Creating Sustainable Convergence for Indigenous Scientific and Technological Innovations and Advancements-Prof. M.A Sowunmi

Text of a keynote address delivered by Canon Professor M. Adebisi Ṣowunmi (née Jadesimi) at the 2014 edition of the Annual National Conference of the School of Science of the Adeyẹmi College of Education, Ondo, on Tuesday, 11th November, 2014.

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I congratulate all the students of the School of Science on being part of yet another in the series of your annual conferences. I particularly commend members of the Committee which planned this conference for their initiative, diligence, thoroughness, commitment, and fore-sightedness. With dedicated young men such as these there is hope for the development of our nation. I salute you all.

The theme of this year’s conference is very apt, particularly because of the challenges facing us as a nation, which demand that we look inwards for solutions to critical problems which we need to confront and resolve. The unprecedented, most remarkable, prompt, and heartening eradication of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which has indeed stunned the whole world, is but one vivid illustration of what we as Nigerians can achieve with the grace of God coupled with resoluteness, unparalleled public-spiritedness, high professional ethics, dedication, and exemplary leadership. I shall return to this later. At this juncture it is fit and proper to pay tribute to those doctors, nurses, and other health workers who made the supreme sacrifice to prevent what would have been a catastrophic epidemic. May their gallant souls continue to rest in perfect peace, Amen.

Science and technology – Siamese twins [ PP 2]

I do not need to belabour you with a lengthy definition of science and of technology. Suffice it to underscore the fact that science is the systematic and organized procuring and building up of knowledge about the universe -- its physical and biological components by -- humans in various fields. It was derived from the Latin word scientia which means “knowledge”. It is my conviction that the knowledge of aspects of the universe is gained through the wisdom granted to humans by Almighty God, Whom one can reverently refer to as the Greatest, Pre-existing, and Self-existing Scientist.  Efforts to obtain knowledge about the universe have been the preoccupations of humans and their archaeological ancestors going back to about three million years ago and will go on for as long as the Earth remains.

[PP 3] Technology, on the other hand, is the application of knowledge acquired through science. The underlying goals of technology are the skill needed for human survival and the enhancement of their quality of life. Technology, in the broadest sense of the word, as will be shown shortly, date back to about 2.6 million years ago. It is evident that science and technology can be rightly likened to Siamese twins. The extent to which the co-joining is beneficial to humankind and to the Earth depends on how technology is used.

Ideally technology should be employed without compromising the integrity and sustainability of the universe, particularly the planet Earth which humans inhabit. It is evident that our “world is in the throes of … ecological and [socio-] economic crises which are already assuming catastrophic dimensions for humankind and for the rest of the environment. The manifestations of these crises which have arisen from the self-destructive use of technology include air, water and soil pollution through toxic, chemical and radioactive waste, soil erosion, and salinization, desertification, deforestation, the extinction of [some] plant and animal species, and global warming” – the latter has resulted in climate change and a rise in sea levels. All these changes have brought about “the [preventable] loss of human life and spirituality.” (Sowunmi, 1994: 149). These crises are compounded in Nigeria and many other African countries because of debilitating social factors, hence the theme of this conference is most opportune.

[PP 4]

Sustainable convergence of scientific and technological innovation and advancement (development)

Sustainable development – what it is and what it is not.
Sustainable development is one that makes it possible for the environment to continue to support all forms of life, without diminishing or otherwise negatively impacting on their intrinsic nature and quality. one that makes it possible for the environment to continue to support all forms of life, without diminishing or otherwise negatively impacting on their intrinsic nature and quality. Development that, for example, leads to the extinction of appreciable proportions of plant and animal species, reduction of agricultural land, which results in food shortage for humans and their livestock, degradation of ecosystems, and mass destruction of human life – physically, morally and spiritually -- is not sustainable.

[PP 5] A sustainable convergence of science and technology is absolutely essential for sustainable development, from which will generate a harmonious relationship between humans and the rest of the environment, and safeguard the future of humankind on earth. 

