The “technology train” is moving: Is Nigeria onboard?

The First Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries mechanized profoundly, for the first time, most human activities. The Second Industrial Revolution which dominated the 20th century with the development of the nuclear technology was a mixed blessing. And since the end of the Cold War in 1989, technology has become more pronounced. Although, the 20th century was primarily the century of the Cold War and ideological struggle, the later part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century gave rise to a world dominated by the Third Industrial Revolution.

Mind-numbing discoveries such has laser, fibre optics, super computers, biotechnology, robotics and genetic engineering are among the hallmarks of the Third Industrial Revolution. With a world on the threshold of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one can safely say that the 21st century is surely a century for advanced technology. We are likely to witness more trade wars based on technological supremacy as we have seen in the past three years between the USA and other productive economies in Europe and Asia.

The industrial revolutions have positively improved the living standards of developed countries but virtually institutionalized poverty through the widening gap between developed and developing countries. Even as globalization has led to unprecedented gains for many countries ranging from the movement of goods, services, people and ideas, there are those who have lost out economically, politically and culturally.

Today, we live in a complex and fast changing world; technology runs our daily lives. We have witnessed a change from analogue to digital, from electric typewriters to multimedia meshed in worldwide computer networking; a change from copper-wire communication system to either fibre optics or wireless cellular, and even the satellite systems, a change from mono-component to hybrid component of telephone, television and computer all in one. We’ve witnessed a change from manual to robotics; from fossil to nuclear then to solar energy. These changes are products of the fast-changing technology. We therefore live in a world in which the primary indicator of progress is its level of technological development.

The technology train is on the move. There are no clear indications that Nigeria with a population of almost 200 million is onboard. With each industrial revolution, the world we live in has undergone science-led development. Nations that want their citizens to be prosperous have embraced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In Nigeria, the dismal performance in STEM-led development has been blamed on political instability by those in government. To an extent, this is true. But not completely; the root cause of political instability is purely economic. Worsening economic problems have resulted in political instability which we witness today. The result is insecurity across the entire country. Democracy is capital intensive. And if the cost of governance isn’t reduced, there won’t be enough funds to fund critical sectors of the economy such as education, health, transport and energy amongst others.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to “how technologies and current trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are changing the ways people live and work”. “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will usher in a new era rather than a continuation of the Third Industrial Revolution because of the volatility of its development and the disruptiveness of its technologies.”

To deal with unprecedented challenges globally, the World Economic Forum is creating a network of centres for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, enabling businesses, governments, start-ups, academia, and private organizations to work together to ensure human-centred future for innovation. Is Nigeria onboard this technology train?  Where is Nigeria’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre? Countries such as Japan, China, India, and the USA have all established the Fourth Industrial Revolution Centres showing craving for new approaches and creating innovative ways of doing things. These countries have boldly expressed their mission statements as follows:

a. USA: “How can we maximize the benefits of science and technology for society? That’s our mission. To achieve it, we’ve created a global hub of expertise, knowledge-sharing and collaboration, based in San Francisco.”

b. India: “As the world’s largest democracy and the country with one of the highest number of scientists and engineers, India is a key political, social and economic player that will shape the course of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

c. Japan: “Emerging technologies are advancing at unprecedented speeds, changing the world as they blur the boundaries between the economic, social and political spheres.”

d. China: “We must proactively work together to harness the full potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Nigeria has no Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre, hence no objective for now. Policy makers are reminded that modern technology has overwhelming influence on us as a nation, and we either become part of it or be its victim. It is only technology as a factor of production that can make Nigeria’s economy competitive and sustainable. New technologies such as AI, precision medicine, autonomous vehicles and many others, offer great potential to lift humanity to new levels of well-being.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought fresh opportunities but also new questions about how economies, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa can best integrate technologies for a faster path to broad-based prosperity. It has become very clear but disturbing to policy makers that manufacturing-led development model that lifted millions out of poverty in Asia is unlikely to be viable or possible soon in Africa.

So, there is a call for more dynamic education systems and labour market policies to cater to a wide range of new technology-intensive, high skilled occupations which will be in demand in the future. This is along with new growth envisaged broadly across sectors such as health, education, and energy amongst others. There is need for the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to determine ethical rules and policies around these technologies in collaboration with the ministries of education, health, trade and industry. Thank you.



The article was first published in this column on 30 October 2018.