“In two years in Yola, I have never lost anything, but in three weeks in Paris I lost my Samsung Galaxy.”
Amed Demirhan is the Director of Library at the American University of Nigeria Yola. Since his assumption of office about two years ago, the AUN library has virtually transformed from its traditional setting, to a real e-library that focuses mainly on technology.
Under Mr. Demirhan, the Library’s use of e-books rose from 1889 in 2011 to 45442 in 2012, while the use of physical books was reduced from 16185 in 2011 to 8892 in 2012. The use of e-articles rose from 29847 in 2011 to 73799 in 2012.
An advocate of open access, Mr. Demirhan is now shifting his focus to transforming the library into a ‘mobile’ one in which all resources would be available to all staff and students 24/7 regardless of location.
The library has received 100 per cent accreditation by the NUC and has won several awards under Mr. Demirhan to include, the Excellence Service award by the Committee of University Librarians of Nigerian Universities, and an award for ‘Innovative International Library Project’ for the Universities e-Library project by the American Library Association. The U.K. Guardian newspaper named AUN’s ‘smart library’ as one of the best digital libraries in the world.
In a chat with Sani Tukur recently in office, the widely travelled Mr. Demirhan said Nigeria is safer than most developing countries, which he said is contrary to people’s perception outside the country.
Q. What is the secret behind the success being achieved by AUN so far?
A. We have an exceptionally good president, who has a positive reinforcement of good things. We also have a founder vision, who wants this University developed to be the best not just in Nigeria, but Africa as a whole. He has a pan-African vision to be great. When you have such a vision set out for you to achieve greatness, you are going to be successful. There is an American expression that says if you aim to the stars, even if you land in the moon, you have gone far.
In this university, the founder has aimed to the star; so when the president came, she aims for the star; when the librarian comes, he aims for the star. This I think is the secret. That desire to be the best.
Q. Does that mean you don’t have challenges?
A. We have a lot of challenges, the mere fact that the founder set up this university in Yola means he faced a challenge, to make something exceptional happen in one of the most perceived difficult places in the country. He has made a statement to say, in this little town in the North East, I am going to do something exceptional.
This is a source of motivation that gives one the courage to make a difference. I always tell myself that if one can make something like this happen in Yola, he can definitely make it happen anywhere in Africa. It would have been easier in Lagos or Abuja or Port Harcourt of course. I was told that this place used to be a forest.
Q. I want to get your own view about Yola, generally, outside of the AUN environment?
A. I love Yola, I was very fortunate. My flight to Nigeria came through Addis Ababa, when we landed in Abuja, I met someone who was also an Academic somewhere in the North East and we began to discuss about Yola and the region. Someone who was listening to our conversation and heard me say I was going to Adamawa State for the first time jumped in and said ‘I am from Adamawa’.
So struck a conversation and I asked him what should I expect in Adamawa; he told me I would eat lots of fish and the like. He was very friendly, and I said, it means I can travel with you from Abuja to Yola? He said, well I am from Adamawa but I stay in Abuja.
Also, considering that I really suffered to get Visa, I was prepared to face a lot of difficulty with Custom officials; surprising when they asked me what I am coming to Nigeria for, and I told them I came to work for AUN, they just said ‘welcome to Nigeria’. That was very nice, that was not what I expected. I also saw a police officer and I asked him how to get Taxi from the International Terminal to the Domestic one, but the guy from Adamawa said ‘My Driver is here, let me give you a ride’. I got my first service in Nigeria free of charge.
AUN was supposed to send someone there to pick me up, probably with my name hanging somewhere, but I did not even look for him as I was already getting all the help I need. As I already had my ticket, I just took my flight to Yola. At Yola Airport, I met someone already waiting because I was supposed to have a dinner at the president’s house.
Actually there was confusion because the guy waiting for me at the Airport in Abuja could not locate me and President had been sending emails to everywhere to check if I was located. They all thought I got lost. In fact the guys from Abuja called her to report that they did not see me, and the president told them ‘don’t worry, Amed is in Yola’.
When I told the president and other top officials of how I did not look for the person waiting for me because I got a free ride, someone whispered ‘total stranger?’ and I said he was a great guy. That was my positive start with Yola.
Also there was this shop that I used to go to buy stuff most evenings, and the guy was always speaking Hausa for me. But when he noticed that I go there every day, he began to give me some things free. He said he was welcoming me and appreciating my patronage.
