The many problems facing Nigeria have been highly publicized of late — political divisions between the Muslim north and the Christian south, ancient tribal disputes, widespread corruption and mismanagement of its vast oil resources and, most notably, the outrageously bold and callous attacks of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram (“Nigeria in Distress,” July 18 editorial).
For the past seven years, I have been privileged to see another side of Nigeria. I am the director of the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, which has hosted small groups of Nigerian managers from business and government for weeklong seminars on leadership, ethics and corporate governance. Over the years, nearly 200 Nigerians have come to Pittsburgh to participate.
In the face of Nigeria’s huge challenges, this training program is small and almost insignificant. Yet in an important way, the Johnson Institute program illustrates one solution to the myriad problems in Nigeria and in other troubled parts of the world — the power of education to unite disparate people in the pursuit of a common goal.
The participants in our program are Muslims and Christians. They come from different tribes and from many parts of Nigeria. Most are men, but a growing number are women. Some participants hold positions of high authority in their organizations while others are on their way up the ladder. But they have one thing in common — a desire to learn concepts and skills to improve the quality of management and governance in their respective organizations and their country.
Do they agree on everything? No. The classroom debates are lively and sometimes intense, but never acrimonious. During their week together, bonds of friendship are formed along with allegiances to their favorite professors and their favorite books. Along the way, they come to love Pittsburgh, which many consider to be their home away from home. We introduce them to some of Pittsburgh’s leaders and public-private collaborations. They are in awe of the Pitt campus and its many educational programs, and many leave here hoping to send their children to Pittsburgh for their college education.
And speaking of family, in almost every interaction with my Nigerian friends, the first inquiry made by them (before any business is done) is “How is your family?” Such sentiments provide a glimmer of hope. Beyond sentiment, however, my experiences with these Nigerian visitors has made one thing clear: Equal access to educational opportunity is one crucial component of any long-term solution to the problems facing Nigeria and other troubled nations.