2022 Babcock University Convocation Lecture
Kingsley Moghalu lectures on knowledge, vision, passion, and innovation in the context of Nigeria’s development.
This slightly edited down version of the 2022 Convocation Lecture of Babcock University was delivered by Professor Kingsley Moghalu OON, President, Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation (IGET), former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, at Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, on 27 July 2022.
For more than 60 years since our independence from colonial rule, Nigeria has confronted – and been weighed down by – the challenges of disunity, poverty, instability and, in the past decade, insecurity. And yet, we see that the countries of Asia and most of Latin America which also went through the colonial experience, and some of which were at roughly the same levels of development as Nigeria in the early 1960s, have as of today made far and away more progress than Nigeria has. I have in mind countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and even South Korea.
There is no other answer to this conundrum than a singular imperative: we must re-invent the Nigerian mind. Development begins in the mind. In the human mind we will find from the empirical experience of other countries that have “made it”, the driving forces of knowledge, vision, passion, and innovation. This is what we have failed to internalize and apply in a consistent manner in the political, economic and policy spaces where the direction of Nigeria’s present and future are decided.
Meaning and Importance
Put very simply, knowledge means to know, to be aware and to understand. This knowing and awareness is a powerful tool. It is both an end itself and a means to an end, first for us as individuals and then, multiplied, for the society at large. Knowledge is power and success, because we cannot take informed decisions and succeed in life without it. What we learn, whether history, dance, or basic science, helps us grow as individuals and can enhance the quality of our life in all areas including our health.
We apply our knowledge in our everyday lives, from knowing which roads to use or avoid, to making our transportation more efficient, to utilizing knowledge to make economic and investment decisions.
We have seen as well how low the literacy rate in Nigeria has consigned millions to poverty and impaired their ability to be well informed voters who understand what real leadership means. As a result, they often vote for the wrong people for the wrong reasons. The absence of self-empowering knowledge is what makes the average Nigerian voter to vote on the basis of “stomach infrastructure”.
Even persons with formal education but who lack political education or knowledge also make wrong political judgments that have weakened the quality of our electoral democracy. For example, many “educated” voters will vote for “who will win” or is likely to win than who “should win”. In other words, being part of a bandwagon or part of the herd is more important, in the mind of many an “educated” voter than relative competence and capacity of the candidates and the implication for governance after the election.
The Knowledge Society
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that knowledge societies are those with the capability to identify, produce, process, transform, disseminate, and use information to build and apply knowledge for human development. A knowledge society creates or generates to all its members knowledge that can improve human existence.
In such societies, knowledge is the most important factor of production. The 21st century global economy is therefore mainly a knowledge economy. To secure our future as a country, Nigeria must increasingly become a knowledge society. It is knowledge as a factor of production that makes possible a paradigm shift away from natural factor endorsements such as land, labour, and natural resources towards the production and export of complex value-added products.
As we all know, the natural resource trap is Nigeria’s most fundamental economic challenge. The wealthiest countries in the world such as Japan, Switzerland, and South Korea, have no natural resources. What they have is knowledge. With that knowledge, they import our natural resources, turn them into sophisticated products, and export these products back to us at costs far higher than our natural resources because they have added value. Not surprisingly, the current account in our balance of trade is thus necessarily in the red.
What then is this knowledge economy that these wealthy nations have built but which has continued to elude us in Nigeria, with negative implications for our development? The knowledge economy is one in which intellectual property – knowledge and information systems that drive an ever-increasing pace of scientific and technological advances – is the basis of production and services.
Knowledge economies are built on two things:
The first is innovation, which we will discuss below, and the second is education. the phrase “Knowledge society” was coined and popularized by late professor Peter Drucker, the leading American management guru of the 20th century. In his famous Edwin L. Godkin Lecture at Harvard Kennedy School in 1994, titled “Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society; The Social Transformation of this Century”, Drucker sketched out the knowledge economy’s characteristics.
First, formal education is essential in the knowledge society and for knowledge workers. You cannot be part of the knowledge economy if you have not gone to school, for that formal education is what gives the knowledge worker access to work, jobs, or social positions. This kind of education cannot be acquired merely through apprenticeship as was the case in decades past. Education is the nerve centre of the knowledge society.
Second, the education we speak of is not limited to formal education, but includes continuing education offered in the workplace or elsewhere.
Third, knowledge economies are necessarily more competitive economies. This is partly because technological advantages are often quickly overtaken and become obsolescent. Think about the yearly versions and iterations of your Apple iPhones and other devices, the “tablet wars” between Apple’s iPad, Samsung and Microsoft, or the rise and fall of Blackberry.
