ENGINEERING DEVELOPMENT AS A CATALYST FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

By Engr (Prof) V.O Oladokun MNSE, MNIEM, MNIIE. Department of Industrial and Production Engineering, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria vo.oladokun@ui.edu.ng

Protocols

I want to express my appreciations to the Chairman, the executives and all members of Nigeria Society of Engineers, Ikeja branch for the rare privilege to deliver this important lecture.

Introduction

National development, according to United Nations, is growth plus change. Change in turn is social and cultural as well as economic and qualitative as well as quantitative. It is a concept that encapsulates economic transformation, improved citizens’ welfare, increased productivity and technological advancement. Meanwhile because of the multidimensional nature of national development and the possible ambiguity of the concept, it may be more efficient to anchor this discussion on one of its easily recognizable dimensions; economic transformation. Also, for convenience, the terms engineering and technology will be used interchangeably in this discussion. National development, in the context of economic transformation, is essentially the movement of nation’s labour force from low productive activities to high productive activities accompanied by improved reward systems and better standard of living. This movement may be in the context of inter sector changes, such as moving from agriculture to manufacturing as witnessed in the eighteenth century industrial revolution in Europe or it may be characterised by intra sector changes such, as moving from subsistence farming to high-valued mechanized farming (Oladokun, 2016). A country is classified as developed when it is able to provide qualitative life for her citizenry. Such countries have experienced economic transformations that support national development and beneficial economic growth.

While economic growth is desirable and necessary it is not a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. For meaningful development, economic growth must be accompanied by economic transformation anchored on productive and sustainable activities. While Nigeria and many third world countries have experienced some appreciable economic growth in the form of increased GDP, the benefits of such growth have not been adequately inclusive or positively impactful with respect to the overall well being of the citizens (Lewis, 2008) (Oloni et al., 2017). In fact, recent claims of growth in Nigeria’s GDP have paradoxically come with higher level of poverty and deprivation among Nigerians. Nigerian economic growth has not been transformational because it has been based mainly on natural resources extraction with negligible technological and engineering based value addition input. In other words the absence of development within the Nigerian engineering sector has limited the pace of overall national development.

On the other hand economic transformations in developed nations are characterized by diversification away from an over-reliance on natural resources due the advancement in engineering. These countries have leveraged on their investment in science, technology and engineering to integrate their production base into regional and global value chains. While commodity-rich countries in Africa, especially Nigeria, have experienced strong economic growth in recent years, such growth has neither been inclusive nor did support improve citizens’ welfare: growth not driven by engineering based industrialization.

Industrialization has been the process by which developed countries transformed from being primarily agricultural to one based on the manufacturing of goods. During industrialisation individual manual labour is often replaced by mechanized mass production, and craftsmen are replaced by assembly lines (eg Henry Ford automobile revolution which brought down the price of a car from over two thousand (2000) US dollars to less than two hundred fifty (250) US dollars in the 1910s). A major ingredient of such industrialization based transformation is the use of technological innovations by Engineers to solve problems as opposed to dependency on conditions outside human control. Innovative application of engineering capacity is a driver of economic growth such that economists, researchers and policy makers have formally classified science, engineering and technology as important determinants of economic and development (Audretsch, et al., 2002) (Rosenberg, 1974).

Some Historical Perspective

For instance steam powered engines and innovation for harnessing steam power triggered the great industrial revolution of Europe in the late 18th century in Britain. Prior to the proliferation of industrial manufacturing facilities, fabrication and processing were generally carried out by hand in people’s homes. The steam engine was a key invention, as it allowed for many different types of machinery. Growth of the metals and textiles industries allowed for the mass production of basic personal and commercial goods. As manufacturing activities grew, transportation, finance and communications industries expanded to support the new productive capacities thus creating sustainable platform for development. These early engineering contraptionsformed the basis of the 1st industrial revolution in Europe. Consequently the industrial revolution led to unprecedented expansion in wealth and financial wellbeing for many. It also led to increased labor specialization and allowed cities to support larger populations, motivating a rapid demographic shift leading to urbanization. People left rural areas in large numbers, seeking potential fortunes in budding industries. The revolution quickly spread beyond Britain, with engineering based manufacturing centers being established in continental Europe and the US.

