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What truly holds the North, Nigeria back

I once wrote an article titled ‘Open Grazing: A failure of imagination’ which generated many interesting comments. While majority of my readers agreed with my opinion,…

I once wrote an article titled ‘Open Grazing: A failure of imagination’ which generated many interesting comments. While majority of my readers agreed with my opinion, others saw it as ‘riding a wave’ of anti-Fulani sentiment. One of them went as far as equating my opinion and advocacy for the discontinuation of open grazing and declaring nomadic pastoralism unimaginative as an insult to my Fulani ancestry. Whereas these people are in the minority, I felt, at the time, the need to respond to them in the hope that they would understand that any debate that pitches innovation against tradition is irrelevant, insincere and out of tune with reason.

All over the world, every generation receives a legacy of knowledge from its predecessors that can be harnessed for progress, not adamantly stuck to in a fast-paced world with limited resources and quite different circumstances.

My arguments were simply that we should blend the new and the old and thereby chart our own development path within a broad technological trajectory. If we are to learn anything from the success of industrialised countries, it is that the ability to learn how to improve performance in a variety of fields like agriculture, institutional development, technological adaptation, trade, organisation, and the use of natural resources is what brings progress, not an adamant fixation on primitive, time-wasting and conflict-prone practices.

Also, it is indeed perfectly normal, even convenient for me to be modern and universal, on the one hand, and adhere to my identities as a Muslim, Fulani and Nigerian on another. If Nigeria, and particularly the North, is to excel, we must put a premium on learning and improving problem-solving skills as well as embody the understanding that reason, innovation, faith and tradition are not mutually exclusive.

Most of our expert opinions on innovation, technology, agriculture and other subjects are not borne out of the sheer academic study of these fields or a whimsical desire to appear learned. Some are informed by time-tested ideas and notions and are suggested in a bid to answer the hard questions around our collective prosperity, which often require a lot of imagination and the testing of new ideas.

It is against this backdrop that I say again, today, that the missing link in fostering agricultural and other transformations in Nigeria, and especially in the North is the inadequacy of the Nigerian government and indeed the private sector’s function as an active facilitator of technological learning and application.

Government actions will need to reflect the entrepreneurial qualities of innovation, sustainability and prosperity that characterise successful economies. The government should itself become entrepreneurial in its agility, discipline and leadership.

To use agriculture again in my examples, imagine if the CBN, with all its agricultural programmes had a mission-oriented approach, setting key targets and providing support to farmers to help them meet quantifiable goals instead of dishing out billions without recourse to a granular strategy and often sidelining key scientific stakeholders like the National Agricultural Seeds Council or the National Animal Production Research Institute.

The truth is, an innovation-driven, entrepreneurial and mission-oriented approach towards agriculture in Nigeria will require greater reliance on diverse ministries, departments and agencies, some of which lack the capacity to deliver the crucial activities.

However, we mustn’t altogether relegate them to the background instead of equipping them to be efficient. Besides, if the CBN must marshal Nigeria’s agriculture (in addition to the myriads of monetary policy and other apex banking functions it has) then perhaps adjustments are needed in its structure and functions to serve the purpose of integrating science, technology, and innovation in all sustainable agriculture-related areas of its intervention.

In all the tiers of government, systematic advice on science and innovation must be included routinely in policy making. According to Harvard Professor Calistus Juma, “Such advisers must have access to credible scientific or technical information drawing from a diversity of sources, including scientific and engineering academies. In fact, the magnitude of the challenge for regions like Africa is so great that a case could be made for new academies dedicated to agricultural science, technology, and innovation.”

At the global level, science, technology, and engineering diplomacy have become critical aspects of international relations. As such, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a responsibility to promote international technology cooperation and forge strategic alliances on related issues in all sectors.

There is much for Nigeria to learn and adopt through mediums like the South-South Cooperation, which refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South. It is a tool used by the states, international organisations, academics, and even the private sector to collaborate and share knowledge, skills and successful initiatives in specific areas such as agricultural development.

It goes without saying, however, that all of this begins with strengthening our internal capability in science and innovation as a government and across multiple sectors of our economy, with a huge emphasis on agriculture.

The aspects of our culture or tradition that hinder innovation and technology, especially in vital areas like agriculture, medicine, trade and organisation are indeed detrimental to our progress. Those who chose to take sides against an inevitable future are only wasting our time as the world progresses through this zero-sum game. Nigeria doesn’t need them, and the North certainly needs to confront and deal with them once and for all to excel.