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" The sad reality is that most of these graduates are becoming experts in negativity and why and how things cannot work..…”
..Isqil Najim

He went to school with intention of being a change maker. He was told that if he can be the best in his class he will build the best bridges, great automobiles and railroads. He was shown the images and works of great engineers and scientists. Albert Einstein is just too exalted not to be emulated. The discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton brought changes to science worlds, just as the work of many more distinguished scientists, and technologists all over.

Then he thought of Bill gates, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, Guglielmo Marconi and others and he pictures in his mind a glorified career path that can also bring him fame, money and respect. Driven by the inspiration of these great achievers, he went into school with resolve to work harder and to avoid anything that will or can distract him. He played and watched fewer sports programmes, he limited his social contacts and befriended his four figure table, calculator, and workshop suit….

As he devotes himself in his study, devouring books after books, sweating inside workshops and laboratories, and grinding metals after metals on different type of machines, to hone and develop his skills, his colleagues (in non-technical vocations) have extra time to spend on clubs and other social activities. He has little. Drenched in his overcoat (most of the time), he learned to cope with heat, oil and dirt while fabricating one material after the other. He learned to dress lightly and live simple. He learns the concept of hard work and dedication to duty. His trainings are all designed with such rigidity and requirement for attention to details. Mistakes are rarely tolerated-not in technical works. By the time he graduated from the college, he has sacrificed most of his social life for the profession. Victorious, he knew that the future holds better promises, and he set out on a journey to the world…

Out of the college, he began another four years race, where he is expected to work even harder and translate his classroom knowledge into reality. The challenge is harder here and the stake higher. He needed to work for his professional certification and also his paycheque. With higher responsibility involved, he again fraternized more with machine tools and drawings (basically his works) while the bulk of his associates are those in same profession. After all said and done, the typical Nigerian engineer is rewarded with lesser pay and put in a “dignified kiosk” called office. He can’t go on strike, and he has to work harder for every level he attains in his postgraduate career…
More embarrassing is the fact that in today Nigeria, engineers are gradually being reduced into second class citizens. Most of their works are handled by foreigners while most of the top management positions handled by other professionals. Equipment in short supply; current and updated quality technical books/journals are scarce, just as training materials are substandard.

The man who has worked his way up to become an engineer soon discovers that that opportunity to harness the vast amount of skills acquired in schools are limited. Most ended in factory as operation engineer, maintenance engineers, supervisors etc; while most working with foreign firms are performing tasks designated for craftsmen and artisans. In this situation, the nation gradually kills most of her engineers.
Some divisions of engineering are more affected and this makes me think there is need to revise our national curriculum to meet the reality of our national technological demands. Of what use is sponsoring youths to go through rigorous trainings, and spend the most productive years of their life in an undertaking, that the nation have no use of? It is like we are training our youths for the sake of it. We trained them and then ask them to go out and fend for themselves… Even when they have the skills we do not provide the environment for them distinguish themselves.

I understand some youths still go to college to learn automobile engineering (it was my first choice) whereas the nation has no ambition to develop her auto industry! At most the automobile engineers in Nigeria will be assembling cars and tricycles already made in other countries. The rest of the jobs can be handled by the technologists and technicians. And where some engineers has taken gallant steps toward conceptualizing their vision for auto-industry, the policy makers have often been found wanting. What happen to the young man who made helicopter? And what happen to Nigerian domestic industry?

What about electrical engineering? How many of these highly skilled are given opportunity to apply their skills? As the nation reel in darkness and the businesses suffer, what policy has been put in place to encourage these talented youths to solve the problems? It will presupposed that we have no qualified engineers to solve our energy crisis, but when you take inventory of our homegrown professionals going outside the country only to make great impact in their host countries, you will understand the extent of the neglect. This is just as example. In telecom industry, electronics, etc same stories are all recorded.

