Rallying To Promote Technology In Nigeria – By Hon. Oseloka Henry Obaze, Secretary to the Anambra State Government

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Abuja Technology Village
Abuja Technology Village

Text of Remarks By Hon. Oseloka Henry Obaze

Secretary to the Anambra State Government  

 


At The Inauguration of African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS)

Anambra State Chapter   

At the Chike Okoli Center For Entrepreneurial Studies

 Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka

Friday 24 May 2013

 

 

[Protocols]

 

It is a pleasure to be here to represent His Excellency Peter Obi, CON, at this gathering of those dedicated to the advancement of technology and related policies and study in Africa. Gov. Obi sends his very best wishes and apologies that he is not able to join you today.

 

Our governor can readily identify with your mission statement, vision and overall goals and the theme of this gathering: The Place of Science and Technology Policy Research Development and Development.   In Anambra, we do indeed take technology seriously.  The reality, in the 21st Century, is that you ignore technology at your own peril.

 

It is not in contest, that where we are now as a nation and as a state, we cannot achieve sustainable development without enhanced technology.  Indeed, where technology policy and capacity are found to be lacking, as in our case, we are already at a disadvantage.

 

We in the Anambra State Government are fully aware of the place of science and technology. We cannot afford to be indifferent since we have been told that the most expansive and intensive industrial hub emerging in Africa, which holds out infinite possibilities, is the so-called ONA Industrial Axis (Onitsha- Nnewi-Awka industrial Axis)[1].  You may look it up in the 2012 Oxbridge Report on Nigeria or Google it.

 

Still, we confront a paradox. In Nigeria there are critical gaps between technological policy formulation and their execution. Whereas it has been observed that “Nnewi industrialists have successfully filled the gaps left by failures of both the market and the state” and that our region can boast of an expansive industrial and technological base with Nnewi alone having “over 23 medium to large-sized factories and engineering shops,”[2] the reality is that there is a yawning technology policy and implementation gap.

 

The blame is threefold; the academia, the government and entrepreneurs who fail to fund technological research adequately.  Though I represent the government, I must admit that at the federal and state levels technological policies are largely opaque and even more so, since we stopped the National Development Plan Scheme in the 1970s.

 

And there is another dimension.  The absence of set of governmental action continues to impact negatively on our technological and developmental advancement. We lack the critical interface; that of rallying and deploying the necessary resources and the identification of those truly dedicated to technological advancement.  The core problem, as my good friend and the current SSG of Edo State Dr. Julius Ihonvbere once observed, relates to the extent to which national “policies tended to deepen and reproduce Nigeria’s dependent position and role in the world capitalist system rather than promote transformation and self-reliance.”[3]  A consumer nation hardly advances technologically.

 

Furthermore, we have failed woefully in establishing a niche that offers us comparative advantage. From where I stand and as the crow flies, we have within a 30-mile radius three tertiary institutions – UNIZIK here at Awka, the Anambra State University at Igbariam and the College of Agriculture in Mgbakwu; yet none of these has exploited the long standing local technological knowhow in foundry, for which Awka is well known.   None has established a centre dedicated strictly to metal technology.

 

We have missed sorely a critical point.  We have listened to the representative of Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing.  Coincidentally, our keynote speaker Professor Osita Ogbu also made reference to Innoson Motors, so let me also touch briefly on that and here is the heady question.  How come none of the institutions I mentioned have partnered with Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing on how to use the local metallurgical technology in Awka to assist Innoson Motors with the production of at least one key spare part that the company would otherwise source from China? Ironically, what is needed in such an instance is not a fresh invention, but the cost-effective replication of existing parts.

 

The failure to identify and exploit our human resources impedes our technological growth. We have people dedicated to technology here and in many parts of the world.  Also, we have pockets of excellence and individuals here and abroad.  I will mention just two names; Emeka Cyprian Uzoh, who worked for the IBM Corporation and hold many patents on mortarboard technology, and Anthony Akpati, of the Boeing Corporation Jet Propulsion Unit. Incidentally, both come from Anambra State. You can look them up.  They are many more scientists out there. Ironically, whilst in the 1970s Nigeria participated in the Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN) Programme, four decades later, we are at a technological standstill.

 

It is evident that our approach to technology cannot work in the absence of synergy.  The physical base and the premise for improving our technology exist at all levels, but we have failed to harness them and encourage those who are technologically inclined.  As such innovative ideas flounder as does our cadre of professional artisans.  Nonetheless, we have young people in this room and around Anambra, who can still think on their feet and adapt technology to problem solving. Here is a simple but practical example.

 

Several months ago, I encountered two students from this university, who returned to their alma mater in Onitsha, to find that the students in that high school did not have electricity for their night studies, because the college authorities could not afford the prohibitive cost of diesel to power the school’s two generators. These students solved that problem. On their own and at their own cost, they tapped electricity from an existing  solar panel dedicated to the powering the school’s borehole water pump, and provided uninterrupted electricity to three classrooms.  Elementary as this may seem, we need such problem solvers.

