Creating Sustainable Convergence for Indigenous Scientific and Technological Innovations and Advancements: The Clog in the Catching Up Process and the Panacea (Dr. P.O. Akinbile)

Introduction

It is with great pleasure and singular honour that I accept your kind and generous invitation to deliver a lead paper on the theme creating sustainable convergence for indigenous scientific and technological innovations and advancements at the 2014 Annual Conference of the School of Science, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo. This initiative of encouraging our own domestic or native individual to show case the stuff he or she is made of is definitely indigenous in the sense of it and I hope the idea will not be abandoned sooner than it has started. Now let’s get on with today’s business.

In the world economy today, the ability to compete globally is the new drive.  This capability for global competitiveness is often determined by the strength of technology a nation is able to brandish.  It is however regrettable after fifty-four years of independence, the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) still depend largely on foreign nations for her technological and industrial needs.  It saddens one’s heart to note that her technological productivity is still very low.

Earlier efforts in Catching up with Advanced Technologies

Hitherto, some researchers have examined the technological strength of this nation in line with the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s (FRN) technological development and productivity over the years (Uwaifo & Uddin, 2009).  These authors concluded that the FRN is still grossly technologically backward.  They believed that the criteria for a typical technological backward nation are apparently very much with the nation.  Some examples are as follows:

  • A country that cannot produce capital goods and earth moving equipment
  • A country that is unable to harness her natural resources without the help of foreigners
  • A country that depends on foreign countries to supply for the supply of spare parts for her industrial machineries
  • A country that can only export raw materials rather than finished product( Uwaifo and Uddin,2009)

Nevertheless, a critical examination of the history of technological and industrial development in Nigeria showed that technological development could be traced to the period after independence.  At that time it was the intention of the FRN to gain economic dependence from Britain. Thus, as Nigerians assumed position of authority, the nation gradually reduced her dependence on Britain that had dominated the production and distribution of the nation’s economy. 

This intention was facilitated by the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion decrees of 1972 and 1977.  Incidentally as the nation eases off Britain’s domination, other foreigners were attracted through the economic policy of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Nigeria. I want to belief that the policy became necessary because the perception then was that FRN had a lot of land and manpower but lacked the capital to effectively develop them so the FDI policy came to being in Nigeria.  Researchers indicated that this had always been the attitude of developing countries to absorb the most advanced technologies in order to catch up with such technologies regardless of their nature and type (Romer, 1995).  It is evidently clear that most developing nations often go all out to attract FDI because they expected a technology diffusion and adoption as a spill over effect on it on local firms.  However, through the survey conducted by Blomstrom and Kokko (1998) and Meyer (2004), there had been no convincing evidence that there is a significant positive technological transfer or spill over effect of FDI on local firms.  The implication of this is that this nation cannot depend solely on foreign investment if she must compete with the world technologies.  The nation is being challenged therefore to look inwards and see how its native technology can complement foreign investment for Nigeria to frog leap into the world technological advancement.  To my mind, the theme of this year’s School of Science Conference points to the fact that FRN has indigenous and Scientific Technologies that should be harnessed inform of innovations so as to facilitate the nation’s catching up with advanced technologies of the world.  In a nutshell, one therefore posit that the benefits of international technology diffusion can only be meaningful and advantageous when parallel indigenous innovation efforts are put forward.

Indigenous Technological Innovations for Advancement

It will be unproductive to start discussing the benefits of science and technology in a distinguished forum of this nature. Nevertheless, in a discussion of sensitive issues such as this, one should not assume that everyone has a good understanding of these terms - Indigenous Technology and Innovations.  Majority of the people have taken the meaning for granted.  For instance a scientist will say that Technology is the application of science.  In the real sense of it, what the Scientist is saying is that it is the combination of science and engineering that can create wealth (Olaofe, 2010).  In actual fact many authorities have differently defined the term technology.  One School of thought says technology is the scientific study and use of mechanical arts and applied sciences and its application to practical tasks in industry (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). Labe (2008) defined technology as all the modifications humans have made in the natural environment for their own purposes.

