Director General of the National Office of Technology Acquisition and Promotion, Dr. Umar Bindir, is canvassing for an ICT corridor as a first step in harmonizing Nigeria’s technology efforts into a common building block for national development. He shared with Baobab Media his conviction that Nigeria has the capacity to transcend its challenges to become an emerging economy like Malaysia and India.
As an intellectual and an administrator, would you say Nigeria is a failed state in comparison with other countries when you look at certain indices of development?
Failed state is negative and I don’t think Nigeria is a failed state. You see, the whole concept of development depends on knowledge, if you don’t have knowledge, you will continue to roam around in the darkness and you will think you are making progress, but you are not. Knowledge does not mean university certificate, knowledge means entrepreneurial thinking, thinking out of the box. But unfortunately the blame as far as I am concern is traced back to our education system. Our education since independence has been a literacy education. We just go to school. We learn to read and write. We get a certificates and then we come out, we complain that we don’t have a job. Our objective of going for a higher level of education is not properly structured; and actually it is only when we come out that we realize that we need work. That is why you find out that a Nigerian graduate immediately he comes out of school and sees advertisement for hotel jobs, he will apply; if he doesn’t get, when Dangote advertises for drivers, he will apply; if he doesn’t get, when the Customs advertises, he will also apply as he would for banks and so and so forth. He will become a desperate job seeker. There’s no clear career track. That in a way reflects our colonial heritage. For the colonialists, it was a case of let us quickly train some locals to manage some functions. They needed some people who can write, speak English, keep records and so on and we have remained like that. We need to transit to entrepreneurial focused education so that we see people going to universities of agriculture, for instance because they want to go into dry season farming. We need to reorder things to serve specific career purposes. So coming back to your question, Nigeria is not a failed state; Nigeria is not a developing or underdeveloped country for nothing. Underdevelopment and developing is an index that a country is doing certain wrong things, the time you start doing a right thing you start becoming an emerging economy like China or Malaysia before you then become a developed country. I am sure you must have heard that Nigeria was at the same level as Brazil, same level as South Korea, yes we were at the same level but they woke up and changed their education system, changed their research focus, changed the way they go to other countries and learn. Then they opened their eyes, they started making sure that when you type top 300 universities in the world, you start seeing their universities; when you see Nobel laureates, you will see they are getting it, when see top level scientific papers they are there, when you see patented technologies in the world, you will see them there, when you see products that are global; you will see Samsung from Korea, Proton from Malaysia, Tata from India, that is what we need to happen in Nigeria. Nigeria has to review itself, it has to transform and wake up. We must get our education system and research system right and then we will develop.
Our sore points….
The disadvantage we have is that we are still on a terrible mode of primitive thinking. We like thinking that I am from the South-South, I am a Christian. I am female. When we pick gender, we take it so strongly you think men and women are fighting. When you take zonal differences, you will think there’s a war between one zone and another. When you take tribal differences, you will think there’s a particular community that does not allow anybody to exist with it. This is what we sell to the world, to the extent that when there is a problem today with militancy even with the way we report these things in our paper, we say ‘the militancy in the South-South part of Nigeria’, we want to dissociate ourselves. With kidnapping in the South-East, we would say ‘the kidnapping in the South East part of Nigeria’, now we have Boko Haram, the report will be ‘the Boko Haram in the North- East part of the country’. We are always running away from ourselves. The way to go is if there is militancy in Nigeria it will affect every Nigerian. It is a Nigerian problem and it has to be solved on the basis of unity. If there is kidnapping problem, it is a Nigerian problem not a South-East problem. See how kidnapping developed gradually. It was a South- East problem and before you knew, it’s happening in the west, north, and every other part of Nigeria. The same thing with Boko Haram, it is filtering out. Now, it is in Kogi. Nigeria has to break out from this primitive thinking. We must understand that this country has energy to change, to transform, and it is not a failed state. But if we are to do that, we must be able to craft our way of thinking together in oneness such that when you go to the University of Lagos you don’t see 98% Yoruba speaking students, it should not be acceptable. If you go to University of Katsina you should see Yoruba people establishing Kegites and doing it confidently, peacefully and nicely. In the 70s, it used to be like that but somehow the primitive thinking mode is getting so strong that in a university in an area, the Vice Chancellor and the deputy Vice Chancellor are from that area.
