(By Bode Agboola)
“With a population of about 55 million at Independence and about 167 million today placed side by side with five universities at independence and about 107 today, suffice it to say that a 20 times increase in the number of our training institutions compared to a three times increase in population should have translated to the desired industrialisation with the attendant growth and development of the various sectors of the economy. The Nigerian economy today is languishing as all available indicators point to this undeniable truth.“
THE industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th century in countries of Europe and the United States, no doubt, brought great wealth and political power to these nations. Equipment and machinery were built which in turn were used to produce more goods and services accurately and at an unprecedented speed. Knowledge, according to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, can be defined as the understanding, information and skill that you get through education or experience. Science is the study of nature or the knowledge about nature while technology on the other hand is the application of the knowledge of science to the definition and solution of real socio-economic and ecological problem. Skill is that aspect of knowledge that you get through practice or practical experience.
Since Independence the Nigerian state led by the ruling political class have had several plans and strategies to move the nation forward and make it not just the giant of Africa but also an enviable one in the committee of nations. No sooner, the universities of Nigeria, Lagos, Ife and Ahmadu Bello Zaria, were established to train the needed manpower to actualise this lofty dream. Several other academic and training institutions were established by both the central government and the regional governments to improve the administrative and technical skill competence of the populace.
Today Nigeria boasts of about 107 universities and over 300 tertiary institutions of higher learning as well which have in turn churned out millions of graduates in science, engineering, social science, administration and the arts. Ironically, however, the country is worse-off the situation at Independence. With a population of about 55 million at Independence and about 167 million today placed side by side with five universities at independence and about 107 today, suffice it to say that a 20 times increase in the number of our training institutions compared to a three times increase in population should have translated to the desired industrialisation with the attendant growth and development of the various sectors of the economy. The Nigerian economy today is languishing as all available indicators point to this undeniable truth. Life expectancy is put at about 48 years while unemployment and under employment at 65 per cent is one of the highest in the world. Growth of majority of the growing population is stunted. Infrastructure is gravely inadequate (3000 MW of electricity for 160 million people compared with South Africa’s 40000MW for 50 million) and the available ones are fast decaying because they are overstretched.
The country produces crude oil but unfortunately cannot refine it; hence the same billions of dollars earned exporting crude is spent importing refined products. Nigeria spent 1.6 trillion naira and 1.3 trillion naira on oil subsidy in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
The return to democratic rule on May 29, 1999 ushered in fresh hopes of national rebirth and economic revival. However, unfolding event in the last 14½ years of democratic rule has raised a lot of questions to be answered. The central government initiated reform programmes in different sectors of the economy. The Bretton Woods cocktail of Privatization, Deregulation, Capital Market Liberalization and Free trade was served the nation without cognisance to her immediate needs and peculiarities. Hence beautiful as some of these reform programmes are, they fail to address the needs of the common man who form the bases of any prosperous society. On the contrary, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Life expectancy, poverty, unemployment, child and maternal mortality and other human development index is on the decline. A commentator was recently quoted as saying that the standard of living is decreasing while the standard of dying is increasing.
Nigeria’s development strategy has been the bane of its industrialisation since independence. While the privatisation of some state assets such as its oil marketing, finance and insurance businesses, hospitality business and others in the service sector of the economy may be laudable, the same cannot be said of industries in the real sector such as its cement and petrochemical plants, power plants, vehicle assembly plants , steel plants etc. Nigeria unlike the Asian and Latin American economies where the results of capitalism have been applauded lacks the needed technical and administrative set skills for industrialisation. China under Mao Zedong (1948-1976) turned around a poverty stricken economy scarred by war and political disarray by planning its economy following the USSR model of constructing a socialist society. Chairman Mao encouraged the distribution of land, elimination of landlords in the countryside and the establishment of heavy industries in the cities. Her population in the process acquired several skills in all the different sectors of the economy hence by the time it opened up its borders, the results of its capitalism was unprecedented. The government during the Obasanjo Administration tried to copy the South Korean chaebols but they seemed not to understand the underlying principles that brought about the establishment of such gigantic multinational corporations like Samsung, Daewoo, Hyundai to mention but a few.