In this definition, technology refers to tools and machines that are used to solve human problems such that the environment becomes a better place for living (Lewis, 2000).  In another manner, technology can be used to refer to a collection of technologies (Rowell 2002).  In this usage attention is being called unto a person’s knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products to solve prevailing problems, fulfil need of people and satisfy people’s wants.  It is thus looked at as a combination of technical method, skills, processes, techniques, tools and raw materials.

The word indigenous has simply been defined by Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary as ‘native’.  So combining indigenous with technology reveals the technologies employed by the native inhabitants of a country in this case FRN and which constitute an important part of Nigeria’s cultural heritage.  Enukora (1990) sees Indigenous Technology (IT) as a set of processes, methods, techniques, skills and the characteristic products existing and developed around specific condition of a typical population.  It is these skills, experiences and insights of this particular population that form the basic components of any country’s knowledge system.  In this regard, the implication here is that the FRN’s ability to build and mobilize knowledge becomes very essential for sustainable development and advancement.

I want to believe that taking you through some of the characteristics of an indigenous technology will help in focusing this discussion on the objectives of this conference.

Dayanatha (2006) identified the following as major characteristics of Indigenous Technology.

  • Indigenous Technology is less capital intensive.
  • It is environmental and ecological friendly.
  • It is location and site specific though has limited adaptability.
  • It generates only small increments in output.
  • It diffuses over small homogenous zones.

These characteristics make indigenous technology to give more options for solving problems.  Indigenous technology basically is that activity within the community that is ‘handwork’ based.  That activity one is knowledgeable about and such activity is carried out with the knowledge in one’s head and the skills in one’s hand.  Indigenous technology is part of the lives of rural poor people; their livelihood depends on it.  They survive having been able to harness the specific skills and knowledge required for their survival.

It is in view of the above I disagree with Uwaifo & Uddin, (2009) that Nigeria is not technologically backward. Looking at the modern technologies that are now primed and acquired with valuable funds, one should understand that they started as indigenous technologies in the native country of origin.

The FRN might not have had a great leap forward in technological development, technological start-ups in Nigeria have been developing real solutions that had been addressing local challenges albeit they were foreign driven.

Some traces of indigenous and technological innovations

For lack of time, I will concentrate on the basic needs of people generally drawing inferences from various parts of the country.

1.        Housing

Man started living in huts and caves.  If one travels along Benue State, there are certain settlers there that are still living in huts.  Those set of settlers used available raw materials within their environment to build their abode.  Bamboo, Palm leaves and planks from the farm were used to construct their houses.  As man’s knowledge about construction of houses increased and necessary skills acquired, houses were made more comfortable for living.  Houses in the northern part of the country are now being built with the objective of curtailing the effect of violent wind storm on such buildings.  The improved buildings are no longer being damaged by wind storms and people in such buildings live comfortably without the fear of their house-roof being torn by violent wind storms.

2.         Agriculture

Agricultural tools have developed from stone, hoes and cutlasses, the use of animals to till the land to the automated tractors, equipment and agricultural airplanes. There had been improved hybrid banana and maize varieties as well as soil treatment to bring about more agricultural yields.  Each step of advancement was through technological innovation for higher productivity so that the food can go round everyone, e.g. corn-sheller, corn threshing machine, groundnut sheller, cassava peler e.tc. are some of the new innovations.

3.         Wars

Many people may conceive war – whether locally or internationally, as a tool for destruction, but certain technological advancement has emerged through various wars. In Nigeria, the civil war in 1970 brought about the introduction of a variety of aircraft and associated weapon systems into the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).  The introduction of the new weapons led to the need for skilled manpower to operate and maintain the new weapons. This eventually led to the establishment of Air Force Institute of Technology at Kaduna in 1977.  Since the inception of the institute manpower problem had been resolved even as its services have been extended to Ghana, Liberia and Cameroon.  In addition, during the war continual advancements in technology were mandatory to maintain competitive edge over the enemy.  So, through trial and errors suffered during the war technological developments were realized, e.g. tanks were improved upon, increased speed armour and firepower.

