UNN CONVOCATION LECTURE DELIVERED BY OBIAGELI EZEKWESILI ON Thursday, January 24, 2013
I am hugely delighted to return to my alma mater the great and only University of Nigeria to speak at your 42nd convocation. Twenty eight years ago I sat just like you those of you who are part of the graduating Class of 2013; excited by my graduation. It was 1985 and I was very privileged to be one of the then only 3% of our own youthful population that had the opportunity of a university education. Today, you are still fortunate to be one of the yet paltry 4.3% of your own youthful generation with an opportunity for university education. For Nigeria that percentage does not compare favorably with 37.5% for Chile 33.7% for Singapore 28.2% for Malaysia, 16.5% for Brazil and 14.6%. Our lag in tertiary education enrollment is quite revealing and could be interpreted as the basis of the competitiveness gap between the same set of countries and Nigeria. The reason is that “…. tertiary enrollment rate which is the percentage of total enrollment, regardless of age, in post-secondary institutions to the population of people within five years of the age at which students normally graduate high school…….plays an essential role in society, creating new knowledge, transferring knowledge to students and fostering innovation”. The countries with the most highly educated citizens are also some of the wealthiest in the world in a study by the OECD published by the Wall Street Journal last year. The United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Finland, Norway, Israel, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia and also have among the largest GDPs. Norway and Australia, also featured, have the second and sixth-highest GDPs per capita, respectively. All these countries aggressively invest in education.
The same cannot be said of Nigeria. The crawling progress in tertiary education enrollment since my graduation more than two and a half decades ago is therefore one key reason previous peer nations left us behind at the lower rungs of global economic rankings. Economic growth rate and ultimate development of nations are determined by a number of factors that range from sound policies, effective and efficient public and private investments and strong institutions. Economic evidence throughout numerous researches proves that one key variable that determines how fast nations outgrowothers is the speed of accumulation of human capital especially through science and technology education. No wonder these same countries like South Korea of fifty million people has a GDP of$1.12trillion, Brazil of one hundred and ninety six million has $2.48 trillion; Malaysia of twenty eight million people has $278.6Billion; Chile of seventeen million people has $248.59Billion; Singapore of five million people has $318.7 Billion. Meanwhile with our population of 165 million people we make boasts with a GDP of$235.92 Billion- completely way off the mark that we could have produced if we made a better set of development choices.
More dramatic is that this wide gap between these nations and Nigeria was not always the case as some relevant data at the time of our independence reveal. In 1960the GDP of all these countries were not starkly different from that of Nigeria- two were below $200, two were a little above $300 and one was slightly above $500 while that of Nigeria was just about $100. For citizens, these differentials are not mere economic data. Meanwhile by 2011, the range for all five is between Singapore at nearly $50,000, South Korea at $22,000, Malaysia at $10,000, Brazil at $13,000 and Chile at $14,000. Our own paltry $1500income per capita helps drive home the point that we have been left behind many times over by every one of these other countries. How did these nations steer and stir their people to achievesuch outstanding economic performance over the last five decades? There is hardly a basis for comparing the larger population of our citizens clustered within the poverty bracket with the majority citizens of Singapore fortunate to have upper middle income standard of living. Read more