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Leading in Innovation – A Roadmap for Southeastern Nigeria

Leading in Innovation – A Roadmap for Southeastern Nigeria
FUTO is a top technical university in Nigeria

By Nnamdi Odumody

Innovation can be defined as the introduction of new things and methods that produces value in the market. It is also the aspiration of individuals, private institutions and governments to achieve development by generating creative ideas and introducing new products, services and operations that improve the overall quality of life.

According to Robert Solow, technological innovation is the ultimate source of productivity and growth.The innovative capacity of a country defines its global competitiveness in the comity of nations. The Fourth Industrial Revolution which we are all witnessing is an era where knowledge driven countries with a high emphasis on science, technology and innovation will dominate resource driven economies.

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“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” Steve Jobs, Cofounder Apple Computers

Innovation Components and Indices

The following are some key components of innovation:

  • Institutions and Regulatory Environment
  • Human Capital and Research
  • Funding and Investment
  • Competitive Environment
  • Innovative Products and Services
  • Infrastructure
  • Knowledge and Technology

Besides, innovation is essential to

  • Improving the quality of life
  • Increasing economic diversification
  • Enhancing knowledge economy
  • Improving competitiveness
  • Creating High Skilled Jobs
  • Promoting Entrepreneurship

According to The World Economic Forum Global Innovation Index 2017 ten most innovative countries are as follows

  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Netherlands
  • U.S.A
  • U.K
  • Denmark
  • Singapore
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Ireland

Israel which is fondly referred to as the Startup Nation has built an economic success which has it’s roots in Science and Technology Innovation. It was second in the 2016 World Economic Forum Global Innovation Index and hosts approximately 300 Multinational Corporations R&D Centers. An average of 20 new R &D Centers are established every year. It is first in the world in Venture Capital Investments in ratio to GDP and R&D investments as a ratio of GDP. In 2016 an Israeli Startup Mobileye which develops autonomous navigation technologies for vehicles that was seeded at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was sold to Intel Corp, the semiconductor technology giant for $15.3 billion. A testament to the Israeli Innovation Ecosystem.

Another nation which has built an economic miracle rooted in innovation is the Republic of Korea. Home to 51 million residents and a GDP of $1.1 trillion and per capita of $35,920 it was the world’s most innovative country in 2016 according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index. The 20 largest conglomerates(Chaebols) contribute 57 percent of the country’s total investment in R&D and second in the world in government R &D investment as a ratio of GDP.

The secret of the Korean success is due to the following:

  • Leading Applied Research
  • Innovation Based Final Products
  • High Application and Implementation Ability on Large Production Lines
  • Large and Stable Conglomerates(Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai,e.t.c)

Recently Alibaba Group, the Chinese E-Commerce giant announced plans to invest $15billion in seven new research centers around the world over the next three years to focus on developing new technologies with labs in China(Beijing and Guangzhou), the U.S.A (Bellevue and Mateo), Russia(Moscow), Israel(Tel Aviv) and Singapore.

From the list above we can see that no African country was featured. Africa’s disposition to a commodity driven trade based economy as opposed to a knowledge driven one which fosters innovation that leads to economic growth has made it a subservient region for foreign technologies. If the African narrative is to be told in the Second Machine Age we must do a paradigm shift and invest heavily in Research and Development to solve our problems and via extension global problems.

Southeastern Nigeria Case

The Southeastern Region came close to achieving a Research Driven industrial status amongst African states during the short-lived Biafran Republic. The Biafran Research and Products Department headed by Prof Gordian Ezekwe and his team achieved many feats which if the Federal Government had built on after the Nigerian Civil War would have propelled Nigeria to become an industrialized nation.

Prof Oliver Udemmadu Mobisson pioneered the first Black African personal computers and servers at the Industrial Development Centre in the defunct Anambra State University of Technology in 1983 which if subsequent administrations that governed Nigeria had supported would have made the Eastern region the technological hub of Africa.

All hope is not lost as the South East can still create an Ecosystem which will make her lead in Innovation in Africa. The following solutions can help to achieve that:

  • Human Capital Development: The South Eastern governments should increase her spend on developing the skills of her youthful population in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Robotics, Embedded Systems, Liberal Arts, Design Thinking, African History and Philosophy and Emotional Intelligence to become critical thinkers that can solve her problems with creative application of technology and via extension global ones too.
  • Easy Migration of Talent: To create a successful innovation ecosystem like Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Tel Aviv and Bangalore, there must be easy migration of talent from all parts of the globe into the region. It is important because the pool of talents from different divides with their various skills will metamorphose and create successful technology brands. Elon Musk was born and bred in South Africa before migrating to Silicon Valley where he has established himself as one of the top people there. Sergei Brin, the Cofounder of Google fled Communist Russia at 6 with his parents to come down to the U.S.A where he has also made a success story of himself too.
  • Fostering Open Innovation and Collaboration: Open Innovation and collaboration is essential in building a leading innovation ecosystem. As talent migrate from different parts of the globe to the South East there will be exchange of skills sets and collaboration to create solutions to problems. Organizations in the region should establish Open Innovation Labs which will be open to people who will come there to ideate and collaborate leveraging on their different talents to innovate.
  • Establishment of Centres of Excellence For Research and Development: Centres of Excellence for Research and Development which will proffer solutions to the region’s and Africa’s challenges should be established in all the higher institutions in the East. They will focus on fostering innovation in areas of competitive advantage to the region’s economy and develop inventions which can be transferred to industry partners or commercialized to become successful startups. Areas where Centres of Excellence can be established include:

i. Centre Of Excellence For Metalworks at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka: Awka was synonymous with ironsmithing in pre-colonial Igbo civilization. Now that we are in the era of exponential technology, further research and innovation can be used to improve the skills of Uzu Awka in line with global realities and make the ancient city a global ecosystem of metalworks development.

