Earlier today, I was at a certain construction site with some other members of the group doing our bit to get the work going. Our work precisely was to assist the engineers on site couple and install a big fabricated tent.
While we were standing around letting the engineers do their work, a conversation had ensued between myself and a couple that stood close to me. The husband was pretty worried first that the footing of the tent did not look too sure to be able to carry the weight of the materials to be assembled with it considering the number of years that it is expected to last. The man casually commented that the materials used to fabricate the tent did not actually look so “foreign” and that these kinds of things should be fabricated in Nigeria. It was at this point I found myself plunging heatedly into the conversation.
First of all, I noted that yes, it was possible to do such here in Nigeria, but we do not have people-or more appropriately-graduates with the required skills, knowledge base and also mind set required to accomplish such a task. I mentioned that this situation was very much connected to the kind and system of education currently available and mass-marketed in Nigeria which does not equip, empower or even inspire one to creatively convert his education into value.
I said that, in Nigeria, the typical graduate would hardly think about starting a business or running a manufacturing firm, but would be more pre-occupied with thinking about securing a job (whether good or bad, high-paying or not) as long as they would get some pay at the end of the month. For me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a job or desiring to have one. I do have a regular day job, but I do business in my spare time. But my frustration lies in the fact that, for me as a trained Biochemist, I could hardly figure out (as at when I was in school, and a few years after graduation) how I could use my knowledge as a biochemist to start a business, a food or beverage making company, a brewery, or something related. All the reality that seemed possible to me was to join the band-wagon and hit the streets in search of a white collar job.
It still beats me that in all my four solid years in the university studying biochemistry, I never got to synthesise an enzyme, attempt making some fruit juice, wine or soft drink concentrate, anything at all. All I remember doing was compelling myself to study some huge, lousy chemical structures as well as some chemical pathways that I sometimes found confusing or somewhat irrelevant.
In my conversation with the couple I mentioned earlier, it was clear to us that we really did not have an excuse to not be able to fabricate or manufacture things. For instance, Japan revolutionized their industry by taking painstaking years–less than a decade–to understudy certain developed nations, their industry, their technology, everything. Today, when it comes to industry and technology, Japan is a force no-one can ignore.
Sadly and unfortunately, as Nigerians, we are not even doing things to help ourselves. In this regard, our governments are busy wooing foreign investors to come invest in our economy; yearly pumping out thousands of students to several foreign institutions under federal and state scholarship schemes with the hope that someday they would come back to develop their motherland–of which 90% of the time never come back to the country after their study is over.
As long as our educational system remains the way it is, Nigeria and Africa will perpetually remain underdeveloped. As long as a student cannot while in class envision how he would utilise his education in order to harness resources in order to create value, make legal profit and contribute meaningfully to societal development, then we would continue to have a high and ever-increasing unemployment rate. Personally I feel disappointed at times when I imagine that I could use knowledge as a biochemist to begin a food manufacturing plant, a brewery, or perhaps a juice concentrate factory. But unfortunately, in school the education I received could not possibly empower me with the knowledge, skills and mindset to accomplish such tasks. Today, I am a Salesman by profession and a practicing entrepreneur, but only a biochemist by educational qualification.
In developed nations, kids while in school learn how to utilise their learning to develop concepts, products, software, technology, name it, that would not only fetch them monetary value, but also enable them add meaningfully to society. Here, all we are trained and prepared for is to get set to join the job searching “army” after graduation with no plan or idea how to translate or convert our education into products, services, and technologies, and worst of all, no capacity to produce. All we do is import everything and every technology, to the point that we have even become addicts to a lot of them. Like our generators, smart phones, cable decoders, tv sets, etc.
I think it is time that our young people realize that the government and relevant corporate bodies may sponsor an education, but creating value is entirely up to us. Utilizing our knowledge and skills to produce, fabricate and industrialize will be dependent on how much we are willing to get hands-on, study beyond the “cramming” of our traditional education and unlock the creative geniuses inside of us to create products, concepts, and technologies that would transform our nation from being a technology importer and foreign investor seeker, to a technology exporter and foreign investment investor.