An hour’s flight from Nigeria’s capital, Yola is close to Boko Haram insurgent territory. Atiku Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and former Vice President of Nigeria, is the American University of Nigeria’s founder and main funder. The University adheres to the strictest American academic standards. Many students receive scholarships.
AUN facilities are as spick-and-span as a model American campus. A lot of ingenuity has gone into its construction: for example, the administrative building is made of recycled containers. Waste from textile manufacturing serves as colorful sound-deadening hanging mats. Much of the energy is solar-generated. Equipment includes state-of-the arts video conference equipment, which reduces travel expenses.
Many of AUN’s students are in its business school Ð undergraduates, MBAs, doctoral students. Its dean, Ahmad Hosseini, believes passionately that every sector of Nigeria should be exposed to the concept of entrepreneurship. He has a vision vision of training an “Army of Entrepreneurs in Nigeria”. He started by creating hands-on approaches to teaching entrepreneurship. offering two semester-long entrepreneurship courses. All students, regardless of their area of specialization, are required to take these courses. First-year students are taught a basic introduction to entrepreneurship, and write business plans; during their second semester, student teams receive $5,000 each and launch real-life ventures.
This is how a student team established an on-campus restaurant. I met two students who created a company that insures computers, tablets, and mobile phones against breakage. Dr. Hosseini also helps the community by giving practical advice and mentoring to small businesses in the area such as a grocery, a bakery, an iron works. In January he will take entrepreneurship education to high schools, offering a Youth Entrepreneurship Boot Camp, and persuaded Austin Okere, a charismatic Nigerian entrepreneur and the star keynote speaker of the recent GBSN annual conference in Accra, to come to Yola and motivate students.
While the security situation has been improving somewhat lately, terrorism and counter terrorist bombings have driven over 2 million persons to flee their homes. They are known here as IDPs or “internally displaced persons”. Almost 140,000 of them live in Adamawa, Yola’s small and very poor state. The government doesn’t seem to be doing much to help them, placing the burden of assistance on private efforts. Led by Margee Ensign, its Vice Chancellor, the American University of Nigeria, is working big-time at reducing refugees’ hardships. While it partners with the Adamawa Peace Initiative in feeding some 100,000 refugees, and is running a number of innovative programs, for example:
- TELA (Technology Enhanced Learning for All), a new program, which will eventually reach 22,000 rural youths by radio. It has already far exceeded the ambitious outcome targets set by USAID, which is funding most of the program. In one village, the radio antenna got lost, and so the kids went from house to house and eventually found a coat hanger Ð problem solved.
- Waste to Wealth teaches how to turn plastic and other waste into marketable handicraft, jewelry and other items. Many of AUN’s colorful decorations are made of plastic waste.
- AUN’s Peace through Sports program set up up 48 soccer teams, 32 basket ball teams and 24 volleyball teams. Not a single participant has returned to Boko Haram.
- Feed and Read teaches displaced kids basic literacy and numeracy skills, and also provides one meal a day cooked by local vendors, most of their only hot meal. AUN is also taking care of some of the girls who were kidnapped in Chibok.
Every single person I met on campus spoke with a passion for excellence. I am so grateful to Vicde Chancellor Ensign , Dr. Hosseini and their colleagues for having welcomed me so very warmly. It was an incredible experience: I was privileged to visit the home of large family of refugees, and also took part in the spectacular 2016 Founder’s Day ceremony, donning a quite undeserved and splendiferous academic robe.
AUN recently joined GBSN, a great match, as they share the conviction that education, and especially business education, contributes to social and economic development.Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network