ii. Centre of Excellence For Automotive Technology at Federal Polytechnic, Oko: This Centre will focus on developing innovative technologies that will support the nearby Nnewi Automotive cluster in order to churn out solutions which will make the players there create products which will be proudly African with a global appeal.

iii. Centre of Excellence In Environmental Sustainability at Federal Polytechnic ,Oko: Climate change is a global billion dollar problem awaiting solutions. Countries are faced with different challenges due to the ozone layer depletion and Africa is not left out. The major threat the South East faces is erosion and flooding, while in the Northern Region it’s desert encroachment due to the Sahara desert rising and the South West and South South region, flooding due to their closeness to the Atlantic Ocean. A Centre of Excellence in Environmental Sustainability at Federal Polytechnic Oko which coincidentally is being threatened by erosion will create innovative technologies that will solve the environmental problems the region and other constituent parts of Nigeria are faced with and can also be applied to other African countries with similar issues too earning it global reputation and revenue as jobs around environmental sustainability technology will be created there.

iv. Centre of Excellence in Food Security at Michael Okpara University, Umudike: Food Security is a major challenge in Nigeria and Africa. Africa as the second most populated continent has a problem feeding her large population. A Centre of Excellence at Michael Okpara University will be tasked with innovating technologies that will help the motherland achieve food security .

v. Centre of Excellence In Nanotechnology at Federal University of Technology, Owerri: As the foremost university of technology in the region, a Centre of Excellence in Nanotechnology should be established there. Nanotechnology which is a disruptive technology has the potential to transform every industry from agriculture, security, healthcare, water, energy, manufacturing, ICT, e.t.c and the South East can become a hub for Nanotechnology development in Africa courtesy of the breakthroughs that will be achieved at the Centre of Excellence in Nanotech.

FUTO is a top technical university in Nigeria

vi. Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology at University of Nigeria, Nsukka: Biotechnology is transforming the operating systems of the human and plant cum animal lifecycle. It is a multibillion dollar industry which countries like Singapore have positioned themselves as global centres of R & D in the field. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka should establish a Centre of Excellence that will make it Africa’s No 1 Centre for Research and Development in all aspects of Biotechnology. This will have a large scale economic impact as an ecosystem around Biotech will be established there which will boost the community and regional economy.

vii. Centre of Excellence in Alternative Energy Development at University of Nigeria, Nsukka: Nigeria for decades and several African countries are plagued with erratic power supply which has made homes and businesses run on fossil fuel powered generators which pollute the environment and are harmful to human existence reducing life expectancy due to the poisonous chemicals they release into the atmosphere. Africa is blessed with abundant natural resources like the sun and wind which are alternative clean energy sources which do not harm the environment and humans as they are renewable. A Centre of Excellence in alternative renewable energy sources at UNN will solve a major problem for Africa and increase the continent’s GDP and the regional economy as their entrepreneurial acumen will be fully exploited to actualize their potentials.

viii. Centre of Excellence in Manufacturing at Federal University of Technology, Owerri: The Igbo people of South Eastern Nigeria are respected for their spirit of enterprise which is dominant in the commercial cities of Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba which they built after the Civil War and established industries that produce products in the automotive, leather and garment industries, household items, metal works, e.t.c without any form of government support. In an era where technology is disrupting the manufacturing industry and rewriting the rules of global competitiveness of manufactured products, a Centre of Excellence in Manufacturing should be established at FUTO since it is close to the manufacturing clusters in the East to innovate solutions to the problems the industrialists there face in the production of their goods and make them earn global appeal across the globe.

ix. Centre of Excellence in Fashion at Abia Polytechnic, Aba: Aba which is the MSME Hub of Nigeria hosts about 200,000 people in the fashion, leather and garment manufacturing chain. But lack of research and development in advanced technologies has made the cluster non competitive globally when compared with other clusters in London, Milan and Paris. An establishment of a COE will change the narrative and increase the contribution of the Aba fashion industry to the GDP of Abia State and will attract investors from all parts of the globe to support the ecosystem.

Also Centres of Excellence should be established in all Universities and Polytechnics in the South East to drive Research and Development in the following technologies which are the hallmark of the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Robotics and Intelligent Automation
  • Next Generation Computing
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Internet Of Everything
  • Blockchain
  • Virtual Reality
  • Augmented Reality
  • Additive Manufacturing
Technologies for industry 4.0 (source: researchgate)

Establishment of Innovation Parks: Innovation parks should be established in all the tertiary institutions in the South East where the innovations which are being developed at the Centres of Excellence will be developed to become finished products for consumers by startup companies which will be incubated at the park. The Innovation Park will be an ecosystem of it’s own because all the components which make up for one(Strong Collaboration with Universities and Polytechnics for R and D, Venture Capital, Industry support from the private sector, e.t.c) will be provided at the facility with state of art infrastructure to support technology innovation.

Establishment of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Offices in all the tertiary institutions: They should be established in all the universities and polytechnics to register patents on all the innovations coming from the research centres of excellence and also to facilitate technology transfer to companies that will want to commercialize the inventions. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Technology Transfer arm Yissum earns close to a billion dollars annually in sale of patents.

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