[PP 6] So, what are the parameters of sustainable development which a sustainable convergence of science and technology will bring about? I wish to proffer ten parameters which I regard as basic:

  1. Efficient harnessing and utilization of environmental resources;
  2. harmonious relationship between humans and the rest of the environment;
  3. stable, just and genuinely participatory socio-political system, with effective mechanisms for peaceful change of government and for ensuring that public officers are accountable to the nation; [PP 7] 
  4. efficient and adequate basic infrastructures;
  5. a sound and buoyant economy in a peaceful environment;
  6. upholding of basic fundamental human rights (with special provisions for women and children);
  7. equal rights for all -- egalitarianism; [PP 8] 
  8. wholesome and progressive “infrastructure of the mind”;
  9. stable and cohesive family life; and
  10. attainment of self-fulfilment and the enhancement of self-esteem by the majority of the populace, at least.

I thank the Lagos State Governor, Raji Babatunde Faşọla, Esq., SAN, for that ingenious and creative term which he introduced into our national lexicon about five years ago.

Alas, there is hardly any talk about it; instead the new and current concept that has become part of our partisan political terminology these days is stomach infrastructure”! This new and current notion is most unfortunate, bizarre, dehumanising, and retrogressive. “Stomach infrastructure” has to do with reducing the electorate to people who welcome transient hand-outs of food, distorting them into what the Yoruba would call òkú ìfun.  In sharp contrast, “infrastructure of the mind” implies a state of self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-fulfilment, and self-pride. What Nigeria needs seriously is the promotion of the “infrastructure of the mind”, certainly NOT “stomach infrastructure”.

Science and technology through time – a bird’s eye survey
As said earlier, science and technology in the broadest sense are likely to be as old as humankind and their pre-human ancestors, going back to about 3.2 and 2.6 million years ago, respectively. [PP 9]I do not wish to delve into the as yet controversial palaeo-anthropological theories about human origins. But there is abundant archaeological evidence that the oldest known remains of our pre-human ancestors are from Africa, and date back to about three million years ago. Furthermore, new genetic, archaeological and climatic evidence strongly indicate that modern humans are all derived from an African woman who lived in southern Africa about 150, 000 years ago. [PP 10 and 11]  

Presumably science in its most rudimentary form began with these pre-human ancestors as they sought not only to satisfy the basic physical requirements of food, water, shelter and sometime later, clothing, but also to survive.  With increasing cranial capacity through time their knowledge of the environment increased culminating in the tremendous and amazing heights attained currently. Today, with science and appropriate technology humans are performing astounding feats in virtually all spheres of endeavour, ranging from medicine through aerospace exploration to information communication technology (ICT).  

As with science, technological skills improved over “many hundreds of thousands of years” and they are still improving. The history of technology goes back to the manufacturing of tools by human ancestors. The earliest of these tools, known as the Oldowan complex, were found in the Mid Awash region of Ethiopia, and date to about 2.6 my BP. They comprise flakes chipped off from alluvial cobbles and the flaked cores, both of which have sharp, blade-like edges; they were used in cutting, pounding and crushing food. [PP 12 -- Oldowan tools].  The makers of Oldowan tools were gatherers of fruits and vegetables, and later scavenged large and medium-sized game; they probably killed small-sized animals as well. The making of these tools reflect the skilful attempts by their manufacturers to maximise the benefits derivable from natural resources. It represents the first, significant technological breakthrough, which laid the foundation for the very complex technologies of modern times.

Successive stone tool types signalled improvements in the efficiency of harnessing natural resources and an expansion of exploited resources. Phenomenal and staggering technological progress followed, e.g., the deliberate use of fire in hardening rocks prior to flaking them as sharp blades, from about 164,000 years BP in South Africa (Callaway, 2009). [PP 13-16] Subsequently, fire became a very potent force and its use has resulted in tremendous advancement in diverse forms of technology, including e.g., pottery-making (from ca.  18,000 years ago) [PP 17], agriculture,  dating back to about 10,000 years, metallurgy [PP 18] (the refining of metal ores for use as tools and in the making of art objects), which commenced about 5,000 years ago, the industrial revolution  -- “the transition to new manufacturing processes… from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840” marked by transition “from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, improved efficiency of water power, the increasing use of steam power… the development of machine tools, [and] ... the change from wood and other bio-fuels to coal” (Wikipedia); culminating in the use of nuclear power and solar energy, information and communication technology and space exploration.

