By Dwelleth Morountodun
In what can be better described as a moment for sober reflections for stakeholders in Nigeria’s infrastructure sector, the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive (EVC/CE), of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Prof. Mohammed Haruna, on Tuesday, underscores the adoption of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) as being the major reason why China, Japan, Russia, U.S, Germany and United Kingdom (UK) are economically more advanced than African countries.
Prof. Haruna, who made the disclosure at the 3rd Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) annual conference in Abuja, laid bare in simple way the scientific dynamics, historic workings and various intervention phases by STI sector in building the advanced economies of countries in Europe, America and Asia which had led to enviable socio-economic well-being of citizens in those countries while Africa in spite of abundant human and material resources remained perpetual consumers of obsolete technologies, perennial poverty and downward economic trends.
The NASENI boss, while explaining reasons for continued widening of gaps between economic performance and socio-economic wellbeing of citizens in the advanced world and incidences of poverty and general underdevelopments in most African countries including Nigeria said: “Developments in cutting-edge technologies better known as frontier technologies have shown tendencies to widen the socio-economic gaps between the advanced and developing nations in one hand; and between the third world and developing countries on the other.”
Such technologies, according to him, included Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT); Big Data, Block Chain, Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing); Autonomous Vehicles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Gene Editing, 5G Network and the recent innovation of high-efficient solar cell that can produce a thousand times more power than the silicon based solar cells.
Further in his address to the gathering called best minds in the Nigerian scientific community, the NASENI’s EVC put the scientists to task on the need for their responses to the present Nigeria economic challenges, saying: “Nigeria is yet to be prepared to catch the on-going technological wave to imitate, copy, use, adopt and adapt to the current Fourth Global Industrial revolution despite obvious opportunities and high potentials for sustainable development brought about by all the elements of economic transformation listed above.
Haruna, a Professor of Electrical Engineering, said Nigeria currently risks being perpetually at the receiving end of increasing inequalities between her and the developed world including being trapped in the escalating new digital divides now existing between “The technology have nations and the technology have nots” the latter is where most African countries belong except South Africa.
Nigeria, is a blessed country no doubts, he said. But the COVID-19 pandemic according to him, has further exposed the weaknesses of the third world nations the same pandemic which rather motivated some developing and developed countries to take advantage of subsequent global economic meltdown to transit much faster and earlier into the next industrial revolution thus expanding the STI dichotomy.
His words: “Nigeria is a country so blessed with abundant natural resources; large population; talents; large geographical and suitable location as well as most friendly climate but still imports food, other consumables including by-products of crude oil. Myself as one of those saddled with the responsibilities of implementing strategic STI policies appropriate to our country’s predicament, I am pained those foreign technologies and equipment in our mobile telecommunication, online banking services; Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS); Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS), Remita payment platform, 2G to 4G and now 5G broadband deployment dominate our economy”
The question is what inputs and ownership of manufacturing and or the technologies behind the above list belong to Nigerians or Africa? The answer is none. (sad).
The implication of this scenario to our development, according to Haruna, is that the present and future generation of Nigerians will remain consumers of imported products. The lack of domestic endogenous capability and capacity to produce modern technologies and competitive industrial goods and services in Nigeria’s economy is fueling frightening poverty, joblessness and insecurity in Nigeria. Wealth creation, peace, progress and stability are bye products of knowledge-based economy and not commodity or raw material oriented and import dependent economy.
The keynote paper however brought out hopes by illustrating some of the achievements of NASENI under Haruna which included various NASENI home-grown interventions in power, Agriculture, Education, Health and industrial sectors in Nigeria and with the funding coming in other sectors and many more will be immensely boosted.
The agency with the available resources had invested in human capacity development and also achieved a long list of scientific and technological breakthroughs leading into manufacturing of kinetic turbine, pre-paid meters, laboratory equipment and unmanned Aerial drones and other technological innovations based on research and development from NASENI.
According to him, the agency also intervened in producing 3-D masks, ventilators and environment disinfectants for the COVID-19 including the design and production locally electronic voting solution and currently working on locally produced jet engines and production of military hard-wares amongst other things.
Haruna concluded his address that: “only home-grown solutions rooted in massive soft and hard STI infrastructure can rescue Nigeria and also Africa generally, from the current vicissitude.
He recommended that it is only in building domestic endogenous capacity for STI in Nigeria, in particular, the capacity for Research and Development; Engineering design and fabrication; Technology Production; Technology Innovation and Industrial production that can solve security challenges, alleviate poverty and all other socio-economic problems bedeviling our nation
“Nigeria must strive to establish and sustain the culture of competitive industrial economy that can produce and manufacture modern technologies and globally competitive industrial goods in Nigeria using enabling home-grown Science and Technology Innovation (STI) procedures.” He said.