Nigeria showed some signs of technological prowess during the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War. Then, the Research and Production Department of the defunct Republic of Biafra developed a land mine named ‘Ogbunigwe,’ that tremendously helped it in the prosecution of the war. Unfortunately, that invention and others were allowed to fizzle out with the war. There was also no effort to concretise the prototype for the first made-in-Nigeria car that the Projects Development Agency (PRODA), Enugu, pioneered shortly after the civil war.
Two years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari signed a Presidential Executive Order for planning and execution of projects, as well as the promotion of Nigerian content in contracts, science, engineering and technology. That Order stipulates, among others, that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) shall “engage the activities of small and medium scale industries in accordance with the Public Procurement Act 2007 for the local production of construction materials, such as burnt clay bricks, roofing sheets, timber products and sanitary wares, for the construction and infrastructural development of projects in Nigeria.” The MDAs are to also “ensure that indigenous small and medium scale producers of building and infrastructural development materials are encouraged with incentives, including single digit interest on loans.”
In line with this directive, the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) in Kaduna, recently, started mass production of ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits using local content. Director, Defence Media Operation, Maj-Gen. John Enenche, said DICON produced kits consisting of standardised gowns, face shield and nose masks, which the Kaduna State Government and other stakeholders were already using. DICON engineers, consultants and medical teams are said to have also produced digital mechanical ventilator known as DICOVENT. Besides, it has reportedly been producing licensed copies of the Mills M36M (M36) hand grenade, battle rifles and submachine guns.
The importance of local content in the defence industry is underscored by the fact that no serious nation can afford to rely solely on foreign powers to protect her citizens. In the oil and gas industry, the same scenario prevails. In April 2010, the government initiated the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010 (NOGICDA). The Act aims at optimising local content in Nigeria’s oil and gas operations. It is to help in achieving 70 per cent in the use of indigenous labour and materials in oil and gas projects. And it is to ensure acquisition of skills by Nigerians with the ultimate aim of developing the economy.
The crash of oil prices engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more imperative that we focus on local content in all fields, be it construction, power, solid minerals, information and communications technology. It will go a long way to support our economic recovery and also cut costs. No nation can lay claim to development without indigenous technology. China and Japan are good examples of where indigenous technologies thrive.
The Abia State Government took a giant leap towards this direction in 2017 when it arranged for shoe and garment makers in Aba to interface with their counterparts from China. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu while showing the Chairman of the Huajian shoe factory, China, Mr Zhang Huarong, some locations to site their factory in Aba, said it would encourage healthy competition in Aba, which hosts about 110,000 shoemakers and 50,000 garment makers.
Interestingly, the Abia State Government has proposed an industrial cluster for finished leather and garment operators at Umukalika in Obingwa Local Government Area of the state. It should hasten the process as the current location of the operators at Ariaria area of Aba is not conducive. It lacks the basic amenities that support production. Government should also consider other industrial clusters which should be provided with security, constant electricity and other infrastructure. Similarly, the Federal Government must identify some industrial clusters within the six geopolitical zones to encourage the development of local technology.
It is pertinent to note that no nation will transfer its technology to another. For Nigeria to become Africa’s technology hub by 2026, as the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, had once projected, it needs to look inwards, prioritise technological education and equip its existing institutions. We must involve our engineers in the construction of roads, bridges and other projects. The pledge of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) to focus on technical capability including training of 1,000 teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in 2020 is a step in the right direction.
Also, our research institutes must play a critical role. In 2018, for instance, the PRODA announced a breakthrough in pencil production. Dr. Onu had urged Nigerians to come to the agency to acquire the technology for their investments. He said the agency could also manufacture industrial machine parts.
Government should intensify efforts in the area of funding these research institutes and technological institutions. We have had some beautiful projects that did not see the light of the day because of funding. If the Raw Materials Research and Development Council had been well funded and monitored, perhaps, it would have done much in the development of indigenous technology.