4.         Roads/Transportation Sector

Roads in Nigeria started with footpath which gave way to horse tracks and today vehicles from the less costly and those with whooping sum of money down to aeroplanes being owned by individuals.  Many indigenous machines have been produced by both public and private organizations that make life a little easier and more comfortable e.g. ovens, cookers, transformers were made from locally sourced materials.  Iron and steel Industry [the Osogbo steel rolling mills and Ajaokuta steel industry] have assisted a lot in this respect.   In the middle of 1980’s – there was a proposal to develop an indigenous car and three-wheel motor car[Abdulkareem,1992].  What evolved from that proposal is what is now known as Keke Napep.

5.         Communication Sector

It started with town crier to the use of messenger on feet thereafter letter writing and now in the 21st century the GSM brought to Nigeria by Obasanjo’s regime is now found in every home and had eased off communication process drastically. That’s not the only advantage it brought, jobs have been provided for a lot of youth as a result of the mobile phone creation.

6.         Domestic Front

It all started with pottery technology making bowls, dishes, plates and different types of pots and flower vases.  Today the home front can boast of aluminium products and glass ware products using local materials in some cases but a combination of local materials and foreign technology in others.

FRN’s Drive Towards Indigenous Technology and Innovation

In the last forty (40) years in many African countries, there had been an increase in human wants and what he places value upon.  In an attempt to promote domestic technology, Nigeria mainly focused on the establishment of infrastructures and industries making use of assorted foreign technologies so as to satisfy the immediate needs of the people.  As at that time, Nigerians lacked the skill to negotiate technology transfer agreements, technology transfer agreements were reported to often contain monopoly pricing and restrictive business practices, giving of excessively long contracts was the order of the day and Research and Development [R and D] agreement were non-existent.  The period was characterized with importation of foreign technology to Nigeria and the nation became a dumping ground for all types of technology albeit, obsolete, inappropriate and not environmental friendly .  In actual fact, the first notable step taken by FRN towards a technological revolution was the establishment of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) in 1979.

Initially the agency’s name National Office of Industrial Property (NOIP) restricted its activities to regulatory and control roles for thirteen years.  It was not until 1992 that the name was changed so as to remove the ambiguity and misconceptions that may arose in relation to any other Government agency.  NOTAP by 1992 was mandated to implement the acquisition promotion and development of technology and correct the imperfections in the acquisition of foreign technology into Nigeria.  At the same time the agency’s roles became expanded focusing on promotional and developmental roles in conjunction with the former regulatory and control roles.

In order for participants of this conference to understand the relevance of the National Policy on Technology of the FRN, one cannot but examine and become acquainted with the mandate of NOTAP because it happens to be the arrow head of instruments to carry out this national policy on technology.

Relevance of NOTAP in creating sustainable indigenous scientific technological innovations

 The function of this agency can be summarized in one phrase- the mandate of NOTAP. This is as follows:

  1. Encouragement of a more efficient process for the identification and selection of foreign technology.
  2. Development of the negotiating skills of Nigerians with a view to ensure the acquisition of the best contractual terms and conditions in the transfer of foreign technology agreements.
  3. Provision of a more efficient process for the adaptation of imported technology.
  4. Registration of all foreign technology transfer agreements having effect in Nigeria.
  5. Monitoring on a continuous basis of the implementation of any contract or agreement registered in pursuant of the Act setting up the office.
  6. Commercialization of R & D results and inventions.
  7. Promotion of locally generated technologies.
  8. Promotion of Intellectual Property.
  9. Promotion and encouragement of the development of creative and inventive skills among Nigerian Scientists, Researchers, Inventors and Innovators.
  10. Dissemination of technology information.

