What is Nigeria’s moonshot?
In 2019, after President Buhari won his re-election bid and was re-inaugurated, he stated thus “We can lift 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years”. When the Multidimensional Poverty Index was released in 2022 by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 133 million Nigerians were found to be multidimensionally poor. On the 61st Independence Anniversary of the country, President Buhari again restated that his goal is achievable if stakeholders align. When you dig deep into how this is to be achieved, you find social welfare programs like NPower at the core of this “mandate”.
Nigeria’s multidimensional poverty index has four main indicators – health, education, living standards, work and shocks. 63 percent of the population are poor in these four areas and are constantly in a state of lack, whether it is lack of access or quality or deprivation. If we are ever going to reverse the trend of poverty from generation to generation, then the next President must lead in changing our strategy to defining what I can refer to as moonshots.
The greatest leaders of our species have been those who are remembered for the success of the challenges they set out to achieve and the legacy of such missions – John F. Kennedy sent a man to the moon and America has not forgotten him since. The singular mission of conquering space and pulling America’s weight towards this mission has opened up new markets that didn’t exist before, innovations that we now use today on earth and organizations who continue to lead the advancement of human endeavor.
Nigeria is a multidimensional poverty stricken state, according to our own bureau of statistics, we must begin to ask ourselves, what opportunities do these challenges offer? How do we deploy state resources to solve some of our most pressing challenges? How can we change our model for public-private sector collaboration from tax credits for companies who can build roads to co-investment in innovations that solve some of these critical challenges that our people face.
As a new administration sets up to take charge in May, we must set our focus on three very important tasks as a nation.
We must identify what missions are critical to moving the needle for our country. Why do we still account for 31% of global deaths from malaria each year? How can we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and revolutionize energy storage of renewable energy with some of the mineral resources we have in abundance? What models of educational system change can ensure all our children are learning in school? What would it take to mechanize our agricultural industry which currently employs more than 65% of our population and 10x our food output? How can we change the fundamentals of our housing industry so buildings stop collapsing and our citizens live dignified lives? We must identify which challenges and which missions are strategic and critical to our citizens.
Secondly, We must re-design the mandate of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, repurpose the funding in billions of naira going to the agency and dedicate more than 10x of the funding the agency currently gets into mission oriented policies. There is no gainsaying in the statement that NASENI must play a critical role in leading the innovation processes that are required to achieve these critical missions. I want to see a public budget of more than N500 billion annually going into funding research and development for these critical missions, and even at this we will just be scratching the surface. But it will be a good start. Beyond this investment however, we must consistently ensure that these investments are strategic, we are maximizing public value from it and the lives of our people are changing for the better.
Thirdly, We must not just identify these missions but back it up with publicly funding research, innovation and development of the ideas that make them possible in partnership with our higher education institutions and the private sector. This will involve identifying the leading researchers in these fields, funding basic research and development, choosing private sector partners that can create new markets for these products and even in some instances funding early stage marketing for some of these companies. Our Higher Education Institutions must wake up to the immense responsibility of knowledge creation, research and development that all societies place on their HEIs. The time where HEIs focus on just graduating students and conducting research projects for the purpose of getting promotions or publishing papers must come to an end.
Beyond just stating that we will lift 100 million people out of poverty, we can choose missions like eradicating malaria as a fatal disease before the end of the decade, innovating energy storage using lithium iron ore deposits in the middle belt, mechanizing 90% of our agriculture industry in four years using locally built machineries and so on. This is not going to come without challenges like changing the entrenched culture within HEIs to that of innovation culture, corruption and accountability of funds disbursed, transparency in the selection process of stakeholders who contribute to solving these problems, sustaining political will to back these missions and a lot more. These challenges however open up the opportunity for us to innovate, pull our weight and achieve these goals.
There is no understating the role that technology and innovation plays in any civilisation. By failing to invest in the innovation process for some of our deep seated problems, we choose poverty for our people, their children and their unborn generations.
I believe it is high time we identified mission oriented projects that are able to galvanize our creative abilities both in the public and private sector, benefit our citizens both in the operationalisation of the mission and the accomplishment of it and usher in prosperity for our people. This is how we lift 100 million people from poverty – by focusing on bringing in prosperity, not just chasing poverty away.
Jude Feranmi Adejuwon is Practice Lead, HEI Innovation at CoCreation Hub, Africa’s biggest innovation hub with offices in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Namibia and impact all across the continent. He can be reached at email@example.com
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