Professor Dike N. Kalu, author of Nigeria’s Adventures in Technology, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas Health Science Center, USA. In this chat with Ebele Orakpo of Vanguard during his recent visit to Nigeria.
What motivated you to write Nigeria’s Adventures in Technology?
I have always been interested in technology. My field is in science, and the fruit of science is technology. It is really technology that makes science worthwhile because long time ago, people discovered that they can use it to develop their countries It’s easy to notice that Nigeria has been unnecessarily lagging behind in development and that she shares in common with other developing or under-developed countries, the inability to utilise the fruit of science which is technology, to solve their developmental problems. When we had independence in the 1960, we were optimistic that subsequent administrations would use science and technology to develop our country but it seems that every year, we continue to lag behind in development.
Should our curriculum be changed since we appear to concentrate more on theory than on practical application of science?
That is sad but it is not unique to Nigeria. It is unique to people from underdeveloped circumstances. I have worked in the US as a scientist for many years and have seen all sorts.
A graduate student from a very poor area of the US once came to do post-graduate work in our university and she told us that she had never used a pipette before. She was from a very underprivileged school and the programme she came to do in our university was designed just to help people from such unfortunate backgrounds. But we were not expecting people that had never seen a pipette, let alone use it! You have to use a pipette accurately for anything that requires its use in science to be meaningful; and here is a person who is doing a PhD and had never seen a pipette! Of course, she did not make it. So I am not really surprised to hear about the unfortunate computer guy that had never handled a computer because this is common among people from underdeveloped circumstances.
Advice to government:
I do not think our people are inferior in any way to people I have seen in the Western countries. I have been away from the country for over 50 years. I schooled with the children of the Western world; I have taught the children of the Western world, and I competed in research for a long time with their scientists. In all those activities, I did not see anything to make me believe that these people are superior to us. In fact, over 200 years ago, one of their famous scientists said that “science knows no country because knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world.” No one is endowed with superior intellect; it is just a question of opportunities. Nigerians badly need to be given the appropriate opportunity to practice science and technology in their own country. Sadly, our science is deteriorating in many quarters. For many of us who are getting on in life, if you go back to your secondary school, you will see that the standard of science is lower than when you were there about 50 years ago. That is a sad commentary; so what I am advocating in part in this book is that our leaders need to go and revitalize our science. If they do, technology will pick up because technology for the most part, is a product of science. But if we do not revitalize our science at the secondary and even elementary school level, we will just be dreaming and deceiving ourselves when we say we will use technology to advance development in our country.
Someone asked, why can’t we just buy technology from others? You can, but you shouldn’t because you need not depend on other people to do for you what you can do for yourself. Most foreign investors basically want your money and to keep you as their perpetual customers. They know that innovation is the only sure way to progress, and you cannot innovate if you do not do the basic work and research yourself. We need to encourage our people appropriately in their efforts to do research in our harsh environment. If we don’t, there is no lack of charlatans ready to exploit the fact that we lack technology.
What happens is that when news of an invention breaks in Africa, the West may give awards to the inventor but will not patronize his/her work which is eventually overtaken by Western innovation. It is up to us to see to it that we encourage indigenous appropriate technology.
The bottom line is we should start and persevere with worthwhile ideas and don’t try to start from the top or just duplicate what others have already done. We are obligated to start investigating issues that are beneficial to us like adapting foreign technology to suit our particular needs, making good water supply available to all, sanitary disposal of wastes, using technology to fight illiteracy, poor roads, treat the sick, ascertain the nutritional value of our foods, learn the scientific basis of our local therapeutics, bring electric light to our neighbourhoods, combat the challenges of climate change, look for alternative sources of energy to fossil fuel, etc. We are bound to regret it if we continue to ignore the necessity to improve science in our schools and prepare ourselves appropriately so that we can address these issues.