Abstract : Ideas for public and private sector initiatives in provision of basic infrastructure, to the arts, science, technology and business in Nigeria
Thanks to Edwin Igue, on Edo-nationality Yahoo group, for this challenge.
What I have to say right now is quite basic and some of it has has been stated before.
We need electricity, available in every city, town and village and readily affordable by the average Nigerian.
How do we do it? Public-private sector partnership as I understand the government is already developing?
What sources are most affordable?
The Nigerian Energy and Power Summit, set for Novemberr 2012, will address such issues.
How valuable would it be too look into widespread solar energy use, particularly with the kind of climate we have, with abundant sunlight? I understand India has a scheme where even people with little or no English literacy can be taught to assemble solar energy equipment. Solar power development in India seems to be in high drive. The Indian newspaper report Germany Charges Ahead in Solar Power describes the economic strategies that lead the writer to describe Germany as the world capital of solar power in spite of its climate. This initiative is government driven.
Is there not a business opportunity here supplying such outfits to households, easily assembled?
I came across an English solar engineer, Graham Ford of Heliodynamics, who is convinced he has a workable scheme whereby African homes can afford cheap and efficient solar energy.
Water is one of the basics of human existence. We need drinking water in every house, in every city, town and village. What engineering schemes do we need to achieve this? The scope of such a project suggests that the government needs to be involved. Can a private-public initiative address this?
This will require possibly a ten year scheme or more to achieve throughout Nigeria. Pipes will need to be laid and other relevant construction performed. All new housing must get approval in accordance with plans that enable each new house to be placed om a record and schedule for connection to the water supply.
All educational institutions, from primary to tertiary must have free Internet access. At the very least, this access should be be paid for from fees and school subventions. The Internet is the home of the most prominent modern innovations in communication and business. Early exposure is almost desperately critical for shaping the mind to enter the 21st century. The innovations that define the 21st century emerge in relation to information technology. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, in my view. All these companies were founded by university students while still at university. Microsoft and Facebook while their founders were in their second year at Harvard, Google and Yahoo while their founders were graduate students at Stanford.
Every home must have the option of being linked to the Internet. This will greatly help Africans cross the knowledge barrier created by print technology in book production, where Nigeria is far behind the avalanche of information represented by the Western publishing industry and steadily being developed by India which has companies that publish and sell globally in a wide range of titles.
The Internet is also vital to mass literacy and general information sensitivity. It is also crucial to developing a democratic culture, as evident from its role in the Arab Spring.
How can this be achieved?
I understand the GlO-1 cable link from the UK to Nigeria has driven down connection prices. Internet connection companies should be motivated to work with both the government and private companies to provide access at the cheapest possible cost in the name of increased revenue from greater market share as well as its being a national emergency. The company that can persuade any university to provide free access to its students is likely to reap huge profits.
Cheap and affordable laptops should be placed within the reach of every Nigerian, from the youngest age of being active to the oldest active age. Computer literacy is a basic literacy of the world as from the 21st century.
I understand various companies are developing and selling such very cheap laptops. Solar powered laptops would be preferable. There is plenty of profit waiting in this for investors.
There is an urgent need for ready access to sophisticated knowledge in all disciplines, keeping in touch with global developments in all fields. Nigerians are committed to education but the demand is not commensurate with the level of access to sophisticated knowledge on account of the gap between the Nigerian social, education, business and industrial system and the level of development of knowledge reached by modern societies in the West and Asia. Academic books, which often contain the most sophisticated knowledge, are often expensive, even in the West.
This can be addressed by a number of methods. One is for publishers to buy the license to republish those books in Nigeria at cheaper prices, using cheaper materials, as Indian publishers do at present .
Another approach is to develop further the indigenous writing industry for academic literature. This can be done by commissioning scholars, not all of whom are necessarily academics, but who are likely to be academics, to write books. The publisher will pay the scholar to write as well as pay them a percentage of proceeds from the book. A publisher could invest in a library of the most recent literature in the relevant fields of interest and subscribe to academic databases like JSTOR and Web of Science that archive huge numbers of journals. These resources could be housed in a research center owned by the publisher which the writers would use for their research. Such a centre must have a pool of very efficient computers with the fastest Internet access possible to facilitate research.
Such books could fall into two categories. Textbooks that define the nature of a field of knowledge and books that represent new ground in particular fields or various fields. Textbooks make money because they are basic required reading which students need to pass their exams at the very least.
