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These inventive Nigerians: who gets over the moon about them?




File photo: Mr. Andy Acka and his invented mini jeep. 
It’s no gain say that Nigerians old or young are a never say die people, even though, it’s not without occasional fraudulent twists to it.

Over the years and against all odds, they have continued to break out in different directions and in different countries all in the attempt to successfully underline their acquired or natural ingenuity.

So much that as the day goes by the stories of their constructions, however crudely they are, won’t stop multiplying and gaining traction.

Sure, it’s been giving a lot more Nigerians the hope (I won’t call it false yet) that country is within the touching distance of technological Eldorado. 

Frankly speaking, I love the love being shown these categories of Nigerians.

But at the same time, I’ve my reservations about the overreaching nature of people’s optimism and even glamorization especially when extended towards some of them.

In this wise, there’s a near grand attempt to pass off many of their creations as something to be celebrated despite being simplistically repetitive, unmarketably crude and so grossly deficient in what one may call imaginative originality.

That’s to say; their efforts, genuine as they were, are yet incapable of fully demonstrating our capacity and readiness to urgently impact the fluid boundaries of human technological march.

Over time, I’ve had a series of interesting conversations with people from both sides of the divides around the subject of Nigeria technological development and the hurdles it must overcome to stand a fighting chance of standing out in the highly competitive global market place of technological inventions.

The latest happened very recently on the street of Abuja. It was during one of my regular but casual visits to my young friend who is a SIM registration agent of one of Nigeria’s Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) service providers. He is a graduate of one of the polytechnics in Northern Nigeria.

As it so happened when I arrived there that day, I met a younger boy who was planning to take the just concluded United Tertiary and Matriculation Examination (UTME). Interestingly, he is an art student. And I’m so convinced his choice was by no means be less shrewd because it must have been a function of years of systemic assessments.

Not trying to discourage the boy I’d suppose, at least not directly, but my agent friend nevertheless would go on say rather shockingly that the art as a discipline isn’t adding any value to the growth and development of Nigeria.

And as if the detraction isn’t enough, he equally added that the art is no longer in vogue, unlike science. And I perfectly understood where he was coming from which is that the modern pioneers are the scientists, engineers, and inventors. Of course, he has a scientific background and that might explain his biases.

But is that enough reason to say the art in the form of imaginative flights and the likes have and are not contributing anything to human technological advances so far?

Just so you know; knowledge is no more important than imagination. Imagination takes you everywhere; even to places you’ve never been physically and may never be in your life. 

To compound the drift, my friend is of the opinion that the Nigeria government at some points in the past had mooted the idea of canceling the art subjects.

This is where I came in because those obviously are misinformation and flawed conclusions about the arts.

Government anywhere not to talk of Nigeria, I chipped-in, cannot cancel art subjects in schools simply for the art is still very much and will remain part and parcel of human existence and experience going forward.

I had asked him what his definition of art is. Obviously, from his answer, he thinks art is only an academic discipline. He naively glossed over the part that the art is also a profession. And that within its huge multi-billion dollar industry is music, dance, theater, painting, photography and sculpturing to name a few.

On the one hand, I tried to encourage a joint inquiry into the nature of art. But more importantly, on the other hand, I had to inform his ignorance that as of today, art and not science as both an academic discipline and profession has brought Nigeria true recognition in the international arena through none other than the literary legend, Prof. Wole Soyinka who won the Nobel Laureate in 1986 and other art practitioners like musicians and those in the theatrics.

The conversation became more re-focused on science and technology, and I took the driving seat thereof. But somewhere in the middle, he managed to loop in a somewhat indefensibly populist opinion that Nigerians have always been inventing stuff which I agreed with and that government has not been supportive enough. Otherwise, a lot would have been achieved down the year.
In this regards, he would go on to cite some examples both from his polytechnic days and from happenings in the wider Nigerian society.

Let me pick just two. The first concerns a final year student of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who for his project invented a drone.

Like many before it, the news was all over the internet and you’d think a Nobel Prize is in the offing for the young man. Whereas all he has done was replicating what we already know. Not a bad idea altogether after all that’s how many of the technological powerhouses started off. But there’s something extra yet to be discovered by many inventive Nigerians and the government alike.

The second has a slant of fraud to it. It was in connection to a fraudulent infiltration of a bank in Nigeria by a black hat hacker.

At this point, I could perceive a glint of delight in his voice which went a pitch higher than it was before. More so, his face brightens up like a kid who just had a gift he has long craved for.

From his excitable conclusions, the hacker is not only a great guy but one who deserves a national honor. To him, the fraudulent tech-whizkid is a titular scientist and inventor to have applied his internet skill even if in a negative way.

For the umpteenth time and no disrespect to all honest technologists in Nigeria, the average inventive Nigerians are at best most pedestrian in their occupation. With a few exceptions though, they are not daring, not innovative enough to deserve the sort of accolades they are currently getting.

This is because all they have preoccupied themselves with over the years is recycling the technological wastelands of the rivaling west and eastern worlds to primarily feather the nest of their daily bread. And that’s where it stops.

