Tech-U: Leading Nigeria’s Technological Devt

Toyin Falola

In a lecture titled ‘Technology, Culture and Society’, Prof. Toyin Falola charged the First Technical University, Ibadan to live up to its name by facilitating the development of the society through modern technology, and by grooming a generation of problem solvers and financially stable individuals who would compete well in globally dynamic markets. Kemi Olaitan reports

When Prof. Toyin Falola recently mounted the rostrum to deliver the first Distinguished Annual Lecture of the First Technical University (Tech-U), Ibadan, which has emerged as one of the leading universities in Nigeria, according to the latest Webometric ranking, he was on a familiar ground as he held his audience spellbound for the over one hour that the lecture lasted.

Indeed, his records speak for him, a world renowned scholar, the Ibadan-born Falola is the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and most recently the Kluge Chair of the Countries and Culture of the South, the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

A global icon in African Studies, Falola is a celebrated author, editor, writer, poet, academic leader, organiser, teacher, pan-Africanist and a visionary of extraordinary grace, talent and accomplishments. An editor of over 160 books on Africa and the African Diaspora, he has been invited to speak in all continents, and in over 60 countries, and widely proclaimed as Africa’s preeminent historian and one of the major intellectuals of our time. Many of his books have received awards, defined various fields, and inspired the writings of various critical works while he manages six distinguished scholarly monograph series and serves on the board of over 20 journals.

Present at the ceremony where the Chancellor of the university, Dr. Tunde Afolabi; the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, represented by the Deputy Governor, Rauf Olaniyan; former Governor of the state, Abiola Ajimobi, represented by Dr. Isiaka Kolawole; the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the university council, Prof. Oyewusi Ibidapo-Obe, among other scholars and dignitaries within and outside the country.

Falola in the 142-page lecture titled ‘Technology, Culture and Society’, and divided into nine parts, said beginning from the industrial revolution in the mid- nineteenth, the dependence of society on technology for political power, economics and other key factors of daily life has increased exponentially, stating that in the modern world, houses are constructed with smart features, cities with Wi-Fi and connectivity, and government with digitised facets.

While noting that technology has a profound effect on the day-to-day life, as well as the world, he said with a colossal shift coming to the arena of manufacturing most especially with the rise of accurate robotics, several jobs have become unavailable to human workers and traded in to cheaper and more efficient robotic models.

“The impact of this job loss has resulted in massive layoffs, and now more than ever before, workers are returning to their education in order to enhance their skills. Furthermore, still current students are as a consequence, encouraged so to be excellent workers to cope with the competitive job market. Accompanying the rise of manufacturing machines, an increase in artificial intelligence or AI technology can also be observed.

“These smart programmes are what constitute digital assistants and reduce the job market. By substituting machinery and technology for previously human held jobs, a cultural shift is accelerated that calls for better, smarter, more apt human workers, who are part of the education revolution. This can be seen in an abundance of statistics, such as that while in the past four year college degrees have led to several managerial level posts, in the recent years, a four year degree has proved to be the basic requirement for almost any job, instead of a high school diploma as was the case in the late 20th century. Since the decline of manufacturing and other blue collar jobs, and the popular use of automation, the landscape of employment has been impacted drastically by technology,” he said.

On the connection between technology and culture, Falola argued that it would be difficult to imagine where the world would be today without the technologies that are available at people’s fingertips, adding, “we live in a world more interconnected than ever before, no thanks to the internet and advanced technological devices.

“The notion of the world as a ‘global village’ is purely an attribute of modern technology. With the power to share anything and everything across the globe, culture and society have been fundamentally transformed by modern technology. The internet has revolutionised the way we hear news, share information, connect with others, and present ourselves. In many ways, rapidly advanced technology has positively benefitted culture and society, bridging people from different countries and languages, giving every person a platform to express their thoughts, and making information readily available and accessible.

“At the same time, with the progression of worldwide digital connection come many new challenges and problems, including the invasion of privacy, unreasonable expectations for young internet users, widespread misinformation and fake news, and de-socialisation.

“In the last decade alone, internet culture has exploded onto a global stage. According to Internet World Stats, there were about 1.5 billion internet users in the world in 2008. As of June 2018, that number has almost tripled with 4.2 billion people (55 per cent of the world population) having access to the internet. In terms of social media, as of August 2018, Facebook has 2.2 billion monthly users, YouTube has 1.9 billion, Instagram has 1 billion, and Qzone, a Chinese-based social media platform, has over half a billion active users.

“At the click of a button, we can watch a video filmed on the other side of the world, read the news in a hundred different languages, or talk to a community of strangers stationed at every corner of the globe. We choose who to trust, who to follow, and what news we read. We go beyond our own culture, our own community. We can listen to people we will never meet. In a way, we can travel the world without lifting a finger. The real question is whether the internet is our tool to connect with the world, or if it has become our world.”

He therefore stressed the need for the First Technical University, which he said is long overdue in a country as big as Nigeria, to understand the task ahead and must come to an understanding like the proverbial alms giver; its socio-cultural environment must be in good condition before it can provide needed solution to its environs.

According to him, the university, having its location in the city of Ibadan, has a responsibility to provide technological solutions to the myriad of social challenges that it is confronted with, adding that the best method to undertake the daunting task is by asking various questions that workable answers can be given to.

“As we are certain that our cultural heritage, economic outputs and social benefits are assured in a technologically-enhanced society, the university and indeed the society stand to benefit immensely from the embrace we are making with technology,” he said, stressing that the impact technology would make on the country’s path to greatness is immeasurable.

“I must concede that the offered courses in the First Technical University spell clearly their social and educational mandates and the roads to achieving these goals have been cleverly mapped out. Courses such as Mechatronics Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Food Sciences and Technology, Cyber Security, Computer Science, Software Engineering, Physics with Electronics, Petroleum Engineering, Industrial Chemistry and Statistics show exclusively that the university’s planners are in tune with the educational currency of the global community and are committed to making ground-breaking accomplishments in this respect. Coupled with the fact that they are combining intelligence with skills acquisition, they are, as a result, paving ways for a generation of problem solvers and financially stable individuals who would compete well in globally dynamic markets.”

The Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and Historical Society of Nigeria tasked the new government in the state and other stakeholders to see the university as theirs.

“The First Technical University belongs to you and me, to the city, to Nigeria, to Africa and to the world. It deserves our full support. Its products – students, research, patents, etc will transform this great city. Its growth will put the city and the country on the map. Its achievements in the years to come will surely produce our best minds.”

In his remarks, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Ayobami Salami highlighted the achievements of the institution in less than two years, including featuring in the Webometric Ranking. Other achievements he said include unique entrepreneurship model; town and gown relations; unique funding model; technical vocational and entrepreneurship training; empowerment programmes and partnership with foreign universities.

The event also featured the inauguration of two units of 250-seater lecture theatres built by the representative of Governor Makinde; foundation laying of Phase one of IGR-funded Workshop/Laboratory Complex, built by the chancellor; and the exhibition of products of the entrepreneurship and vocational training by students of the university.