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At Independence, a problem-solving approach

As we celebrate the 53rd anniversary of our independence as a country we cannot ignore the crushing weight of our challenges as a country.

Understandably, there are a lot of complaining voices. And I’m speaking from experience, as a former political office holder now active on Facebook and Twitter, and often the object of a lot of anger and frustration.

When you’re a University student forced to sit at home for months, due to no fault of yours, I realize that it is difficult to understand why you should have any hope in your country. What you want to do is lash out at a system that keeps conspiring to let you down. That is understandable.

But I also firmly believe one thing: that what we shouldn’t ever do is allow our frustrations to blind us to the potential that exists for creatively solving our problems.

It is only a painstaking focus on solutions that can bring about the change we seek.

In August I launched an essay competition focusing on highlighting solutions to many of our educational challenges as a country. It was titled ‘More Learning to More People: How can Nigeria be more innovative in bridging its literacy and skills gap?’

Later this month a winner will emerge, and earn, for his or her efforts, a scholarship. By changing the course of a life, even a single scholarship can potentially alter the destiny of a country. But for me the real purpose and impact of this competition goes well beyond the impact of the scholarship that will be awarded.

For me it is about the tens, if not hundreds, of solutions that young Nigerians would have been inspired to come up with.

The beauty of generating and highlighting solutions to pressing problems is that these solutions then become available to anyone willing to consider and implement them, irrespective of political ideology or party affiliation.

There will be nothing that will make me happier than seeing governments, at local, state and federal levels, paying attention to the ideas and solutions put forward by the hundreds of young Nigerians who have taken their time to participate.

I have asked my office to ensure that as many ideas as possible are publicized widely, because I want it to be clear that everyone who has put forward an idea or solution is as much a winner as that one lucky scholarship recipient.

And education is only one area. Nigeria is full of issues crying for the impact of innovative solutions.

I have never been one to sit back and allow problems to overwhelm me, or to loom larger than solutions. During the early years of my Vice Presidency I visited Brazil and learnt of the interesting work being done there in public procurement reforms. I wasted no time making a recommendation to the President that we should replicate that in Nigeria. That was how the Public Procurement Act was born.

And then I came across the impressive ‘American University’ concept, already well established in other parts of the world. I didn’t think twice about transplanting it to Nigeria. It was important to me to prove that great ideas can flourish in Nigeria; that this country’s reputation for killing dreams is not some act of fate that cannot be challenged.

Thus was the American University of Nigeria born. Last year that University was acknowledged by Google as an African center of IT excellence, and is today engaged in active collaboration with the Internet company.

Change is possible in Nigeria. Ideas can survive and thrive here. But we must start by paying attention to them. Let us discuss them, tweet them, Facebook them, blog them.

On this 53rd Independence Anniversary, let us resolve, individually and collectively, to not allow ourselves become so obsessed with our problems that we overlook the smart thinking that will solve them.

Let us learn to give independence to our ideas and solutions.

Happy Independence Day.

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