After the Korean War (1950-1953), South Korean rose from devastation to become one of the world’s largest economies in the 1990’s. In the late 50s, the South Korean economy was at par with the Nigerian economy with per capital GDP less than 100 US dollars. Today the South Korean economy with a population less than that of Great Britain produces about twice the industrial output of the latter. Per capital income stands at over 30 thousand US dollars while its scientist and engineers are prominent and are the cutting edge of high-tech innovations such as semiconductor electronics, telecommunication and genetic engineering. This was because before the Korean War and the balkanization of the Korean peninsula, the Korean populace had acquired technical competence under Japanese imperial rule between 1915-1945 working for Japanese industrial establishments both on the peninsula and abroad. Similar tales can be told of other countries that have blazed the trail in recent economic transformation.
The Nigerian state needs to plan its economy and manpower so that the teeming population can acquire the required technical and administrative set skills to be able to compete globally. The local content import should not be arbitrary percentages but to the extent to which a local substitute is available and should not be restricted to the oil and maritime industry alone but to every facet of the nation’s economy. In other words, Nigerians should be allowed and encouraged to plan, design, install, build, operate and maintain their roads, refineries, power plants, chemical plants, fertilizer plants, cement plants, petrochemical plants, bridges, railways, barges, seaports, ships, trains, public and private buildings, power stations, transmission lines, buses, cars, tractors, harvesters, ploughs, aircraft, telecommunication equipments, house hold equipment and appliances, building material and equipment etc.
It is evident that the American government will award contracts only to companies of American descent or of any of its allies and the German or Chinese government will do same. I participated in a building project belonging to a Federal Government agency recently, and you can only but weep for this nation. The main contractor was a popular German construction firm while the subcontractor was Israeli. The Nigerians that participated in the project were very poorly paid compared to the thousands of dollars that their foreign counterparts earn every month. Also you were only assigned menial jobs irrespective of your qualification or competence. All the materials except for sand and gravel used in the project were sourced abroad whereas there were quality and better local substitutes which would have resulted in a multiplier effect on the economy by producing more jobs for those who work in the building material industries. All the cables and over 500 electrical panels used were imported whereas there are internationally certified electrical cable manufacturers such as Niger chin, Cometstar and Kablemetal locally. Emydas, Toptech, Compass Power, and several other local companies build durable and efficient electric panels.
A way out of this quagmire can be the incorporation of a minimum of two-year, continuous, government sponsored training in on-the-job skill acquisition in the curriculum of science and engineering undergraduates. This can be achieved by collapsing the mandatory one-year National Youth Service and six month industrial training. The government should, however, take charge of the training and placements by ensuring that its contractors, departments, ministries and agencies in every sector of the economy take well calculated percentages of these students. Private establishments and corporate organizations operating in the country should also be mandated to participate. The program should be adequately funded by the government. A total overhaul of government policies and development strategy will be needed so that labour intensive projects such as manufacturing of plants and machinery, ship building, agriculture, fabrication of oil and gas facilities, expendables, pipes, military hardware, assembly of trucks and other automobiles are done locally. The government should make sure that its agencies and parastatals patronise only locally made goods. The government should provide incentives to locally manufactured goods to the extent that it is protected from unfair competition.
The Nigerian educational system, though lagging behind, and which still needs a lot to be done to improve it, cannot be said to be the cause of its lack of development or industrialisation. However, new investments should be made in public schools at all levels to revitalise them and improve their standards. Nigeria is endowed with the human and natural resources needed to jumpstart its industrialisation. The responsibility lies greatly on the leadership to become visionary. Like the holy book says, where there is no vision, the people cast away restraint.
• Agboola is a building services engineer who resides in Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”