Fourth, knowledge in the knowledge economy is only as good as the application of it. This means that the knowledge economy is focused more on practical skills. This is part of what is referred to as productive knowledge (PK). Productive knowledge improves the productivity of organizations and countries. It anchors the ability to produce and export complex, value-added products. This is the key to global competitiveness.
Fifth, specialization is a key feature of the knowledge economy. To operate effectively in the knowledge economy, an individual must have specialized knowledge.
Sixth, the knowledge economy requires people to work in teams.
Seventh, patents and other kinds of intellectual property are the bedrock of the knowledge society. If, as is the case, knowledge is wealth and power, the value of such knowledge is high in economic terms and is surely worth protecting. This protection acts as an incentive for innovation and research. This is why companies in knowledge economies spend large sums of money on research and development. It gives them a competitive edge.
Another important aspect of knowledge is that it can give us fundamental understandings about the nature of things. In other words, full understanding of concepts is essential as we confront the challenges of development. These challenges include national security, poverty and achieving economic transformation and diversification. The motto of my alma mater the London School of Economics, rerum cognoscere causas (to know the causes of things) comes to mind here.
This aspect of knowledge has implications for policymaking and governance in Nigeria. When we operate from the basis of knowledge, we should take a root-cause approach to national challenges, not surface “solutions”. Except of course, we know but refuse to acknowledge what we know. To demonstrate, without internal security and the security of our external borders, our claims to statehood are fundamentally porous. The security challenges Nigeria faces today, mainly from terrorism, make our country an increasingly ungoverned space. Parts of Borno, Niger, and Zamfara states fall into this category.
Territorial integrity is one of the fundamental requirements for statehood in international law. Moreover, from an internal governance perspective, protecting the security of the lives and property of Nigerians in Nigeria is a constitutional imperative for the Government of Nigeria.
These fundamental understandings, which flow from knowledge, should be the point of departure for any government’s approach to national security. Following on from this, therefore, the prime requirement of ending or conquering the challenge to Nigeria’s security from terrorism is political will. This means that it should be unacceptable to any political leadership that thousands of Nigerians should continue to be killed by terrorists. When something is fundamentally unacceptable to us, we take strong steps to stop such a thing from affecting us, except we are powerless in the extreme.
Again, we see this paradigm of lack of knowledge in economic management. Our approach to managing our economy ignores the role of political processes and institutions as a fundamental influence on economic outcomes and pretends that our economic situation can be managed by an approach based purely on rational economic science or technical macroeconomics.
This relationship is captured in the discipline of political economy. This is especially important for a developing economy such as Nigeria’s. The oil curse that we have suffered for over half a century, including our inability to achieve real diversification of the economy, is the outcome of the political economy of the rentier state. Oil and other natural resource revenues in Nigeria are “rents” that politicians seek, collect, and distribute as patronage to cronies through various aspects of the political and governance process - elections, political appointments, budgets, privatizations, etc.
This challenge of political economy in Nigeria today is now increasingly represented in the debate over the nature of federalism, captured in the popular but somewhat inexact term “restructuring”. Here again it is necessary to proceed from a place of knowledge as an understanding of the fundamental “nature of things”.
My understanding of restructuring is that it is an imperative for – at the very least – a major overhaul of the 1999 Constitution that returns Nigeria to a more accurate reflection of federalism. In this scenario, constitutional powers and responsibilities are re-apportioned between two tiers of government – the federal and the state (or regional) governments – by devolving several items from the 68-item Exclusive List in the Constitution that is reserved exclusively to the federal government, down to sub-national governments. Critically, some of the items include ownership of natural resources, police powers, and transportation infrastructure such as ports and railways.
A true reflection of the principles of federalism, which has been perverted by the ownership of natural resources by the federal government, requires that states or regions own the resources under their soil, and contribute an agreed portion of revenues to the federal government to finance the performance of common services such as the Armed Forces, immigration, and foreign affairs. Central banking should also be a responsibility of the central government.
Restructuring – a return to real federalism – is essential for Nigeria’s economic development because the present situation in which the Federal Government owns the country’s natural resources and keeps the bulk of the revenues from those resources while sharing the rest to states and local governments, turns the principle of federalism upside down.
So does the creation of state and local government areas by the federal government in the era of military dictatorship. States or regions should create local government structures, as was the case under the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions that stayed more closely to universally accepted principles of federalism.
