ANDREW MUST GO BACK HOME

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ANDREW MUST GO BACK HOME:
CAPTURING NIGERIAN EXPERTISE & SKILLS IN THE DIASPORA

By

 

Chukwuemeka Uche Onuora

cuonuora@hotmail.com

 

 

Address to Concurrent Panel Discussion I at the NIDO conference in Atlanta, October 18, 2003.

Good day Mr. Chairman and Mr. Co-Chairman, Mr. Minister, Mr. Rapporteur, my other co-panelists, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I wish to dwell briefly on the subject of knowledge and its desired impact on the socio-economic and socio-political reality of the Nigerian experience.

I want to thank The Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) for convening this National Conference. Though some might take offence to my use of that controversial term (either because they feel that I am trivializing it or because they don't want any discussion along those lines to occur), it is an apt description of what we have gathered here to do today.

That we do so far away from home, and far removed (some will say insulated) from the harsh realities on the ground in our beloved country Nigeria, should be instructive to our perceptions and indicative of the underlying theme of the conference. That so many skilled and qualified Nigerians have been forced or precipitated into exile is an over flogged dead horse. That we are here to discuss ways of transferring the knowledge and skills that we have earned in our long sojourn (bravely weathering the vagaries of an alien society and experience) back home, is a sign that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Nigerians in all walks of life, without and within the geographical boundaries of the Federal Republic are fed up with the situation. They have expressed this by criticizing, by demonstrating, by emigrating, and by a siddon-look apathy that doesn't bode well for our society. We must now move from being detached agitators, to becoming an informed and coherent participator in the determinants of our society.

My role in this, first as a Black Man, second as an African, third as a Nigerian, and fourth as an IT Entrepreneur, all of which confer on me concurrent rights as a stakeholder in this struggle, is to articulate, elucidate, manipulate, and participate in the determinants of our society's fate.

In the course of our discussions here today, I will try as much as possible to be diplomatic in my references to the government of the day in Nigeria, being that we have a diplomat on our panel. However, having said that, I am a firebrand (some may say a radical) and I sometimes find it difficult, if not impossible, to temper my blunt observations with the "diplomatese" and deference that officially-affiliated fora such as these, are accustomed to.

Let me start at the very top and try to encapsulate the ethos of knowledge as a commodity. The basic quantum of knowledge in the strict computational sense is the binary digit, a one or a zero. A collection or accumulation of said binary digits in different combinations or permutations constitute data. Organized, indexed, archived and retrievable data is described as information. And a specialized, highly-introspective, innovative, and skillfully manipulated body of information becomes a commodity we call knowledge. This commodity, knowledge, can be employed as a lever for amplifying enterprise, expertise, and labor, becoming as a result, the locomotive for change, and the key to wealth creation.

That the world has become "globalized" (to borrow a term from the newspeak of the 21st century) is a forgone conclusion. Indeed all the factors of production and economic activity have become crystallized into or gravitate towards this broadening phenomenon called knowledge. Whether it is in the case where capital pursues it, labor is manipulated by it, land is multiplied by it, or entrepreneurship deploys it; knowledge has become the common denominator of economic expansion and consolidation. It has become both the architect and engineer of the fates of human societies. My compatriot, Chris Uwaje, said it best when he averred that "knowledge is the only commodity that multiplies when shared".

To paraphrase my elementary school mathematics, it is both the Highest Factor Common to economic consolidation and the Lowest Multiple Common to economic expansion. It drives societies and empowers citizens; in short, it is the judge, jury, and executioner in the argument for societal renaissance.

That being said, knowledge has its main characteristics or adjectives. These constitute the quadrilateral commission on the knowledge commodity. I have termed them the What, When, Who, and How of knowledge. All of these characteristics must be in harmony in order for a knowledge culture to emerge in a non-knowledge enthused society such as ours.

