By Sonny Atumah
It takes a lot to be an inventor. It takes a lot more to manage innovations and innovators. From Nigeria’s bitter and unfortunate civil war, we were only able to keep some of the relics at the Umuahia war museum.
Nigeria could not seek to harness the skills and resources of the team that was behind the innovations in the civil war for technological development. The Biafran enclave survived on various petroleum products that were not imported for 30 months before the collapse. For almost 30 years now Nigeria has been surviving on imported petroleum products and now shopping for downstream investors in roadshows across the world.
The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, other G7 members and indeed other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD countries are out of our refining palaver but may be interested in supplying Nigeria petroleum products. We are now left with Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia and some others in the Organisation for the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC and OPEC+ for refining talks.
We may have been utterly profligate and not prodigiously stupendous in using the proceeds from crude oil. And we have consistently flared the gas component. Oil is an exhaustive commodity that its use is now being determined by the influential non-producer-consumer nations that have started a countdown. These countries are heavily subsidising Plug-in electric vehicle as a veritable substitute for fossil fuels.
In the words of the South African born Israeli statesman Abba Eban (1915-2002), History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives. And the craze now is for renewable energy. When Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) foretold that renewable energy and not oil was the future, he was misunderstood because of the cost outlay then. The quest for innovation and the dependence on fossil fuels drove him to think about solutions in natural energy that was not exhaustive. He developed a suitable storage battery that could power what was the first electric car in 1912.
The system Edison developed was abandoned for the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine which cost was half the price of his electric car valued at between US$500 and US$750. Edison’s thought on oil and solar (renewable) energy in the 19th century was that he would put money on solar, an inexhaustible source of power and hoped we do not wait until oil and coal run out before tackling the problem.
Today, global demand dynamics and geopolitics of oil reduction is giving a policy shift to the electric vehicle that Edison had the breakthrough over a century ago. More governments are now committing to fossil fuel car bans to meet their Paris Agreement commitments. But we know that petroleum would still be relevant for more than a century to come even if fossil fuels are jettisoned. It is all about innovation to reduce carbon emissions. Nigeria’s case is becoming a matter of emergency. Necessity they say is the mother of invention. There are very many innovative minds like Thomas Edison in our country that are not given opportunities and right environments to express their endowments.
Our survival as a nation is in the hands of the downtrodden masses that toil day and night to eke out bare existences. The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright that had little formal scientific training, solved a problem as complex and demanding, which had defied better-known experimenters for centuries and invented the aeroplane in 1903. These seemingly ordinary bicycle repairers in the United States emerged to change the world. The Wright Brothers not only solved a long-studied technical problem but also helped create an entirely new world beyond measure. The account of Durojaiye Kehinde Obasanjo and many more may indeed solve Nigeria’s numerous problems. Obasanjo developed a sea craft or hydroplane but could not get funding. His jet car can run on the land, sea and in the air.
When the CNN interviewed Obasanjo on April 12, 2017, he said: “We want the whole world to know it is possible to have a kind of machine that can move on land, on the sea and fly and perhaps move under the sea. That’s my ultimate goal,” he explained. Obasanjo was thinking about Lagos city’s heavy traffic and congestion woes to come up with this solution. In January 2019, he drove the amphibious car which runs on fuel and solar energy alternatively, for 15 hours from Lagos to Abuja to seek the attention of Nigerian authorities. Did he succeed?
Nigeria’s poor record in discovering and supporting innovators, patenting and protecting intellectual property rights may give out Obasanjo’s technology. The KennyJet might have been produced about 10 years before the CNN traced him to Obadia in Yaba, Lagos for interview.
Was it coincidental that Aerospace giants, Boeing in November 2017 acquired Aurora, which specialises in unmanned flight, established in-house autonomous flight research unit Boeing NeXt in 2018 to develop the autonomous passenger air vehicle? On January 22 2019, Boeing said it completed the first electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) flight that lasted less than one minute. Other aerospace and auto giants are now jumping into the market. Relevant agencies should pay attention to Durojaiye Kehinde Obasanjo’s innovations before other more developed countries take him away.