The excessive powers of the federal government under the 1999 Constitution have fostered the rentier state I discussed earlier and prevented self-sufficient and sustainable economic development of states, by making them lazy. A vast majority of states in Nigeria depend largely on the federal government for allocations from natural resource revenues to pay workers’ salaries and provide basic services. This institutional arrangement has had profoundly negative implications for Nigeria’s economy because the over-centralization of responsibility for economic decision-making power narrows opportunities for wealth creation. It is a dysfunctional political economy.
Closely related to political economy is the question of economic philosophy. Knowledge of this subject and its application to economic policy is essential for successful economic governance in Nigeria. There is no successful economy, whether in the west or in Asia, that is not philosophically anchored. A philosophical foundation makes for a clear economic vision and consistency in policy-making.
Since independence, Nigeria has alternated between a “mixed economy” in which the government has played a commanding role by controlling several economic institutions and markets, from the Marketing Boards of the 1950s and 60s to the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and a freer market approach inspired the liberalization of the banking sector in the 1980s and 90s, the privatization of numerous publicly owned parastatals, and deregulation.
But our economy has been stultified by philosophical inconsistency and contradictions. We have failed to understand that capitalism is a political and economic philosophy that is anchored on free trade and property rights (with the government setting an enabling framework of policy and regulation). It requires certain conditions in order to create national prosperity.
These conditions, as the political economist Hernando de Soto reminds us, are (a) property rights, (b) innovation, and (c) capital. Applied to Nigeria then, this means that there is a fundamental contradiction between a broadly free market and state ownership of land as represented in the Land Use Act – a constitutional provision. We do not yet have a culture of innovation, and capital formation and accumulation are restricted by a weak tax system, low wages and the high cost of credit combined with high barriers to the ability of the average Nigerian to borrow or otherwise have access to capital.
Beyond this, there is an evident lack of appreciation for the different kinds of capitalism and the implications of each in our own unique context. There is welfare capitalism that has been successful in Europe. In this version of capitalist economies there is free enterprise, but taxation levels are generally high, and the revenues from these high taxes provide extensive levels of essential services such as healthcare and education for most citizens.
There is entrepreneurial capitalism which is dominant in the United States. Here the emphasis is on dynamic individual initiative through starting up small companies. Many of these companies grow to become large corporations. The government’s role is less invasive, and it is extremely easy to set up business companies. Typically in the United States you can set up most kinds of companies online, including paying the required fees.
Then we have crony capitalism. Here, privileged elites with connections in the government are favoured with economic opportunities to create wealth for themselves. This is predominantly what we have in Nigeria. This is also prevalent in Russia where there are many “oligarchs” who were gifted with privileged opportunities following the collapse of both communism and the Soviet Union. In South Korea, a variation of this kind of capitalism also drives the economy. Several powerful families were supported by the government to create business conglomerates in sectors such as shipping, vehicle manufacturing, electronics, and others. But there is a conscious structuring of the economy at a level below the conglomerates such that most smaller businesses supply, support, and benefit from the existence of the conglomerates.
Finally, there is China’s “state capitalism”. The Chinese state gave up socialism but directs the “free” market in a strategic manner to meet objectives established by the government, and the government itself owns many businesses known as “State-Owned Enterprises” (SOEs). Chinese businesses that operate abroad as foreign investors in the markets of other countries are heavily supported by the Chinese government.
In reality, many countries have combinations of at least two of these four broad categories of capitalism along which their economies are organized. Nigeria operates mostly a combination of crony and entrepreneurial capitalism. But our crony capitalism is not systemic or beneficial to the broader economy as it has been in South Korea. It creates only the wealth of a few oligarchs while the great majority of Nigerians are steeped in poverty, which continues to grow in an increasingly harsh economic environment. Our entrepreneurial capitalism, represented in the fact that Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) make up 90 percent of businesses in Nigeria, does not grow wealth owing to the absence of an enabling business environment. Our small companies face multiple taxes, infrastructure challenges such as the absence of electricity, and restricted access to capital.
In recent years, the federal government has exhibited a welfarist leaning with initiatives such as the Social Investment Program and others. The impact of such programs is limited, if our increasing unemployment and poverty rates are anything to go by. These programs are initiatives. They are not embedded in a well-structured social security system. Even more important in practice, Nigeria’s federal government is not generating significant levels of revenue. As a matter of fact, all its revenues are now consumed by debt servicing! We cannot be a welfare state without first creating the national wealth that can sustain such a system.
