Something remarkable, perhaps unknown to many, happened recently in Nigeria’s political economy sphere, capable of making the most ardent critics of President Muhammadu Buhari administration on economic development issues smile. It was the resolution by the National Economic Council (NEC) to look inwards for technical solutions to the myriads of socio-economic challenges faced by the nation which led to poverty, unemployment, high crime-rate, amongst other social vices. The decision by NEC in its Thursday, November 18, 2021 meeting chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was that all 36 state governors in the Federation adopt home-grown economic reform programmes via technology development as articulated by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) as a way forward in developing the natural resources, human talents and potentials in various states. Public policy analysts see the NEC’s decision as a cherished impetus capable of steering the states to effectively develop the non-oil sector.
Also in a related development, during his speech at the just concluded 2nd Intra-African Trade Fair 2021 in Durban, South Africa, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, restated that the Nigerian economy under his administration was witnessing re-engineering, investment in technology innovation and general infrastructural development. Buhari stressed that the implementation of the free trade zone policy by Africa would double the continent’s trade in 10 years. He said despite the fall in oil prices as well as the challenge of insecurity in parts of Nigeria, his administration was putting practicalities to the decision to invest in infrastructural development-based plans to help the country’s businesses to grow. On his side, while addressing the economic council, the vice-president said, going forward, NASENI would be one of the vehicles driving the achievement and overall developmental objectives of the government.
For several decades there have been hues and cries from every quarter on the need to diversify the Nigerian economy away from oil, following its dwindling revenue in the global oil market occasioned partly by the discovery of alternatives to fossil fuel as an energy source used by countries to run economies. The irony of the situation, nevertheless, is that neither the cries for diversification nor hard criticism of both present and past governments has changed the fact that Nigeria’s oil revenue has continued to serve as the major source of the nation’s income for financing annual budgets.
What concrete steps did Nigeria take in the past to redirect the economy along routes that could free her from reliance on oil? The import substitution policy of the ‘80s adopted by the Nigerian government and the introduction of IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to stimulate domestic production activities could not sufficiently lift her economy. Besides corruption, SAP did not succeed because of so many factors. Some of the elements which caused the failure of SAP included consequent debt burdens incurred by Nigeria in importing machinery, equipment, technical know-how, components and spare parts and other processed raw materials used in import-substitution industries to support domestic production of goods and services; the inability of local industrial enterprises to produce substituted goods at a quality and competitive levels for exports to earn foreign exchange; and there was also the attendant problem of Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for all manner of obsolete foreign technologies. In the end, domestic entrepreneurs reverted to less-risky business of trading, namely “buying, selling and distribution” of foreign imported goods. This marked the end and purpose of SAP.
In other words, the way forward should have been to rebuild a truly Nigerian economy, with the imperative of evolving an endogenous economic system. Thanks to the then military president Ibrahim Babangida, whose regime mid-wifed the establishment of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). That is, NASENI was founded in 1992 to kick-start a truly home-grown industrial economy, creation of wealth and job opportunities based on Nigerians own entrepreneurship capacity and drive, developed deliberately to use own science, engineering and human ingenuities to develop a truly national economy while utilising local materials. NASENI’s mandate was to establish and nurture appropriate and dynamic science and engineering infrastructure base for achieving home-initiated and home-sustained industrialization through the development of relevant processes, capital goods and equipment necessary for job creation, national economic well-being and progress.
As a mark of commitment to the NASENI ideals by the IBB government, a 1 per cent of revenue accruing to the Federation Account was to be dedicated as funding of the agency and also stipulated later in its Establishment Act, 2004 CAP N3 Laws of The Federation of Nigeria. NASENI funding additionally is expected to be derived from a contribution of 0.25 per cent of the turnover of N100 million and above from commercial companies (‘the levy’), which shall be a tax-deductible expense. The levy was to be collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) or by any other means as may be specified by the agency amongst other funding sources. Unfortunately, this provision was never implemented for about three decades. The laws were not implemented and the agency, therefore, never received the funds. This development hampered its roles of turning the nation’s economy around or to begin Nigeria’s journey to industrialisation and a knowledge-based economy.
The good news, however, is that President Buhari recently did not only direct the return of NASENI to the Presidency but approved implementation of the law which gives 1 per cent of federal allocation to the agency as its funding mechanism. As follow-up, the National Economic Council resolved at its Thursday November 18, 2021 meeting that NASENI should henceforth focus on assisting the 36 state governors in providing reversed engineering on certain key components of machinery useful to them in revamping all dying industries and factories in the states while the agency’s operation should be guided by its mandates to avoid duplication of efforts. Reverse engineering is the reproduction of already made machines or technology, following a detailed examination of the construction or composition by the original manufacturer.
Other resolutions of NEC are that: Nigeria needs to see inventions from NASENI on specific developmental issues. As such, regular updates are needed to keep track of NASENI’S operations. The Economic Council also directed that NASENI should have a limited mandate as such; its mandate is undergoing continuous review. At the end of the meeting, the Vice President tasked the committee to come up with a framework for NASENI’s operations, monitoring, and to provide quarterly updates to NEC.
One may ask what all these would mean to both the micro and macro-economic systems of the country? Among several advantages, the industrialization efforts by State governments, private companies, small and medium enterprises (SMES) in Nigeria will become a lot easier henceforth because the machines, equipment and technologies needed to convert natural resources in States into viable economic ventures will be produced locally by NASENI through the private sector participation and transfer of patented R&Ds results to private companies and industries, thereby preventing mounting debt albatross of the ‘80s’ SAP or the importation of obsolete machines, technologies and equipment to run factories in Nigeria.
