Keynote Address By Hon. Oseloka Henry Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd. & Member C.K.C. Onitsha Class of ‘73, At the 20th Class Reunion of the C.K.C. Onitsha Class of 1999 At the Golden Tulip Hotel, Agulu, Anambra State, Saturday 28th December 2019.
It is a pleasure to be here amongst esteemed students of a great old legacy school; Christ the King College, Onitsha.
It is my honour and pleasure to salute the entire C.K.C. Onitsha Class of 1999, as you mark the 20th Anniversary of your graduation and journey into a life of service and leadership, predicated on your avowed goodness, discipline and knowledge.
I thank especially, the Executive Committee of the 1999 Set under the able leadership of Engr. Michael Nwabueze. I salute you all, including your spouses and children.
Upon request, I agreed to join you here today and to speak at this event, despite my other numerous commitments, because in so doing, I’m able to add value to your collective aspirations, mission and service to our alma mater, country and humanity.
I have been asked to speak on your chosen theme: Winning in Every Environment Using Technology. I am not a scientist or a technologist; but I understand fully, the impact of technology on our daily lives, education, communities and national development.
At the risk of repeating myself, the reality that confronts each and every one of us today is that in the 21st Century, we ignore technology at our own peril. This reality is further manifested and underpinned by the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is pushing technology beyond its traditional and even morally acceptable boundaries.
We live in the Age of Technology, which commenced fully in the 1970s; a full decade after the United States and Russia had respectively sent men to the Moon. So why do we call the 1970s the beginning of the Age of Technology?
It was the era when technology and its reach and use, was no longer the exclusive preserve of rich nations and persons. It also marked the era and shift from mechanical and analogue technology to digital technology.
Our circumstances have changed remarkably. I will use my C.K.C. classmates and myself as examples. From January 1967 when entered C.K.C. to June 1973, when left after taking our WASC examinations, most of us, if not all, did not see, touch or use a computer of any sort. And yet we were all headed to the university. Today, that is no longer the case. Today, children as young as two or three years old, use the IPad, surf the web and can manipulate the most complex Smart phones, once you put it in their hands.
Fast forward to 2019! Today our lives are dominated by technology. In lieu of a teleprompter, I am reading my remarks not from a typewritten script, but from an IPad; while being recorded by some of you with Smart Phones, IPads and digital cameras.
Today we live in the information age – the Computer Age, Digital Age, or New Media Age – collectively defined as “a historic period beginning in the 20th century and characterized by the rapid shift from traditional industry that the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization to an economy primarily based upon information technology.”
So, from academic research, banking, business, industry, commerce, trade, taxes and law, architecture, graphic designs etc., the e-technology dominates our lives. For most of us, libraries, books and newspapers have become obsolete. Even the Bible and the Gospel are today read in Churches from digital tools and equipments including projectors. Add to these, WhatsApp, Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram, ATM, POS and countless number of other digital Apps at our disposal.
What this means is that a quarter of a century after the advent of the Internet, we stand to accomplish our set goals in every field of human endeavour and indeed, win by skillfully and diligently deploying technology to common cause. Yes indeed, we can win in every environment by using technology. But there are persisting challenges related to technology and its use. Indeed, despite the gains of globalization, there exist great imbalance in access to and use of technology. While others aspire to 5G technologies, we in Nigeria pray for 3G operational capacity. Downloading big files remains a nightmare.
Recently, we have been confronted with the attempt by some within the Nigerian Government to tamper with free speech under the guise of combating hate speech. The reality is that there has been a pervasive abuse of the use of social media –that itself being a technological medium; but such abuses are few and rare and do not warrant the breach of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. For those blinkered few, who dared to suggest death penalty as punishment for hate speech, such thinking border on extremism and crass disregard for the rule of law.
For us here, winning with technology in any environment we find ourselves is rather a very simple task; all we are required to do is to apply three critical measures to our use of technology: goodness, discipline and knowledge.
We must adapt our use of technology, the way we adapt to the use of motor vehicles. Motor vehicles serve our transportation needs, as well as for our pleasure and comfort. But as we know a motor vehicle in the wrong hands or used carelessly, soon becomes a weapon of mass destruction that can result in numerous fatalities.
It is only goodness, discipline and knowledge that will preempt those who have the tools of technology at their disposal from abusing them by using them for disingenuous scams and other forms of fraudulent activities usually ascribed to Yahoo Boys. Just a few weeks back, we read of a compatriot in the United States, who hacked the U.S. Immigration system and made fifteen members of his family and friends automatic U.S. citizens. Why wasn’t he inclined to put his talent and technical skills to proper use?
Technology must be properly domesticated to be gainful to all. Putting technology to good use for our communities and humanity must operate on two strands; the positive role of the individual or a collective like an alumni association as users of technology and the role of government as the sole policy formulator and regulator. Still, we confront a paradox. In Nigeria there are critical gaps between technological policy formulation and their execution. The blame for this is threefold; the academia, the government and entrepreneurs who fail to fund technological research adequately.