Still on the knowledge gaps in our economic management, we have not come to a policy framework that determines the right balance between the state and the market. The most glaring examples of this failure are the controversial and wasteful practice of subsidies on the importation of refined petroleum products as well as state control of the price of petrol even in spite of the recent “commercialization” of the NNPC Ltd. Nothing can justify spending N4 trillion annually on petroleum subsidy when our public education system, a foundation for any country’s development, has virtually collapsed from a lack of investment and universities are frequently closed as a result of strikes by their lecturers.
Furthermore, and more broadly, the Nigerian government has erroneously focused on economic growth at the expense of human development. At 62 percent, Nigeria’s literacy rate is embarrassingly low, and we have the world’s highest numbers of school-age children out of school – about 14 million children. Investment in publicly funded healthcare is similarly low at 5 percent of the national budget.
While GDP growth is essential for development, GDP per capita remains at an extremely low $2,000, with an average GDP per capita of $1,600 since our country’s independence in 1960. We can compare this with the GDP per capita of $5,000 for South Africa, $10,500 for Malaysia, $6,800 for Brazil, and $31,500 for South Korea.
For a development-challenged country such as Nigeria, we need to know, understand, and apply the knowledge that what will deliver the development we seek is a focus in economic policy on a continuum from human development as a foundation, to economic growth, and then to structural economic transformation away from natural resource-fuelled growth to diversified export base of complex, value-added products.
The Greek philosopher Plato was right when he famously said: “Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities [nations] will never rest from their evils – no, nor the human race, as I believe – and then only will this our State have a possibility of light and behold the light of day”. Plato was speaking of the city state of Athens in ancient Greece, but his famous quote mirrors the situation of Nigeria today.
All knowledge is embedded and transmitted through knowledge systems. Knowing and understanding this fact, and especially that there are several and different knowledge systems, is important for us as we grapple with the challenge of development. According to the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a knowledge system is “a body of propositions that are adhered to, whether formally or informally, and are routinely used to claim truth”.
Among the characteristics of knowledge systems is that there is embedded in them a logical connection between their content (input in a manner of speaking) and their utility or outcomes (output). Knowledge systems evolve, adapt, and are subject to revision. They must also pass the test of relevance, reliability, or quality.
We use and experience knowledge systems in our practical lives in areas such as education and learning, literature, culture and values, medicine, and technology. In today’s world we have two broad divisions of knowledge systems – Modern, Scientific Knowledge System (MSKS) which has evolved mainly from the knowledge systems of the western world developed after the decline of ecclesiastical influence in Europe in the 17th century and the corresponding rise of empirical science and the industrial revolution, on the one hand, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) on the other.
Examples of IKS abound and include – to use the field of medicine as an example – Chinese acupuncture, India’s ancient Ayurveda, and African traditional medicine, alongside classical medicine in the MSKS tradition. While MSKS tends to be written and leans towards demonstrable empiricism, IKS tends to be transmitted through oral tradition and is often accompanied by belief systems related to the supernatural.
It is undeniable that the relative dominance of the MSKS has been sustained by the Western influence in world politics, economy and technology in the past 500 years including through the transatlantic slave trade, military conquests, and colonization of vast territories in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. All of this enabled the West to rewrite global history in its own image. This phenomenon has included the transformation of raw material such as numerous plants grown in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to produce pharmaceuticals using MSKS processes, complete with the ownership of the intellectual property of those products.
In recent years, however, IKS has been globally validated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) through its important work on Traditional Knowledge (TK). WIPO defines traditional knowledge as “knowledge or practices passed down from generation to generation that form part of the traditions or heritage of indigenous communities”.
This raises the question: can Nigerian traditional medicine and herbalism be enhanced for our country’s development? In my view, yes, certainly. We can do this through, for example:
a. Stand testing of results and outcomes.
b. Standardization and regulation of herbal medicine practice including certification.
c. Seeking intellectual property rights for innovations and knowledge in this framework.
d. Health policy mainstreaming – use of treatment regimes, pharmaceutical applications, and even teaching in Nigerian medical schools.
Here I would like to separate the provable qualities of medicinal herbs from the more spiritual aspects of African traditional medicine which, undoubtedly, are controversial and subject to both religious beliefs and cultural evolution.