The earth-shaking feat of Man’s first landing on the moon – July 1969 -- (PP 19-20 moon landing) is but a development that came out of the human capability to make tools, dating back to about 2.6 million years [PP 21] as articulated in 2009 by James C. McLane III, a Houston-based aerospace engineer, during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of this feat (PP 22) “Human space exploration is the natural result of our species' technology-driven, tool making evolution, the ultimate marriage of man and machine…”  

Technology, with its inevitable twin, science, as highlighted above started in Africa before spreading to different parts of the world, where it also flourished. Nigeria was very much part of this global, indigenous scientific and technological innovations and advancements as depicted in art works of high sophistication and skill. Egyptian pyramids PP 23; world’s largest rock art from Nigér, (Sahel) PP 24) Nok (north central Nigeria) terra cotta figurines [PP 25] Igbo Ukwu (southeastern Nigeria) terra cotta and bronze works [PP 26-27] Ife (southwestern Nigeria PP 28-29, Benin (south-western Nigeria) bronze and ivory carvings PP 30-32; Daima (Northeastern Nigeria) terra cotta and bone works  [PP 33-34]; and. Dufuna canoe (Northeatern Nigeria). [PP 35]. It is apt to say a bit on the Dufuna canoe, about which many people might not be familiar, as it is very germane to the theme of this conference. This canoe is about 8,000 years old and is the oldest known canoe in Africa, next to it is Egypt’s boat which is 5000 years old. It is the world’s third oldest known canoe, coming after those of Pesse, Netherlands and Noyen-sur-Seine, France  It was discovered in May 1987 by a Fulani herdsman, Mallam Yau, while digging a well on the outskirts of Dufuna village then in Old Borno State but now in Yobe State, NE Nigeria; sadly, and most unfortunately, this State like a few others in that part of Nigeria is currently being ruthlessly ravished by the Boko Haram insurgents.  

This dug-out canoe was excavated and treated for conservation through the collaborative efforts of the Universities of Maiduguri and Frankfurt, Germany. The salient point to note here is its significance in the history of water transport, science and technology in Africa. As stated by Professor Peter Breunig, archaeologist and head of the German team, this canoe shows that: “… the cultural history of Africa was not determined by Near Eastern and European influences but took its own, in many cases, parallel course". According to Eluyemi, a former Director General of the NCMM (now of blessed memory) “the canoe has that people in the Niger area had a history of advanced technology and that they had mastered the three major items of Palaeolithic [Early Stone Age] culture which were the fashioning, standardization and utilization of tools according to certain set traditions.” It is also a vivid evidence of the scientific and technological prowess of the people of the area.

The famous Dufuna canoe is now housed within a museum complex built by National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital. (cf.; dufuna-canoe-in-nigeria.).


[PP36] The art works and other objects highlighted above They are vivid evidences of the ingenuity, highly sophisticated artistic skills, creativity, profound knowledge (science) of the physical and chemical properties of the materials used, and accompanying technologies characteristic of peoples who managed their natural resources efficiently and harmoniously. Their societies must have been relatively stable and well-organised, with wholesome socio-political structures.

[PP 37] Furthermore, environmental archaeological studies in West Africa and Nigeria revealed the following attributes, among others, of the various peoples: (1) complexity and diversity of subsistence economies; (2) remarkable knowledge about their environment; (3) resourcefulness and versatility in the utilization of environmental resources, both in the immediate vicinity and at distances of up to 100 km.; and (4) remarkable self-reliance and initiative. All these are manifestations of sustainable convergence of scientific and technological innovations and advancements.

[PP 38] Re-creating a sustainable convergence of indigenous scientific and technological innovations and advancements.

I have just highlighted the probable origin of and advancements in pre-human and human scientific and technological innovations. We have noted these innovations began in parts of Africa by the indigenous peoples. Furthermore we have considered some evidence of the manifestations of sustainable convergence of indigenous scientific and technological innovations and advancements by these Africans in the past.

[PP 39] We should therefore be talking about RE-CREATING a sustainable convergence of indigenous scientific and technological innovations and advancements, because such a convergence existed in the past!I believe that those who chose this theme are painfully aware that our political and social environments are becoming more and more unconducive for the generation of this convergence. Or else why is that Nigerians who go abroad are contributing in significant ways to innovations and advancements in their host countries in diverse fields including space exploration, whilst those at home are hampered by the harsh reality that basic infrastructures such as constant supply of electricity and widely available potable water remain a mirage?