There is plenty of money to be made in Nigeria and I expect, Anglophone Africa, from textbook publishing on account of the book gap between Africa and the West. I was able to verify this in the Department of English and Literature at the University of Benin during the early 2000s when I still taught there. I produced booklets targeted at making easier to understand the material in the subjects taught. These booklets were produced with basic printing technology but those I offered for sale all sold out. I did not have to coerce anybody to buy. All I needed to do was convince the students they needed my books. I achieved this by direct marketing, asking students what they needed help with and writing books accordingly. Such an initiative can be marketed in all Nigerian universities, producing one textbook for one subject and later expanding to other subjects. All you need to do is find out what courses span the entire academic curriculum in a subject in the entire country and produce books accordingly at affordable prices. Then market them in such away that students are aware of the existence of such valuable books at locations they can access easily. Students at the very least want to pass their exams. So I expect they will buy those books.
Another approach is to use audio and audio visual technology in presenting educational information. The Open University in England is already doing that.
Of course, all books should be available in electronic and print format. The electronic format should be such as should be read by convenience on both a mobile phone, other hand held electronic devices, as well as on computers and smaller electronic display equipment. The text should also be accessible though voice, in terms of a voice reading out the text instead of one having to read it, so as to provide options of engaging with the text by by reading or audio reception.
These variable formats are likely to increase market penetration on account of greater convenience in carrying information collections about with one, as well as the ubiquity of cell phone use.
The second kind of book representing sophisticated information is one directed at developing new knowledge in the relevant field. Such books push back the frontiers of knowledge or even reshape bodies of knowledge. They are not expected to make money at the same pace as textbooks that sum up the field but their contents eventually filter into textbooks when they have become central to the discipline. Such works also motivate economic and social development because their impact on the world of learning motivates students to come from all over the world to study at the institutions where the people whp wrote such books work or consult with the people who wrote those books.
Such inflow of students in turn creates an income flow to those institutions as well as to the communities where they are located. These students will pay for food, housing, transport, among other necessities. They could also remain behind to feed the host communities through setting up initiatives of their own and taking up employment in the local institutions. Such developments have been central to the development of the US in various fields. Such books can be funded by profits from more basic, faster selling texts. It would be useful to find out the funding strategies for such books by academic publishers, particularly those not enjoying university subventions, like Routledge and Brill.
Entertainment : Nollywood
Nollywood is likely to be the most powerful investment industry of Nigeria that demonstrates creative originality, being even more valuable for being in private hands. At the moment, its limitations are likely to ensure limitations in its fan base, in my view, in spite of its massive level of production and market penetration beyond Nigeria.
There is an urgent need to invest in diversifying the kinds of films produced in Nollywood as well as the sophistication of the films produced. This would benefit from investing in more sophisticated equipment and training of those who participate in films. A film village incorporating training school/s among other resources, would be priceless. I am informed there is a film school in Calabar. there can be more. There is money to be made from such a venture by investors. Students can be trained on site, trained by invited teachers from the better established film industries in the West and Asia, invited to teach for short periods and also trained through internships in those film industries abroad.
The ripple effect of a Nollywood that becomes a fully global brand operating at the level of such planet penetrating films as the Matrix, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings etc would have an incalculable effect on the Nigerian economy and Nigerian society. .
Science and Technology
Development in science and technology involves not simply the appearance of scientific and technological products in a society but the development of the skill to produce those achievements by members of that society and for those skills to be demonstrated within that society, and demonstrated in a manner that is self sustaining and self perpetuating across generations.
For now, I am aware of two major approaches to development in science and technology.One of those approaches is developing expertise through learning directly from experts and institutions that demonstrate skill in those fields. Such experts and institutions are situated both within and outside Nigeria. Such learning could involve studying them within an academic or research environment within or outside Nigeria. I understand this approach was central to the contribution to Pakistan's acquisition of nuclear technology by Abdul Qadeer Khan taking his knowledge and skill from a Western nuclear energy research centre to his native Pakistan, as well as Khan's description as being central to a nuclear proliferation ring selling nuclear energy materials to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Another approach is through self training outside institutional structures. This approach has been central to the development of Western science and technology in its foundational stages, as evidenced by the fact that a good number of inventors worked outside institutional contexts, in solitary work or in groups of like minded informally organized people. Examples of these are the Wright brothers, who invented the first successful airplane and made the first 'controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight'.
It is vital that both approaches be nurtured by both the government and private investors. Investors could identify researchers and inventors who have developed such breakthroughs and fund their work, with profits shared between investors and the researchers and inventors. Such investments would need to be carefully managed on account of the need to break even. Breaking even will depend to a large extent on the cost of overheads like energy sources, and the cost of constituent products in manufacturing these new products. To facilitate this, a bill could be sponsored to reduce or eliminate import tax on products central to the national development emergency. Such products could include anything related to developing or applying technologies.
It is also useful to create centres of innovation, where material resources as well as access to funding can be provided by matching scientists and inventors with prospective financiers, a model central to the success of Silicon Valley. I understand something similar, though not as comprehensive, is already in existence in Lagos and the Lagos state government is planning more using a similar idea.