Civil engineering has been faring better than others perhaps because of the nature of their works. However, this doesn’t mean they are better. They have more opportunities than their counterparts in mechanical and electrical engineering because most of the materials needed for their works can be sourced locally. And because it seems easier to set up civil engineering works in Nigeria than building machines and factories to start electrical or mechanical engineering works. With right application of knowledge and mobilization of workforce, civil engineers can perform wonder. Another observation is the fact that since pre-independent Nigeria, civil engineers has been the forerunners when it comes to technology development.  Nigerian civil engineers especially in the built industry, road construction have no excuse to cry for lack of tools. But then, government has been overlooking them in many projects in favour of foreign contractors.

Many (technical) sectors of the economy remain underdeveloped. Petroleum sector however is doing fairly well due to the strategic importance to the nation’s economy. Railways sector is in comatose. Despite its importance to the nation’s development, no single university can boast of specialization in this sector in Nigeria. If there is any, I have not been seeing it. It will look as if Nigerian railway sector has been doomed to remain in the past despite being the pioneer in transport sectors and despite it relevancy in today Nigeria. Shipping industry is being championed by the Navy and they are doing quite okay. Aeronautical and space engineers are trained outside the country. Many new technologies entering the country are not treated in Nigerian universities and polytechnics; yet, we graduate thousands of engineers in saturated disciplines and continue to wonder why we are not developing.

As I write this, I am looking at a publication in which one of the State’s first ladies is promising jobs to graduates in the state. The jobs to be created are barbing, fashion designing, shoe making and jewelry! I cringe at the thought that among the participants will be talented engineers and scientists with strong technical background.

Here is a state with many minerals and fallow farmland: A state with fertile land for cultivation of sugarcane. In their cluelessness and lack of idea and innovation, they fail to see the connection between sugarcane and renewable energy. They fail to understand that if they can develop a strong programme for sugarcane, they can build and develop Ethanol industry and even earn foreign exchange. They failed to see the high earning that is accruable to the state and the number of jobs that can be created from this alone. Like sugarcane, they can easily look deeper and challenge these idle young professionals to create and develop the land. They have failed woefully in identifying potentials and their only escape is to stick to the duplication of jobs in areas already saturated.

Who does not know how to shave or have haircut? And how about developing the local textile (Aso Oke/Adire etc) and challenging the local engineers, technologists and scientists to develop machines and techniques in this regard? I was even told that in another state, some of the beneficiary of the new jobs are turned into environmental officers where they will be busy making sure that road sweepers clean the highways and housewives wash their hands before cooking! If this is the road to attainment of vision 2020, then it is a sure road to servitude and crisis. It is a joke of a vision.

Those engineers with first class grades are being gracefully accepted into banking and allied industries. Where they put all their knowledge into use as cashiers and tellers! What a way to midwife our nation into technologically developed country!

As I meditate on this, I realize that we are all guilty. The schools, the individuals and the professional bodies are as guilty as the government and policy makers. Nations make progress when all concerned share the vision of the progress. No nation will make progress when more talks are recorded than their works.

In concluding this, I opine that we must come back to basics and look inward. The universities, the professional bodies and regulators must urgently look into our technological need and chart a way forward for the nation development in the next 20 years. There is surely need for revision of our schools’ curricula unless we want to continue to produce sophisticated graduates that we do not need. The sad reality is that most of these graduates are becoming experts in negativity and why and how things cannot work. Nigerian engineers cannot continue to fly against the wind. The nation cannot afford to be spending so much on training of engineers only to deprive them the opportunity and environment to excel.  As with engineers, so are scientists and technologists affected

Engineering is the bedrock of development of serious nations, when engineers get it right, the scientists will have the hope that their inventions and discoveries will be put into good use and the society will have the hope that all those theories are translated to useful concepts and techniques that benefit them all. In the end, everyone will benefit from the final works as community move forward; to greatness, to better quality of lives and social stability.

We must find a way of harnessing the talents available to us and ensure they work for the good of all.

Isqil Najim

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