you take, I guarantee that your world will change as you leave here. And, as a result of whatever it is you choose to do our world will change as result of your contributions, contributions that will be determined by how you follow your dreams and imagination.

While we celebrate your past academic accomplishments and activities today, I want to challenge you to continue your quest for knowledge and to discover your own unique ways to contribute to our society.

The author J. K. Rowling said,

“. . . some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

So, take risks. Set goals. Take the detours that inevitably pop up and learn from them. And most of all, stay true to yourself, true to your God and true to your country.

I felt the joy as I watched you prepare for this ceremony. I saw you straighten each other’s caps and gowns, I saw the hugging, the high five’s – the age-old signals of friendship and caring. I saw your unbridled enthusiasm for what you have accomplished.

So, I challenge you yet again to take that enthusiasm that surrounds you today out into the world with you and use it to obtain your goals.

As you go forward, don’t forget the friends you have made and those that you will make along the way. True friendship is a treasure.

Continue to care – care about yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbour, your community, your state, your country, Nigeria and your world.

The great Winston Churchill said,

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

And, wherever the next chapters in your life story may take you, make sure the journey includes joy, gratitude, service and humility.

And don’t forget service. Service to others, and service for others. There is a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others.

In line with this, as a parting gift to the University community, I would like to lead by example and find happiness. Thus, I hereby establish a scholarship programme for 15 students ( 7 male and 8 female students) who have difficulties paying their fees. Hopefully, this will help the students concentrate on their academics rather than worrying about finances.

And just before I sit down and bore you no further, I would like to sincerely thank you all for my time here in FUO. One of my favourite quotations seem apt to describe how I feel. From Charles Dickens book, Little Dorrit, permit me to quote

“In our course through life we shall meet the people who are coming to meet us, from many strange places and by many strange roads” was the composed reply; “and what it is set to us to do to them, and what it is set to them to do to us, will all be done.”

Invariably fate. Fate that has brought us together, for many reasons that I hope and pray transcends Federal University of Otuoke. As I leave today, I hope the doors of the University are open to me always, as are my own doors to each and every one of you. I thank my brother and friend, the Vice Chancellor, as well as the Management and Staff. Thank you all. And to my fellow Council Members, the bound that we have built, I pray will continue to grow stronger.

In closing, as you step out into the big wide world, www to you graduates, I leave you all with this prayer. May the almighty Allah guide your comings and your goings, protect you in all your endeavours and bless your paths with success.

And to the rest of us, may He grant us all journey mercies back to our respective destinations.

Thank you

SENATOR GBEMISOLA RUQAYYAH SARAKI

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