The Group Chairman of Geometric Power Limited, Professor Barth Nnaji, has called on the federal government to jettison negative policies the country embraced in the mid-1980s and embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI) to leapfrog the country into the 10 most industrialised nations in this era of Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Nnaji, who was a former minister of Science and Technology, made this call recently in his convocation address during the 5th graduation ceremony of Michael & Cecilia Ibru University, Agbara-Otor, Delta State.
He stated in the address that it was sad that Nigeria did not fare much better with the Third Industrial Revolution, which is digital revolution and charged the government that, “now that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is known for Big Data, the Internet of Things, etc. is here, we need to learn from the past and quickly use it to leapfrog Nigeria into becoming one of the top 10 industrialised countries globally.”
According to him, “it is time to reverse the negative policies of the mid-1980s which have resulted in grave economic consequences. Let’s reset our trajectory positively so that we can leapfrog into the Fourth Revolution.”
He noted that negative economic policies retarded the country’s industrial development, weakened its export capacity and created the grounds for the country’s currency to crash from 70 kobo to a United States’ Dollar in 1977, to the current exchange rate of about N900 (90,000 kobo) to the dollar on the parallel market.
Nnaji, said for, “Nigeria to effectively leapfrog into the Fourth Revolution, we should quickly embrace AI. As some of you may be aware, I have a long-standing interest in this area.
“I did my Post-doctoral Fellowship in AI at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.
“When I joined the University of Massachusetts, I became not just a Professor of Engineering, but also the Director of the Automation and Robotics Laboratory, which had everything to do with the development of AI.
“While our research was for civil application, it sometimes found its way into military and security use. All this was long before AI became known to most people in the world.
“With Generative AI becoming the dominant issue among scientists, researchers, and policymakers in the world since last November when Open AI launched ChatGPT4, which has now upended the way we have known the world, it is only natural that Nigeria understand what it is as quickly as possible.”
He added that, “Nigeria must embrace AI on an industrial scale. AI is set to transform every aspect of the world—healthcare, research, education, business, etc. the way no revolution has done instantly. With AI, almost everything will be done much faster, much cheaper, and much more accurately.”
Nnaji, advocated that the federal government should lead the charge of AI development in Nigeria through appropriate policy adoption and implementation, as well as the creation of the right environment.
According to him, “tariffs on IT equipment need to be reduced drastically. The training of IT specialists must be taken more seriously. IT institutions must be given pride of place. The Ministry of Communication and Creative Economy should be recognised as a critical ministry for rapid national development. The same thing goes for the Ministry of Science and Technology.
“Nigeria should prioritise Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) just as India did. In the case of India, the whole world is today witnessing tremendous results, from solid food security to advanced manufacturing on to sophisticated IT to advanced medical tourism and now to moon and sun exploration!”
He traced the country’s scale of participations in the four industrial revolutions that shaped the world economy and tasked the federal government to lead the patronage of made in Nigeria products because “patriotism has a lot to do with rapid economic development.
“When we support local industries, we not only create jobs and business opportunities for our people, we also conserve foreign exchange.”
He added: “Nigeria, to some extent, joined the First Industrial Revolution, which is the agricultural revolution, and some achievements were made in areas such as groundnuts, cotton, rubber, cocoa, palm produce, etc.
“Many of these were raw materials for value-added products also produced in Nigeria. There were also various Government-led programs such as Operation Feed the Nation in 1976 and the Green Revolution in 1980.
“However, these agricultural development programs and policies to support private sector investment in agriculture were not continued by subsequent governments. Because the achievements were not sustained, they have not yielded the desired results for our economy.
“We also started the Second Industrial Revolution which focused on industrialisation (i.e., added value). As described earlier, the government established various companies across our nation for this purpose. However, virtually all of them have failed.
“Sadly, we have not fared much better with the Third Revolution, which is the digital revolution. The good thing about the third revolution is that our younger generation has taken this on board, and they are not relying on our generation or the government to spearhead its development.
“We are, therefore, able to reap some rewards. However, we can achieve significantly higher results for our nation if their effort is well harnessed through a collaborative, well-coordinated program.
“Now that the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is known for Big Data, the Internet of Things, etc. is here, we need to learn from the past and quickly use it to leapfrog Nigeria into becoming one of the top 10 industrialised countries globally.
“One of the most effective things we can do as a nation to participate significantly in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to embrace relevant education.”