By Mideno Bayagbon
IN the last 25, 26 years, Philip Emeagwali, the Nigerian born American, world famous computer scientist, who is most times credited with the feat of being a father of the internet, has never set his foot on the Nigerian soil. And he has no apologies or immediate or future plans to visit. Ask him why, and he is unable to proffer any convincing answers.
But as he speaks, you begin to understand: Nigeria is a net brain drain country which is yet to realise that until its squabbling politicians wake up to the fact that they live in a global village where every serious nation attracts the best of brains from every corner of the world and keep them; until they realise that they must begin to explore a â€œNigeria without oilâ€ and strenuously begin to focus on educating the young generation and equipping them with the necessary scientific backgrounds to enable them competeÂ globally, Nigeria, which is currently over 200 years behind the developed countries will continue to lag behind, continue to slip into perpetual global irrelevance.
He was a poignant irony of the enchanting gospel he preached at the Delta state government organised Delta Diaspora Direct in Geneva, last week. Why Nigeria and Nigerians delude themselves that Emeagwali is their own, the United States of America, where he went in 1974 in search of intellectual knowledge, is not about to let him go.
Indeed to keep him, the American government got his parents, all their 35 children and grand children to join him in the USA 26 years ago. He became a total brain lost. The simple truth is that America will never allow one of its top scientific brains to venture into a chaotic, unsafe Nigeria. Speaking with him, you cannot but weep for Nigeria.
Yet, none could dispute the truth in his message to Nigeria and Africa: the wealth of the future will be derived from developing the intellectual capital of our children. We must develop â€œthe clay of wisdomâ€, the innovations of our younger generation:Â “we must put faith in our younger generation as we look to the future. By reinvesting our petroleum revenues into developing the potential of our children, we free ourselves from the burdens of our past,â€ he affirms as he speaks to the topic: â€œBuilding a Greater Delta State: Perspective on Development through Innovation, Technology and Diasporan Support”.
According to the computing guru, America and the developed world are great today, not because of their petroleum reserves, but because of their unsurpassed intellectual capital, the collective knowledge and wisdom of their people, pointing out that for Nigeria to join the worldâ€™s top 20 economies, it should not delude itself that it will be because of its petroleum revenues; â€œbut because of the technological knowledge of future generations.â€
Nigeria, he posits, must turn its brain drain into brain gain. â€œNigeria needs more men and women of ideas, especially technology visionaries and futurists to help its people answer the larger question of who they are and where they want to go (because) the nation that controls critical technologies rules the world.â€
For example, with Nigeria now 50 years old and still relying not just on revenues from petroleum resources but indeed on foreign expertise and technology to exploit it, Dr. Emeagwali asks the question: How will Nigeria acquire and control the petroleum technology it needs to dig a hole in the ground to recover its own oil and save 40 percent royalty lost to foreign oil companies? To this he says we must refocus our energy to develop the brain power of our youths. In the immediate, Dr. Emeagwali says, the answer in part, will be brain gain from its diaspora in Europe and America…technology will allow Nigeria to do more with less, without depleting its natural resources.
In human history, he says, technological development and economic growth proceed together and a nation that is second to none in science was second to none in economic power. Hence â€˜the grand challenge for African scientists is to make discoveries and inventions that can be domesticated and diffused into the continentâ€™s economy.â€
He cites the various developmental strides of America and Europe which are currently powered by their high technological feats to back the call for Nigeria and indeedÂ Africa to wake up its creative genius which the youth embody.
Emeagwali who was keynote speaker at the occasion, says because petroleum is a depleting resource, Nigerians must know that it is our scientific discoveries and technological inventions that will increase humanityâ€™s intellectual capital by creating new knowledge, new products, and new wealth and move Nigeria forward into a top 20 economy.
â€œAfrica can alleviate poverty by forcing the frontiers of science, pushing back the boundaries of whatâ€™s possible with technology, climbing the branches of the tree of knowledge, and embarking on a journeyÂ with an uncertain future. We cannot bring change without taking risks and without challenging the status quo. Great discoveries and great inventions cannot be made without the risk of great failures. Africa must cross the technological frontier to conquer tomorrowâ€™s challenge.â€
Thanking Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta state for the laudable initiative of linking Diaspora Nigerians with the homeland, through the Delta Diaspora Direct, he, however, adviced that the Nigerian Diaspora is a planet-sized think tank, which will allow leaders inside Nigeria to move beyond their collective limits and master new terrains. He then cautioned that the brain drain is Africaâ€™s cold civil war that could leave the continent empty of brains in 50 years. Its effect on Nigeria could be worse than Nigerian-Biafran civil war of the twentieth century.
To Nigerians in diaspora, he says: â€œAfrica needs your vision far more than your knowledge. Africa has more teachers than visionaries but needs more visionaries than teachers. The teacher has his feet on the ground, and his eyes on the ground.â€
In concluding the very intellectually engaging talk, the Nigerian American, who still seemingly burns with a great desire to see Nigeria wake up from its slumber, says the future is for us to create, but that we must first outline our vision. â€œFoot soldiers, not generals, will lead our war against ignorance. The foot soldiers are our one hundred million young Nigerians whose weapon is knowledge.
Their collective intellectual capital will enable them to improve the world and push the human race forward. My vision is for Nigeria to tap into the creativity and innovation of our young people – the people who have the potential to uplift humanity. Technology is all around us; inventing new tools, techniques, and technologies reaffirms humanityâ€™s goal to endlessly search for new knowledge, and to demand more of itself and its people. Letâ€™s do the best we can to make the world better through technology.â€
On his part, the Nigerian ambassador to France, Mr. Gordon Harry Bristol, wondered how Nigeria can turn the current, massive brain drain into a brain gain or at least brain circulation. How can we turn this into a comprehensive, effective, balanced and mutually beneficial migratory flows that will also ensure sustainable development?
He argues that â€œthis second depopulation of Africa is more insidious as it entails the loss of the very skilled manpower, often trained in Africa with African resources, to the more developed parts of the world, to the detriment of the continent where their services are most required given its relative backwardness and poverty.
â€œThis is also the case with the Middle East and South Africa where Nigerian professionals, especially medical doctors, have migrated in droves to contribute to the health care systems of their new found societies.â€
The ambassador argues that the main challenge in sub-saharan Africa, is how to structure and order the benefits that are derivable from the diaspora. Unlike countries such as Turkey, the Philippines, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco, which have created the structures for doing this, many countries in sub-saharan Africa do not have any structure whatsoever.
Nevertheless, he says that the best way to stem migration is to progressively improve conditions in the countries of origin.