Meanwhile World War II created unprecedented demand for various manufactured goods, leading to a buildup of productive capacity. After the war, reconstruction in Europe occurred alongside a massive population expansion in North America. This provided further catalysts that kept capacity utilization high and stimulated future growth of industrial activity. Technological innovation, specialization and wealth creation were causes and effects of industrialization in this period. The late 20th century was noteworthy for rapid industrialization in other parts of the world. The Asian Tigers of Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore embraced engineering, engineering technology, and innovation to propel growths that transformed their economies and brought prosperity. China experienced its own industrial revolution through adoption of technology and innovation catalysed by aggressive development in engineering and science. The essence of the foregoing is that if Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa must experience the highly desired sustainable growth and prosperity the nation’s scientific, engineering and technological eco systems must be energized to be at the forefront of national development process.

Engineering, Technology as catalyst for Economic development

The effectiveness of engineering, technology and innovation as catalysts for wealth creation and transformational economic growth at both national and individual levels is vividly demonstrated in the way Silicon Valley, California, United States has changed the world. The commercial and economic values of the various technological outputs from Silicon Valley have helped the US, in no small measure, to consolidate her leadership and influence on the global economy. This small area has churned more billionaires and life changing products than any part of the globe by leveraging on intellectual properties, technology and innovation produced by Engineers. The growth of semiconductors and the business of chips allowed small companies to emerge and compete. Technologies and innovations in chip manufacturing, software development, biotechnology, genetics, high tech pharmaceuticals, networking and internet connectivity are some of the engineering advancements that Silicon Valley Engineers and Scientists have leveraged on to create several global businesses and economic powerhouses such as Amazon, eBay in retails, Uber in taxi services, PayPal in online payments, Tesla in car manufacturing, and SpaceX in aerospace. Engineers are using emerging technologies and concepts like Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, 5G internet connectivity, nano materials and robotics to transform traditional items like watches, clothing, cameras, fashion, cosmetics, and even medical practices. These emerging concepts are the driver of the 4th industrial revolution. Small sized countries like Israel, Japan who lacked much natural resources and arable land mass have leveraged on technology and innovation to establish economic and military dominance.

Meanwhile the impact of the sharp fall in commodity prices and COVID-19 resulting in the slowing down of some major economies has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of the Nigerian mono commodity based economy. This dilemma is further compounded by Nigerian near total reliance on importation which continues to put pressure on her meager foreign exchange earnings. It has thus become obvious that Nigerian economy requires urgent transformation based on diversification of the nations production base. It has become imperative for Nigeria to become self sufficient in food production, energy provision and critical infrastructure. Essentially it has become urgent to energize critical non oil sectors like agriculture in order to drive meaningful growth. This can only be achieved through aggressive engineering development and application of technological and innovative ideas.

Conclusion

Nigeria needs a growth model that can generate sufficient jobs for her huge population and also be inclusive enough to significantly curb poverty. History has shown that such viable economic growth model is only achieved through industrialization. Meanwhile history has also shown that industrialization is a product of technologies and application of technological breakthroughs which are only possible through engineering development. The needed national development and economic transformation required to liberate Nigeria and Nigerians lies within engineering development. The corollary to this is that liberation of Nigeria from economic doldrums depends on those of us in this auditorium and the engineering constituencies that we represent. The current economic challenges hold huge opportunities for technicians, technologists, and engineers in the engineering family to show our relevance. The challenges hold wealth creation opportunities for us if we start turning our ideas and inventions into marketable products and services and the in process prove to the nation that indeed engineering development remains the catalyst for national development and the only path to sustainable economic growth.

Thank you for listening and God bless.

References

Audretsch, D. B., Bozeman, B., Combs, K. L., Feldman, M., Link, A. N., Siegel, D. S., et al. (2002). The economics of science and technology. The Journal of Technology Transfer , 27 (2), 155-203.

Lewis, P. (2008). Poverty, Inequality, and Democracy: Growth without Prosperity in Africa. Journal of Democracy , 19 (4), 95-109.

Oladokun, V. O. (2016). Technology as a Tool for Economic Transformation in Nigeria. NATE Anual Induction Award Ceremony . NATE.

Oloni, E., Asaleye, A., Abiodun, F., & Adeyemi, O. (2017). Inclusive growth, agriculture and employment in Nigeria. Journal of Environmental Management & Tourism , 8 (1(17)), 183-194.

Rosenberg, N. (1974). Science, invention and economic growth. The Economic Journal , 84 (333), 90-108.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here