We haven't always been a society that discounts knowledge or its merits. But in the ensuing years of our political independence from Her Majesty (and I use that term pejoratively), when the military held sway over the affairs of a nation as diverse as ours, our knowledge base eroded to the point where we are at today. I must stress at this point that the maddening rush to acquire all manners of honorary and academic degrees, just to be able to show-off to our contemporaries in particular and society in general, isn't what I term knowledge. Knowledge cannot be acquired, it can't be given or awarded; it is earned. Learning never stops, it is a lifelong commitment to the pursuit and refinement of knowledge; innovative, original knowledge. Sorry for the deviation; let us get back to the characteristics.

What you know is instructive to the knowledge economy because it encourages engaged participation in the economic process of wealth creation and societal development. In a world increasingly dominated by a sharp distinction between the know-its and the know-nots (which many have termed the digital divide), it is important for our society to embrace and encourage an environment that gives precedence to what you know.

When you know it is also important because in the dynamically mutating terrain of the knowledge economy, the speed at which you catch on to the latest developments in technological and business processes is the key to maintaining a semblance of proximity to the trendsetters of said economy. Also, the turn time for innovation has drastically reduced to the point that Moore's Law is fast becoming a misrepresentation of the valuable lifetime of a microprocessor.

How well you know what you know, is a further differentiation which pits the countries on the cutting-edge of innovation and change, against those that are mere consumers of the benefits of such innovation and change. The depth and detail of what you know, and how you can manipulate and apply that knowledge is one of the most important determinants of success in a knowledge economy.

Who you know in our society is our bread and butter. That is where we excel, and that is our downfall. The problem with a culture where who you know outweighs the collective effects or considerations of the preceding three characteristics, is that it encourages unbridled cronyism, endemic corruption, and pandemic greed. Greed is good in a sense, because it encourages competition, but in our case, it is our greed for the irrelevant things in life that eggs us on in our maddening quest to accumulate imported goods and services, at the detriment of our society. Those in the know (that is, those who have the connections within any society) trade on that insider knowledge and those personal relationships, but they do so at an overwhelming cost to the soul and conscience of our society. By locking out a significant percentage of Nigerians from the opportunities that would ordinarily accrue to those with a balance of the other three characteristics of knowledge, we have encouraged a veritable portion of that same knowledge base to flee the shores of our native land.

All entreaties to the contrary, exhorting these skilled and knowledgeable Nigerians to return or repatriate that knowledge to serve the interests of the fatherland, have fallen on deaf ears. And now, with the advent of the knowledge economy, when we realize the import of the dilemma that our sordid reality as placed us in, we have solemnly resolved, exiled and country-resident professionals alike, to do something about it. Hence, NIDO has convened this conference to address in broader themes (via various thematic panels), the national question as it relates to Nigeria's path to realizing her visions of greatness.

My proposal (which was informed by the proposals of other trailblazers such as Chris Uwaje), is to create a slew of technology hubs (or corridors or parks), for the acculturation of knowledge, the incubation of innovation, and the devolution of wealth. These could serve as breeding grounds for the kind of radical and innovative IKT fundamentalism that must take root in order for us to unleash the latent potentials of the Nigerian economic beast. For a number of reasons, I settled on creating such a hub in Abuja FCT (both as a model for emulation and as an encapsulation of our dreams to live as Nigerians, bound together in mutual respect and with a restored dignity). There are roles for the government, the private sector, and the innovators/entrepreneurs to play in this revolution. Together they form the Three Musketeers of Nigeria's IKT revolution, with the academic sector playing the role of D'Artagnan.

Now more than ever, Nigerians in the Diaspora must "retriple" their efforts and ensure that our role in history is not relegated to the role assigned to Nero, who was alleged to have fiddled while Rome, his fatherland, burned. Let us link up our efforts to those on the ground who are thinking along the same lines. Instead of building a bridge, let us become THE bridge across the digital divide, and step into this 21st century with the pride and confidence that was once lost, but is now found. We are all children of history, whether we like it or not. We will be remembered by history as the generation that stood idly by while our society died, unless we act now. It is time to check back in, Andrew must go back home. He owes it to his society to repatriate his knowledge and expertise, otherwise, his children will remain by the rivers of Babylon, weeping and remembering our Zion, from the inherited fables and mementoes of Andrew's hazy recollections. Thank you all.

 

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