I can name a thousand and one products, no jokes, which have remained the same since they first hit the market place as an alternative to their foreign counterparts.  That sucks if you ask me!

Not surprising, they’re sooner than later pushed out of business by their more daringly creative and innovative rivals from abroad.

To buttress my point, I’ll cite a couple of examples. I know many Nigerians are familiar with the crude electrical lighting contraption called ‘Oju ti NEPA’. When translated, ‘Oju ti NEPA’ means NEPA is put to shame.

And for the benefits of those who are idealess about what NEPA is or means, it is an acronym for Nigeria’s former energy carrier before it was ‘fraudulently unbundled’ some have argued and means National Electric Power Authority.  

The device in question derives its name from the function it serves. It is used to temporarily lights up the homes and shops when there’s a public power outage. There were and are still plenty of such.

It is one of the several ridiculous products ever to be invented by our so lionized collective engineering intelligentsia.

The worrisome aspect is that it has remained the same in shape and function since it first came to light decades ago. Whereas within the same period, its foreign parallels have undergone several innovative improvements and upgrades.

Secondly, some years back, I met a technologist who has fallen on evil days because his once thriving business was now in the past. The consequence is that he could no longer care for his family.

To bring the much-needed relief to his unease, he confided in me his plans to put up his only house for sale. Temporarily and before such becomes a reality, he has already started to reconfigure the house preparatory to letting out portions of it. However, I left the community not long afterward and wasn’t privileged to know what later happens.

Before then like I was saying, he has been very active in the industry of providing a local alternative to imported welding machines. Everything was going on fine. There was serious patronage for their rough looking contraptions. Then suddenly, they began to face stiff competition from abroad. The usual suspect, as you might know, is China.

And the local industry experts like him simply had no answer to the low price, beautifully made and efficient alternative from China. Sales dropped and customers moved to the imported welding machines.

Contrary to what people like my new friend expect that government should provide money for old and startup technologists and inventors; it’s not the responsibility of government to provide funding for the private technological initiative because accountability has been poor over the years.

It’s, therefore, not up for arguments, that is a frontier for the private financial institutions and rich entrepreneurs looking for openings to invest their millions and billions if you like which underscore the importance of a SiliconValley and Nigeria don’t have any as we speak.

All Nigeria presently has to the best of my knowledge are underfunded technology incubation centers; and ineffective and inefficient research institutes whose outputs are gathering dust on their shelves.

Also from what I know of Nigeria and Nigerians, any money from the government is seen as either a windfall or crust from the national cake whose repayment should be given little or no attention.

That said; there’s another group of inventive Nigerians who don’t deserve love from anybody. These groups are ambitious and industrious but in the end, what do they do?

To drive sales knowing wealthy and no less the poor Nigerians have obsessive tastes for foreign goods, their products, and services are either attributed to China or any of the many European countries.

Finally, here are the cruxes of Nigeria’s scientific, technological and inventive matters.

The idea that Nigerian inventors wanting to fly first before they walk has for so long remain unacceptably counterproductive and will forever remain so.

The idea that Nigerian inventors believing rather in error that they can continue to produce just about anything and anyhow in the hope Nigerians and indeed anybody will buy because they’re cheap will not also fly.

Nobody buys a product or service because it’s cheap alone. In a similar vein, nobody also ignores a product or service just because it’s expensive.

There must be an added utility or value to it, first in the form of aesthetics and then efficient and dependable problem-solving features. And those are the catch!

Nigerian inventors must learn to combine the right pricing with the right design. Only then can their products and services begin to compete favorably well with similar stuff coming from China or anywhere else for that matter.

They must also, learn to be responsively innovative and not wait until the competition is at the door before they know it’s time to up their game.

Everything these days including technological products are to be optimized for the global market for that’s what it is. Or else they will gather dust on the shelves of marketers.

Nigerian technologists must be ready to go from the basic to intermediate and then to advance in their quest to be a reckoning force in the already glutted and expanding the global marketplace of arcane end of engineering products and services.  

The way it stands, it’s a false hope that Nigeria is anywhere within the threshold of a technological Eldorado. In my opinion, we have not even started. If anything, we’re only crashing in and at random on what’s the arcane gate of technological Eldorado. Whereas, what’s urgently needed by the technologists at both the academic and industrial levels is to be deliberate about it.

As for those who like my friend wish to be over the moon because inventive Nigerians are able to conjure scrappy papers, plastics, and metals into something all in the name of inventing, I say best of luck.

But for those who are already over the moon because some fellow Nigerians are able to couple mechanical and electrical elements which they didn’t even make originally and calling it invention and believing they’re close to technological new dawn; I think they are in a dreamland.

And like those who in their dream stumbled on a cache of money and are overjoyed; they better be hardworking because it’s an indirect sign of impending hunger.

Finally, I was and will always be over the moon for those inventive Nigerians who’re crazy enough to imagine things impossible in the estimation of unimaginative people; and are willing to connect, collaborate and innovate with others within the existing technological development frameworks towards bringing them to fruition.

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