By Ayo Oyoze Baje
They are young, resourceful, smart and above all highly creative. They are all focused on the future; with fecund minds literally brimming to the brim with brilliant ideas on how to turn the fortunes of their country, nay their everyday environment around for good. Mind you, they are not driven by the misguided mania for filthy lucre like the generation before them. No!
Instead, they desire and are indeed determined to turn the apple cart in favour of the people. But something is missing, some vital ingredient to bring their dreams to the light of the day. That of course, is the enabling environment. Welcome to the world of Nigeria’s whizkid academics making the patriots proud.
Back in March, 2013 Miss Tinuade Olukemi Okoro, an Ondo State-born Nigerian achieved an unprecedented academic feat by becoming the best graduating student at the Ghana Medical School (UMGS), Legon, winning 16 mouth-watering awards. These included the prize for the all-round best student sponsored by the Ghana Health Service and another for being the best student in the MB Ch,B Final Part 2 Examination.
It was a similar scenario that same year for another Nigerian student, Dr. Victor Olalusi who also emerged the best graduating student with a grade point of 5.0 at the Faculty of Clinical Sciences at the Russian National Research Medical University, Moscow. Olalusi never fell below 5.0 in all the courses he took throughout his course of study, not even in the Russian language class. That uncommon brilliance was not only the first-of-its-kind in Russia but anywhere in the world.
As for Ufot Ekong, the Akwa Ibom native solved a mathematical puzzle that students have been unable to solve for three decades in his first semester at Tokai University, Japan. He did not stop at that as he went on to break a 50 year-old academic record by graduating as the ‘Best All Rounder’ with a first-class degree in electrical engineering and getting the highest grades the university had witnessed in 50 years.
Currently working for Nissan, while undergoing a Master’s Degree programme in Electric/Electronic Systems Engineering, Ufot Ekong already has two patents under his name for developing an electric car.
Yet another genius is Osarieme Anita Omonuwa. At 22, she bagged a first class honours degree at the University of Reading, United Kingdom, making her the first black woman to win the Reading University Chancellor’s Award in the history of the 121-year-old institution. Just like Ufot Ekong, Omonuwa was awarded a total of six prizes – Student of the year, Best female graduating student, Council of Legal Education Star Prize, amongst others.
Also, in July, 2015 the 24-year-old son of former Minister of Youth Development, Oluwatobi Olasunkanmi, was awarded the William Charnley Prize for excelling at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. He graduated with the best First Class in Law at the renowned university and was also the only black student in the graduating set.
Apart from the above listed achievers in the field of science and technology, there are several unsung young heroes and heroines with achievements in the arts, entertainment, sports and fashion. They out there, making Nigeria a source of envy in the international community. Let us recall what the Russian diplomat said at an event organized by the Ministry of Education to honour the young Dr. Olalusi in Abuja. “Genetically, Nigerians grasp knowledge easily”. But are we making the best use of them?
So, the pertinent questions persist. Do the governments-both federal and states-have credible data on these great achievers and their products? Are there long-lasting and sustainable policies and programmes which the country could anchor on to tap into their genius? How would they be relevant to grow our economy should they return to Nigeria in the absence of stable electric power, good access roads, and access to loans with single digit interest rate to give life to their dreams? And what about an unstable polity with an over bloated federal centre that is structured against fast-paced economic activities at the geo-political zones and states? How do we relate the absurd self-enriching salary structure to provide much needed incentives to catalyze innovations and inventions aimed at solving endemic problems in agriculture and solid mineral sector, more so at a time we are angling for diversification?
We have gotten to a point when governments and institutions should charge our scientists and technologists to find solutions to many of our persisting economic challenges with a prize to the bargain. For instance, in 1795 the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method, to preserve food. In 1795, Nicholas Appert began experimenting with ways to preserve foodstuff, succeeding with soups, vegetables, juices, dairy products, jellies, jams, and syrups. He placed the food in glass jars, sealed them with cork and sealing wax and placed them in boiling water. After some 14 years of experiment, Appert submitted his invention and won the prize in January 1810 on the condition that he makes the method public; the same year.
The private sector should not be left out. How would it feel should Dangote have a prize for solutions to pot-hole riddled roads? His colleagues in more developed countries are already thinking ahead, on who and what would take over from Sean Parker, Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel. One billionaire called Peter Thiel has a Foundation that gives out $100,000(dollars) each to young inventors.Out of the over 122 beneficiaries so far, the most notable is James Proud. His ingenious product called Sense is a small hardware gadget worth $149 that monitors how well the buyer sleeps. It has been discovered that the quality of our sleep affects our health and longevity. It has a sales projection of 250,000 units for 2017 that would translate to $20million!
Recall, that I had suggested to this administration through my opinion essay: “Making the best use of our best brains”, that we should begin to tap into the valuable products of our geniuses. The earlier we catch them young and provide them the enabling environment to thrive, the better for us all.
Baje writes from Lagos.