Utilising science and tech to drive Vision 2020 – By Grace Ekpiwhre

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Utilising science and tech to drive Vision 2020

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By Grace Ekpiwhre

Published: Monday, 18 Aug 2008

This government is clearly charting the path we should all follow through the development agenda tagged Vision 20/2020, which is specifically designed to leapfrog our country into the rank of the twenty biggest economies in the world by year 2020. But to achieve this, we must all be reminded that developing countries that successfully transited from the backwaters to the industrial delight necessarily attached great importance to science and technology. India offers one good reference point here. Years back, India belonged to the club of backward economies. Today, the story has changed. India’s transformation did not happen by accident. Rather, it is the fruit of placing more emphasis on the development of human capital with a strong recourse to science and technology.

India, we all know, benefited immensely from the IT revolution flagged off in the ’90s. Other examples abound. We cannot afford to stagnate while other nations advance. We must buy into this vision; and our gathering should therefore begin to look critically at how to harness science and technology to realise the seven-point agenda of Mr. President.

Traditionally, science is defined as systematic inquiry into the workings of nature, with a view to understanding and directing these for human benefits; while technology is simply taken as the application of science. Today, science and technology are best perceived as a ‘twin-concept’ – meaning that one cannot exist without the other. It is now impossible to discuss issues about technology without mentioning science, just as it is impossible to pursue science without technology. In fact, science and technology have become so closely related that the one now depends on the other for its development. The concept of S&T today refers to the totality of activities that culminate in the application of original or derived knowledge for human benefits.

S&T combine human knowledge with the ability to produce and use tools and machines in order to solve real life problems. In our case, the immediate problems to solve are those of poverty and unemployment; and in the long term, to position our nation as one of the first 20 economies of the world in the next 12 years. Our challenge, now, is how we can use science and technology to achieve these clear objectives. The import of this challenge comes out more clearly when we remember that the main cause of the competitive gap between us and the so-called developed world is the creation and application of knowledge; and that the rules of competition today is more dependent on national capabilities to exploit resources, rather than just gloat over possessing them. This is exemplified in the fact that many of the industrialised countries of the world today are poorly endowed with natural resources and less than friendly weather conditions. Yet, they have attained leadership in the world economy, essentially through the effective application of S&T. Ironically, the least industrialised nations are those with rich resources and favourable climatic endowments.

It is important for us to appreciate the potency of S&T to bring about significant changes in our local, state and national lives. Investments in S&T always pay off, sometimes immediately, but always in the long run. Specifically, countries like the United Kingdom and France benefited immensely from the industrial revolution of the 19th Century, and the United States emerged from an agrarian economy into an industrial superpower in the 20th century, through the effective application of S&T. In fact, these countries invested quite heavily in people and factories, and their successes were based on carefully designed plans and strategies. Unfortunately, virtually all the available statistics show that while the rest of the world has advanced technologically, Africa has fallen relatively further behind.

As laudable as the Vision 20/2020 is, it behoves us all as concerned citizens and key stakeholders that certain areas of our national lives are critical to the realisation of our collective aspiration of being among the first 20 economies by the year 2020. Let us, for a moment, reflect by asking ourselves: exactly what does it take to arrive at this destination? Where do we stand presently? And how do we proceed from here? At national level, we need to take definite actions in specific areas if S&T must help us to deliver on our national aspirations.

It is known, for instance, that a country’s innovation capacity – that is, the ability to create and/or apply new knowledge to solve practical problems – greatly depends on four indices: the country’s level of technological capability; the formal and informal institutions, as well as their supporting systems; physical infrastructure; and an advanced knowledge infrastructure.

Using the above criteria, Nigeria currently stands at 71st position out of 75 countries in a recent rigorous assessment by one of our own, Prof. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, who currently heads UN-HABITAT in Nairobi, Kenya. The message is clear: we have a long way to go. Surpassing 70 countries (among whom are South Africa, China, Israel, Malaysia, etc.) in 12 years is no mean feat. In terms of GDP per capita, we are ranked 12th among the top-rated potential top 20 economies by 2025, and in terms of GDP growth, we are ranked 8th. The need for us to pay attention to the key areas that determine our national capacity for S&T-driven growth, as earlier mentioned, is now urgent.

Nigeria’s economic potential is well recognised. It is the biggest economy in the West African sub-region and has one of the highest GDP figures in the continent. Given the country’s considerable resource endowment and coastal location, there is potential for strong growth. And in recent years, Nigeria has been experiencing an unprecedented growth; turnaround and conditions seem right for launching onto a path of sustained and rapid growth, justifying its ranking amongst the “Next 11” countries. These are the countries identified by Goldman Sachs to have the potential for attaining global competitiveness, based on their economic and demographic settings and the foundation for reforms already laid.

The previous administration had declared the intention to pursue the vision of placing Nigeria among the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020 and the current administration is committed to the attainment of this vision by setting up high-powered committees in this regard. This is in addition to the identification of critical national priority areas referred to as the Seven-point Agenda by the Yar’Adua administration. These areas cover critical infrastructure, food security, human capital development, wealth creation, national security and intelligence, land tenure changes and the Niger Delta. In making this a reality, science and technology has to play a key role. This has been shown in the economies of the Newly Industrialized Countries.

Recognising this, the Federal Government recently inaugurated the Science, Technology Fund Committee made up of eminent Nigerians and technocrats. The committee is expected to advise government and facilitate the establishment of Science, Technology and Development Fund, especially the joint management and administration of fund. The fund, when established, will help translate research results with commercialisable prospects into marketable products. The fund will also be used to give seed capital to young scientists to start new businesses. Together with this, government will, in the immediate, aggressively develop S&T human capital from the bottom up by increasing significantly the S&T content of our school curricula. We will also pay critical attention to the creation of an enabling environment through adequate infrastructural development.

Excerpts of a speech delivered by Mrs. Ekpiwhre, the Minister of Science and Technology, at Tinapa resort Calabar during the Diaspora Day in July.

 

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