 

Government and the academia must share in the laggardly pace of our technological development.  Our leaders lack vision and focus on less important things.  Any useful and desirable partnership is hampered by the prevailing disconnect.  We know too well that research is often an ongoing process, not a series of events.  Therefore, useful research, like public policy, must start with good intention and be sustainable.  But we experience situations where transactions kill research as those who receive research grants become self-administering and spend research funds on feel-good and comfort measures rather than on core research needs.  The peril of transactions and the associated costs are challenges we must tackle.

 

It is no longer in debate that technology is enhanced and made relevant when those charged with technological policies and research, team up with those who implement policies. In this context, we must revisit our emphasis on university degrees as opposed degrees from technological colleges that focus on practicalities.  There are existing best practices around the globe and indeed here in Africa, from which we can borrow.

 

We need visionaries to drive our technological advancement. The compelling alternative remains of course, the imperative of necessity.  Technology is driven by ideas, by dreams; both real and fleeting. Like John F. Kennedy said, we in Nigeria “must ask what we can do for our country, not what our country can do for us.” Permit me to draw from an example you may be familiar with, which underlines both visions and partnership, even though it has less to do with technology.

 

Less than two miles from here, we have the novelty of the Holy Family Youth Village, conceptualized by my dear friend and classmate, Archbishop Valerian M. Okeke.  The Youth Village grew out of nostalgic discussions over dinner, in which it was deduced that most Nigerian university students are not privileged to enjoy amenities and are not exposed to social etiquettes that the Archbishop, Dr. Patrick Utomi, I and our other classmates enjoyed at Christ the King College, Onitsha in pre-civil war Nigeria.  The concept of offering students an enabling social and residential environment to complement their academic endeavours is now a reality.  However, it has taken the support of altruistic entrepreneurs such as Dr. Cletus Ibeto and              Dr. Obinna Uzor and indeed, the Anambra State Government, to bring the project to fruition.

 

In that vein, if today the Anambra State Government would receive a proposal that would allow the UNIZIK Engineering Department or the Engineering Department of Okoh Polytechnic to produce traffic lights for Awka, I believe that the Peter Obi Administration would embrace such a gesture and procure such lights no matter how crude, as opposed to buying the more efficient and far more expensive traffic lights from abroad. The added value of such collaboration is that such it would create employment while generating wealth for all concerned. There is your challenge.

 

We must also understand that the quest for technological advancement is a continuum. It is bold measures matched by continuity or what some refer to as reverse technology that underpins technological ascendency.  Last March, Iran revealed that its drone technology had advanced to the operational stage.  Interestingly, this progress happened just sixteen months after a United States advanced military drone was captured by Iran on 4th December 2011.  Iran’s drone programme might have advanced independently, but the benefits of a model to work with are obvious. Indubitably, reverse technology works best, where there is commitment and a collective drive and interest in promoting technology at all cost.

 

Lest it is perceived that I am passing the buck, I must admit here, once again, that government is not entirely blameless for our present technological predicament. What we encounter is the lack of understanding; lack of technological grasp and lack of vision.   I can go on and on in trying to establish the inextricable link and nexus between the role of government and the promotion of technology. Of that I am certain. So this ATPS gathering and the inauguration of the Anambra Chapter is not just important to those of us in the Anambra Government; it imperative that we give our unalloyed support to what you are doing with a view to promoting  indigenous technological policy, research and development.

 

Let me end these remarks on a personal note.   I have been in my present position for some ten months. Some of the biggest challenges I have encountered are not institutional as they are about individual mindsets and orientation.  Increasingly, I have come to the realization that every facet of our national life is now adversely affected by our self-centered transaction-driven mentality. The field of technology research is not spared. Policies are often skewered, inhibited or killed due to this pervasive attitude.  The attitude results in cost overruns, which in turn, diminishes the actual costs devoted to core research. The solution to these challenges must be multidisciplinary. Essentially, there must be a bond of performance between the state, the organized private sector and the academia aimed at enhancing the drive for technological improvement.

 

For now, the responsibility for our technological failures is a shared one; and our effort to overcome prevailing pitfalls must be similarly shared.  There is already a consensus on the need for us to improve on existing partnership, but we must rally our efforts, if indeed we wish to advance our national technology beyond its present state. You can continue to count on the Anambra State Government to partner with you in your future technological endeavours.

 

Now, it is my singular pleasure, to once again stand in for His Excellency Mr. Peter Obi, CON, and inaugurate formally, the Anambra Chapter of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS).  I thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to share with you, the views of the Peter Obi administration on technological issues.  Congratulations, good luck and God bless you all.



[1] See Deborah Brautigam, “Substituting for the State: Institutions And Industrial Development In Eastern Nigeria” World Development, Vol. 25. No 7 pp. 1063-1080 1977.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See also, B.A.C. Obiefuna, “Nigeria Economic Transformation Agenda: The Realities, The Myths and The Hazards” Paper Presented at the 2012 Alumni Forum of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka Alumni Association, Awka Branch, Suncity Exclusive Hotel , Regina Caeli Road , Awka, 3 November 2013.

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