It was a moment for sober reflections at the opening ceremony of the ongoing Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) conference in Abuja as the executive vice chairman of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Prof. Mohammed Haruna, laid bare the historic workings and various intervention phases by science, innovation and technology sector in the advancement of the economies of Europe, America and Asia, leading to the enviable socio-economic well-being of their citizens. On the other hand, in spite of Africa’s abundant human and material resources, she has remained a perpetual consumer of obsolete technologies, perennial poverty and downward economic trends.
Haruna, was the keynote speaker at the third NAS Annual Scientific Conference in Abuja which began on January 25, 2022 at the Nigerian Airforce Conference Centre located in Federal Capital Territory.
Explaining the reasons for the continually widening gap in the economic performance and socio-economic wellbeing of citizens in the advanced world and incidences of poverty and general underdevelopment in most African countries – including Nigeria – Haruna said: “Development in cutting-edge technologies, better known as frontier technologies have shown tendencies to widen the socio-economic gaps between the advanced and developing nations on one hand; and that between the third world and developing countries on the other.
“It is all down to technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics; the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, blockchain, additive manufacturing (3D printing), autonomous vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), gene editing, 5G network and the recent innovation of highly efficient solar cells capable of producing a thousand times more power than the silicon-based solar cells.”
Further in his address to the gathering, Haruna called the best minds in the Nigerian scientific community to task themselves on the need for their responses to the nation’s present economic challenges. “Nigeria is not prepared to catch the ongoing 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 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 haves and the technology have-nots”, with the latter being the category where most African nations belong.
Nigeria is a blessed country no doubt, he punctuated. But the Covid-19 pandemic further exposed the weaknesses of third-world nations, just as it motivated some developed and developing countries to take advantage of subsequent global economic meltdown to transit much faster and earlier into the next industrial revolution, thus expanding the science, technology and innovation (STI) dichotomy.
“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.
“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? None.”
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 by-products of a knowledge-based economy and not a 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. These included various NASENI home-grown interventions in power, agriculture, education, health and industrial sectors in Nigeria and with the funding coming in other sectors, 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 the manufacturing of kinetic turbines, pre-paid meters, laboratory equipment, unmanned aerial drones and other technological innovations based on research and development from NASENI. 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 solutions 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 Africa from the current vicissitude. Only in building domestic endogenous capacity for science and technology in Nigeria, especially 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 concluded.
Ayeoyenikan is the deputy director, information, at the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure. He can be reached on email@example.com.