Develop the people to build infrastructure
IN 1949 when Mao Zedung became the leader of the Chinese people, the economy was in chaos. The Russians on whom the Chinese had depended upon for a long time had quarreled with them and stripped Manchuria, the most built-up city of everything. The transport system was in ruins and the currency worthless. The Chinese used the resource they have in abundance – people (Stoke and Stoke, 1975). “Let the people walk on two legs,” said Mao Zedung. “Let the native skills and the local materials supplement modern technology.” Mao meant to mobilise the entire populace and link learning efforts in educational institutions with those in the rest of the economy.
Everyone in Chinese communes worked together. That was how the Chinese having crawled during the period 1000 B C.- 1949 A. D., 2,949 years, accelerated modernisation to become the fastest growing economy in the world.
The founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, became Prime Minister at the age of 35 years (Forbes Global, 2001). In an exclusive interview with Michael Boclurkiw of Forbes Global, in which he shared his thoughts and insights on Singapore and the region, he said: In the early days, the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB), the lead agency in Singapore’s New Economic drive, figured that because of the low percentage of research scientists and other knowledge workers in Singapore, it needed to quickly build up a capability for knowledge generation.
Investments were made in the areas of science and technology. In less than 10 years, the number of research scientists and engineers rose from less than 28 per 10,000 workers to about 70, close to the 75 that most developed economies have. Now, there is a strong base of science and technology covering diverse areas. Again, the Singapore’s miraculous change was a matter of learning and acquiring scientific and technological knowledge, skills and capabilities, as well as developing the people in various knowledge areas for an economy.
The Asians intuitively know that learning is the fundamental basis of self-reliance. That explains why they are credited with the adage which says: teach me how to fish so that I can catch fish myself whenever I want to eat fish. History shows that one society learns from another and this is the basis for improving the productivity of the society with the lower productivity.
Federal and state governments in Nigeria have been emphasising capital investments and erecting infrastructure for decades. Nigerian governments have been mismanaging the economy by emphasising the wrong development strategy and accumulating unnecessary debt burdens. The review of the development experiences of Britain, the United States of America, China and Singapore revealed that they learnt laissez-faire for 2000-3000 years, achieved Industrial Revolution (IR) and acquired the capabilities for building relevant infrastructure before focusing on the development of the relevant infrastructure. So, mismanagement does not come from corruption alone, the more serious mismanagement of the economy comes from adopting the wrong development strategy and implementing wrong projects. Indeed, mismanagement of the economy through the adoption of the wrong development strategy and implementing wrong programmes and projects promotes corruption and it has been the bane of Nigeria’s development since independence in 1960.
It is obvious that European, American and some Asian nations are industrialised whereas African nations are pre-industrialised. If Nigerian leaders were wise, they would try to find out how the non-African nations became industrialised. Nigerian leaders are assuming that knowledge about what other nations did in the past is not important. Also, Nigerian leaders think that Nigeria does not need to understand the industrialisation process before embarking on it. They believe that seeking Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in a most ridiculous manner and awarding inflated contracts for erecting structures are the sure way to achieving rapid industrialisation. What do the industrialised nations have in common? They have the competences for manufacturing uncountable products. Africans intelligentsia/intellectuals talk of technology transfer because of shallow reasoning. Who transferred technology to Britain – the first nation to achieve the modern Industrial Revolution (IR)? Britain, like all other industrialised nations, was an agricultural nation for about 2000 years. When Britain became the manufacturer of innumerable scientific and technological products, it must have acquired the capabilities for manufacturing the products!
The child must learn how to read and write, otherwise, it grows up to be an illiterate. No one or nation is born with the skills to produce. All knowledge, skills and competences are acquired through learning. One who wishes to be a good dancer must learn how to dance. A nation which hopes to manufacture many products must develop the people to manufacture them.
In a nation where learning – education and training, is emphasised, there is continuous build-up of knowledge, skills and competences (KSCs). As the learning process continues, a point is reached where each type of KSCs begins to enjoy the supportive impact of all others and all of them form an invisible KSCs-network, a sort of problem-attacking front. The nation at that point achieves Industrial Revolution (IR) – a technological puberty. Productivity improves dramatically, the nation achieves economic diversification – various sectors of the economy begin to perform efficiently and effectively. The economic transformation described as IR, may be likened to that which the spider achieves when it combines many of its silk-threads to make its web. The single silk-thread which the spider spins is a relatively weak structural material which fails readily under any stress regime.
However, the web which is made from the combination of many of the weak silk-threads catches the small creatures on which the spider feeds. In a like manner, no individual solves the problems of a nation, but a combination of many millions of knowledgeable, skilled and competent people transforms an agricultural nation into an industrialised one.
What Nigeria needs to do is to develop the people so that the people can build the necessary infrastructure. President Buhari must not owe to build infrastructure. Nigeria should establish a standing training framework nearly as large as the existing educational system to train graduates of educational institutions, science and engineers in particular to acquire complementary practical skills. The absence of the indispensable training framework has been the biggest obstacle to Nigeria’s rapid development.
• Ogbimi wrote via email@example.com