Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
October 1, 2006
Nigeria's 46th year-celebration this October 1, 2006 would not have been a particularly remarkable one, except that it is the fortieth year after the military imposed itself on us since 1966, and changed the course of a country that might have solved its teething post-independence problems without military intrusion. With significant earnings from oil, vast tracts of arable land, a friendly physical environment and a vibrant and large population, we should have been an industrial giant rivaling many countries in the world by now.
Alas, we are not, and we need to begin again to work towards it. Here is how.
The first step is a serious revitalization of our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education. When we look around, we are surrounded by a world transformed by those who have been inquisitive as scientists; who have provided technological solutions to human needs; who have a fundamental engineering understanding of those technological solutions; all within the context of using mathematics as the lingua franca. Unless we stimulate STEM education in Nigeria beginning at the primary school level; and build an army of qualifiable and qualified STEM graduates at various levels of our educational pyramid, we will continue to be raw materials providers – essentially crude oil – to the world, and consumers of other nations' expensive technological output. The economic equation will be continue to be loaded against us, and economic prosperity will elude us.
Focus therefore must be on ensuring quality ready-to-learn student entrants, faculty and staff, STEM curriculum relevant to a developing country in a hurry to catch up with the world, world-class physical learning environment (classrooms, laboratories, libraries) and tools (books, computers, etc.) that show that education matters.
RELIABLE & STEADY ENERGY
The quality and quantity of food to a human being determines his productivity, all other things being equal. Ditto for a nation – its economic productivity is a direct function of the quality and quantity of its energy output, particularly electricity. With our current maximum electricity output at 6,000 MW, our production epileptically hovering between 3000-4000 MW, and hopes expressed of getting that to 10,000 MW by 2010, our energy production and availability profile is anemic, and our industrial output will remain stunted. A comprehensive energy policy that includes a national energy audit; that takes into consideration energy conservation as well the exploitation of renewable energy resources (solar, wind) is essential. Geographically spreading the energy sources and limiting the size of each (eg to 300 – 1000 MW) must be considered. There is also need to deliberately build a few zonally-dispersed industrial parks with near 100% electricity availability, accessibility, affordability and reliability – and to explore the use of nuclear energy wherever possible.
IRON & STEEL
Iron and steel are the raw materials needed for building basic physical infrastructure in industry: they are the catalyst for industrialization. Nigeria is blessed with most of the raw materials necessary to make steel – iron ore, coal, limestone - and yet until recently, despite billions of dollars spent over the years in Ajaokuta, local iron and steel manufacture has been virtually non-existent. No stone should therefore be left unturned in ensuring that we supply most if not all of our internal needs for iron and steel. More importantly, the ability to make small tools – via the tool-and-die intermediate industry, with its intermediate technologists' needs – most be considered essential.
INFORMATION & COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY (ICT)
The use of computer-based decision making and data processing for speed, accuracy and efficiency cannot be gainsaid. Familiarity with hardware and software is critical, as well as with digital transmission of all kinds of data (text, audio, voice, video). Familiarity with the Internet and the World Wide Web is a sine qua non. The distinction between computer science (algorithms and software); computer engineering (components and hardware) and information systems (end-use of computer technology for specific purpose) – and the necessity for local involvement in all of these aspects of ICT – need to be emphasized.
ROAD & RAILWAY NETWORK
The importance of being able to move Man and material from Point A to Point B in a safe, timely and efficient manner cannot be over-emphasized. Inspection of a map of our current national road network - un-nomenclatured as the highways and interstate roads are - does not exhibit any significant national planning or coordination. Our rail network has not progressed beyond what obtained at Independence in 1960. Yet no nation has developed its industrial base without a rail network that virtually rivals its road network; India is a case in point. Nigeria must get on with both, and justify the billions of naira that have been spent on both particularly in the past seven years.
Meshing all the above recommendations together to lead to an industrialized Nigeria can only be achieved within a stable political environment, guided by a visionary, competent and accountable leadership. It is that kind of leadership that our citizenry must demand as we enter into the 46th year of our country - and arrive at the critical year 2007 when in May a new administration will be ushered in.
Happy 46th Birthday, Nigeria !