At the federal and state levels, technological policies are largely opaque and even more so, since we stopped the National Development Plan Scheme in the 1970s and remains so, even with the promulgation of the 2018 President Executive Order No. 5 on Science and Technology.
Six factors militate against our full use of technology:
The government not acting proactively continues to impact negatively on our technological and developmental advancement. Governments do not singularly drive technological development. Rather they do so in partnership with big corporations and individuals with the wherewithal to fund large endowments and grants for research. In our case partisan politics and considerations stymie such processes.
Parlous funding of science and technology research and development is an albatross and bane on our technological development. We continue to underfund science and technology research and development. In 2019 we budgeted only a paltry N66.82 billion and in 2020 N87.35 billion for the Ministry of Science and Technology. In both cases higher funding went to recurrent expenses than to capital and R & D expenses.
Failure to establish technological niches that offers us comparative advantage. We need to be introspective. Made in Nigeria technological goods should be celebrated just as we are now celebrating niches in Nigerian fashion; Nollywood films and Nigerian music globally.
Failure to identify and exploit our human resources impedes our technological growth. We have pockets of excellence and accomplished individuals at home and abroad. We must tap in on such human resource capital to grow our indigenous technologies and industries.
Institutional and Individual transactions kill research incentives. Those who receive science and technology research grants become self-administering and spend research funds on feel-good and comfort measures, rather than on core research needs. The peril of such transactions and the associated costs are challenges we must tackle.
Absence of short, medium and long term planning remains a challenge. As a nation and given the stipulated electoral timelines, our leaders no longer focus on medium and long term plans that go beyond their tenure. Every policy consideration is thus short term.
Nigeria retains vast technological potentials. It has been adduced, and I agree that for Nigeria, “unlocking this potentials as well as achieving sustainable development is also pragmatically hinged on Science and Technology, and Innovation and Research Development.”
Often, the challenges we face arise from limited exposure or lack of vision of our leaders and general lack of awareness. At times, we are not even aware of our indigenous potentials until they are flagged for us. Accordingly, others were quicker than us in recognizing the vast potentials of the Onitsha-Nnewi-Awka Industrial Axis (the so-called ONA Industrial Axis), as part of Africa’s emerging technological and industrial frontier.
Foreign experts have also observed that “Nnewi industrialists have successfully filled the gaps left by failures of both the market and the state” and that our region can boast of an expansive industrial and technological base with Nnewi alone having “over 23 medium to large-sized factories and engineering shops.” The reality is that there is a yawning technology policy and implementation gap. The heady question is: Who will bell the cat?
Closer home, we are witnesses to the prize of resilience as reflected in the gigantic accomplishments of Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing (IVM) and the affirmation that ‘he who dares win’. Yet we must ask, what are the local contents from ancillary local industries or governmental policies that support Innoson Motors? What remains clear to me is that our approach to technology cannot find its niche and ascendancy in the absence of the much required synergy. That is the baseline reality.
Yet all hope is not lost. We can still win with technology. However, technological research, like any good public policy, must start with good intention and be sustainable. Technological advancement is enhanced and accomplished, when those charged with technological policies and research, team up with those who implement the pertinent policies. Perhaps, the time has come to review the prevailing dichotomy between traditional university degrees and diplomas from technological colleges that focus on practicalities.
As a technocrat and politician and as someone who has offered to serve and lead our dear State, I remain cognizant of how our self-centered transaction-driven mentality continues to impact negatively on every facet of our national life. Our desire for technological advancement is not spared; neither is our commitment to research and development.
In Nigeria, the role of vested interests is sufficiently deep-seated to truncate or to be used as an excuse to truncate development and technological projects, even those as big as the Ajaokuta Steel Mills or Nigeria’s first major Metroline project; the Lagos Metroline, which was cancelled in 1985 by the then military government, resulting in a loss of $78 million to Nigeria.
As things stand, public policies in Nigeria are routinely undermined, skewered or inhibited due to this pervasive attitude; and due to partisan or vested interest. Ultimately, the end results are cost overruns and variations, which impact on actual costs devoted to core research and even result in many technological projects being truncated or abandoned. The solution to these challenges must be multidisciplinary. Essentially, there must be a bond of performance between the state, the organized private sector and the academia, aimed at enhancing the drive for technological improvement.
Let me end by repeating what I said several years back. The responsibility for our technological failures is a shared one; and our efforts to overcome prevailing pitfalls must be similarly shared. There is already a consensus on the need for us to improve on existing partnership, but we must rally our efforts, if indeed, we wish to advance our national technology beyond its present dismal state. Each one of us has a role to play, especially those of us in this hall who are members of Nigeria’s attentive public.
The fact that your Set chose this topic is indicative of your awareness of the prevailing challenges and the need to overcome them. That in itself is very gratifying. We must rally to a consensus that we need to win and succeed in every environment we may find ourselves by deploying fully the technological skills and facilities at our disposal. Let us get on with that job.
I thank you for your kind attention.
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.