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Where are the Technicians?

After 50 years of independence that has not produced much to cheer for Nigerians this moment should be a time of deep reflection about the future.

As we endure a political campaign that is devoid any serious debate and discussion on policies, and as insecurity spreads through Abuja and other state capitals, especially those in the Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones, it is time to think strategically about the future.

But the problem is there is no one doing the heavy hitting for the future. Everyone in position of power is more concerned with milking whatever remains of the brutalized cow.

There is one key indicator of Nigeria’s global competitiveness that many people miss out. Nigeria lacks the technical capacity it needs to become a leading economy even in Africa.

Today, Nigerians import bricklayers and carpenters from Niger Republic, Ghana, Benin Republic and other neighbors. Anyone who has tried to repair a car in Abuja will easily realize the lack of quality technicians that constitute a major bottleneck to economic development in Nigeria.

I have been a victim of the poor workmanship that marks technical work in Nigeria. You service your car and before it leaves the workshop it has broken down. Your WC is bad and you get a plumber to fix it. Alas, it gets worse. This is the everyday experience of the Nigerian.

Nigerians have resigned themselves to the reality that there is a scarcity of quality technicians to help fix the little things at homes and offices. The rich who want to build good houses drive to Benin Republic and bring home scores of builders.

It is now a little secret known to everyone that our neighbors are better than us in every technical work. Even the excellent leather works that defined the industry of Aba and that flooded West African markets are no more. In their place are refuse dumps.

What explains the dearth of quality technicians in Nigeria? Is it the collapse of technical training? Or is it the erosion of values? I think is both. It is doubtful that we still have the quality apprenticeship today we used to have in the past.

Those who claim to be mechanics and electricians probably had little or no training at the hands of the masters. Professional guilds are no longer incubators of virtuosity and technical wizardry. They have become fronts for rent-seeking and other corporate malfeasances.

We remember the past when technicians spent long years learning the trade from the masters before setting up shop. Today in Nigeria no one waits to understand the rudiments of the trade before they venture out to ‘make money’. No one bothers to refine their skills before they open shop.

I had discussion with friends about the metamorphoses of Igbo businessmen and women. In those days they spent many years serving masters who show them the skills of entrepreneurship.

They come out of the training schools furnished with the expertise to grow small businesses into conglomerates. This is when we got out Onwuka Kalus, Ibetos and Coscharises. This is not unique to Igbos. The Yorubas had their Odutolas and the Hausa-Fulani had their Dantatas.

So, on the face of it, the problem is the collapse of formal and informal education. The infrastructure of scholarly and technical education has collapsed in Nigeria. We are not learning in the school and we are not learning in factories and mechanic workshops.

There are no skilled teachers and no motivated students. But, does this explain all the failures?

No, I think it is more than it. It is not just the dilapidation of the infrastructure of learning that resulted in poor craftsmanship we behold everyday in Nigeria. It is also about the collapse of the values of care, competence and professionalism.

The erosion of the basic values of integrity, care and competence defines the lack of craftsmanship in Nigeria. The mechanic has neither the incentive nor the disposition to pay attention to his craft.

There is no temperament to acquire the excellent skills or even apply those skills when he has them. This is one dangerous consequence of the rent-seeking culture spewed forth by the oil economy.

There is easy money to be made. So who bothers to be a good craft man? Many Nigerians have their eyes trained on the big buck so the meager take-home of the technician does not appeal to them.

There is why we have divestment of skills from these technical crafts to public sector procurement. Everyone you know is a contract in the public sector.

The real casualty of our rent-seeking culture and the flush of funds is technical craftsmanship. We have lost the good technicians. The cost of this loss to the economy is huge. It means that we will continue to lose money replacing what could be repaired.

And of course, we will continue to hire our neighbors to build our houses, fix our toilets and repairs our cars.

We have made quite a descent. From having Ghanaians and Togolese teach our universities to having them build our houses. Will we ever get out this rot?

Dr. Sam Amadi, Abuja, Nigeria


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