April 24, 2017

Do we have a tomorrow?

AT a recent technology and innovation Expo in Abuja, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, staged a grand entrance in a wooden car named Amara, coupled together by a certain Ahmed Aliyu. Amara, the wooden car, was the show stopper, it got all  media attention, all the accolades and even made its inventor, Ahmed Aliyu quite popular. It gave Dr. Onu some bragging rights, after all, the maxim that Nigerians are gifted had suddenly been seconded by such an innovation. Perhaps, a brief lesson in history will help us realise that the euphoria about the wooden car invention is certainly more than a century late.

In 1908, the Ford Plant in Michigan, Detroit, rolled out hundreds of units of the Model T ford (colloquially called the Tin Lizzie) while Henry Ford, its inventor, looked on. This invention became the darling of the middle class owing to its efficient fabrication, which made it inexpensive and Henry Ford’s dream of democratising transportation was birthed. The Model T Ford sold 16.5 million units. Now that is what you call an innovation.

Interestingly, Dr. Onu, the visionary Minster of Science and Technology whose dream for the country was to see Nigeria manufacture pencils by 2018 was also named most performing minister of the year by an Abuja based magazine, Verbatim. The event which garnered global coverage saw Dr. Onu awarded for his “exemplary performance and outstanding leadership” which to me was simply a demonstration of mutually assured mediocrity, apologies to Tony Elumelu. Rather than roll out the vuvuzelas in celebration of feats attained by other countries centuries ago, we must articulate a bold and compelling vision for our country, determine the resources and capabilities required and strategically invest in the people, process and technology that will deliver the future.

For how long will our future be dependent on the giant strides of individuals and governments across the world?  To eradicate Polio, we were totally reliant on not just foreign funding but also on execution and evaluation just as we are totally reliant on them for vaccines to subdue the raging Meningitis. I make bold to say that it is either we wake up or face extinction because a people totally dependent could hardly perpetuate.

Currently, Microsoft is working to develop a machine called Hanover. It aims to memorise all papers necessary to cancer and help predict which combination of drugs will be most effective for each patient. It is leading the fight on myeloid leukaemia, a fatal cancer where treatment hasn’t improved in decades.

The Jaguar Land Rover began testing self-driving technology on public roads last year. The trials helped to develop innovative self-driving technology including safe pull away features aimed at preventing low speed accidents at junctions, roundabouts and in slow moving traffic. Elon Musk is trying to redefine transportation on earth and in space. He has injected fully electric cars in to the market and is currently launching satellites that will help send humans to other planets. A factory in Dongguan, China replaced 90% of human workers with robots and saw production rise by 250% while defects drops by 80%.

I can write a book on how individuals, companies and governments around the world are breaking barriers, extending frontiers and creating the future while we look on waiting for the 8th day of the week to take action. We are where we are today largely because 30 years ago, not one leader had the courage or the vision to see today and invest in the critical areas that would have yielded much dividend.

China was able to lift over 600 million people out of poverty in 30 years because they had a vision, laid out a plan and got to work at it. Today we have another opportunity to create a future for ourselves and our children, one we all would be proud of but we must find the courage to look 30 years ahead to determine where we want to be and begin to build today.

Mr. Ayodele Adio, a social critic, wrote from Lagos.