There are two fundamental ways through which a nation can truly attain socio-economic development and prosperity; technology and agriculture. Altogether, sustainable economic reform lies squarely in discoveries of new trends and innovation alongside the implementation of economic plans hinged on modern technological advancement. As these new trends continue to evolve, nations are expected to key into an exploration of fall-outs and benefits from innovations and technology advancements to achieve economic growth. These evolutions are usually supported by abundant evidence from different fields of scientific investigations. Other areas such as minerals resource (crude oil) and natural exploration are not sustainable except when combined with other trajectories of economic development strategies leading the nation to prosperity. With NASENI’s contribution to evolving a new and prosperous Nigeria, its current list of technology product developments and more research efforts into agricultural machines and production are the sure bets for sustainable economic development to the nation going forward.
NASENI has demonstrated undoubted capacities to domesticate technology either by requisition or through conceptual ideology. An example of the latter was the agency’s recent successful design of home-grown first made in Nigeria electronic voting solution (e-voting) which can conduct all Nigeria’s general elections perfectly through cloud computing, guaranteeing the country an electioneering process that is free, fair and devoid of human interference or incidences of snatching of ballot boxes. This is in addition to the availability of highly trained manpower at NASENI to provide technical backing to the evolution of Nigeria as a manufacturing nation.
What has NASENI been doing currently across the 36 states of the federation? NASENI over the years has been researching the production of agricultural tools and machinery which has led to the production of different agricultural farming and food processing machines. Also, all NASENI’s 10 research & development institutes are located across various States, engaging in the manufacturing of equipment locally for processing of raw materials. With the Agency’s rotary furnaces in various institutes, it has produced and manufactured agro-processing machines such as rice value chain equipment and multi-grain thresher, palm oil processing machines, cassava grater, integrated high-quality cassava processing machines and others.
In other sectors, NASENI has demonstrated tremendous capacity to offer solutions in power and transportation. In the power sector, despite lean resources at its disposal, the agency trained about 60 engineers in China, all of them successfully returned to Nigeria for the production of locally made transformers and to run a high voltage testing laboratory. NASENI designed and manufactured prototypes of the first made-in-Nigeria smart energy prepaid meters (SPEM), the small hydropower and propeller turbines all for the improvement of power generation and distribution and many more. In the transport sector, the Agency recorded successful design and production of the first made-in-Nigeria tricycles ‘Keke NASENI’ (passenger and cargo types). Also to ensure that the ‘Keke’ prototypes and technology did not end up on the shelves, it entered into a partnership with an indigenous automobile manufacturing firm, Innoson Motors to mass-produce the tricycles. With the innovation and agreement in place, no doubt, NASENI is playing its role in Nigeria to evolve an industrial economy.
In 2011, NASENI established and till date operates a 7.5 megawatts solar panel manufacturing company and this is beside its current efforts to increase the local content of solar panel manufacturing in Nigeria up to 85 per cent through the local production of solar cells from silica ingots (common sand) which is massively abundant in the country. The solar cell manufacturing alone will create a minimum of 19,800 local jobs from extraction and processing of silica including aluminium framework production. This venture will lead to the conservation of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and the reduction of capital flights. NASENI is currently up and running at the efforts of manufacturing the first made-in-Nigeria helicopter and also the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for agriculture and security surveillance purposes. The palm oil expeller, coconut oil expeller, primary and secondary schools science equipment and tertiary laboratory equipment are all achievements of the Agency.
The executive vice-chairman of NASENI, Prof. Mohammed Haruna said his mission in the agency was to create a new NASENI that would be in tune with modern technological advancements saddled with the development of Nigeria’s local content. “NASENI, under my watch, has adopted advanced manufacturing technology as a means of catching up with advanced countries of the world.” According to him, Executive Order 5 by the Federal Government is a policy meant to develop the nation’s local content and engineering capabilities and that order is being followed diligently in the conception and implementation of programmes in the agency.
Having realized that not much of socio-economic goals or economic diversification efforts could pass without deliberate priority investments in science, engineering, technology and innovation development, the present administration is beaming its lights on incorporating NASENI as a tool in the hands of the National Economic Council, an action which underscores President Buhari’s approach to open new vistas for building stronger economic structures that are not dependent on oil and other primary raw materials but on research and development, science, technology, innovation and engineering for the present and future generations of Nigerians like other developed countries. This, of course, is the secret of the ‘Asian Tigers’.
Also, statistics show that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) where most advanced countries of the world belong including Germany, United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), Japan, Korea, China among others have continued to invest more in research and development and therefore the secret behind their economic growth and development. For instance, the United States, Germany, Israel and Korea have continued to display the highest levels of research and development intensity among OECD countries, at 4.9 per cent and 4.6 per cent of GDP respectively. In the United States, research and development intensity surpassed the 3 per cent milestone for the first time in 2019-2020 while the R&D intensity of China grew from 2.1 per cent to 2.2 per cent. In contrast, the EU27 area experienced a more modest increase to 2.1 per cent. Japan, Germany, Korea and France were the largest R&D performers in the OECD area. In comparative purchasing power terms, China is the world’s second-largest R&D player, with total R&D expenditure reaching 80 per cent of that of the United States in 2019, up from 26 per cent in 2005. Growth in R&D investments in the EU 27 area has been on a faster trajectory since 2016 till date mostly driven by Germany.
However, there is hope in the current efforts of the Federal Government via the National Economic Council to build afresh a new Nigeria economy by the adoption of such proven sustainable economic growth and development factors: research & development, science, engineering and technology innovation, just like the developed countries, and by putting NASENI in the driver’s seat working with other critical agencies of government and also private sector involved in the development of innovation, industrial and the knowledge-based sectors of the economy.
Good luck Nigeria as the citizens now look forward to a new Nigeria industrial economy with NASENI in the driver’s seat.
Ayeoyenikan, is the deputy director information, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, NASENI (Presidency).