In the area of education, it is important that positive cultural values should be transmitted to Nigerian children and youth in local languages in educational institutions in order to maintain our indigenous knowledge systems and use them in a more active manner for our national development. Professors Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe and several other authors of their generation such as Cyprian Ekwensi, though writing in English, were powerfully successful in transmitting IKS through their literary works. In Soyinka’s play Death and the King’s Horseman, British colonial authorities prevent a Yoruba king’s horseman from committing a suicide that the latter felt was his bounden duty. In Chinua Achebe’s earlier novels Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, the protagonists Okonkwo and Ezeulu and their communities face a difficult transition from their native cultures to life under colonial rule. Cyprian Ekwensi’s Burning Grass examines Fulani nomadic life.
There has been much debate about how much these great writers could possibly portray African culture accurately via the medium of English, the language of our colonizers. But I believe that they were phenomenally successful in bringing Africa to the world through African eyes. It is intriguing, of course, that another great African writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, eventually renounced writing in English and began to write only in Swahili (he did not oppose translations of his work from Swahili into English) to emphasize the purity of his message from an indigenous knowledge system perspective.
Nigeria’s educational system should be managed more consciously as a knowledge system with an emphasis on retaining the wide use of Nigerian languages, African values, and the positive aspects of African cultures on the one hand, and an emphasis on the acquisition of productive knowledge on the other. For this latter purpose, I recommend a curriculum that is 60-70 percent science, technology, entrepreneurship and management.
Oxford Dictionary defines vision, in the context of our present discussion, as “the ability to think about and plan the future with imagination and wisdom”. Vision is a quality that is applicable both to individuals and groups such as a nation or country. But without individuals with visionary ability being in political leadership and other influential positions, no country or organization can achieve at great levels.
Vision is forward-looking, not a reactive quality. Unfortunately for Nigeria, our political leaders are mainly either reactive, responding to the past as represented in historical grievances, or at best live in the here and now, mainly for their selfish and sectarian interests and not for the greater collective of our citizens of all tribes, tongues, and creeds.
For Nigeria to achieve a much better quality of life for its citizens, we as citizens and the voting electorate must ourselves begin to place greater emphasis on vision as a major criterion for leadership selection. Promises of bridges and roads, track records of paying workers’ salaries, all of which should be basic functions of governance, are a very low bar for leadership selection.
This is important because visionary capacity and the ability to drive such vision is often associated with great transformations. It is important for a leader, political, organizational, or business to lay out a picture of a future that does not exist right now – and thus might appear “impossible”, “ambitious” or “impractical”, and mobilize and motivate citizens, members, or employees to work collectively for the achievement of such a future state.
It is the application of this leadership quality, not just the leadership as authority or power instead of responsibility, “us” versus “them”, and loyalty versus competence conundrums that have characterized leadership in Nigeria, that drove the transformations achieved by nations and great leaders such as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, Sheikh Al Maktoum of Dubai, Abraham Lincoln of the United States, Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia, and Ben Gurion of Israel.
Closer to home we had Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the pan-Africanist of whom the New York Times wrote upon his death in 1996: “As a political scientist, journalist, political activist and President and for many years Nigeria’s elder stateman, Dr. Azikiwe towered over the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, attaining the rare status of a truly national hero who came to be admired across the regional and ethnic lines dividing his country”. Azikiwe’s contemporaries such as Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello, were also visionaries.
Between these three leaders much was achieved in Nigeria’s regions in the 1950s and 60s, even if their clashing visions about our country’s ethos and structure – nationalistic or ethnic, federal, or unitary? – oiled by the cold, calculated machinations of colonial Britain, ultimately set Nigeria on a downward slope of internal division and conflict. Nigeria today needs a truly national and visionary leader that can set our country on the path of transformation such as Dubai, Malaysia and other countries that are truly making progress because they are focused on a vision.
All of which brings us to the subject of national economic planning and Vision 2010, Vision 2020, and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). In the years between the early 1950s up to the First Republic in the 1960s and up to the mid-1970s under military rule, Nigerian governments developed and implemented development plans. Significant success was achieved with this approach, but the planning method was abandoned by subsequent governments as free market economies became dominant from the 1980s and 90s and it was felt that the logic of a strong role for the state, which had disappeared to a large degree, could no longer be sustained since “the free market” had taken over. National planning periods were subsequently replaced with national “Visions”.
But Vision 2010 and 2020 failed, first in the case of the former, by the political instability that was occasioned by the untimely death of Sani Abacha, the military dictator who birthed Vision 2010, and more broadly, by a governance failure and lack of knowledge, and unseriousness to execute the plans effectively. Visions are not achieved in a vacuum. There must be an imagination, but there also must be a plan, else a national vision is but a dream. Real national ambition is made of sterner stuff.