A critical examination of the mandate of NOTAP indicates that it is very vital to the socio –economic development of this nation.  With this mandate, NOTAP among many other things became fully established statutorily and empowered to support inventions and innovations towards indigenous technological advancement in Nigeria.  Consequently, the main and important function of the office is to promote and develop indigenous technology for advancement.  Inspite of this mandate, the FRN has not been able to launch itself into evolving technology based products and services emanating from her indigenous knowledge system in knowledge based economy.  The impact of NOTAP has not really been felt because all activities it has engaged in so far are mainly intangible.

People’s Republic of China’s Drive for Indigenous Technology.

A comparative study becomes necessary in order to reveal the gap between FRN’s construction of privileges for indigenous technology policy and that of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  I choose China because researchers have indicated and confirmed the rapid development China has recorded in her drive to institute sustainable indigenous technology in the republic (Sjoholm and Leindin, 2013). What were the magic wands used by PRC?  A dive into the history of indigenous technology development in China revealed that:

 [a]       China has made great sides in scientific development since 1949 and the gesture has become the new core of China’s development strategy.

[b]        Government put in place stringent economic policies.  This approach reflected a wider assertiveness in overall international relations.  Political and economic campaign that involved all – hands – on deck called to action for the PRC. They were so resolute in their mission of catching up and even surpassing the West in Science and Technology which has begun since 200 years ago.

In order to make do with this dream, both the political class and the industrialists ensure that the economic and political campaign focus on employing China’s fast growing domestic market and powerful regulatory regime to decrease reliance on foreign technology and develop indigenous technologies that will enable China to solve its massive environmental, infrastructure and social problems.

(c)        The major methodology used was the idea of restricting operations of foreign multinational firms.

PRC attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which substantially contributed to production and export, however, FDI to the PRC was made to undergo a structural change away from simple manufacturing towards more technology-intensive activities. PRC enforced the need for foreign investors and industrialists to locate their Research and Development (R & D) on China’s soil (UNTAD 2005).

(d)       Indigenous Innovation Policy.

            China evolved an indigenous innovation policy that threatened foreign Intellectual Property Right [IPR] holders (Heyue and Wood, 2010). This policy limited the ability of the foreign firms to compete with local domestic firms. For PRC, Indigenous Innovation policy was a national strategy to promoting development technological innovation in domestic firms which will eventually cumulate into the ownership of the firms’ IP rights. Other accompanied policies such as certain domestic products being treated preferentially during government procurement facilitated the effectiveness of the Indigenous Innovation’ policy. The idea was for China to move from ‘made in China’ to ‘made by China’. This eventually ruled out the export of foreign low-tech manufactured goods.

Again, local companies were favoured because it was considered a key driver for indigenous innovation.  PRC used patent law to her advantage. Government of PRC equally issued a series of amendments and regulations relating to patents and intellectual property rights that increased the woes of foreign companies in China. Consequently, indigenous innovations were used to bring about indigenous technology.

(e)        PRC set up a state council Leading Group on Science.  This comprised of representatives of major ministries and government offices such as Ministry of Commerce (MOC) of Finance (MOF) of Industry and Information Technology (MIII) of Science and Technology (MOST) of the National Development and  Reform Commission (NDRC) and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Working Cooperatively on discussing, reviewing and approving major policies and strategies on Science and Technology and coordinate relevant departments and localities to implement key tasks and projects.

(f)        Political Will of PRC was unique.

            In PRC government, statements by the leadership were meant and directed to shape national and local policies to a degree that have not been seen in other major trading nations (Wolft, 2010).

           The PRC leadership definitely believed that innovation was the panacea for all the challenges in economic sector which if well implemented will bring political stability, support advanced military capabilities, retain its global trade and geopolitical power.

(g)       Another methodology employed by PRC was Tax incentive policy for FDI’s.  The aim was to foster technology transfer.

