On 10thJuly 2019, Singapore announced that all primary school pupils will undergo mandatory coding classesfrom 2020. Expectedly, a number of Nigerians on social media took the opportunity to compare our development with advanced countries globally. Ultimately concluding as usual that we have very little hope of competing on a global in the future. Truth be told, if this were the sole basis of assessing our future prospects, things do not look very promising for Nigeria at the moment. However, I will argue that our prospects of relevance in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ do not depend as heavily on our progress in science and technology (STEM for the purpose of this article) as some might think; Or at least not in the manner we expect it should.
In making this argument, certain facts are taken into context. Of the top 20 richest people in the world for example, only 30% made their fortune directlyfrom STEM areas. Others are fashion retailers, financial experts, oil magnates and stockbrokers. Of the 20 largest economies, services constitute over 40% of GDP in at least 50%of these countries. In the US in particular, services contribute almost80% of the country’sGDP. ‘South Korea is the only country that secures its place among the economic superpowers primarily on its technological advancement’. Which perhaps points out something significant: maybe our path to world relevance is in developing what we have rather than trying to make false claims to what we do not have. This obviously does not discountenance the crucial role STEM played in building these individual fortunes or developing these economies. It just means that STEM was an instrument in enhancing their strongest income-generating resource. Which brings me to my next point: what are (or should be) Nigeria’s strongest income generator in 2019?
Anyone who is familiar with Nigeria’s contributions to the world stage will know that STEM has not been Nigeria’s strongest suit. It is not hard to see why. The infrastructural facilities and technical expertise required to push development in these areas have been lacking over time for various reasons that are easily linked with corrupt administrations, outdated educational systems, poor infrastructure and scarcity of trained personnel. Nigerians that have made impact in these areas have largely done so from abroad where there is access to better facilities and training. However, certain sectors have consistently made significant contributions to raising Nigeria’s profile on the world stage both within and outside Nigeria. This is notwithstanding the fact that they have also faced the same problems. The entertainment industry is one. From the likes of Fatai rolling Dollar and Orlando Julius to King Sunny Ade, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Femi Kuti, Nigerian musicians have consistently produced music worthy of gracing the world stage and done so from Nigeria. It is arguable that Nigerian music has gained a higher profile in the millennial and post-millennial generation. Artistes like Burna boy, Tosin Ajibade (Mr Eazi), Ayo Balogun (Wizkid), Dapo Oyebanjo (popularly known as D’Banj) are well known acts with a fan base that extend farbeyond the African continent. Collaborations between Nigerian artistes and other award- winning musicians such as Beyoncé, Kanye West, William Roberts (Rick Ross) and Drake are also becoming increasingly commonplace. Fela’s ‘Afrika Shrine’ is still regularly thronged by foreign visitors including high-profile visitors and most recently hosted the French President, Emmanuel Macron. In fact, the multi-award winning superstar, Beyoncé in her most recent ‘Lion King’ themed album chose to feature up to six Nigerian artistes. Whether that is an endorsement of the Nigerian music industry may be debatable, but at least it speaks of the increase in relevance of Nigerian artistes on the world stage. Its movie industry, Nollywood is the third largest in the world behind Hollywood (USA) and Bollywood (India). The quality of movies produced have improved over the years and while there is still a long way to go, its presence on platforms like Netflix and the recent acquisition of the Nollywood studio ROK by French media giant, Canal+ TV are encouraging signs of the rising relevance of the Nigerian film industry. Stage plays and the theatre, first made popular by the late Hubert Adedeji Ogunde, are enjoying some sort of a renaissance thanks to concerted private initiatives and with the right investment can also be a useful addition to the Nigerian economy.