Nigeria’s national plans in recent years have also failed because of the absence of an economic philosophy on which they are to be grounded, and the overall absence of a philosophical worldview of the Nigerian state. This vacuum in turn exists because Nigeria has for 60 years remained a territorial state but has not been built into a nation with a widely shared national ambition and sense of purpose. A transformational leadership can cure this nation-building deficit with the development and inculcation in citizens of a clear worldview.
The worldviews of all great nations are easily identifiable. This again brings us back to the foundationally negative consequences of our national aversion, especially among our political elite, to deep philosophical reflection. The worldview of the United States and much of the Western world is anchored on individual freedom, rational scientific inquiry, and an emphasis on strong, independent institutions to check tyrannical governance following the decline of monarchies in Europe (the “Old World”). Americans believe theirs is “God’s own country”, with a “manifest destiny” of greatness. The Chinese and Asian worldview is focused and anchored on the cyclicality of time, social stability and order as an end in itself, and the superiority of community and its collective interest over individual rights.
A worldview is a way in which we see the world around us and our place in it. It is a personal or group perspective. A national vision is therefore often anchored on a worldview, which asks and answers questions such as: Who are we? Why is the world the way it is? Where have we come from? Where are we going and how will we get there? What are the values that will govern our society and pave our path to the future we want? What is our strategy to achieve success in a competitive world? What is the knowledge system that transmits and anchors our worldview?
Nigeria today is rudderless, with no particular direction in the world, and faces fundamental threats to its existence. We as a country have no purposeful destiny that we can say is our lodestar. Our citizens are increasingly unsure of what being a Nigerian means. For this reason, we are fundamentally challenged in our quest for development, for a country without a clear worldview simply cannot become a prosperous and powerful one. For Nigeria to make progress, therefore, we must become a “worldview state.”
Nigeria was once led by statesmen with a clear worldview. Leaders such as Nnamdi Azikiwe and his fellow nationalists had a worldview geared toward political freedom from colonial domination. They achieved success based on that philosophical vision. The Murtala Muhammed/Olusegun Obasanjo military administration in the mid- to late-1970s, as well as the Ibrahim Babangida administration in the mid-1980s to early 90s achieved very significant successes in the field of foreign policy. From the independence of Angola and Zimbabwe in which Nigeria played pivotal roles, to the Technical Aid Corps and peace keeping in troubled states in West Africa through the ECOMOG forces, Nigeria effectively projected regional power and its national interest.
It is hardly so today. There are two reasons for this, and both factors should serve as important lessons. The first is that a focus on political freedom and diplomatic influence that is not backed up by economic transformation – which must necessarily be achieved with productivity that is driven by technology and innovation – is not sustainable. The second is that, progressively ignoring Plato’s dictum regarding the imperative of philosophy for all great, transformative leaders, Nigeria’s political leadership culture became progressively anti-intellectual. It thus became increasingly ineffective, and incompetent from the absence of knowledge.
Closely related to vision and worldviews is the necessity for a passion that will drive it. In the case of a developing country such as ours, we doubly need the “fierce urgency of now”. Passion is a motivating force in leadership and nation-building. It stirs citizens to action across the board. This is transformative because development, as I have argued, begins in the mind, and manifests when we all put our shoulders to the wheel in a unified direction.
Especially where there is leadership by example, national visions and worldviews that are well articulated can fire up a passionate patriotism. We see this often evoked in American citizens who venerate their country’s flag and their soldiers who fight – and sometimes die – to protect America and project its power. CNN, itself part of a worldview architecture, dutifully transmits it all to the whole wide world. All of this is the outcome of a worldview and the inculcation of vision as a value in itself.
Passion inspires, either by action or by communication or both. It matters that a leader, whether in the Babcock community, in a church or mosque or any other organization, or in politics, should be able to communicate to colleagues and citizens a vision that ignites passion. Where such a leader or any other individual has the gift of oratory, the effect is even more powerful. Examples abound: Nnamdi Azikiwe, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill (who once said: “history will be kind to me, because I intend to write it”), Maitama Sule, and many others.
We in Nigeria today are not without passion. But what are we passionate about? We are increasingly passionate about our tribal identities, largely because we feel the absence of justice in our national politics and governance as certain groups are favoured above others, and those thus favoured seek passionately to maintain their political advantages. We are passionate in a divisive manner about religion, killing, maiming, and hating in the name of God who we know teaches Justice, Love, and Mercy.
