Only science and tech will save Nigeria
In 2011, South Korean exports had transformed to industrial products and already processed commodities comprising refined petroleum (8.69%), integrated circuits (8.5%), broadcasting equipment (4%), wholly manufactured cars (not assembled) –(6.5%), passenger and cargo ships (4.5%), special purpose ships (3.38%), vehicle parts (3.08%), LCDs (4%), others were hot-rolled iron, cold-rolled high tensile iron, broadcasting accessories, hydrocarbons, chemical products, vehicle tyres, ethylene, propylene, polyesters and polyethylene, telephone and telecommunications, equipment and machinery, etc.
Also in 2011, on the other hand, Nigerian exports still remained as nearly unprocessed commodities, although there was a shift to crude petroleum (78.41%), petroleum gas (9.12%), refined petroleum (6.69%). Hence, as high as 94.22% of exports became petroleum based. The traditional non-oil unprocessed commodities were virtually no longer exported.
It is clear that in 1962, both Nigeria and South Korea exported nearly unprocessed commodities. Nearly 50 years later in 2011, Nigeria still exported nearly unprocessed commodities. Though Nigeria exported commodities in 2011, the situation had become so bad such that she had become essentially a mono-product economy, as virtually all her exports (94%) were petroleum based. On the hand, South Korea had between 1962-2011 become an industrial power exporting broadcasting equipment, wholly manufactured cars; passenger, cargo and special purpose ships. What is most interesting is that though South Korea does not produce crude oil, but she exported refined petroleum products. This should not be surprising because while South Korea paid a lot of attention to science, technology and innovation, Nigeria did not. No wonder data from the World Bank on Investments in Research and Development (R&D) between 2005 and 2014, the expenditures for R&D as a percentage of the GDP for South Korea was as high as 4.15% while that for Nigeria was as low as 0.22%.
Perhaps, for us to properly understand the enormity of the damage that the neglect of science, technology and innovation has done to our national development, it has become necessary to start with a review of Nigeria’s standing in current global comparative statistics on the contribution of scientific innovation to national development. The Global Innovation Index 2016 (www.globalinnovationindex.org), published by the Johnson Cornell University in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) ranked Nigeria 114 out of 128 countries of the world on innovation.
Nigeria stands behind such sub-Saharan African countries as Mauritius (53rd), South Africa (54th), Kenya (80th), Rwanda (83rd), Mozambique (84th), Botswana (90th), Namibia (93rd), and Malawi (98th). The critical indicators used for ranking, include human capital development, Research output, Development funding, university performance and international dimension of Patent application. For me, it is a matter of grave concern that of the countries ahead of Nigeria in Sub-Saharan Africa, only South Africa can compare with Nigeria in terms of economic resources and science and innovation potential. Therefore, why other countries which are less endowed than Nigeria actually performed better confirms the fact that we have not considered science, technology and innovation as a critical component of our economic growth strategy. It is important that we appreciate that we risk being left further behind. This is sad, if the trend continues.
The World Economic Forum’s 2015/16 Global Competitive Index ranked Nigeria 106 out of 140 countries on technological readiness and 107 out of 140 countries on innovation. The indicators for Technological Readiness include availability of latest technologies (99 out of 140); firm level technology absorption (91 out of 140); foreign direct investment and technology transfer (71 out of 140). On innovation, the indicators include capacity for innovation (82 out of 140); quality of scientific research (129 out of 140); company spending on research and development (108 out of 140); university – industry collaboration in R & D (122 out of 140); government pro – industry collaboration in R & D (122 out of 140); government procurement of advanced technology products (117 out of 140) and availability of scientists and engineers (98 out of 140). If we critically compare these two reports, it will be obvious that the position of Nigeria is quite unenviable, given the size of our economy and the potential of human and natural resource endowment at our disposal.
It is important to point out that when I became the Minister of Science and Technology in November 2015, this was the state of science, technology and innovation in our dear country. I decided to stand up, fold my sleeves and go to work to rapidly improve our technological readiness and level of innovation in the country. I know that the journey ahead is filled with a lot of challenges but I am confident that the work can and will be done.
Nigeria cannot continue to be a mono-product economy where our export consists of essentially unprocessed commodities. This makes our economy very vulnerable and hence unable to withstand shocks that arise whenever there is a sharp decline in the prices of commodities in the international market. It also makes us almost completely reliant on imports to meet our national needs. This has made our dear nation essentially a consumer nation that produces very little but depends on imports for majority of our needs.
• Onu is Minister of Science and Technology