Why Run Before Learning To Walk?

BOOK LAUNCH – WHY RUN BEFORE LEARNING TO WALK? Reflections on High Technology as a Strategic Tool for Development in Nigeria. By TURNER T. ISOUN – CHAIRMAN’S OPENING REMARKS


Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen, in a wider sense, the essence of our presence here today is reflection; specifically, we are gathered to launch a book whose subtitle commences with the word reflection.

Our journey as people of this great country commenced about 100 years ago when two separately administered protectorates were joined together by the British colonialists and given the name Nigeria. Despite those dramatic circumstances of our birth and all the vicissitudes, we have since forged ahead in our desire to form an egalitarian nation with a shared common feature. We have wrested sovereignty from our colonial masters and our country became an independent sovereign nation in October 1960 and from then we have progressed to being a Federal Republic with all the prospects of a great nation built on unity in diversity.

In the area of development, which is aimed at providing the much-needed national infrastructure and decent quality of life for our people, we have applied different paradigms: fixed five year development plans, three year rolling plans, Vision 20, 2020, National Economic and Development Strategy (NEEDS), Seven Point Agenda, down to the current Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Outside agriculture in the early days of our national life, the lot of providing the funds to drive these development plans, has largely fallen on the sale of our crude oil in international markets as an unprocessed natural resource. However, the inability of these plans, operated over the years in the ways we had done, to sufficiently address our perennial social and economic problems – poverty, unemployment, insecurity, food scarcity, poor industrial base and others, and so achieve the anticipated national change for the better, has impelled us to rethink our strategies. Furthermore, the impact of the industrial revolution and current global realities reveal that knowledge, based essentially on science, technology and innovation (STI) and not crude mineral resources, has become the key driving force for national development. It is the acceptance of this aphorism, for which recent governments in Nigeria must be credited, that led to the creation of a Federal Ministry of Science and Technology with a mandate, among others, to deploy STI as the engine of growth in all productive activities of all sectors of the nation’s economy. Thus, the foundation was laid that enabled the author of the book being launched today, who has served as an Honourable Minister in that ministry for about seven years, to propose High Technology as a strategic tool for development in Nigeria. Our reflection today should lead us to commit to build our nation and our transformation agenda on STI.

For this to happen, Nigeria must acquire versatile technologies that are owned and implemented by Nigerians which will deliver multiple and diverse products and services. key among these are space, information and communication technology (ICT), biotechnology, energy technology and climate change adaptation technologies. Satellite data derived from space technology is used in agriculture, water resources development and management, demographic and cadastral analysis, transportation and utilities, management of the environment, defence and security, education as well as disaster management. ICT is applied in education, wealth creation, poverty eradication and job creation. It also enhances global competiveness. Indeed, space and information and communication technologies are the driving forces of globalization. Applying technology to biological systems, as is done in biotechnology – which is reputed to be the next major global growth axis after the current ICT revolution – leads to increased food security and sustainable forestry practices. In the energy sector, understanding and owning the technologies that are deployed for exploitation and exploration in the oil industry would afford Nigerians a better control of events in that vital area, as is currently envisaged in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) 2012 and the Local Content Act. The story would be the same with renewable energy technologies applied to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro, ocean waves and biofuels. Additionally, there exists a wide range of high technologies which has the capacity of addressing some of the daunting challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, desertification and deforestation, floods and erosion, gas flaring and oil spills.

The good news is that Nigeria has made some advances in acquiring and domesticating a number of these high technologies for the country’s development and also put in place some of the needed policies, systems and conditions that should enable these technologies to serve the needs of the people without necessarily grinding through the drudgery of antiquated and obsolete systems. We therefore can say, yes, we can run before learning to walk provided there is a national commitment to education in science and technology as well as pertinent research to support industrialization.