(h)     PRC government employed provision of educational settings as an investment on human resources.  PRC leadership produced a large number of College and Technical Education graduates.  This brought about a large talent pool.  It equally sponsored indigenes to other countries to qualify as engineers and were assisted to gain employment in foreign countries.  After some years of working experience, such Chinese engineers were made to return home so as to use their experiences to make China a better place to live in.  This equally facilitated and increased the amount of technology transferred by the process of diffusion as the Chinese engineers were recalled home to China.

Finally, for China, there was only one path to thread and that is “Development is an Immutable truth” indicating that economic development was the great helmsman for its economy through indigenous technology innovations.

The Panacea for The Future of Indigenous and Technological Innovations in Nigeria.

FRN is aiming to become one of the top 20 economies in the world by 2020.  This is a good dream and its shows the intention of the nation to move forward, to go to the next level, to compete favourably with world economy.  But to frog leap in this manner, Nigeria as nation needs its own indigenous technology tailored to meet its peculiar needs just as China has done.

In promoting Indigenous Technology in Nigeria NOTAP merely tramps on capacity building for national development, Nigeria needs to learn from China by developing local technology and innovations.

FRN needs to provide enough funds to institutes for manufacturing innovation. While funds are available, institutes would focus on developing advanced manufacturing product and process technologies, facilitating commercialization and providing important workforce skills.

Virtually, every major manufacturing competitor – including Germany, Finance, Japan and the UK (Asian, China and India) operates public private partnerships focusimg on industrially relevant R & D and production technologies. FRN should do so as well.

There is the need to increase incentives for businesses to invest in R and D and innovation e.g. Researchers have indicated that tax credit in China and India are more generous than that of America.  Whereas, Nigeria lacks an investment tax credit rather we add burden to the firms by charging VAT (Corporate tax rate).  Some important areas such as business investments in R & D; skills training, expenditures for new equipment and software could attract investment tax credit.

FRN should endeavour to make policies that seek to advantage our local producers at the expense of foreign manufacturing competitors for examples currency manipulation, export subsidies, discriminatory tariffs, technology standards intellectual property (IP) theft, Local Content Requirement [LCR], localization barriers to trade and forced IP or technology transfer as a condition for market access. These factors where they are not forcefully controlled and implemented often become technical barriers to trade.

FRN should introduce a Preferential Market Access (PMA) policy that favours Nigeria – based Information and Communications Technology (ICT) manufacturers in government procurement.

FRN public procurement policies should strongly encourage domestic production by establishing price preferences across a number of sectors, including medical technologies and medications, automobile production and electricity generation.

Nigeria should deployed a wide range of innovation mercantilist practices, excelling at mandating technology and intellectual property transfer as a condition of market access forcing joint ventures, introducing technology standards that favour indigenous industries showering indigenous technology companies with subsidies, using anti-trust policy as a club against foreign companies, using the legal system to support the use of foreign IP without due compensation and pressuring state-owned enterprises to purchase Nigeria-produced technology.

For FRN to combat – unfair foreign trade practices

  1. Nigeria should require NATOP to rank nations according to the extent of their use of mercantilist practices and the extent to which they specifically impact high value-added technology - intensive Nigerian manufacturing industries.
  2. NATOP should be provided with significantly more resources for trade enforcement rather than just monitoring the situation.
  3. There should be strong intellectual property protections for Nigeria intellectual property rights holders.  It should be noted that trade secrets or ‘know-how’ are critical to the competitiveness of terms in innovation industries.  Trade secrets are necessary to start up companies and small business enterprises.

The role of educational sector in creating sustainable scientific and technological innovations

There cannot be inventions without inventors and inventors may not be readily available where the educational system is ill-focused.  Nigeria presently has been reported to have the largest number of Universities in Africa.  There are about 125 Polytechnics and monotechnics and over 300 research institutions not mentioning Colleges of Education at the Federal and State levels.  These institutions are to train and produce the critical mass of highly skilled manpower to manage Nigeria economy.  The products of these institutions as graduates are supposed to solve all environmental problems. 

