CREATING jobs, enhancing economic competitiveness, tackling security challenges and providing quality food for the ever growing population are the teething issues slowing down the country’s quest for an accelerated development.
Solutions on how to tackle and address these challenges were succinctly captured recently by Prof. Turner Isoun in his book entitled Why run before learning to walk which chronicled activities of the science and technology sector in Nigeria between 2000 and 2007 when he presided over the affairs of the ministry as minister.
The launch of the 630-page book was witnessed by a cream of professionals, especially from the academia, the political class, key players in the economy and members of the international community, was adjudged by all as a huge success for various reasons.
One of which was the fact that in achieving the feat narrated in the book, Isoun took some bold steps, broke away from convention method of thinking within the box. According to Prof. Nimi Briggs, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt: “Isoun broke the box to achieve results.”
Another fact was that three days after the launch, the book sold out. This is unprecedented in Nigeria’s history considering that the book is about science, technology and innovation and not an autobiography of a dead or living politician, a business mogul or a money bag.
The launch was devoid of the usual fanfare where praise singers and people come to glorify themselves or others and not issues that are typical of such events in the country yet it was a success because those that matter the most, especially the sector to which the book spoke to, were present.
The book was a success not because of who was or was not present at the launch but as a result of the character of Prof. Isoun.
Isoun as described by various speakers at the launch is first and foremost an achiever, a scholar of repute, a dedicated leader who carries along his colleagues, one who believes in the efficacy of science and technology and a firm believer in the ability of Nigerian scientists to deliver.
No wonder therefore it is on record that he served the longest as the Minister of Science and Technology, ranking him as one of the ministers to have served the longest in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
So how did he break the box?
Isoun presided over the science and technology sector in Nigeria when the nation began the deployment of high technologies to fast-track economic development. Such technologies include space which has a whole chapter dedicated to it in the 10 chapter book, nuclear, biotechnology and ICT.
“When we started the space programme for the country, the question everyone even those from the West were asking us is, why are we going into space when we cannot solve our common problems; people are hungry, etc. But that didn’t stop us. People of all cultures are equally endowed by the Almighty Creator, and have severally contributed over time to what we refer today as science and technology. Therefore, science, technology and innovation had never been the preserve of any community. Thus, over time, nations, communities or peoples world over, with passion to develop and excel had always copied the best ideas from those who had temporarily been ahead of them, internalised those ideas, improved on those ideas and forge ahead,” Isoun noted.
Dr Kevin Oruma, Executive Director of the Kenya based African Technology Policy Studies Network said that the launch of the book by Isoun has changed the global discuss on how Africa is viewed by other continents.
“The book is a clear testimony of an African scientist who has demonstrated the zeal that Africa and Africans can do it. He even went further to document his participation in the policy process; this is uncommon and should be acknowledged,” Oruma said.
For Prof. Oyewale Tomori, the president, NigerianAcademy of Science, with the book Isoun has demonstrated eloquently that “we can employ high technology as a strategic tool for our development.”
He went further to add: “To continue to use high technology as the wheel of our development, all aspect of our nation, from political will, commitment, and attitude must run in tandem. No aspect must be learning to walk, while the others are running.”
Tomori said that with the book, Why run, before learning to walk, Isoun has epitomised the very reason for setting up the Nigerian Academy of Science.
Dr David Okongwu, a former director general of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, NOTAP, the book is not only a masterpiece but a tour de force.
“One of the beauties of this book is that it is not fiction or simply an eye witness account. It is a report by an author who had a vision to initiate a policy, articulate and develop it, and had the sagacity to have colleagues and government share in the vision; supervised the successful execution of the programme and had the results fully documented.”
Okongwu who reviewed the book noted that it demonstrated and justified the great need for Nigeria to do things differently and adapt a paradigm shift in future efforts in technology transfer and on science, technology and innovation. “What comes out quite powerfully from this book is the issue of our understanding of conventional wisdom and the global politics of science,” he added.
Prof. Soji Adelaja, a distinguish professor in land policy at the MSU said that the book was a testimony to the visionary effort by Isoun to place Nigerian science into the future. “In my opinion, we spend too much time thinking that the solution to our issues is to go back to solving problems that are no longer relevant. This book, Why run before learning to walk suggests otherwise.” Adelaja said.
Prof. Nimi Briggs, emeritus professor and former vice chancellors of the University of Port Harcourt, said that the book was a road map Nigeria needed to try having witnessed failure in the implementation of various developmental policies initiated by government since independence.
Briggs used the occasion of the book launch to stress the need for government to scale-up its commitment to education in science and technology as well as create conducive environment for research to support industrialisation.
Was anyone surprised therefore that a book of such calibre and stunning title Why run before learning to walk was authored by Prof. Isoun? Then it is important to refresh our minds that Isoun has cumulative experience spanning over 50 years of immersion in the sciences as a university professor, special adviser, vice chancellor, minister and above all as the first editor of Africa’s prestigious journal, Discovery and innovation.
He is also an avid reader and according to the adage – you have to be a reader to be able to lead – and a strong advocate of the need to redefine what university education is all about. “
Mr. ABUTU ADOLE, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.