Another area of strength, albeit dwindling is our sports sector, particularly the more recognized sports such as football and athletics. Nigeria has been winning medals at the Olympic Games since 1964.Its Olympic football team won gold at Atlanta 96 Olympic Games and silver at Beijing 2008; other individual athletes have won medals at all competition levels. Despite our terrible sports administration system, Nigeria has produced top athletes such as Blessing Okagbare, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Davidson Ezinwa and Falilat Ogunkoya-Osheku. Nigerian footballers such as Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Okocha, Emmanuel Amunike and John Mikel Obi have also played and won trophies at the highest level. Nigeria has consistently qualified for the World Cup since 1994 and has won the Africa Cup of Nations 3 times while having a record for the highest number of third-place finishes. Its female football team remains the team to beat in Africa having won all but one of the female AFCON championships. All this has happened despite controversies over unpaid bonuses, questionable selection policies and corruption scandals among sports officials. Which in fact prevents Nigeria from translating its relevance and dominance in African sports on to the world stage.
Aside from these two, Nigeria is blessed with key ingredients of a booming tourism industry: beautiful landscapes, excellent cuisine, beach-friendly weather nearly all year-round and a vibrant hospitality sector. There are various tourist attractions in different parts of Nigeria that will capture foreign fascination if marketed effectively. Other areas of potential global impact include the fashion industry and organic skincare sector. The key question is this: will Nigeria ever maximize its potential in these areas? The current metrics do not suggest that this will happen anytime soon. Many areas of the country are becoming more unsafe due to ethnic and religious conflict even without considering the impact of Boko-Haram activity in the North-East. The success of the tourism industry significantly depends on an assurance of security, something that the Nigerian government cannot guarantee at the moment. Poor administration of the sports sector has significantly limited Nigeria’s capacity and while talented sportsmen are still being constantly produced, they lack the necessary support, exposure and technical know-how to become world beaters. As a result, many are ending up in obscure football leagues or switching allegiances where given the choice. Nigeria’s musicians are making great strides in making Nigeria a force to be reckoned with in the arts. However, it might not be enough. Good music may enhance foreign investment in Nigerian musicians without necessarily resulting in a corresponding investment in Nigeria.
But what can be done to transform the current narrative? The most reasonable answer will be to ensure that an enabling environment is created for the entertainment, sports and tourism industries to thrive. This imposes certain crucial responsibilities on the government. The security situation in the North-East must be resolved through decisive military action/ dialogue (Boko Haram) and ranching procedures for settlement of the Fulani Herdsmen. This not only opens up new tourist sites in places like Borno and Adamawa (Sukur Cultural Landscape) but preserve existing ones like the Ancient Kano Walls (Kano) and the Yankari National Park (Bauchi State). Good transport networks must also be developed connecting different areas of the country to enhance easy travel for prospective tourists. Existing tourist sites in need of maintenance must also be refurbished and renovated where necessary.
Additionally, significant investment needs to be made specifically for the refurbishment of existing sports infrastructure. Nigeria has about 44 sports stadiums, 18 of which have a capacity of 20,000 or above. Many of these stadiums have suffered from poor maintenance over the years including the National stadiums in Abuja and Lagos. Renovating these structures will go a long way in indicating Nigeria’s readiness to serve as a major sporting hub not only in Africa but in a global context. Furthermore, more must be done to ensure that Nigerian athletes and professional sports leagues in Nigeria gain the necessary exposure and sponsorship needed to compete on the global stage. The struggle for exposure may be partly attributed to factors such as inconsistent investment by stakeholders such as Globacom and MTN, lack of organized league structures (particularly at the grassroots) and administrative crisis including one that almost led to a FIFA ban in 2018. Concerted effort must be made, ideally through a collaboration between the government and the private sector to create structures and sports programmes that enhance sports development. Such initiatives include sports scholarship programmes at all levels of education, sport academies in different parts of the country and collaborations with foreign sports organizations for mutually beneficial exchange programmes.
There is a place for STEM development in Nigeria and that place is a crucial one. In fact, one may argue that all these other areas discussed above cannot function effectively without STEM development. However, I will say that Nigeria should be looking at taking a different route: using existing resources in the arts, tourism and sports to make the kind of global impact that will in turn result in increased economic growth and foreign investment. Income accruing from such growth and investment can then be directed towards developing the infrastructure and securing the necessary expertise for STEM development. If we could still retain a modicum of relevance in these areas without heavy STEM influence, imagine what we could do with it.
By Fife Ogunde