The challenge here is that the products of Nigerian institutions lacked the necessary skills and knowledge system that would enable them create job for themselves and others too in a knowledge based economy, rather the Nigeria technologist and engineers prefer white collar jobs, thus looking up to the government to provide jobs whereas China Technologist and engineering graduates emigrated en-mass to foreign countries to apply their high skills where they are valued in high demand and especially in electronics and computers.

 The causes of this kind of output in Nigerian institutions are not farfetched.   Among others, one can identify lack of appropriate funding, obsolete curriculum, poorly equipped lecture theatres, laziness on the part of the learners and inept teachers with no regular in-service or on the job training.

 In comparing Nigerian research institutions with other similar institutions in China, India or even U.S., what makes the difference is the energy of research, the energy of development, the understanding and the energy to actually harness institution’s technology and commercialize it with the bid to take it to the industry.  This is eventually brought into the community in concrete terms where people will have access to such innovation.

CONCLUSION

In order to depict a clear picture of how to create sustainable convergence for indigenous scientific and technological innovations in Nigeria, I have brought to your hearing the fact that Nigeria is not technologically backward because the nation has in abundance its own indigenous and innovative technologies that are domesticated and local to its environment. But that Nigeria needs to provide adequate technical manpower to harness these indigenous technologies even in the face of people’s value and taste changing sporadically. NOTAP has started this by establishing of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Office [IPTTO] in the Universities, Polytechnics and research Institutes in the country. Incidentally the progress is slow.

Although, FRN has set targets of becoming one of the 20th technologically advanced countries in the world by 2020 and it has taken a feeble step towards this vision but in order to really frog leap into the realm of competitive knowledge based economy, she needs to develop her indigenous technology, encourage inventions and innovations, and improve on her policy for indigenous technology.

FRN cannot afford to continue to be end users of foreign technologies thus making the nation a dumping ground. At the same time it has been shown that Nigeria should have cross-continental economic relationship and still allow some measure of foreign important with stringent regulation on localization of R and D in Nigeria’s territory. 

Just as China had a pool of talent to pull her work force with knowledge system that has focus on bringing about indigenous technology and scientific innovations that are beneficial to local industries. If the FRN will achieve her objectives by 2020, then Nigerians must believe in Nigeria, inventors must be recognized and encouraged while the research institutions and our universities must fulfil its mandate of producing the high skilled and knowledgeable work force.  Finally, NOTAP should step up the performance of its enlarged functions of regulating, controlling, monitoring, commercializing R & D from research institutes.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS    

Based on the factors raised in this write up, the following recommendations were put forward:

1.            FRN should upgrade its capabilities in indigenous research and innovation science, technology and administration, train more innovative talents and improve education for workers. (i.e. to say – strive to speed up the construction of an innovation country).

2.            Manufacturing is a key driver of R & D and innovation in advanced economy.  Consequently, FRN must do better at turning scientific discoveries into new technologies that are commercialized and manufactured at scale in Nigeria.

 3.          Government’s role in promoting technology innovations involves both direct and indirect measures to FRN should provide enough funds to the institutes for manufacturing innovation.

4.         With the resuscitation to life of Nigeria Steel Rolling Mills, factories should be established for manufacturing of machine spare parts.  The components of the hardware and software can be produced by Nigerians using domestic materials.

5.         Foreign products should still be allowed to be imported while Intellectual Property and patent of the foreign firms should be registered in Nigeria.

6.         Research Institutions whether with or without the establishment of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Office (IPTTO) should focus on knowledge system that would easily be linked to Nigeria industries.  Indigenous Technology innovations should be made available to industries for actualization. Government should understand that parents would be scared to support their wards where technology is being used to exploit the students. Educationists have resulted in asking parents to pay through their noses before their children can have access to STI education. This will not help the dream of the FRN.

I strongly believe that this lead paper has provided a lead for my fellow colleagues and contributors participating in this conference and that a part has been laid for them to either complement or contradict my ideas in such a way that we all will be able to have consensus of opinion that will be reflected in the conference communiqué at the end of the day.

Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

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