Nigerian dignitaries visit VU, announce institute, partnership
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent January 12, 2013 5:34PM
Former Nigerian president, His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, greets guests of a formal dinner held at Valparaiso University on Saturday, January 12, 2013. Obasanjo was president from 1999 to 2007. | Michael Gard~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:46AM
VALPARAISO — Valparaiso University officials and dignitaries from Nigeria on Saturday announced a budding partnership to put forth a center for Africa on the university campus.
The announcement came as former Nigerian president His Excellency Chief Obasanjo visited the university for a black-tie dinner, dubbed the “Africa Institute Gala,” and private meetings with university officials.
The university has long held a relationship with China, and established a Confucius Institute on campus five years ago, one of about 80 such programs in the United States.
The Africa Institute will be one of the first of its kind in the country, said VU President Mark Heckler.
“This is an extraordinary moment for us, to have a former head of state from the largest country on the continent of Africa, and to have his support in creating a new center for Africa on our campus,” Heckler said shortly after the private meeting ended. “We’re exploring with our friends who are here today what are the best ways of bringing Valparaiso University and Nigeria together.”
Obasanjo served as Nigeria’s president from 1999 to 2007, and had a long military career in the African nation before ascending to the presidency. Through David Rowland, the university’s dean of graduate studies, the university has steadily established a relationship with Nigeria, VU Provost Mark Schwehn said.
“We are trying to get an institute of African studies or an African center firmly established here,” Obasanjo said, “and we believe that such an institute in the Midwest is very desirable at this time.”
The partnership will allow the countries to learn about one another and develop a mutually beneficial partnership, said Ade Adefuye, ambassador for the Nigerian embassy in Washington, D.C.
Agriculture, economic development and even help for former members of the Nigerian military who need medical assistance and retraining all could be part of a partnership.
“It’s useful not only for our country, but for America,” he said.
It’s not all that unusual for the university to host distinguished dignitaries, Schwehn said, adding that started about 15 years ago, as VU began to build international programs and the relationships abroad to sustain them.
A number of Nigerian dignitaries were on campus a few months ago for a university program and were impressed with what they saw, helping build a relationship with VU, Schwehn said.
“This is all really about building a network of personal relationships,” he said. “That’s how the work gets done.”