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Engineering Innovation In Nigeria – A Tech Entrepreneur’s View

Understanding strategic planning and execution of your innovation is as important as knowing the rudiments – concept and processes – applied for developing an Engineering solution. In his book, Strategic Management and Business Policy, Azhar Jazmin outlined pyramid of strategy activation. The structure is similar to the well known Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy, but here attempts to show how strategy drives the plans, programmes, projects, budgets, and policies/procedures/rules/regulation. Little wonder, Strategy is taught as progressive modules in Business schools, not matter the name it may be called. Engineering Economics and Law courses in Nigerian Universities must begin to dwell more on strategic execution case studies.

How does strategy impact Engineering Innovations? I guess that question has existed from the first sentence of this piece. Well, the answer lies in the definitions of Engineering, Innovation, and how Entrepreneurship functions. Engineering can be defined simply as the application of scientific knowledge to solve physical challenges since solutions must take a form. To achieve this, an Engineering professional should understand the problem to solve, the solution concepts, processes and procedures, environmental impact, and social benefits. Generally, Engineering is practiced by Craftsmen, Technicians, Technologists, and Engineers. M.L. Ibrahim (2015) in his COREN-inspired book wrote “a registered Engineer may be engaged in research, production, supervision of engineering construction, management of engineering activities or as a designer; or he may be retained as a consultant for professional advice, inspection, certification, adjudication; or be engaged in any combination of these.” Innovation has been construed as invention plus commercialisation (Ekekwe, 2018) but I dare say that innovation must have one or more of these three attributes – problem solving, product improvement, or improvisation. According to HBR compilation of articles on Innovation, the value chain includes idea generation (in-house, cross pollination, and external sourcing), conversion (selection and development), and diffusion (spread of the idea). An Technology Entrepreneur is that person who applies engineering know-how to create a value chain for consumers, and often this has to be a supply triggered market growth. These jargons won’t make sense until we bring it home to Nigeria, to understand why we are not succeeding in that front and what we must do to help our Tech startups.

Nigeria is a country of huge market potential, nearly 200 million person occupy a vast area of 924,000 square kilometers. The country is blessed with mineral resources, fine climate, and firm earth plates. Nigerians, like the Israelis and Indians, are intuitive, industrious, and entrepreneurial. However, the country is lagging behind in Engineering Innovations for three key reasons.

Firstly, Nigeria educational system does not encourage engineering as a profession. There is to much emphasis on paper qualification than in the practice of technical works, and this is seen from basic school where pupils are not identified and propelled to special schools that sharpen their talents into skills. We fail to realize what set America, Japan, and Israel apart by a continuous and progressive emphasis on cognitive abilities instead of pyschomotive talents that must be harnessed. Even after Basic school, students don’t want to progress to technical/vocational senior schools because the certificates are not of value to our society, we treat craftsmen as lesser professionals despite their prowess at mastering their art.

Secondly, many Engineering professionals consider his career as inferior to Medical and Legal professions. This is partly due to the deliberate political alienation of Engineers from decision making bodies which rank and grade professional certification. Relegating Engineers has a psychological impact of making them ignore their primary calling – to discover, solve or improve – as the word ‘ingenuity’ is lost in the body of Engineering. It is true that Engineers should champion the infrastructural and industrial revolution in Nigeria but how can this be done when the society doesn’t know the function of Engineers. The matter is made worse by the lack of dedicated Engineering Centres where Engineers converge like we see in Law Courts or Medical Hospitals. Technology Incubation hubs and workshops are meant to attract Engineering professionals for ideas cross pollination as well as diffusion.

Thirdly, finance houses follow buzzwords like Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies. There is little or no interest in the real sector where Engineering Innovation takes its place of pride. Though AI and ET are technical works but they cannot exist without an underlying physical form aka hardware. Let it be known that software is the soul whereas hardware is the body. The spirit cannot manifest without the physical being. Unfortunately, commercial banks, investors and even Government has ignored this real issues that has continued to undermine our strategies to achieve MDG 2000, Vision 20/20/20, and now SDG 2030. One hard truth is that we will only succeed in any blue print plan with massive funding of engineering innovation, else we continue to be slaves of western and Asian countries.

While the problems are not new, the solutions need to be holistic and must involve Engineers themselves – the body of Engineers must rise and shine. We must redefine our technical education and allow our children progress from basic schools to technical/vocational schools such that inventions from such class is treated with same importance as any other. Our government, triggered by the engineering body must recognize and rate Engineering professionals based on the years devoted to academic/technical/vocational pursuit. This is one way to positively reach out and extract the best from Engineering personnel to innovate continuously. Financial houses must do the hard job of nurturing innovations meant for the real sectors especially the infrastructure and industry targets of SDG #8. No foreigner will come to develop Nigeria, her people must collectively support Technology Entrepreneurs as we innovate from an Engineering background to solve our challenges and improve on existing technologies.

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