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Academy seeks role for engineers in national development agenda

By Victor Gbonegun
12 September 2022   |   3:46 am
To engender growth, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering (NAE), has emphasised the need for deeper involvement of engineers in national development plans.

To engender growth, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering (NAE), has emphasised the need for deeper involvement of engineers in national development plans.

The group said, for the country to attain economic progress, it must build infrastructure, such as bridges, railways, highways, power plants, dams, airports and others, that require the input of engineers. 

The Special Adviser to the President, African Development Bank, (AfDB), Prof. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, led this call at a virtual public lecture entitled, “From Consumption to Production: The Role of Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones in Nigeria”, organised by the NAE in Lagos. 

Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, who currently coordinates the establishment of Agro-Industrial Processing Zones and Industrial Policy in several African countries for AfDB, lamented that Nigeria currently manufactures almost none of these facilities locally, as all are imported.

He warned that as demand grows for imports, the more the pressure on foreign exchange.
 
He explained that there was the need for engineering manpower to help the country to transient from consumption to manufacturing and industrialised nation, adding that If a society spends one hundred dollars to manufacture a product within its borders, the money is used to pay for materials, labour and other costs move through the economy as each recipient spends it. 

He said due to this multiplier effect, a hundred dollars’ worth of primary production can add several hundred dollars to the Gross National Product (GNP) of that country. 
 
“If money is spent in another country, circulation of that money is within the exporting country. This is the reason an industrialised product-exporting/commodity-importing country is wealthy and an undeveloped product-importing/commodity-exporting country is poor. Developed countries grow rich by selling capital-intensive (thus cheap) products for a high price and buying labour-intensive (thus expensive) products for a low price.”

According to him, central to the nation’s economic growth crisis is the failure to achieve rapid industrialisation; the mismanagement of investment in the acquisition of necessary capital stock such as plants and capital stock such as plants, equipment, and other assets that help with production. 

“The country’s investment portfolio will reveal huge amounts budgeted to purchase plants and equipment; for example, refineries, iron and steel, sugar refining, fertilizers and so on. What has also become clear is that, unlike countries where rising capital stock has led to rising living standards and high productivity, Nigeria has remained a non-industrialised underdeveloped country. We consume high-value products that we do not produce. What does Nigeria export? Coconuts, cashews, cocoa beans, rough wood, petroleum gas and crude petroleum account for 70.8 per cent of all its exports,” he said. 

He added, “It is a great misunderstanding to hold the view that what happens, for instance, at a country’s Central Bank necessarily alone determines the country’s economic growth.”

The professor of electronic engineering expressed concern over the hostile industrial ecosystem for companies and business enterprises in Nigeria, pointing out that wealthy nations process their God-given resources, including crude petroleum and nurture strong companies driven by good governance. 

“By 2007, Nigeria had only 26 textile and ready-made garment (RMG) companies in operation with the employment of roughly 24,000 people. The near demise of the industry in Nigeria coincided with the rise of Asian producers, including China. The structure of Nigeria’s economy for most of the past decades has remained largely skewed to the low-productivity agriculture sector. This trend suggests that Nigeria has experienced a process of premature de-industrialisation since the 1970s.”
 
He challenged Nigeria to emulate China’s modernisation and industrial development, which started in 1978 under its leader, Deng Xiaoping with key approaches that include maintaining political stability at all costs, focusing on the grassroots, bottom-up reforms (starting in agriculture instead of in the financial sector), promote rural industries despite their primitive technologies, produce manufactured goods (instead of only natural resources) and provide enormous government support for infrastructure buildup; follow a dual-track system of government/private ownership instead of wholesale privatisation. 

To him, Special Economic Zones and Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZs) are one of the industrial policy toward modern industrialisation and integration into the global system. He urged the government to inculcate it in a development plan to acquire firsthand technical skills, business management, production engineering and work organisation from Western enterprises.

“The African Development Bank (AfDB) envisages that the location of SAPZs in rural areas would provide ‘spatial solutions to the challenges of uneven economic geography posed by rural underdevelopment and to stem rural- urban migration in African countries. The SAPZ model can serve as a catalyst for the growth of secondary or intermediary towns/cities to modernise the rural landscape. SAP is a Strategy for human capital development.

“ There is the need to strategically promote the building of industrial-technological capabilities for manufactured exports, invest more in infrastructure and institutions that foster Ease of Doing Business. The ‘factory of national firms’ is the furnace where long-term fortunes are formed. The wealthiest nations are the ones with the strongest industrial capacities.”

He advised Nigeria to invest in scientific and technological knowledge to produce and sell to others, adding that a poor nation possesses enormous natural resources, but lags far behind in the technological knowledge necessary to transform its natural endowment into high-value goods.

He further tasked leaders to address challenges confronting the manufacturing sector. These, he said, include finance, infrastructure/electric power, skilled workforce, exchange rate, complex and difficult destabilizing bureaucracy, and dependence on imported technology and machines. 

NAE President, Prof. Peter Onwualu, observed that there is a strong link between agriculture, manufacturing and industrialisation.

He noted that unless Nigeria gets its agriculture development plan right, industrialisation might not happen.