The question then is what went wrong?
This is a subject of research, to be quite honest. How come during independence, our research institute was of the highest level. How come during the First Republic our politicians were very patriotic, they never had anything; they could go anywhere and die for the country. How come it dissipated to the extent that we are not working together the way we should. Yes! There may be some infiltrations by the military; lack of consistency in governance may have undermined our growth but we need to realize this and address this. The good thing today is that when you study the National Assembly, the 109 senators, the 369 house of rep, you will see the academic content in that, you will see majority of them are graduates, and are well informed. That is what I call a resource. You can see that it’s just not human, Nigeria has land, water, but we are importing rice, we should say no to that. Nigeria has rubber, we are exporting rubber cakes, yet we are importing every single tyre in Nigeria, we should rise and say no to that. That is the same way Nigeria has large pool of intellectuals but we cannot see the intellect value in our industry employing our people. We should begin to ask questions realizing this is also part of development. Therefore our country is not a failed state.
In a Baobab Media’s recent interview with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, he posited that African leaders fail because they face too many distractions and he spoke also of the great value that Rwandans have for their country after the genocide. Is it that we as Nigerians don’t have value for our country; are we not just ethnic and religious bigots; and has the quantum of value we have for the Nigeria project not reduce from the 60s to the point we are now?
I think there are some ingredients of both. When you have some elements of greed, unfairness, ignorance, I don’t mean forged degree certificates but ignorance in real life, there are bound to be a reduction in value. That is why the institutions that are expected to make Nigerians constantly reflect or re-branding Nigeria must wake up. We cannot always be on the negative mode. For example, we should be working with National Orientation Agency in a cluster to, for example, address the question of how do we use the technological output of Nigerians to showcase to Nigerians that we have power, we can be able to change, and use these in facilitating a stronger sense of togetherness. If the Nigerian Copyright Commission instead of going around and crashing pirated CDs and showing that our people are terrible, is able to find a way of unleashing our creativity positively and minimizing showcasing our negativity, people are likely to want to work together to make sure that piracy ends and that creativity gets some measure of rewards. So we need to evolve a technique or strategy of re-directing our energy very intensively to the extent that Nigerians will start to think ‘what is wrong with us’ as a people. I am a Fulani man, we are merely 200 million people in Nigeria and everybody knows milk is one of the best foods that you can have irrespective of your age, your sex or whatever. Just imagine that we can come together and be able to strengthen our own industry such that every Nigerian can drink a glass of milk every day that is an index of development. Every glass is approximately N100, multiply that by 200, and you get 20,000. If you put million it is 20 billion per day, in ten days is 200 billion, in a month it’s 600 billion, in 10 months it’s a 6 trillion naira industry. Just one glass of milk per day! But milk doesn’t just rain from the sky. It does not gush out of the soil, it comes from cows, here we have cows, grass, maize, sorghum, we have the capability to do that and yet there is no milk. We have ask ourselves why. Why we are not savvy in breeding cows in order to produce milk? Why we are not good at using our grass, corn, and maize, to come up with superior food for the cows to eat and give us milk? Why we have not trained our Fulani people, our dairy people to know exactly that this is what the cow wants to give you milk? This is knowledge. This is technology. As long as you don’t have that you will not take advantage of this 6 trillion naira market. This is just an example with milk. What about eggs? What about tea? The re-orientation, the re-energization, the re-direction of the energy must be a priority and this cannot just come as a policy. Policy is a statement in a book. As a people, we must start forging together. We are already realizing this challenge and the need to urgently address this. I can tell you there is no institution I have gone to, to say that let us come together to address this issue and I get a negative. This gradual clustering of institution with relevant mandate needs to evolve gradually so that we can be able to see the true picture of energy in our country. So we are not a failed state, ours is just a process of development. We are underdeveloped but if we sustain the gradual change taking place down here, we too can be able to assist our leaders because they need assistance, they need support, and then our country will start to emerge as a modern economy, an economy that is respected.

Baobab Africa
Baobab Africa People and Economy reports the continent majorly from a positive slant. We celebrate the continent. Not for us the negatives that undermine the African real story of challenging but inspiring growth.

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