On July 20, 1969, the Eagle Lunar Lander, landed in the Sea of Tranquility. Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lander and became the first man in history to set his foot on the moon. As the world listened and watched in fascination and awe, he uttered one of the most famous and profound one-liners in the history of mankind, “That is one small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.” Today we can rephrase that one-liner and declare that today’s event is one small step for this academic community, but a giant leap for education in our country, a giant leap in personal initiative for our state, and more importantly a giant leap for development in Ikot Ekpene Local Government Area.

Ikot Ekpene has been the melting pot not only of our Senatorial District, but the entire Akwa Ibom State. This city of history and industry is the cradle of Akwa Ibom unity and the crucible of Akwa Ibom greatness. Ikot Ekpene was the first place where local government administration was experimented in West Africa. Ikot Ekpene was the birthplace of the famous Ibibio Welfare Union, which knit a historic quilt of ethnic unity and brotherhood. Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District was the architect of the Uncommon Transformation of our dear state. Today I take great joy that this ancient town has risen once again to that billing of being a melting pot: a melting pot for the quest for knowledge. 

 From when Western education arrived our shores, we have had countless graduation ceremonies. But today’s ceremony, which is the first graduation ceremony of this great citadel of learning, is special and unique for two reasons. One, someone planted a seed of hope in a nursery school, when the idea of private universities was an anathema in our country, and today, decades later, he has reaped the fruit in an excellent global university. Let us pay tribute to the genius, perseverance and faith of the proprietor of this great citadel of learning, distinguished Senator Emmanuel Ibok-Essien. 

The second reason today’s event is unique is that a boy who, for the love of education, used to sneak into a nearby school without being admitted there, and who was chased out of the school like a fugitive and injured himself as he ran in the bush from the irate, cane-wielding security men, is the Chancellor addressing this convocation today.

I thank God for those security men who chased me from the school into the bush. They meant it for evil but God turned it to good. Ever since that harrowing experience, it has been my avowed duty and life-long commitment to chase children from the bush to the school. That bush race ignited a fire in me which neither the effluxion of time nor the limitations of resources can quench. As a Governor, that race for my life through the bush was the inspiration behind the free and compulsory education programme established by us. I believe that the ultimate obligation of leadership is to build people, nurture people and give people hope, not build infrastructures only.

I congratulate this great University, particularly the graduating students, on this momentous occasion of Ritman University’s first convocation ceremony. You have done a difficult job well and left indelible footprints in the sands of time. Ritman University’s motto is to teach her students to think and think reflectively. I would resist the temptation to indulge in a definition of reflective thinking. This is because if I define reflective thinking, the experts in that field would fault my definition as not being broad enough or as a layman’s definition; at the same time, the non-experts would not remember it or reference it after today because they see me as a lawyer and not an authority in that area. However, I would tell you a story which lends itself to reflective thinking. 

A boy who was born in an abandoned building, raised by a foster mother, was labeled as “educable mentally handicapped” by educationists. He had a twin brother who was bright and gifted and his schoolmates therefore nicknamed him, “the dumb twin.” One day a teacher asked him to solve a problem on the blackboard and he replied that he could not. The teacher insisted that he could. “But I can’t,” the boy explained sadly with pain in his voice, “I am educable mentally handicapped.” The class laughed. But the teacher walked over to him, looked him right in the eyes and said, “Don’t ever say that again. Someone else’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” That day the boy began to think reflectively. Today that boy, Les Brown, is one of the world’s leading motivational speakers and grosses millions of dollars every year on the speaking circuit. Why? A teacher encouraged him to think reflectively and his most famous line is “You have greatness within you.”

I believe we have lecturers, like that teacher, in Ritman University who would have awakened the giants in our graduating students. I urge our graduating students to always remember that their greatness is within – not without. Stay away from the motley crowd of greedy, selfish individuals who can sell their communities for crumbs from the table of selfish politicians. Do not mortgage your future for porridge like Esau did. You may have been trampled upon, rejected, bruised, humiliated but always remember that a rumpled five hundred Naira note and a mint five hundred Naira note have the same purchasing power. Your circumstances have not diminished your value because your worth is based on what is printed in your heart. You have greatness within you.

