For many years, Professor Emeritus Augustine Esogbue was involved in the development of infrastructure in the United States but in this interview, he laments being rejected in Nigeria. Excerpts:
How can Nigeria achieve stable power supply?
I was the first black man to earn a PhD in Industrial Power and Systems Engineering and Professor Bart Nnaji came about a decade later. He later became the minister of power. The problem is there are so many factors to deal with in power including gas not being available. The solution is that we need an integrated power network. It is the solution, but Nigeria is complex.
What is your view on nuclear energy as a source of electricity?
Nuclear and fossil fuels are the alternative sources of energy, but people are against it. I recommended it in 2005 when Nigerians in Diaspora came for the Science and Technology conference to partner with others for the development of the country. I coordinated the international committee and I chaired the session on Nuclear. I recommended it to former President Olusegun Obasanjo but people opposed it, that Nigeria has poor maintenance culture. But I said it can only be mastered through gradual process.
Who frustrated your efforts in giving back to Nigeria?
The bureaucrats. They want money and not the development of the country. I was in Nigeria to assist in her development when General Murtala Mohammed took over. I went to the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources and he said they had finished studying all my proposals and he didn’t believe in me, and so I left him alone. Our people are not open to new ideas holistically.
How were you involved in the development of many countries?
I consulted and introduced Chinese to the technology of fozy system and set. I developed computer softwares for Japan where they treat me like a rock star. In 1997, I did a report for UNDP on transfer of knowledge. When I was a doctorate student, IBM and others funded our research from 1966 to 1967. California was a water starved state then as it imported water from the Colorado River through expensive aqueducts. The people noted that they were by the ocean, so how could they be starved of water. We built desalination plant which removes salt and then they had water underground and reservoirs, and we coordinated that. It was done over a period of time.
What is your regret with development in Nigeria?
Nigeria has not listened and in the process wants to push you away. Nigeria makes a big deal about signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or book launch. There are many things we can do for ourselves without fanfare. They see me as a threat who wanted to take away their jobs. Former President Goodluck Jonathan and I met in New York when he came for an official visit but when I came to see him, he referred me to the Secretary to the Federal Government Anyim Pius Anyim. He did not know how to use me.
If you don’t expand your horizon you will be outclassed. People in power should have other sources of power apart from gas-powered plants. We should get futuristic in integrated thinking. Nigeria must be research-driven.
What was your interaction with former President Olusegun Obasanjo like?
Obasanjo met me with the first black mayor of Atlanta in the United States and we talked on how to transfer technology. I gave him a proposal about exchange allocation like the project I did for the government of Guyana from 1979 to 1984 on how to allocate their little resources to the competing industries that earn foreign exchange to buy spare parts. Guyana is rich in rice, sugar and bauxite and they’ve made it. I tried to develop the relation with Guyana and Nigeria for bauxite with our iron ore industry. I published a research in the British Journal for operations research and I proposed it to Obasanjo and he said it was a good idea but never got back. When the American space shuttle had a mishap, I was appointed as the only black man on the National Space Agency (NASA) and it was publicized throughout the world. Surprisingly, I got a ‘nice’ letter from Obasanjo on how they wanted to use my talent. From the letter he wrote, it seemed he didn’t know that I was the same person that chaired his briefing in Atlanta and I didn’t want to reply, but the ambassador said the president doesn’t get to see these things.
By Ibraheem Hamza Muhammadu & Hussaini Garba Mohammed originally published in Daily Trust