Engineering Nigeria for Superpower Status

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

“Man’s greatness lies in his power of thought.” Blaise Pascal (French Scientist)

At a point in the life of any political entity: be it a Republic, a Kingdom or a civilization (empire), there is the need to move to the next level. Rising to the next level requires a knack of creativity and idealism mixed in a virtuous symphony to produce feats uncommon to the political maturity of the achieving entity. It is my belief that great nations are first recognized by the engineering masterpieces they leave behind: in their work of art, architecture or engineering solution: people with great minds that aspire to rise to the next level leave an imprint of greatness that transcends their generation and become a veritable example even after the eventual demise of such nations.

Egypt will forever be known for its great pyramids: a unique work of ancient engineering: so outstanding that while it is the oldest of the ancient wonders it is still the only one standing. Today, modern Egypt is still reaping the reward of this past glory even though the Pharaoh have reigned and the sun have already set on the empire. The same can be said of Ancient Rome and its Coliseum, Rhodes and its Colossus, Babylon and its hanging gardens, Greece and her Hellenistic temples etc. The British Navy ruled the seas with the help of advanced marine technology in the 17th Century. Even in the modern day, Germany is renowned for its automobile technology and the Autobahn network of road that rose as a result. Italy is known for her fast cars technology, China for conquering the Three Gorges with the world biggest dams, and knack for tech imitation.

America will be evergreen in human civilization for transforming the Information Technology world first with Integrated Circuits (ICs) on Silicon and then the Internet. But before the Internet America had even achieved far greater engineering feats: those of building the Hoover dam, the Inter State Highways, Atomic bomb in secrecy, fast jets, the television, building a monumental Capital in the District of Columbia, the bridges that span California amongst many other feats. These indeed have distinguished America as a nation of inventors, of thinkers and capable engineers. The French built the Eiffel tower, and also gave us Lady Liberty: both outstanding works of architectural engineering and Fine arts – only the French can achieve such dexterity! What about the Russians? Their guns (oh yeah AK-47) and nuclear arsenal is fabled and sure a fine work of engineering; ever visited the beautiful Kremlin and Red Square? All contributions of one great Czar starting with Peter the great and then another. And oh the space race, cold war and its technologies – the USA and the USSR!

Remarkably speaking, what ties all examples I have given is that the rise of these great engineering monuments marked a monumental period in the history of these nations. America rose strong in the last 19th Century and waxed stronger in the last, so did Russians and the Chinese and now the Indians with their engineering sagacity. There is no doubt in my mind that for any nation to achieve greatness, engineering (read technology) is an indispensable part of such accomplishment. This can be established in differing ways including architecture, public works, weapons of warfare, consumer technology, and public arts/monuments. Normally it requires the vision of great leaders who often hope to achieve various coalescing goals two of which always stand out:economic revitalization and national unity. The Public always rally around such visions because it boosts national pride, improves the local economy, and permeates every strata of the society. It was a familiar method of ancient kings, even dictators used it, and their democratic counterparts continue to use public projects to put their nations on a great pedestal – embellishing its name in the sands of time that it might never be forgotten.

But not my country Nigeria; instead, Nigeria have learnt to outsource her greatness. The German build our nation’s capital even our State house was built by the Israelis. The Italians build our roads with their German cousins, while the Chinese construct our dams and the Koreans fabricate our oil derricks. We are a nation that have made conscious effort to abandon the pursuit of greatness in return for short term pleasure of quick accomplishments that we will be ultimately not be able to manage since the people that constructed them will very well need to go back to their respective countries or move to the next big project. We were left hanging with our pants when the Russians supplied us with steel technology and have to go back to cater to their national needs of development. What did we know about steel, refining, or even city building? Right before our eyes Ajaokuta, the refineries, and Abuja rotted. Others make airplanes, use them and sell them to us second hand to crash and kill our own citizens. Haba!

