By Yakubu Musa
In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari pertinently and repeatedly gives us a wakeup call on the daunting challenges posed by the fourth industrial revolution.
“It is undoubtedly, however, that the technological revolutions will gather momentum in the next few decades, and will confront humankind with the hardest trials we have ever encountered. Any story that seeks to gain humanity’s allegiance will be tested above all in its ability to deal with the twin revolutions in infotech and biotech,” he brilliantly observed.
Yet in Harari’s eloquent summation, there seems to be not only the alarm bells ringing loudly in our ears but a conspicuous sense of foreboding about the fourth industrial’s Darwinian survival of the fittest nature, staring us in the face.
To put differently, it’s imperative to those who aspire to be the leading players of this inescapable revolution, and by extension the world itself, to be ready to not only cudgel brains but be able to commit resources toward achieving the goal.
Indeed there is no getting away from the fact that the ship will definitely set sail without those who fail to swiftly be on board, and the impact of the inertia will surely be staggeringly catastrophic.
The disruption that the ICT, for instance, is currently triggering around the world has already changed the narrative of global economic landscape. Ideas that would have been hitherto rejected as outright heresy are now the fulcrum of our economic realities. For the first time in our modern history, data is dislodging oil as the most important economic resource in the world. Innovative young chaps are replacing oil sheikhs on the Forbes’ list of global billionaires and the trajectory will assuredly remain, for many years to come.
Little wonder therefore financing of tech starts up and emerging companies had reached all-time high in 2017. In a space of half a decade, according to a GSMA publication, private equity companies, venture-capital firms and corporates had already invested a whopping $ 1.2 trillion in this respect.
If the rest of the world is, however, deliberately giving a special attention to innovation and even investing humongous amount of resources in funding cutting-edge researches on problem-solving, having fully appreciated the undeniable fact that there’s an established correlation between research and the quality of life they enjoy, in Nigeria also, we don’t have to look elsewhere for diagnoses of our failings.
Yet it can be stressed that this is where Prof Umar Garba Danbatta, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is making a huge difference, deserving of our collective accolades.
Perhaps because he can boast of achieving a basketful of accomplishments like attaining the near-impossible national broadband penetration target, Danbatta’s strides on supporting research and innovation are escaping the media radar.
Like in the stories of the other impacts of his transformational leadership at the commission, Danbatta came to the NCC and met a situation whereby research and development efforts were being coordinated at unit level. He transformed it into a full-fledged department.
Leveraging on two of his famous 8-Point Agenda, promoting ICT Innovation and Investment opportunities, as well as facilitating strategic collaboration and partnership, Danbatta opened the door wide and extended the hand of collaboration to the academia to unleash its research potential.
“You know the telecommunications industry is dynamic. New technologies are daily emerging and new challenges too. And through research and development we can find solutions to challenges in the industry as well as improve on the services that actors in the industry provide to Nigerians.
“This we can we do by leveraging experience, the huge knowledge residents in the Nigerian Universities. And you have seen there’s a diverse representation of research proposals from the universities. And we are hoping that together these proposals will bring about prototypes that in turn we can commercialise hopefully in the not distant future in order to revive the manufacturing sector of the economy,” said the Professor of telecommunication engineering, while answering questions from reporters at a ceremony organised to endow professorial chairs at two of the nation universities recently.
Yet some of us may still ask: why is it that it’s the regulator that is seizing the momentum by the scruff of its neck instead of the industry itself?
Mr. Ephraim Nwokonneya, the Director, Research and Development of the commission has a convincing answer.
“We are getting involved because unlike in the advanced countries where the industry drives and funds research, here it has been lethargic in that respect.”
Nwokonneya, who showered encomiums on the NCC boss for the big push he has given to research and development, said Prof Danbatta is man who walks the talks by putting research and development in the front burner of the agency.
“Professor Danbatta has recognized the fact that the industry is saturating in some certain segments like the voice services, and a lot of growth opportunities are in broadband, value added services, data services, and opportunities can be unlocked using research and development,” he explained.
At least no fewer than 26 research projects sponsored by the commission in various tertiary institutions are currently ongoing, with two already in a collusive stage.
These include: fabrication of GSM communication based walking cane robot (GWCR), design and construction of a power line communications modem for domestic LAN, and development of secure prototype and framework for data harvesters and monitoring system to secure large farm, among others.
All said and done, while the Danbatta-led NCC’s stride in stimulating the industry through research and development isn’t purely rooted in Harari’s “cornucopia of doomsday scenarios”, it goes without saying that, it’s undeniably a brainchild of the transformational leadership at the helm of affairs of the regulatory agency.
The young imaginative innovators that the commission sponsored to the ITU Telecom World in Busan, South Korea, two years ago, had given the rest of the world the glimpse of what we could expect by sweeping all the silverwares. All eyes are now on the academia to come up with the prototypes that can put Nigeria on the map of global system of innovation.