Anybody who has had anything to do with Nigeria from the 1970s when the country was swimming in the lavish waters of oil boom will readily admit the fact that the progress of the country has been in reverse gear. Nigeria had so much money to play around with then. The Miles Gloriosus, our own braggart soldier, had just emerged from the war of unity. The government of Yakubu Gowon, the head of the junta that marched across the country with triumphant overreach, had declared the 3Rs: reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation, as the policy of the government of the day. With ample petro-dollars in its kitty, the government embarked on a number of ambitious projects, including the now dilapidated expressways that cut across the north and south of the country.
Even though the Nigerian government of the era declared to the world that it was marching on with its declared new order, there were elements within the system who did not care a hoot about rehabilitation and reconstruction. With this mindset, whatever vision, tenuous or otherwise, that the Gowon regime was experimenting with, suffered an abortion. A violent change of guard had thrown Gowon overboard and installed a rag-tag order that hung precariously in the balance. The musical chairs was later to eventuate in the civilian order that came about in 1979. But that was after political instability had taken a toll on the dreams and aspirations of the government that set out to rehabilitate and reconstruct.
Interestingly, while the centre was gasping for breath, the East Central State government under Ukpabi Asika had a vision. It wanted to tap into the technological ingenuity of the Biafran State whose struggle for statehood had just failed. This led to the setting up, in 1970, of the now moribund Project Development Agency (PRODA) in Enugu. The agency was charged with the broad function of generating and catalyzing industrialization by carrying out industrial research from the laboratory to the actualization stage. PRODA was a front runner in training, research and publicity of engineering products.
Apparently in the bid to be part of the success story that PRODA had become, the Federal Government, in 1980, elevated it to a research institute under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. The overall impression then was that, with what was happening at PRODA, Nigeria was heading to a high technological age. But that was as far as it went. PRODA died in the hands of a disjointed order that knew neither rhyme nor rhythm.
But it is reassuring that where government is failing, some private sector operators are moving in to turn the story around for good. One such effort is the Innovate Technology Hub, otherwise known as Skill G, put together by the chancellor of Gregory University, Professor Greg Ibe, in association with some Israeli experts. It is the initiative of innovators and entrepreneurs who are adopting the Silicon Valley model that has progressively transformed the way innovation and entrepreneurship are viewed globally. The IT hub is adapting the best of these for the purpose of changing society’s needs.
A visit to the Abuja hub will confront you with an ambitious project that promises to usher Nigeria into the elusive but much sought after technology orbit that the country desires. Peopled mainly by young startups, the operators are glad to challenge you to bring to them any idea that fires your imagination and see them transform it into something that will change society for the better.
To convince you that they are not relishing in mental flights, the innovators rely, first and foremost, on the exploits of world renowned inventors, scientists and technologists. Theirs is to use the marks made by these greats as stepping stones and then usher us into a creative and innovative realm that was never known before. That is why they have various laboratories like those of Albert Einstein, the German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity; Benjamin Franklin, the polymath and founding father of the United States of America. Franklin was a scientist and inventor who was nicknamed the Newton of Electricity. The hub also showcases great minds like Thomas Edison, the American inventor who developed many devices in fields such as electric power generation, sound recording, motion pictures and mass communication; Sandford Fleming, the Scottish-Canadian engineer and inventor; and Galileo Galilei, the astronomer, known for analytical dynamics, kinematics and observational astronomy, among others. Relying on the historical exploits of these great men, the Nigerian IT hub has assembled talented young men and women who bury their heads in laboratories of all sorts and even labless laboratories where they carry out experiments, run analyses and design anything that will serve the world of technology. At the electronic laboratory, for instance, the whiz kids have carried out innovations that have led to the manufacture of circuit boards needed in fiber optic sensors and regulators.
At the hub, reverse engineering has taken root. Here, objects are transformed from their physical structures to digital images. Extensive innovations are also being carried out in the areas of robotics, coding and artificial intelligence. Even more familiar areas like tailoring, shoemaking, metal work and wood work are not left out. The objective is to ensure that all hands are on deck towards evolving a new technological order. The centre is, indeed, a total hub for out-of-the-box innovations.
In a country where government initiatives do not ever work or hardly survive even when they initially work, the Innovate Technology Hub is bound to come to the rescue. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation should take more than a passing interest in the revolution going on at the hub. Significantly, the Minister in charge of the ministry, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, is an engineer of repute who has made efforts in the past to lift Nigeria out of technological backwardness. He still has an opportunity to make a mark in this regard. There is something in the hub that can serve whatever plans the ministry has towards a technologically advanced Nigeria.