We are passionate on social media, often in a toxic manner as we engage in abusive “gbas gbos” (cyber punches and counter- punches). Many social media users, in particular on Twitter, are politically intolerant, unable to respect the political choices of fellow citizens.
All of this is the wrong use of passion. It is possible for passion to be simply misdirected and visionless anger. In his poem “The Second Coming”, from which the title of Chinua Achebe’s immortal novel Things Fall Apart was taken, the Irish poet W.B. Yeats writes “… the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
Passion can lead to important social and political revolutions. Often this is a peaceful process, but just as often it is accompanied by reactive violence. The civil rights struggle in the United States in the 1950s and 60s, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and communism in 1989 and the early 1990s, and the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria in October 2020 were all examples of productive passion.
Nigeria’s youth are naturally passionate, as is the wont of youth. But with the exception of #EndSARS, and despite endless ASUU strikes, the passions of Nigerian youth have been directed mainly towards entertainment. There has been a recent awakening to active political participation, as leaders such as my humble self, have urged since the 2019 elections, but it is important that this passion should be based on solid knowledge and an ability to assess electoral candidate carefully, not merely on the basis of the same “bandwagon effect” that has yielded outcomes that ultimately disappoint. It is nevertheless a good thing for Nigeria that our young people are increasingly becoming responsible political citizens.
My ultimate vision for Nigeria’s economy is one driven by innovation. Innovation economics create jobs more quickly and so will help address Nigeria’s problem of unemployment which stands currently at 40 percent. This is because new products or new ways of doing things create new opportunities in the chain of invention or innovation to the market. This is how wealth creation was democratized in the Western world in the wake of the industrial revolution that happened between 1760 and 1840, ushering in new manufacturing processes in Britain, continental Europe and the United States. Before then, wealth was based largely on social class, restricted to royalty as land-owners.
Innovation-driven economies remain competitive, adapting to the needs of the future, while natural resource-dependent economies such as ours, risk being left behind by global and market trends and thus condemning our citizens to poverty.
Nigeria has a national policy in science, technology, and innovation. The federal government has several technology and innovation related agencies. But these public sector efforts have not yielded any innovation-driven impact in Nigeria’s economy, although technology hubs have sprouted in recent years because the country’s youth, which is nearly 70 percent of the national population, are deeply vested in technology. Most of the activities of these tech hubs, however, are geared towards social applications and financial technology (Fintech). Innovation in Nigeria has yet to impact manufacturing, energy, and other productive sectors of the real economy.
There are three fundamental reasons why we are yet to have a truly innovation-led economy. The first is that there is still little or no policy and financial support for moving the products of innovation into the mainstream marketplace through mass production and marketing distribution.
Second, incentives for innovation in particular, in intellectual property law and regulation as well as broader government policy, are still weak.
Third, investment by companies and government on research and development (R &D) are still relatively low. And yet, Nigeria’s currently dire economic situation and foreign exchange crisis in particular provide our country with an opportunity to scale up innovation. It is only innovation that can break the Nigerian economy’s structural dependency as an import- and consumer-driven one.
The institution of intellectual properties in developed countries, has developed it into a mature, sophisticated instrument for wealth creation for shaky foundations. This is so, to the extent that an intellectual property clause that protects patents and copyrights was enshrined in the first Article of the United States constitution that went into effect in 1789. In Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, America’s supreme law stated: “the Congress shall have power… to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive rights to their respective writings and discoveries”. Clearly, after military victory in the Revolutionary War that freed the country from British rule, America established for itself a high cognition of the place of knowledge and the power of the mind as represented in intellectual property. Nigeria is far from this reality.
As important as the government's role is in promoting innovation, an innovation economy requires businesses, including individual firms and the organized private sector, to be created. There must be a market for innovation. Inventions and innovations require funding by venture capital firms and by large corporations through R&D. The early inventors of the Western world were always backed by wealthy businessmen – financiers whose sole purpose in these partnerships was to ensure financial support for the inventive process, take the resulting products to the market through mass production, and spilt the monetary reward with the inventor.
This is why, in my presidential campaign in the 2019 election, I proposed the establishment of a N500 billion (later revised to N1 trillion) initial capital venture capital fund to fund innovation and start-up businesses, to be managed by the private sector.
