There is general consensus that science, technology and innovation (STI) can facilitate inclusive growth and sustainable development. Scientific and technological developments are the driving force of socio-economic transformation and economic prosperity. Science, technology and innovation are comprised knowledge, skills and techniques, which rational human beings regularly employ to explore and manipulate their environment for improved quality of life. STI as a driver for sustainable development recognises that human beings should be the critical factor in development policy agenda.
Historically, Nigeria has some advantages in science and technology, but they need to be deployed carefully for optimum benefits. The pool of natural and human resources available are massive. The environment has rich natural habitats with huge raw materials endowment for scientific innovation, especially in agriculture, medicine and pharmaceuticals. The pool of human resources due to growing youth population and youth unemployment indicates readily available labour force.
The STI priority has been clearly emphasised in notable policy documents at the global, continental and national levels. Policy developments that have made science, technology and innovation priority imperative for all economies include the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, which emphasises STI as a core driver of inclusive growth and development.
At the continental level, the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA) 2024 has emerged as the framework for implementing the African Union’s 2063 Agenda, which focuses on three strategic pillars, namely capacity building, technology innovation and knowledge production. This necessitates a paradigm shift from commodity-based to knowledge-based economy. Just recently, the African Capacity Report, ACR (2017) identified science, technology and innovation as strategic priorities as well as the cheapest and fastest route to economic transformation, inclusive growth and sustainable development.
Nigeria’s long-term development plan has been the Vision 20:2020, which aims at ensuring that Nigeria becomes one of the 20 largest economies in the world by the fiscal year 2020. The plan targets a per capita income (PCI) of US$4,000 and reduction of extreme hunger and poverty by half by the fiscal year 2020. It is planned that these targets be achieved primarily by addressing the key constraints to economic growth and global competitiveness, improving the policy and business environment, increasing investment in human capital and economy diversification through creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in an ecosystem.
The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), a medium-term plan for the 2017-2020 period, focuses on three core objectives, namely restoring growth, investing in human capital and building a competitive economy. The ERGP targets a growth rate of 7 per cent by 2020. This growth is planned with the notion that human resources other than oil resources are the best resources available. This targeted prosperity is to be driven by economy diversification through strong non-oil sector growth anchored on industrialisation for agriculture and food security, energy and transportation. The ERGP posits that all initiatives under job creation will prioritise youth as beneficiaries. One of ERGP objectives for the education sector is to increase the number of youth with the skills required to secure employment and/or become entrepreneurs. In sum, the ERGP emphasises an innovation-driven economy.
In economic development literature, the endogenous growth theory posits that investment in human capital, scientific innovation, and knowledge are significant contributors to economic growth. The theory argues that robust policy measures on human capital development enhance long-run growth. The theory emphasizes positive externalities and spillover effects of knowledge economies that are clearly and completely driven by creativity, innovation and inventions.
The 21st century knowledge-based economy in which intellectual property is the core basis of production and services recognises, as new measures of global competitiveness, the number and quality of patents, research and development (R&D), and surplus high skilled and knowledgeable labour. This means that human skills acquired through learning or learning-by-doing and/or experience is the driver of social transformation and economic prosperity. The needed massive paradigm shift from commodity-based economy to knowledge-based economy is mainly because it has been confirmed that innovation and knowledge are core-driving forces of socio-economic transformation and national development.
The successes of industrialised nations such as USA, Japan, China, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland, just to mention but a few, depends massively on creativity, inventions and innovations from commercialised scientific research. This commercialisation of research leads to creation of utilities, values, wealth and efficiencies as well as increased productivity. Early inventions in advanced economies such as steam engine by James Watt in 1775, electric motor by Michael Faraday in 1821, electric impulse telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1835, light bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879 ushered in the era of globalisation. In the 20th century, more inventions and innovations were recorded. They include: (i) kidney and liver dialysis machine, by Gambro in 1946, (ii) heart beating machine powered by sound waves invented by Helmuth Hertz and Inger Edler in 1953. Inventions and innovations have become a way of life and economic progress.
It was observed that since fiscal year 2012, sub-Saharan Africa has produced more countries in the innovation achiever category than any other region. The 2017 GII listed Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi, Madagascar and Senegal as innovation achievers this year and several times prior to this year. Tanzania and Burundi became innovation achievers for the first time this year.
Worthy of note also is that the Global Innovation Index acknowledged that sub-Saharan Africa earns its highest scores in institutions and markets sophistication with Mauritius, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda, and Burkina Faso leading. South Africa had a global innovation index rank of 57 in 2017, while Mauritius and Kenya had global innovation index ranks of 64 and 80 respectively. In terms of human development index (HDI) rank, Mauritius ranked 64 under the high HDI category, while South Africa and Kenya ranked 119 and 146 under the medium HDI category.
There is urgent need to implement STI policies in line with global best practice as stipulated in United Nations SDG 17. This will definitely necessitate the adoption of the Schumpeterian model of creative destruction for economic development. Most advanced economies had successfully applied the model with science parks and areas of innovation in an ecosystem. The Silicon Valley in USA, Cambridge Science Park in UK and Ideon Science Park in Sweden are massive success stories with great innovations. Their exploits have placed USA, UK and Sweden (host countries) as highly innovative and rich nations that can survive without dependence on commodities, which are highly vulnerable to economic fluctuations.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift from a commodity-based economy to knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy by Nigeria in line with best practices for global competitiveness and sustainable development. Economy diversification through huge public and private investment in science parks and areas of innovation is imperative. This would result in high positive cluster effects. The positive effects are enormous: acquisition of new skills, youth empowerment, youth employment, increased output, wealth creation, increased earning capacity, extreme poverty reduction, regional economic development and global competitiveness amongst others.
• Professor Ozumba is vice chancellor, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.