“Nigeria’s quest for Economic Transformation – Our Role as Engineers”
Keynote Address by Engr. Joseph Makoju (FNSE) at the 25th Anniversary of the NSE, Ikeja Branch On Wednesday 31st January 2018
I am delighted to have been given the honour to deliver the keynote address at the last day of what has been an exciting week of anniversary celebrations. As one of the founding members of the NSE Ikeja Branch, I can still vividly remember how it all began and commend those who started this Branch for their vision. I also praise all those who have sacrificed their time and resources to sustain it over the past 25 years. Today, we are not only celebrating the NSE Ikeja Branch, we are celebrating all of you.
Twenty five years in the life of any group or association is no mean feat and so we have every reason to rollout the drums, revel and celebrate. A silver jubilee is also a good time to take stock and reflect. It is a time for introspection as we look ahead to the next 25 years. So today I would like to briefly speak on the topic “Nigeria’s quest for Economic Transformation – Our Role as Engineers”
Nigeria’s economy still has a soft underbelly and needs to be rapidly diversified. We particularly need to deepen and expand our manufacturing, agricultural and mining sectors as a first step
The past couple of years have been quite challenging for us as individuals; at our various places of work and as a nation. After many years of positive GDP growth, the Nigerian economy slowed down on the back of a slump in crude oil prices from a high of $114/barrel to $28/barrel oil between 2014 and 2016. The economy officially slipped into recession in 2016 – Nigeria’s worst economic downturn in over two decades.
It is worth noting that oil price collapses and economic contractions are not entirely new in Nigeria. Some of us are old enough to recall the years of economic contraction in the eighties precipitated by a fall in oil prices. What was probably different this time around was the sheer scale of the problem. Our economy was larger than it was in the eighties, our import bill enormous and our population far greater. Added to this were contemporary challenges such as militancy and insurgency both of which adversely affect the country’s fiscal position.
Although Nigeria “technically” emerged from recession last year its effects still linger. Prices of goods and services remain high; unemployment & under employment are rife; disposable income • continues to be eroded and living standard have dropped. As welcome as the news of our emergence from recession was last year it was achieved on a weak 6t fragile base. The rebound of fickle crude oil prices (now about $70/barrel) as well as good production volumes has basically been responsible for the positive growth figures. Our external reserves have as a consequence been bolstered to about $40 billion, providing sufficient liquidity in the Foreign Exchange market and price stability.
Nigeria’s economy still has a soft underbelly and needs to be rapidly diversified. We particularly need to deepen and expand our manufacturing, agricultural and mining sectors as a first step. Whilst one must acknowledge the efforts of the Federal Government and some State Governments to diversify and expand the productive base of the economy, there is a very real concern that the current oil price recovery (as welcome as it is) could lure us to slip into a state of lethargy and complacency. We might once again fail to take difficult decisions to address some of the root causes of our economic malaise – the very issues that got us into recession in the first place.
As individuals and as a professional group we need to harp on this point and ensure governments at all levels stay focused on their quest to industrialize the economy and grow our non-oil exports.
No nation has successfully transited from developing to newly industrialized country status without growing its manufacturing base. It is sometimes easy to forget how far behind we have slipped as a nation unless we make painful comparisons with nations that were once considered our peers. For instance, the industrial sectors in Malaysia and Thailand contribute over 30% to GDP and over 70% to exports. In stark contrast Nigeria, a country that is a lot more endowed has an industrial sector that contributes less than 10% to GDP and its total non-oil exports accounts for less than 4% of aggregate export revenue.
It is ironic that this unfortunate state of affairs has prevailed in a nation that has over the years produced exceptional professional across several fields, engineering inclusive. Nigeria has produced brilliant engineers who can hold their own anywhere in the world. These engineers (many of whom went uncelebrated) made notable contributions to national development while others have made their impact abroad.
Although engineers are usually central to any industrialization drive it would be unfair to lay the blame of our underdevelopment at the feet of Nigeria’s engineers. That said, we should internally do some soul searching by ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions – Have we as professional engineers or indeed the broader “engineering family” done enough? Is there more we can do? Are there things we should do differently? Are there things we should discontinue? and so on.
Unfortunately I have not come here with answers or solutions but rather I have come with questions. This is because my goal today is to provoke thought and stimulate discussions which will continue way after our Anniversary celebrations and hopefully culminate in some positive actions. Some of these questions (which are in no particular order) include:
- Do most Nigerian (policy makers, law makers, administrators etc) really understand who we are and what we do?
- Do we have a comprehensive database of all engineers currently serving in elective or appointed positions in the three tiers of government? How should we engage, organise and utilize them?
- How can we get a critical mass of engineers into policy making and law making positions to enable us have a greater say in
- What can we do to reduce the influx of foreigner technicians, engineers and consultants?
- How can we forge a strong bond between the private sector and academia to enable graduates emerge with skill sets that meet the demands of the market place.
- What plans do we have in place to support young innovators (who may not even be qualified engineers)? How can we help incubate their ideas, develop their prototypes and obtain patents?
- How can we transform engineering education in Nigeria? Do the curriculum and teaching methods for engineering education in Nigeria emphasize a problem solving approach to engineering?
- How do we develop synergies between universities, public and private research institutes, industry and government?
- Do we have an accurate database of Nigerian Engineers in the diaspora? How can we build relationships to facilitate cooperation and collaboration?
- How can we reduce “internal brain drain”? As we lose young and highly talented engineers to non-engineering sectors within the country.
- How can we generate enthusiasm about engineering from an early age and in so doing ensure we have a pipeline of future engineers?
- What are we doing to ensure that we make “STEM” more appealing to young students?
Distinguished colleagues, my list of questions are far from exhaustive and you should all feel to add to it. I am convinced that if we address some of these issues our indigenous engineers will be at the forefront of Nigeria’s industrial renaissance.
I thank you for your attention – Happy Anniversary!
Engr. Joseph O. Makoju (FNSE)