Is Nigeria wired to be player in the knowledge age?

The foundation of the knowledge society can only be laid in Nigeria if its government is prepared to invest heavily in the prerequisites of such a society

Tunji Olaopa

What I want to expound on in this article is what I consider to be a pivotal core of the infrastructural deficit challenge that faces Nigeria. Let me introduce that factor through a quote from Anthony Giddens, the British economist, that “Government has an essential role to play in investing in the human resources and infrastructure needed to develop an entrepreneurial culture.” To invest in human resources is to recognise the significance of education as the key factor in evolving an entrepreneurial culture in Nigeria. An immediate benefit of such a culture is that it redirects attention away from the administrative model which ensures that citizens totally focus on the government to the near-total neglect of their talents and endowments. And on the other hand, it allows the government to concentrate on other core responsibilities that enable the citizens to fully enjoy the freedom of being Nigerians freely utilizing their potentials.

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If I am asked, I will argue that education constitutes the singular bane of the Nigerian development effort. This is because it anchors the connection between a solid human capital dynamics that requires harnessing in order to unleash Nigeria’s human capital development, and the corollary establishment of an entrepreneurial culture that must follow, as a matter of fact, from such a transformation of our educational system. All this outline of the recipe for national progress seems simple, except that it is not straightforward especially within a context like Nigeria where the profound imperative of education has been lost within the convoluted labyrinth of politics and political economy to such an extent that political calculation always trumps development calculations.

The consequence of this is that Nigeria is visibly absent in the global knowledge and technology march. We only hear of Nigeria when individuals, Nigerians, who have been able to pull themselves up by the very string of their own efforts shine in various endeavours, from education to entrepreneurship. How then can Nigeria cripple its intellectual formations while expecting to march valiantly into the knowledge society and the comity of developed nations in the world?

By “intellectual formations,” I refer to two distinct but closely related issues. The first is the framework of education from primary to tertiary in Nigeria. Second, I refer to the entire matrix of intellectual networks in Nigeria, from academia and civil society to the democratic public sphere. The intellectual formation of any society represents its progressive instigators of national progress and development. A truly democratic society cultivates the critical energies that emanate from this context. Unfortunately, however, Nigeria’s intellectual formation has been scattered to the four winds across the world. Thanks to brain drain, Nigeria regularly donates it best and brightest to the economic, technological, entrepreneurial, academic and educational development of other lands and climes. And we continue to suffer for it, in development terms.

The foundation of the knowledge society can only be laid in Nigeria if its government is prepared to invest heavily in the prerequisites of such a society and depoliticize the dynamics of its progress. Knowledge facilitates development. It is a sine qua non. And it is the intellectual formations of such a state that carries the burden of knowledge production, articulation and dissemination into the intricacies of development in Nigeria. Knowledge enables a society to connect its framework of ideas to the proposed goals and objectives of moving the society forward. While knowledge has played this role from the commencement of the human society, the proliferation of knowledge in today’s global world has let loose a deluge of information which nations and individuals have access to and can harness in whatsoever way to further their visions.

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I doubt that Nigeria is prepared to transit into the knowledge society. Or else, how does one explain why a nation consistently cripples the institutional basis of its intellectual formation and yet accuse it of not galvanizing the knowledge and development process? There are several symptoms of how dysfunctional Nigeria’s human capital development process has turned out. I will not dwell here on the tragic proportion that youth unemployment has attained. There is a dynamic of institutional denigration that ensures that Nigeria’s best turn out worst. Thus, it has become a firmly established Nigerian “thing” for first class graduates in all fields—engineering, history, law, management, economics, public administration, physics, biochemistry, etc.—to roam the street while the third best constitutes the “critical” mass around which Nigeria’s policy space revolves. This dysfunction is further worsen by a nepotistic culture that enable the very elite at the heart of reinventing Nigeria’s economic greatness to circumvent the same process by questionable qualifications and “man-knows-man” for genuine competence in human resource recruitment. The integrity of the educational system is heavily compromised by nepotism and sharp practices that enable parents to collude with school authorities to bypass the procedures and standards put in place to enable the system function at optimal level for the sake of the nation.

Most unfortunately, the federal character principle is complicit in this regard. By complicit, I mean that a beautiful idea has been drawn into a dysfunctional mentality and hence corrupted. The nature of the Nigerian society—its multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition—necessitates a framework for ensuring a balanced allocation of resources across the constituents. If Nigeria must achieve the objective of national integration, the federal character principle, for instance, offers us a unique means by which such an inclusive development could be achieved. Furthermore, the federal character principle also enables us to harness the immense potentials implicit in diversity—the diversity of regional endowments, of cultural innovation and of individual mental capacities.

The principle, however, has been watered down to its most minimal requirement of representativeness to the detriment of merit and competence. With mere representativeness, we eventually lose out in the global discourse on knowledge, technology and innovative development. Representativeness aims to fill critical posts at all cost, not minding what could be gained and what would be lost. No wonder most critical institutions have become mere administrative placeholders for taking decisions on unimaginative problems. The representativeness principle therefore, in the final analysis, undermines the evolution of an entrepreneurial spirit or culture. Merit and competence are crucial conditions of an evolving knowledge society. It is on these elements that a state can transform knowledge into developmental inputs for empowering its citizens.

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To be continued

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