Ayo Oyoze Baje
For the umpteenth time, one is compelled to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to institute a policy, for Nigeria to identify and maximize the huge potentials of scientific and technological feats by citizens, both within and in the Diaspora. If done, this will certainly boost our economic growth.
It is worthy of note that the world has been dazzled, over the decades, by the sheer intellectual ingenuity of Nigerians whose inventions/ innovations have assisted in solving seemingly intractable infrastructural, security and transportation challenges. But their impacts have been felt more outside our shores than within. Now is the time for a positive paradigm shift.
For instance, back in 2007 the car manufacturing world was amazed by a new car, Chevy Volt designed by the then 24 year-old, Nigerian-born, US-based prodigy, Jelani Aliyu. It was considered one of the best in terms of meeting the needs of a changing world given the style, engineering and energy requirements.
According to the car manufacturer, General Motors, GM, one of the biggest car
makers in the world, the car “uses a gas engine to create additional engine electricity. The technology behind the Volt concept, GM’s E-flex System, allows electricity to be produced from gasoline, ethanol, bio-diesel or hydrogen, helping to provide a global solution to diversifying transportation energy sources.”
But has Nigeria benefitted from Jelani’s creativity? The answer is obvious, more so now that our distinguished lawmakers are versed to cars that promote clean energy!
The story is no different from that of Silas Adekunle, the founder and CEO of Reach Robotics, a company developing the world’s first gaming robots. This has earned him the enviable status of becoming the highest paid in the field of robotic engineering. Adekunle achieved the feat after signing a new deal with the world’s reputable software manufacturers, Apple Inc. at the age of 26 years in 2018.
He was also named as “Someone to Watch in 2018” by the Black Hedge Fund Group. The initial launch of Mekamon sold 500 robots, generating $7.5 million. Furthermore, he received support from various organisations including London Venture Partners ($10 million) and Reach Robotics signed a deal with Apple securing exclusive sales in Apple stores.
And the question pops up again: Has Nigeria tapped from his fountain of unique technological invention? No is the answer!
We may have lost him to the US just like we did with Prof. Gabriel Oyibo, the Kogi state-born, Nobel Prize nominee in Physics , Professor Phillip Emeagwali , one of the founding fathers of the internet and Damian Anyawnu. Remember him? He is the highly enterprising Mbaise-born inventor who in 1979 built the first privately-operated Radio Station known as Radio Mbaise. And what was unique about that? His radio transmitters were made from herbal granules, stuffed with empty tins and wires were improvised from local materials.
Though it is good to note that he was honoured by the former, late President Alhaji Shehu Shagari and former US president Gorge W. Bush the truth remains that we have not maximized his immense potentials. Rather, it is that country that gains more from the Damian Anyanwu Research Centre, Inc. That is one’s worry.
In fact, precisely in 2018 the media was awash with the enthralling tale of the five Anambra girls from Regina Pacies Secondary School, Onitsha who represented Nigeria and Africa at the World Technovation Challenge in the Silicon Valley in San Francisco, US and clinched the prestigious Gold Medal.
The team, led by Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu, the CEO of Edufun Technik STEM and made up of Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye defeated representatives of other technological giants including the USA, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China to clinch the gold medal.
They developed the FD-Detector which swept through over 2000 competing applications to get to the finals in San Francisco. The noble aim is to help tackle the Challenge of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. And one cannot but ask if the federal government through NAFDAC has begun to enjoy the tremendous benefits from their hi-tech application?
Similarly, in 2012 some four teenage Lagos school girls, Duro-Aina Adebola (14), Akindele Abiola (14), Faleke Oluwatoyin (14) and Bello Eniola (15) wowed Nigerians with their invention of a urine- powered generator at the Maker Faire Africa Exhibition. For it to work, urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which cracks the urea into nitrogen, water, and hydrogen. Eventually, 1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity! Talk about the benefits of recycling what we term as a waste.
Other young Nigerian students at the Lagos State Polytechnic, LASPOTECH have come up with yam pounding machines and cowpea threshers. Little Pamela from Plateau state has invented a device which could be used to cook and dry. It is named Multi Energy Dual Purpose Device. While Collins from Abia state produced a solar-powered digital DC to AC inverter, his colleagues from other states have produced a power generating device by wind and the prototype of fuel generating machine.
In a similar vein, 25-year-old US-based Nigerian, Jessica Matthews, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Unchartedplay, invented a power-generating football called Soccket Ball. It is already on sale in New York and the cost is equivalent to what people pay for a solar inverter. This was shown to former President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Villa, Abuja to the amazement of many. The ball can generate three hours of light from 30 minutes of play. Jessica studied at Harvard University, she went to Business School and actually taught herself Electrical and Mechanical Engineering! So, she is an inspiration to every Nigerian. Or, should be!
To get to the next level, we must take the critical issue of educational development at all levels more seriously. Nigerian universities (both private and public) should be provided with the enabling infrastructure, including adequate grants for research. Our research institutes should be well funded.
Furthermore, we must borrow a leaf from the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Cuba, Brazil, the Asian Tigers and China for a sustained workable synergy between research institutes and the private sector.
The recurring ugly decimal of inventions and innovations which have the potential of transforming Nigeria into an economic giant being stalled at the pilot stage is inimical to our collective future. This should be a challenge for the Ministry of Science and Technology and that of Trade and Investment to resolve . It is a crying shame that we still import all manner of used clothes and malfunctioning electronics, just like we do for refined petroleum products from Europe and Asia all in the name of globalization. Why must the trade wave be skewed in favour of foreign countries? Government must ban whatever we can produce locally.
Baje writes from Lagos