Helen Keller was blind and stone deaf but she became one of the one hundred greatest persons of the last century, according to a Time/CNN survey. When she was asked what was worse than being born blind, she retorted, “To have sight and no vision.” You are graduating in this great institution because one man had a vision. You must have a vision for your life and pursue it until it blossoms and provides shelter for others. You have greatness within you.

As Nigerians we need a paradigm shift. The mindsets of many Nigerians need psycho-social re-engineering. Our hope is in our universities to help us in this regard. A system in which everyone thinks of consumption, not production cannot rise to its full potential. A system which sees public service as an avenue for wealth is in a slow-motion suicide and must be rescued by the good people in our midst. If all of us want to share the national cake, pray, who will bake the cake? Who would fetch the flour to bake the cake? Already, diminishing oil reserves and fluctuating oil prices have diminished the size of the cake. Nigeria must rise and respond to President Mohammadu Buhari’s call for all of us to go back to work, cultivate integrity and love our country.

The Ritman University’s pioneer graduates and the rest of the cerebral people in this academic environment must brace up for the challenge of development. They must produce ideas that would change the world. I dare to believe that we can produce another “Albert Einstein” who would re-write and expand our knowledge of the theory of Relativity. I see another “Nicolaus Copernicus” emerge with something just as astounding as a heliocentric model of the solar system. John Dalton who originated the modern theory of atomic elements came in the same package as you. Gregor Mendel, who laid the mathematical foundation of the science of genetics, did not close the door on further discoveries. You have greatness within! Rise up to the challenge!

When I think of Louis Pasteur, one of the founding fathers of medical microbiology, I think of a hypothetical “Okon.” Louis Pasteur’s studies of fermentation of alcohol and souring of milk proved that yeast could reproduce without free oxygen. This quality is called “the Pasteur Effect.” Think about an “Okon Effect.” Pasteur saved the French silk industry through his study of silk-worm diseases. I hope this “Okon” is hearing me so he too can invent something that would save our declining agriculture and revamp our nation’s economy. 

I pay tribute to the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of Ritman University, the ebullient Professor Nsongurua Udombana, who has worked very hard at making this university a high-quality tertiary institution that is uncompromising on standards. Special thanks to the premier Vice Chancellor of this university, Professor Celestine Ntuen, for his zeal and zest that brought us where we are. This Distinguished Professor left a lucrative career in America to build an institution in Ikot Ekpene that stands tall among great universities of the world. I understand that while in the USA, this eminent scholar distinguished himself as a NASA Fellow and consultant, Director of US Army Centre for Battlefield Excellence, and winner of Vice President Al Gore’s productivity award having developed software for army training. No wonder Ritman University is doing so well under his management.

Many thanks to the Board of Trustees, Governing Council, Senate, Staff, Graduating Students and the entire Ritman University Community for a work well done. 

 In a poem titled “Africa, My Africa,” a gallimaufry of patriotism, emotions and love, David Diop tells the story of Africa.  In his conclusion he wonders “Is this your back that is unbent… and never breaks under the weight of humiliation.” But the imagery does not end there, he continues with optimism, “But a grave voice answers me/ Impetuous child that tree, young and strong…that is your Africa springing up.” He could have been talking about Ikot Ekpene. A town which was the first center for the experimentation of local government administration in West Africa. 

A town which hosted the global industrial giants of the early parts of the last century.  A town that had the Control Post constructed a few miles from here to contain restive, never-say-die natives. A city which has lost its shine. But today in this convocation I hear a grave voice speak to me, “Impetuous child, this institution young and strong is Ikot Ekpene springing up to take its place once again in the pantheon of great cities in our nation.” I see this institution rise up as the control post of education in our country.

It is with this hope and faith that I wish you all more success, more prosperity, more strength and grace from the Most High God. You remain dear to my heart.

His Excellency, 

Senator (Dr) Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON

Honourable Minister

Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs,

Federal Republic of Nigeria.