This year is the threshold of the decade of ultra-digital science and the technologies that latch on it. Given the experiences of the past decade, it is evident that the coming years will usher us into a much smarter world of incredible scientific and technological revolutions predicated on artificial superintelligence. In the past few years, we have seen how countries are already positioning to compete in this new vista. As it stands today, it does not appear as if we – as a country – belong to the coming world. And truthfully no nation not steeped in science and technology will leverage those amazing possibilities to its economic, social and military advantages.
The respect that countries command in the comity of nations today correlates strongly with their level of sophistication in science and technological innovation as well as in the commercialisation of such inventions. Apart from the military strength and confidence in securing citizens and territories, those countries have the assurances of high-quality socio-economic life. Such were the qualities that defined the global superpowers. They are technologically advanced, militarily sophisticated as well as economically buoyant. The United States, and most of the other G7 countries used to be good fits for this definition. However, several other countries now share these characteristics. The power of science and innovation to create things that are crucial in solving critical human needs is its uniqueness. The capacity to orchestrate several profit shops out of those scientific innovations add enormous socio-economic advantages on its back. We have always known that we are technologically backward and have performed woefully in the area of scientific innovation. The global competitiveness index for 2017 – 2018 makes it more transparent with the scores of 3 and 2.8 points out of 7 points assigned to us on technological readiness and scientific innovation respectively.
Except for the quality of macroeconomic management and the rule of law, the level of our performance in science and technological innovation is the single most potent measure of what we can realistically offer in exchange for money beyond factor resources. That is the reason why we may have to drink our so-called abundant crude oil resources one day. First, even as it is today, we have failed to improve on the value of the product. We neither have the refining capacity nor the capacity to extract many of its by-products that are usable as intermediate products in our manufacturing processes. Correspondingly, it seems as if we suffer from blindness and inertia in the face of the global migration to electric-powered technologies. The same way it is with our crude oil resources, so it is with our human and agricultural resources. They are seemingly all abandoned in their natural states. For instance, we can only boast of our vast youthful population when we offer most of them the right kind of education to enable them to compete with their colleagues in the rest of the world. It is only the power of science and technological innovation that will bring about the desired value additions to these natural endowments which entrepreneurs will, in turn, ride on to orchestrate further increases in output, employment and income. In effect, it explains why we are still crawling while countries like Bangladesh and Singapore are now running at extreme speed. Even with all our crude oil and substantial population, we are far behind Mauritius, South Africa and Kenya in global innovation ranking within the sub-Saharan African region.
There is no doubt that in our DNA, we possess the capacity for technological innovation. The local manufacturing and industrialisation feats accomplished in Aba and Nnewi in Abia and Anambra States respectively are good testimonies. Similarly, the manufacture of weapons of warfare by the engineers of the Biafran army equally attest to that. One would have expected a one-Nigeria that would have replicated the experiences from these areas. But that has not been the case perhaps because of the location of these technological bases. But again, the stories of many Nigerians who are science and technological champions in different parts of the world equally indicate that we are a people who can do it. And indeed, the rate and level of our digital technology consumption compare satisfactorily with what obtains in other countries of the world. In addition to that, no one can doubt our ingenuity in the use of internet-based technologies to do both good and evil. Recently, the United States FBI showed that we have our fair share of the global cybercrime. It is a well-known fact that anyone who can deploy technology for crime is likely able to use them for the good of humanity.
What are our so-called universities and institutions of science and technology doing? My thinking is that they are so designated to reflect their forte, which is in science and technology. Unfortunately, many of these institutions produce more and better graduates in liberal arts, management and social sciences as opposed to their claimed areas of strength. A lot of them have already positioned themselves better in management sciences and have very little to show for their claims in pure sciences and technology. Similarly, many of the excellent secondary colleges of technology that used to breed fantastic technicians have nothing to show of such legacies. Virtually all of them are no longer different from other secondary schools, some of which have better-equipped laboratories and wood workshops. The same catastrophe equally befell the universities and colleges of agriculture. They are all woeful stories of neglect of the foundations for science and technological innovation by our kleptomaniac leaders. Over the years, the motivations of the political class have been other things apart from the establishment of the foundations for a great Nigeria. That is why we import technicians from Ghana, Benin and Togo to do the roofs of our houses, the chairs that we sit on and even to repair some of our household items.
Now that we are at the threshold of a new decade, it is an excellent time to define how to play along with the rest of the world on science and technological innovation. Catching the interest of children in sciences and technology when they are young is one of the most feasible and productive approaches. Currently, the teaching of science and technology at the primary and secondary school levels across the country is quite defective. Natural sciences are cosmetically taught at the primary school level while digital sciences are not yet known to more than 90% of the teachers at that level. So, the teachers at the primary school level across the country must be retrained and refocused to teach natural and digital sciences. Nobody gives what he does not have. The teachers must have enough knowledge of primary school level natural and digital sciences to impart it to the pupils. It also means that teachers undergoing training at teacher training colleges and tertiary level colleges of education must have pass grades in those subject areas to graduate. In addition to these steps, healthy competition among primary and secondary school level students in the areas of sciences and technological innovation where the winners receive rewards of long-term scholarships will further stimulate interest in these subject matter areas. All tiers and arms of government should be encouraged to promote such competition their various levels to create the desired impact. Similarly, medium and large-scale organisations should equally be encouraged to support such cause rather than patronising beauty parade and dancing.
Again, universities and other tertiary institutions should forge result-oriented symbiotic relationships with industries. A substantial percentage of the industrial attachments and internships currently in effect and propagated by many of our tertiary institutions are not more than a scam. Even the teachers and institutions know most of the students do not effectively participate in these internships. To make them more rewarding and result-oriented both for the school and the industry, the managers of such programs in the universities need to sit down with such bodies as the manufacturer’s Association of Nigeria and the Chambers of Commerce to work out how to ensure that participating firms, as well as the students, receive effective education in the process. There is also no reason why some universities cannot partner with the Lagos computer village for instance to equip their students with practical knowledge in computer repairs, software development, ethical computer hacking and other sundry digital-related issues. The fact is that such collaboration may result in a university formalising some of the vast computer-based knowledge traded in that village. Similarly, there is absolutely no reason why some of our universities cannot collaborate with some traditional medicine practitioners to formalise unorthodox medical practices that yield good therapeutic results. Such collaboration can serve as veritable launching pads for the manufacture and export of our home-made drugs.
Finally, there is no need to rehash the undeniable fact that without considerably improved funding for the study of science and technology in our universities that we will end up with pipe dreams. Delicious soup is partially a function of the amount of money made available for its preparation. Likewise, the actualisation of the hopes of a country to ride on the back of scientific innovation like other nations of the world demands that we make the appropriate quantum of investments. Over the past decade, we have consistently underfunded the education sector. It is even worse in the last two years. Anything short of the UNESCO recommended 15 – 20% of the budget for a country like Nigeria that has consistently underperformed in this regard is a huge joke. The federal government alone should not be concerned. State governments should also invest in strong pro-science and technology education. If we had anticipated, the future the way we ought to have done, then even our kids at nursery schools in Nigeria should be studying artificial intelligence today. The world is not waiting for a country that prepared to board the last position.