Academic Irrigation Project: The Only Panacea To Nigeria’s Collapsing Economy -By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú

Filed under: Agriculture,Economic Issues |

Without a viable, advanced economy, what will be the fate of Nigeria when oil runs out or is no longer worth producing? How do we get our leaders to think long term, to think twenty to fifty years down the road? In 2021, the first autonomous (driverless) electric car will be sold in North America. Advances in renewable energy are moving at a frenetic pace and photovoltaic cells are getting exponentially better every day. Is Nigeria going to have immunity against this seismic shift in energy production and consumption? Why is President Buhari not seeing what we are seeing?

On February 2, 2019, while campaigning at Barambu in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to extend its crude oil exploration to six basins in the country. At the campaign stop, he flagged off the commencement of drilling at Kolmani-II Oil Well, Gongola Basin, Upper Benue Trough. He said: “Exploration in our frontier basins is imperative to the economy of the country… I therefore, have directed NNPC to intensify its campaign in the Chad Basin, to discover new hydrogen to extend the economy of the people within the region and the nation at large… Our next level is to ensure that exploration is extended to Chad Basin, Gongola Basin, Anambra Basin, Sokoto Basin, Dahomey Basin, Bida Basin and Benue Trough, for more prosperous Nigeria… Gas and oil remain critical to the present economic development of our country and the future.”

Nigeria has 12 million children out of school. In the North, despondent youth are begging, rushing down South to take security guard jobs in private homes or doing drugs. In the South, university educated youth cannot compete with secondary school leavers elsewhere. Most of them are unemployable because they do not have the cognitive skills to create solutions in the work environment. Those who did not go beyond primary or secondary education are not learning any trade or vocation. Many young men are now into kidnapping, online love scams, and occult ritual, using human parts for money.

It is painful that President Buhari has chosen to divert Nigeria’s meagre resources into oil exploration at this time. What this country needs most at this time is an aggressive programme to jumpstart our education system that has ground to a halt. We need a raft of projects from the development of grassroots basic literacy to high-end university research to spur innovation, so our human capital can acquire the skills to compete.

The ‘blessings’ of oil and natural gas cannot last forever. What Nigeria needs now is not drilling for oil in dry basins but a recycling of oil and gas into knowledge by reforming the school system, improving vocational training and funding universities as knowledge hubs. There is no way forward and no way to future-proof Nigeria without making education a priority. Whoever wins the election in a few days time must declare a state of emergency in the education sector. To compete in a few decades from now and play catch up, we have to start now. A high quality system of education cannot be built overnight. We need a multi-billion dollar Academic Irrigation Project immediately. So much money is lying fallow in the coffers of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) that can be used to give impetus to this project.

It is sad that Nigeria has the least investment on education in the world. As a percentage of the GDP, Nigeria invests the least in education. Given our population, we have the least per capital investment in human development. Our universities were ruined by the deeply anti-intellectual military which tinkered with its system of governance that allows independence and strangled its culture of freedom of inquiry that creates innovation. To compete, we need a system of education that gives young people the skills needed for the modern labour market and the global knowledge economy. The brave new world is buoyed by ideas. China and India are not rich because of what they have, they are rich because of their know-how. These two countries are leading in four key disruptive knowledge areas of the future and for the future: Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology and Nanotechnology. Nigeria is not even on the radar!

Oil exploration in basins that may not yield commercial quantities of oil is foolhardy. It is a political and ethnocentric quest that is as shallow as it is costly. Even if we discover vast quantities of oil today, oil cannot refine itself. So far, there is no value addition to the oil we produce. We depend on the human capital of other nations to refine our oil for domestic consumption. Our wealth invariably moves to countries where we import value added products from, even if we exported the raw material to them. The wealth of Nigeria is not in oil, it is in its human capital. By 2050, the median age will be 22. The economy of any country in 25 years can be predicted on the basis of the strength of its education system today. If that is anything to go by, we should be panic now. Disaster is looming. The money being deployed to oil exploration is better used for education. The North is marooned in an educational gorge. The South is in a hole. The future can still be saved, today!

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo

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