For an innovation powered economy to rise in Nigeria, we must create a social consensus on innovation. Innovation and its practical applications in society must be popularized, and a specific conscious awareness of it as a prime path to Nigeria’s development built. While there is strong social consensus about internet technology, computers, and mobile telephones with nearly 200 million mobile telephone lines in Nigeria alone, we must build social consensus around the kind of innovation that will drive human development and economic transformation, e.g., in healthcare to combat deadly tropical disease, and in agriculture to increase crop yields, with less acreage, as Israel has done in turning deserts into farmlands.
Nigeria is particularly suited to create an innovation-led economy because many potential enablers to make this happen already exist. We have natural habitats that offer bountiful raw materials for scientific advance and innovation. In the areas of pharmaceuticals and innovations, we have abundant supplies of natural herbs with healing properties in our ecosystems. Some have already been exploited by the pharmaceutical industry in Western countries.
For us to do the same in Nigeria and drive our own developments, we need a combination of effective public policy, increased research funding from the government and private companies, and a market for the products of innovation. Nigerian researchers have done much work in these areas. For example, researchers have found properties in grapefruit seed that have been traditionally used to control diabetes and obesity in Southwestern Nigeria, and which also act as powerful antioxidants and can treat heart diseases. But research findings often remain at the level of basic science in academic journals, as opposed to applied science, and the absence of social consensus in innovation exists.
We also have an impressive local pool of talented innovators in our country. But we celebrate them and their prototypes only on television or in the pages of newspapers. Little or nothing happens afterwards. These inventors – most of them young university graduates or undergraduates – often lack the confidence to take their inventions forward because they have no knowledge of how patent systems work in the country and live in mortal fear of the loss of their innovation to theft. They have no funding of their own and there exists little of no organized frameworks for matching them to private sector or government funding to mass produce and pipeline their innovations into the market for popular use.
Nigeria has thousands of scientists in the diaspora contributing their skills and know-how to building knowledge economies in Europe, the United States, and Asia. This is one of Nigeria’s great tragedies. Unless and until these brilliant minds return home and are positioned effectively, our hope for a true renaissance will not be fulfilled.
Why is this so even when we have an abundance of local talents? It is because these emigrants have the experience of the organization, teamwork, and management of research and innovation essential to the creation of knowledge economies. It is the combination of the experience and exposure of global standards of these scientists and the local innovators knowledge of the Nigerian environment that will make the takeoff of a technological revolution in Nigeria possible. China, India, and Israel have followed a similar path.
I cannot conclude a discussion on innovation and national development in our country without a brief excursion into history. More than 50 years ago, during Nigeria’s civil war, scientists in the secessionist Republic of Biafra demonstrated a level of innovative ingenuity not witnessed in the African continent ever since. Faced with strangulating blockades and fighting a losing defensive war, necessity became the mother of invention. Science and technology became a central plank of the Biafran struggle for survival, a core part of the short-lived republic’s worldview. Biafra’s famous Research and Production Unit (RAP) innovated numerous marvels, from the use of coconut oil as vehicle fuel to crude but effective rockets, missiles, and bombs.
But in what is clearly a worldview tragedy for Nigeria, the inventions and innovations in Biafra died with the defeat of the secessionist effort and the end of the civil war. No systematic effort appears to have been made immediately after the war to develop and improve on the knowledge, skill and ingenuity that created such innovations by putting the erstwhile Biafran scientists to work for a united Nigeria. Nearly two decades later in 1989, the head of the Biafran RAP, Professor Gordian Ezekwe, was appointed Minister of Science and Technology by military President Ibrahim Babangida, precisely for the reason of the feats Ezekwe and his team performed during the war. The intervention of time, however, and perhaps the absence of a sense of urgency prevalent in a condition of war, might possibly have prevented a re-enactment of a scientific “miracle” for the benefit of Nigeria.
We have discussed in as much as the space and time a convocation lecture will allow, the pivotal roles that knowledge, vision, passion, and innovation can and should play in Nigeria’s development. We as Nigerians often tend to equate “development” solely or mostly with physical or infrastructural development. While physical infrastructure is doubtless important for development, this is an erroneous view when it is so limited and ignores the foundations of development such as knowledge, vision, passion, and innovation.
A decade ago, while I was still serving as a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, I had a friendly debate with a colleague about whether Nigeria was making progress or was, in fact, in regression. He believed our country was making progress. I disagreed, saying that at a more fundamental level we seemed to be in reversal. He appeared surprised. I explained to my colleague that, while we accomplished all the reforms we planned to at the Bank within the institution’s mandate, recording nationally and globally acknowledged success, many aspects of national development lie beyond the remit of a central bank. Indeed, many of these aspects are not even economic at all, but rather political, philosophical, and psychological.
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