I also went to the market, because, everywhere I go, I always like to go to the market place. That is where you meet real people. At the campus, you always meet known faces and elsewhere are the elites. But in the market, you meet the real people. So I went to the market place to change money myself, even though I had a driver I decided to go on my own. At the market, however, I noticed that all the stores look alike, the new modern market, and I don’t know where to go and change the money.
I met one guy and asked him where to go change money, and he began to give me directions, but when he realised I was not getting what he was saying, he said ‘let me take you there’. The people in Yola and Jimeta are really exceptionally hospitable. I am very comfortable here. I have a driver, for seven days a week, but I drive myself on weekends. I drive at night to go out and relax. I go everywhere by myself, I enjoy going to local restaurants and try local food. When people see you try and mix, they really appreciate that and help you with it. They treat you better, and consider you as one of them.
Q. Do you eat the local delicacies?
Q. Which one is your favourite?
A. Honestly I eat everything. I haven’t seen anything I could not eat yet; although I don’t know the names of most of them.
Whenever I travel in Nigeria for conferences, and I tell people I live in Adamawa, Yola, they always ask; isn’t that a dangerous place? It doesn’t make sense to me why people think Yola is a dangerous place to live. I am a foreigner but I blend in. I have been here nearly two years and I have never felt threatened at all. I go out each night, and I drive myself to the hills on weekends in the country side, passing through the villages and the people were always willing to help me.
Yola and Jimeta is a very friendly environment, the people are nice and they go out of their way to help you.
Let me tell you a story. Last year I went to spend two weeks in Paris, and one of the tour guides asked me; where are you from? I know what she meant; he was asking me my ethnic background. But literally; where are you from means where you came from, so I told her, Nigeria; and she frowned her face and said are you joking? I said I am serious, I came from Nigeria, precisely, Yola in Adamawa. But she was not convinced.
She said, seriously; where are you from? And I said ‘ask me the right question: If you are asking about my ethnic background, your answer would be different; I am Kurdish; if you are asking about my nationality? I am American. If you are asking me where I live? It’s Nigeria. She said, Nigeria? Isn’t that a dangerous place? I said no, Nigeria is not a dangerous place; in fact it is much friendlier than Paris.
They picked my pocket and I lost my first Galaxy Note in Paris, and for the two years I have been in Yola, I never lost anything. You can see my door is transparent glass, and it is always open, yet nothing has ever been stolen here.
In two years in Yola, I have never lost anything, but in three weeks in Paris I lost my Samsung Galaxy. You see, there is stereotype. When I said I was going to Paris, no one warned me that Paris is a dangerous place, please watch your pocket. But when I said I was gonna come to Nigeria; People say don’t go it is a dangerous place. And in Nigeria when you say you are going to Yola, people will say Yola is a dangerous place.
Interestingly during my last trip to the U.S. for the American Library Association Conference where we got our latest award; from the Airport, I took a taxi to my conference Hotel, and the taxi driver asked me, where are you from, I said Nigeria; I noticed that he is an African and he said really? Where in Nigeria, and I told him Adamawa, he said that is Cameroon. I told him, it’s not, there is a part of Cameroon called Adamawa, but it is also a big state in Nigeria.
He asked me what do they speak, and I said, well the king is Fulani; I can tell you that. He became convinced, and said ‘you know what I am Fulani too’. But he is from Guinea. He brought out his phone and he showed me the picture of the Lamido. He said he was a delegate to the World Fulani Congress in Lagos and that is where he got the picture of Lamido.
After the Conference, the Taxi I took to the Airport was again driven by an African guy; you know there are a lot of Africans in Chicago. He too asked me ‘where are you from’? I said I am from Nigeria, and he retorted if you are from Nigeria, I am from China. He was speaking sarcastically. When I showed him my ID card and he saw Yola he believed me, He was also from Nigeria, but from the South.
Anywhere I go, I always make the point that I am from Nigeria, and see how the people react. Many wrongly assume Nigeria is a dangerous place to be. In fact, Nigeria is much more safer than most developing countries in the world. I used to live in New Orleans and there was so much gun shots almost throughout the night. It is unfortunate that there is so much negative impression that Nigeria doesn’t deserve. The same way that Yola, Adamawa doesn’t deserve to be negative. There is no basis for all the prejudice.