Nigeria has launched two remote sensing satellites into orbit- NigeriaSat-1 and NigeriaSat-2. with a ground control station for tracking and harvesting spatial images and critical data for national development. It has also launched a Communication satellite NigcomSat-1 (later replaced by NigcomSat-1R) as a critical ICT backbone to aid all aspects of telecommunications including broadcasting, broadband, internet and wireless communications. A National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) with six research and development units is in place. These and some other high technology infrastructure and systems, are being manned by competent Nigerians who have received some appropriate theoretical and hands-on training.

But then, one may ask: all this high tech, at what cost? Could smaller scale technology – appropriate technology – not have sufficed, especially in the face of other contending national priorities?

For my answer to the first question, let me borrow from one that is often given to a similar question regarding the cost of education: If you think education is expensive, try illiteracy. For the second question, I can do no better than refer us to the words of Calestous Juma, that Kenyan born professor at Harvard University and strong advocate for the widespread use of biotechnology in Africa to secure the continent’s food requirements, while reacting to a similar question on ICT use in Africa. Said he: reality has turned out to be different. Information and communications technologies are now a key source of economic productivity and a platform for socio-economic transformation worldwide. Many African countries, for example, have been able to “leapfrog” into the modern information age through the mobile phone and the stage is now set for a move into mobile broadband that will see many rural areas move and transform education, health, governance and many aspects of socio-economic life.

Our experience in Nigeria with mobile telephony has been similar; even breathtaking. Whereas the Nigerian Telecommunications Company Ltd, could not, for about 100 years, provide the infrastructure to meet demand for telephones, space technology and ICT which made mobile telephony possible, have ensured that there are currently about 113,000,000 phone lines in the country compared to 1,000,000 as at 2000. The impact that this has had on information transmission, poverty alleviation, job creation and others have been tremendous despite the shoddy performances by some of the local service providers. For instance, in the Abiye Project of Ondo State, mobile phones are used to track pregnant women throughout pregnancy to enable health workers intervene urgently once complications arise. This has resulted in a marked reduction in the number of women who die in pregnancy, labour and pueperium in that state. At the federal level, through its Growth Enhancement Support scheme, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is now using mobile phones to distribute agricultural inputs, including fertilizers to registered farmers all over the country thereby eliminating the corruption that had characterised that exercise over the years.

The truth is that globally, the beneficial multiplier effect of high technology that is owned, properly managed and sustained, far outweighs the cost. Investing in space and other high technology is expensive; yet buying satellite related products and many services which are needed for today’s knowledge economies from others, more so. The mastery of cutting edge science and technology concepts and tools leads a people to innovate and also apply their knowledge to appropriate technology.

Let me conclude by thanking you all for being here today. 10am on a Monday morning is literally the precious first working hour of the first day of a new working week. Thus, your presence bespeaks the status you have accorded this event. As you launch the book, please do so with the understanding that the proceeds would go to strengthen and support the work of an important NGO, The Niger Delta Wetlands Centre, which commits itself to improving the quality of life of the people of the Niger Delta. Furthermore, please be also reminded that the number of copies you pick, will extend the reach of the book and get some others who are not here, to also read and reflect. Finally, let me, most befittingly congratulate the author of the book, Professor Turner Timinipre Isoun for putting it all together and for having acquitted himself so convincingly. No one would doubt, that his outstanding pedigree and cumulative experience spanning over 50 years of immersion in the sciences in world-class scientific environment and institutions as a university professor, special adviser, Vice-Chancellor, editor and Honourable Minister were all brought to bear in a most compelling manner in the captivating style and studded content of this masterpiece. As for his dear wife, Miriam, suffice it to say that she was not only “with” him in the authorship of the book; she was with him always, in body, mind and spirit.

May God bless you all; may God bless Mr. President; may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nimi Briggs.

Emeritus Professor,

University of Port Harcourt.

September 16, 2013.

BOOK LAUNCH – WHY RUN BEFORE LEARNING TO WALK? Reflections on High Technology as a Strategic Tool for Development in Nigeria. By TURNER T. ISOUN – CHAIRMAN’S OPENING REMARKS