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Welcome speech of Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, Minister of Education, Nigeria

Welcome speech of Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, Minister of Education, NigeriaThe following is the welcome address by Professor Rufa’i, the Federal Minister of Education, Nigeria, at the conference “Establishing a Culture of Coexistence and Mutual Understanding: Exploring Fethullah Gülen’s Thought and Action" on 18 November 2011 in Abuja:

I am delighted to be among you this morning, my colleagues in the academia, and policy makers from around the world, to brainstorm and come out with solutions to some of the most challenging problems facing humanity: how to coexist harmoniously in a highly heterogeneous and fractured world. The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education, the National Universities Commission, and the six Federal Universities are strategic partners, along with The Fountain magazine the Ufuk Dialogue Foundation all from Turkey in the successful organization and hosting of this conference. We in the Ministry have worked assiduously with the partner universities of: Modibbo Adama University of Technology Yola, Federal University of Technology Minna, Bayero University Kano, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto, and the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi, whose dedicated staff have served as the Local Organizing Committee to ensure a smooth and hitch-free conference.

The theme of this conference, “Establishing a Culture of Coexistence and Mutual Understanding” is apt and could not have come at a better time than now in our history.

I am happy to note that the fundamental objective of this conference is to provide the medium to articulate, discuss, and consequently nurture cultural, political, socio-economic, and educational programs that would foster sense of understanding and respect between cultures. This, I believe, is the orthodox prerequisite to achieving the desired socio-political harmony necessary for the advancement of human civilization.

The Federal Ministry of Education is dedicated to contributing its quota to ensuring peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding through knowledge and understanding, not only in Nigeria, but throughout the world. One way to realize this objective is through the provision of quality education devoid of negative values of dogmatism, intolerance, and stereotyping. For knowledge is the basis of understanding and if people are sufficiently enlightened they are bound to resolve conflicts peacefully rather than by violence.

As part of our commitment to peace and of using education as a vehicle to fostering understanding, the Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission have advised all Nigerian Universities to introduce courses on peace and conflict resolution and entrepreneurship skills at the undergraduate level. I am delighted to inform you that all universities have gladly begun implementing these recommendations with tremendous success.

The world renowned Turkish Islamic scholar and opinion moulder, Fethullah Gülen, whose ideas largely provided the inspiration for this conference has used his ideas successfully in moulding a multi-cultural, multi-religious Turkey with some success. The most important lesson for us in the educational sector is not only his commitment to reaching out to the “other,” but his civic service of using education as a tool for fostering good governance, enhancing understanding, and building a community of educated people dedicated to world peace based on knowledge, understanding, and the universality of human values. For the uninitiated, the Nigerian-Turkish International Schools across the country and similar institutions around the world are using education for social engineering and societal development.

These dynamics, I would concur, are some of the core concerns of our Ministry. In fact, they are integral part of our transformational agenda. Consequently, therefore, government will take keen interest in all the relevant key findings and the appropriate recommendations arising from the conference proceedings.

Mr. Chairman, other distinguished dignitaries, I have already alluded to the contemporariness of the theme of this conference. The theme is further complimented by the line-up of distinguished speakers from within Nigeria and their colleagues from Europe, Asia, and the US. I therefore have no doubt that at the end of this conference, some of the most obvious and salient challenges facing our society will be addressed squarely. And may I please suggest that in doing this, you should come up with viable solutions and new or alternative lines for research and policy.

I therefore challenge the participants at this conference to dispassionately examine the various dimensions of the subject matter and come up with answers to the very questions that informed its focus: How can we make it possible that our encounters with one another be perceived as enriching experiences rather than gatherings full of animosity and fear? Is it possible that we will ever be able to achieve sincere understanding of the “other”? Can “dialogue” emerge from being just a mere formality that we put up with to something that actually pleases us? What methods should we implement if we are to achieve tangible results from theoretical discussions or to realize in practice the good wishes that are uttered at such gatherings? How will future generations respond to the rise of global dynamics vis-à-vis local identities and cultural riches? And how, in making such a response, can education and cultural activities play a role?

It is my fervent hope and desire, that these questions and many related others would be adequately answered during your discussions. In addition, I also envisaged for your recommendations – arising from concrete analysis for your recommendations – add new body of knowledge that would help the academia to come to grips with the dynamics of intercultural and inter-religious coexistence.

Let me assure you that the Federal Ministry of Education and indeed the Nigerian educational system is geared towards producing well educated young men and women, well-grounded in democratic values and committed to national unity and universal peace.

Thank you very much for your attention. I wish you a very fruitful deliberations and a memorable stay in Nigeria.