Nigeria will be getting set to manufacture its first set of pencils in 2018, at a time when pencils are fast becoming a relic in other societies.
Here in Nigeria, a typical urban dweller could almost go through a full week without setting eyes on one pencil. As technology marches on, the number of people taking their notes with handheld devices like phones and tablets are on the rise.
But like the Nigeria’s minister of technology Christopher Onu said, it is unthinkable that 55 years after independence, Nigeria still did not manufacture its own pencils.
While this realization is coming at a time when another country is in the advanced stages of developing Mars tourism, a giant step from sending men to the moon, the Nigerian government is still speaking of importing grass from Brazil to feed Fulani cattle as a solution to the herdsmen – farmer crises in the middle belt.
So, why is Nigeria still in the dark ages when it comes to technology?
At the recently concluded 5th Innovention series organized by Verdant Zeal, which was themed “The Next Big Thing”, Pius Adesanmi, Professor of literature and African studies at the Carlton University Ottawa Canada shed some light on the issue.
According to him, the state of Nigeria’s technology sector is the result of several decades of neglecting institutions of learning.
Nigeria’s universities are some of the most underfunded on the continent.
“The university idea is taken extremely seriously in those [western] societies and billions are poured into research and knowledge production”, Professor Pius said while giving his keynote speech at the conference.
“Ondo state has about four Universities while the state’s entire annual budget is not up to the research endowment of Harvard”.
“The Governor of Osun state received only N6 million ($18,700) in Federal allocation this month. Given the fact that the Governor’s helicopter is more important than the State University, I think it is safe to say that the its University is on its own this year”.
Professor Pius continues:
“China and the United Arab Emirates are having it both ways. They are building their own 21st century world-class Universities, attracting the best brains in the disciplines to their Universities while still sending their kids en masse to elite Institutions of the West in case there is anything they are missing. That is why Universities and research institutions in the West and in Asia always dominate all the rankings and are by far superior in research output and indicators”.
It is ironic to think that Nigeria will reap any form of technological advancement while its knowledge institutions remain on ground zero.
Innovation is not fluke.
While the likes of Facebook, Apple and other Silicon Valley companies make it seem easy to innovate, what most people miss out is the role that learning institutions and research play in providing the bedrock upon which future ideas can stand.
Innovations by Apple and Microsoft were born from the research and breakthrough in Graphic User Interface (GUI) and the mouse technology done in the Palo Alto Research Center by Xerox. The Palo Alto Research Center in turn got its ideas from a researcher at Stanford Research Institute.
The idea for Facebook was born from the aggregation of Harvard University’s disjointed social network programs. Harvard was one of the most technological advanced universities at the time.
The Internet itself was born from research sponsored by the US Department of Defence in the 1960s.
Due to the lack of such foundations of learning, there is no enabling environment to support innovation in Nigeria. If you are an innovator or entrepreneur in Nigeria, you do so on your own. The knowledge burden is huge because they’re not available. In addition and you bear all the risk.
According to Professor Pius, this means that Nigerians have to be more intense in the quest for innovation than their counterparts in other developed societies because the hurdles they face are much bigger.
And it will be better and quicker if they could do so without the government’s help.
“Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, Tumblr, and YouTube are products of genius, innovation, invention, and entrepreneurial wizardry but they were all midwifed in an enabling environment.
Ushahidi, Budgit, Nairaland, Konga, and Nollywood were all midwifed in chronically disabling and disabled environments. The case of Nollywood is particularly telling. By the time the Nigerian state eventually decided to throw money at her in 2015, she had already overtaken Bollywood without help”.