I know quite a few people will simply retort that we should keep paying the foreigners the cost of maintaining the monuments they put up for us. I call that a defeatist self demeaning mentality; what happened to building it yourself? After forty years of striking oil, I am very unwilling to admit that no Nigerian or group of Nigerians can manage the whole process of exploration, production, refining, and distribution. I cannot belief that forty something years after we started churning out engineering graduates no Nigerian engineer can construct roads meant for our environment and peculiar road culture (and not Germany’s) and cities suited for our lifestyle. It will be hard for you to convince me that millions of Nigerian labor toiling day and night in their various professional callings at home and abroad cannot be marshaled towards achieving a singular national engineering/architecture project that will unite and elevate us. I choose not to be a pessimist and a disbeliever.

Indeed, I am not unaware of the private and individual attempt of Nigerians to contribute to technology and make our nation proud. As an engineer, I have come across fellow technologists at home and abroad working hard at it but most of these efforts have been on a deeply personal level that hardly attracts nation emotions or marshal creative nationalistic feelings. Even the lame attempts at marshaling Nigerians behind common national goals are either outsourced (read OBJ’s space program building satellites in UK and Russia) or shortsighted (read, making of the Nigerian car). In the case of the Nigerian car, the dream was based on the false premise that any national project must be original and should not be necessarily improvements of what already exists. This led to a production of what can best be called the least aerodynamic car that you can ever imagine operating on the level of 19th century combustion engine! This is a time when China is already marketing vehicles to Nigerians and Brazilians are already selling Jets. Haba! America did not get the idea of the Atomic bomb or Inter State highway from an American; they were all stolen from Germany and implemented in America. The same can be said of the French making of Lady Liberty a direct copy cat of the previous Colossus of Rhodes or the Chinese attempt at Three Gorges which duplicated many of the efforts at Hoover dam. Is it the copy cat culture that goes on between Japan and USA in the area of technology you want me to delve into? For every Apple Ipod, there is a Sony MP3 player!

There is an urgent need for Nigeria to consider her priorities. Splurging national income on contracts that will end up in foreign hands is nothing but a sheer waste of resources considering the amount of consequent capital and knowledge flight as well as the cost of maintaining these foreign made projects. Indeed, the best bet is to marshal the abilities of Nigerians especially those in Diaspora who are currently using their God given abilities to develop anoth

er man’s country. Our engineering curriculum also need to be modernized and brought in line with our national pragmatic needs instead of the theory our old professor baba are just blowing in their rusty citadel of strikes. Our engineering professors litter the best schools around the world, and many more are in the making. Inventors abound within our borders, in our universities and primary schools and it is left for us to discover them and nurture these budding talents. The culture of Pull Him Down syndrome or “Shut up you are small boy” must be substituted with that of a “Can do spirit”. No one is a small boy or girl when it comes to creativity, invention, and achieving national greatness. We must abandon our penchant for being geroncratic to that of being meritocratic.

We must not under estimate the capability of our Nigerian engineers to perform and provide solutions to nagging problems that deserve technological answers. Social issues confronting our nation including census, plane crashes, bad roads, electoral integrity, fuel scarcity and cross border smuggling can be tackled with the ingenuity and technological prowess of our local engineers. We do not need foreign consultant to tell us how steep Idanre hills my fore fathers climbed; we just need to have a considerable belief in ourselves. Our Three Gorges and the leader that will build the Nigerian Inter state might not be around today, but I know I will see these projects and many better leaders in my life time. The Almighty that gave us Awolowo and Azikwe can make other great leaders of vision that will take us beyond politics of free this and that to the politics of the next level and this may very well be you and I. To become great we must take Nigeria to the next level; abandon the schism that have divided us and unite behind monumental projects that will project pride and unity to the rest of the world. It will require men of vision, and it could be the bright young man or woman that has endured reading this long article.

Last Word:

“There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one’s maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.” Buck Rodgers (Former American Baseball Player)

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