I don’t know about you, my esteemed audience, but I am distressed and perturbed that countries in Africa, including Nigeria, the so-called “giant of Africa”, are still rightly classified as underdeveloped (i.e. technologically and industrially) – it will even be more accurate to say that they are in certain respects UNDERDEVELOPING, yet technology originated from our continent; furthermore evidence abounds of indigenous innovations and advancements in science and technology in the past. Even though much of the continent is rich  its peoples are among the poorest in the world, as the IMF GDP nominal per capita world map, 2008 clearly shows (PP 40). Thus the much needed research in science and technology is grossly underfunded while the overt and covert expenditure on governance is indefensibly and outrageously high, and is incredibly and alarmingly disproportionate to the average income of citizens. This underfunding, largely caused and exacerbated by the diversion of enormous wealth from the public coffers to a tiny minority in power, coupled with the lack of basic infrastructures create an environment that frustrates and stifles efforts at scientific and technological innovations and advancements.  


[PP 41] Basic requirements for a sustainable convergence of scientific and technological innovations and advancements

In countries which are in the forefront of scientific and technological advancements, there exists a conducive environment, characterized by, on the whole, factors such as (i) transparency, modesty and accountability by those in governance with commensurate sanctions imposed on anyone who defaults – the Swiss ambassador to Nigeria in an indicting and unusual outpouring of the hard truth by a foreign diplomat, was recently quoted as saying, inter alia: “our public officers don’t steal public funds, they don’t fly in private jets, and they don’t travel First Class”; (ii) sensitivity to the plight of the ordinary citizen; (iii) constant measures to improve the quality of life of the average citizen; (iv) responsible leadership; and (v) a critical and articulate citizenry.

As I indicated earlier, such values as these, which are basic requirements for a sustainable convergence of scientific and technological innovations and advancements, must have prevailed in our societies in the past.

[PP 42] In conclusion, to achieve again this highly essential the critical convergence we are considering at this conference, I submit that these are the irreducible minimum requirements: 

  1. Domesticating and enforcing Principles 5 and 8, respectively, of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Declaration (Rio de Janeiro, June, 1992):  “All states and all peoples shall co-operate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.” “To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, states should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic principles.  (Hallman,  1994) [PP 43]
  2. The successful ancient civilizations, including those in Nigeria, must have had good governance, which ensured the proper management and equitable distribution of natural resources for the welfare of the citizenry rather than for a privileged few. For us in Nigeria, I submit that having such good governance at the different tiers is an essential requirement for sustainable development. This requires, inter alia, responsible and responsive leadership and followership, a positive and active “infrastructure of the mind” as well as true patriotism. This is an important ethical dimension. It will contribute significantly to the reversal of the current, mind-boggling and conscience-less impoverishment of the ordinary Nigerian in the midst of an abundance of God-given wealth.[PP 44]
  3.  An attitudinal change on the part of the average Nigerian, which demands that we believe more in our innate capabilities and thus determine to creatively overcome obstacles in the path of achieving sustainable convergence of scientific and technological innovations and advancements. [PP 45-46] The anti-thesis of sustainable convergence of scientific and technological development in Nigeria
  4. Underlying our failure to achieve the sustainable convergence we so much desire is corruption, particularly in the public domain. Corruption is self-destructive and therefore must be seriously tackled and greatly reduced. The cartoon below taken from The Punch of Friday, 18th April, 2014, brilliantly captures how endangered the nation is, if corruption is allowed to continue to fester! [PP 47]
  5. Nigeria should spend appreciable sums of money to promote the use of solar and other renewable energy sources for domestic and small-scale industrial consumption. This should reduce drastically the emission of carbon dioxide, the indiscriminate felling of trees for fuel, and the current reversion of human life in the nation back to the Earliest Stone Age, from where we started ca. 2.6 million years ago! [PP 48]

I thank you for your attention.


Callaway, E. 2009 Earliest fired knives improved stoneage tool kit-life -

Hallman, David G. 1994. Appendix: The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In: Ecotheology – voices from South and North. David G. Hallman (ed.) WCC, Geneva, Orbis, New York: 278-283.

MacLane III, James C. 2009 Mankind’s next great leap. The Ottawa Citizen July 20, 2009

Sowunmi, M. Adebisi 1994 Giver of life – sustain Your creation. In: Ecotheology – voices from South and North. David G. Hallman (ed) WCC, Geneva, Orbis, New York: 149-1544

Wikipedia – The Industrial Revolution.