Science- the systematic study of anything that can be examined, tested, and verified- has developed into one of the greatest and most influential fields of human endeavor. Today different branches of Modern Science – Chemistry, Physics, Earth Sciences and Astronomy, Life Sciences, Genetics, Social Sciences – investigate almost everything that can be observed or detected, and science as a whole shapes the way we understand the universe, our planet, ourselves, and other living things. Today, science has a profound effect on the way we live, largely through technology—the use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. In technology, scientific knowledge is put to practical ends, and it is used in designing machinery, materials, and industrial processes. In general, this work is known as engineering, a word dating back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when an ‘engine’ was any kind of machine.
Some forms of technology have become so well established that it is easy to forget the great scientific achievements that they represent. The refrigerator, for example, owes its existence to a discovery that liquids take in energy when they evaporate, a phenomenon known as latent heat. The principle of latent heat was first exploited in a practical way in 1876, and the refrigerator has played a major role in maintaining public health ever since. The first automobile, dating from the 1880s, made use of many advances in physics and engineering, including reliable ways of generating high-voltage sparks, while the first computers emerged in the 1940s from simultaneous advances in electronics and mathematics.
Other fields of science also play an important role in the things we use or consume every day. Research in food technology has created new ways of preserving and flavoring what we eat. Research in chemical technology has created a vast range of plastics and other synthetic materials, which have thousands of uses in the home and in industry. Synthetic materials are easily formed into complex shapes and can be used to make machine, electrical, and automotive parts, scientific and industrial instruments, decorative objects, containers, and many other items.
Alongside these achievements, science has also brought about technology that helps save human life. The kidney dialysis machine enables many people to survive kidney diseases that would once have proved fatal, and artificial valves allow sufferers of coronary heart disease to return to active living. Biochemical research is responsible for the antibiotics and vaccinations that protect us from infectious diseases, and for a wide range of other drugs used to combat specific health problems. As a result, the majority of people on the planet now live longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Science and technology are the major tools of the ideology currently driving the world economy, namely that of the free market system, continual growth and the pursuit of personal wealth, promotion of environmentally sustainable, people-oriented development and long-term management of resources in agriculture and food production, genetic research in medicine, global change, and energy.
Thus Nigerian government must make science and technology a priority if the country hopes to be an economical and industrial giant of Africa. These goals can be achieved by expanding the country’s economy and making it more globally competitive. An important step is to address the damage done to science and technology.
The status quo
Nigeria is ranked very low amongst the strongest economies in the world .
It won’t progress if it doesn’t urgently invest substantial resources in key sectors. These include its agriculture, transport, health, engineering, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and manufacturing sectors.
Nigeria has gone backwards at a time when countries like China and South Korea have been able to make great strides in science and technological innovations while at the same time growing their economies.
Nigeria has invested little in science and technology over the past three decades. The country’s gross expenditure for research and development as a percentage of GDP is 0.2%, less than half the world average of 0.4%.
Many smaller African countries have done far better than Nigeria. Mozambique spends (0.5%), Mauritius (0.4%), Uganda (0.4%) and Botswana (0.5%).
This lack of investment has handicapped research and development in strategic industries.
The Nigerian agricultural business sector has remained stagnant for decades without generating the technological innovations that is necessary to transform the industry.
Nigeria used to be a world leader in the palm oil industry. Today, it is nowhere near the level of production enjoyed by Indonesia and Malaysia – two countries which use technology better.
Despite being the largest producer of cassava in the world, Nigeria has lost its position as a market leader to Thailand. The cassava industry has weakened because it has not been supported by key government ministries.
Lessons from global leaders.
Many Asian countries, especially China and Korea, have pursued aggressive initiatives with major investment in research and development, infrastructure and educational capacity. In the past five years, Asia’s share of global research and development investment has increased from 33% to almost 40%. China has gone up from 10% to 18%, making it the second largest spender after the US.
Increased investment in scientific/technological research and development in China contributed 60% to economic growth and reduced reliance on foreign technologies to less than 30%.
China produced 1.5 million new science and engineering graduates in 2011 compared to 857 000 in the European Union. A similar objective was pursued by the South Korea in the 1980s making it a global leader in science and technology.
This shows the importance of investing in education in Nigeria where universities have suffered because of insufficient funding. It is evident that investing in universities and research institutes improves the quality of research. This is shown by the increase in publications in top journals and patent awards in China and South Korea.
What should be done.
For the new administration to succeed where his predecessors have failed, he must:
• Establish presidential, ministerial and legislative councils made up of respected scientists/technologists/engineers for a dedicated science and technological innovation focus.
• Invest in science and technology programmes to diversify the economy.
• Launch national education reforms focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship. This can only help produce the next generation of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovation leaders.
Despite its wealth and human capital, the Nigerian economy is largely driven by the service sector, especially the telecommunication and entertainment industries, and by crude oil extraction. The country needs to restructure the economy, develop new infrastructure, enhance economic performance and push greater societal change.
Science and technology are key drivers to development, because technological and scientific revolutions underpin economic advances, improvements in health systems, education and infrastructure. Products of science and technological innovations are transforming business practices across the economy, as well as the lives of all who have access to their effects.
The new government must move swiftly to build a strong foundation for science, technology and innovation. Without this, the Nigerian economy may not step up to the next level. As a result the country may soon be denied an invitation to the G-20 gathering of leading industrialised nations.
HON ENGR SOLOMON ADAELU
CHAIRMAN:BIPARTISAN BLOCKCHAIN GROUP
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF NIGERIA