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How prepared is Nigeria for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as a matter of survival?

By Omoh Gabriel

Nigeria from historical perspective, is always playing the catch up game. It has always adopted a fire brigade approach to issues of management. In fact, crisis management has been the style of leadership in Nigeria. It is when situations get out of hand that Nigerian leaders begin to adopt panic measures at solving problems. There were warnings in the past that crude oil prices will crash and Nigeria needed to build buffer, but it was ignored and today, the economy is facing challenges because early warnings were not acted upon.

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Economy

The current barbaric act of Boko Haram was well known to Nigerian leaders. When it was in its infancy and would have been easy to nip in the bud, the warnings were ignored and today, the nation is bleeding both in human and material resources. All this waste of human lives would have been avoided were Nigeria a proactive country.

At the global scene, the fourth industrial revolution is fast gaining momentum. Industries and governments are innovating and changing the old ways of doing things. But Nigeria has stuck to the old ways. The pace of technological innovation going on around the world will pose enormous challenges to people, companies and economies as they are fast changing the way people learn, work, live and stay alive.

With the Nigerian educational system in disarray, with poor graduate turn-out, how ready is Nigeria as a country, its businesses and human resource managers prepared to meet the coming challenging fourth industrial revolution? The Fourth Industrial Revolution is all about the rapid proliferation of technologies that will have broad and deep impact on all aspects of life. This is already upon us, raising profound questions about the future, including major ethical challenges.

At the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda 2015, which was held in Abu Dhabi, technology-thought leaders warned of the impending challenges posed by innovations in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics and 3-D printing, among others. The question asked at the forum is very relevant to the Nigeria situation, today.

And the question is “Are we investing enough in institutions that enable the platforms to accommodate different perspectives?” asked Diana Farrell, Chief Executive Officer and President of JPMorgan Chase Institute in the US. “We need a common platform to connect the dots. But we are so far away from that.” Governments can take a long time to produce legislation and implement major programmes, and once they do, the policies may already be obsolete, Farrell reckoned.

Politics can get in the way too, she noted. “We have a disconnect between people who are trying to address real problems and the political show. Having closer accountability and judging politicians on their jobs rather than random political narratives would help a lot.”  A trip outside Nigeria will give the reader a practical example. In most international airports in Europe, Asia, China and America, transit trains are no longer manned by humans. They are programmed to run and stop in designated areas as programmed.

Today, out there, drones are about being commercialised to deliver products to the doorsteps of consumers. Robots are taking over from many humans in factories in Japan and others. Here in Nigeria, passengers walk from planes to arrival point, if the airport authority is kind enough, it provides buses.

Now that Nigeria claims to have a government with a mantra of change as its slogan, it is very appropriate for the Nigerian political milieu to recast governance systems for the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so that both the executive and the legislature are more responsive and responsible in addressing the major global challenges staring us in the face.

Nigerians must come to the reality that humankind is moving from physicality to a data-based world. This will mean work involving distributed teams, distance employment and the dynamic collection and exchange of data about ourselves. The essence of the fourth industrial revolution is the need to train people in an entirely new set of 21st–Century skills, which are in fact the oldest skills – communication, collaboration, empathy, respect and how to overcome cultural boundaries.

The revolution requires a work force that can retool themselves. The Nigerian Labour Congress had better get to work now to begin to task employers of labour in the country on the retraining instead of embarking on incessant strike actions. The coming industrial revolution certainly has major implications for education. People of a certain age will have a harder time to learn and cope with the new ways of doing things. Countries will either take off or fall behind in the new dispensation.

The advent of this new industrial revolution is raising an enormous range of questions, including ethical challenges that will be difficult to answer. Consider issues relating to self-driving cars. Should they be programmed to avoid running into a group of pedestrians when the alternative is hitting a wall and possibly injuring the driver?

There are many other ethical and security challenges, including privacy and data integrity, as well as the differential between those who have access and know-how to use the technologies and those who do not. Is Nigeria preparing for this revolution? Will Nigerians allow this to pass them by? Is Nigeria going to play catch-up in this? Nigerians must wake up to this call.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.