Nigeria’s transition to knowledge-based economy | By Gbenga Kayode

In view of the latest developments in critical areas of human endeavour in recent times, experts are reported to have discovered that pressures to increase the role of information and knowledge in modern national economies have spurred a wide-ranging discourse about the kinds of competencies young people and adults now need to attain higher performance.

With the recent realisation, therefore, by a good number of global economies, of the fact that the conventional education, predominantly hinged on basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, usually as the starting point, are no longer enough for today’s success in the workplace.

And that is the fundamental reason why one believes Nigeria and Nigerians ought to prepare and get ready to catch up with the rest of the globe, if theirs is to attract the benefits of a knowledge-based economy and obviously remain competitive in this globalised world.

Analysts, who are well-versed in identifying the fundamental parameters of what actually makes modern economies tick, have similarly stressed the significance of new or changing competencies which are now highly valued in the labour market.

In addition to the basic foundation or core skills garnered from formal education through schools, colleges and universities, professionals have thus discovered that there is a need for what is currently described as “upskilling”, in terms of the growth of white collar, high-skill jobs, now evident both within manufacturing and service sectors of certain advanced economies worldwide.

For instance, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), based in Paris, France, the term ‘knowledge-based economy’ results from a fuller recognition of the role of knowledge and technology in economic growth.

Therefore, with the extensive acknowledgment of the place of knowledge and technology in modern, digital economy by particularly the OECD countries, theirs are now largely and increasingly based on knowledge and information to attain new socio-economic heights. And Nigeria’s cannot afford to lag behind in this regard, too.

In other words, knowledge is now recognised as “the driver of productivity and economic growth”. Consequently, there is said to be a new focus on the role of information, technology and learning in economic performance in the OECD economies.

Again, research has revealed that the rise of knowledge-based industries in certain economies in the international system, including in vital areas such as microelectronics, biotechnology, telecommunications, robotics, and computers, undeniably, has improved the lives of millions of people and brought enormous wealth to individuals, companies, and nations at large.

Peradventure taking a cue from the OECD economies, there is currently an implied attempt by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan to enhance his Administration’s expressed desire for marked change and transformation in the foremost areas of the nation’s economy.

It is interesting to note that last year, in his attempt at underscoring his Administration’s sincerity of purpose in this regard, President Jonathan distributed copies of a voluminous book entitled:  From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000, by Lee Kuan Yew, to each of his Federal Ministers and a retinue of Special Advisers constituting his Executive Cabinet in Abuja, the nation’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

One believes the copies, of course, are meant for these Government officials to read, internalise and apply the useful nuggets contained in the publication. This they actually need in the process of making a practical application of the lessons learnt while discharging their assigned responsibilities in their respective ministries.

Interestingly, the publication is highly recommended as one that has apparently chronicled and detailed the 35-year earnest efforts, sacrifice and hard work put into the socio-economic transformation of  Singapore, one of the Asian tigers playing it big in the international system as of now. Research has also indicated that other countries that are fast transitioning to a knowledge-based economy include Romania, India, Qatar and Malaysia among others.

Granted, that the Federal Government must have obviously impressed it on its currently serving ministers and presidential aides to hit the ground running and make good things happen in Nigeria’s struggling struggling economy straightaway. Yet, how about the rest of the Nigerian citizenry? How would the powers that be carry them along on its stated national transformation agenda? How, perhaps through massive value re-orientation and national renaissance, do the populace subscribe to this hypothetically promising transformation arrangement of the Jonathan Administration?

In clear terms, there is no gainsaying the fact that there are supplementary workplace competencies needed in the knowledge economy that we so desire. For instance, we all need to pay more than the usual passing attention and interest to ensuring that we consciously inch up the Nigerian working population’s communication skills, problem-solving skills, teamwork and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills to herald a new economic order.

All these are needed in the much expected socio-economic, political, educational and cultural transformations in the nation’s economy. More so, as they are sometimes described by some as “non-academic skills”, these are key areas of improvement which are becoming imperative and complementary to basic core or foundation skills that many Nigerians currently possess, both in public and private sectors. The era of overdependence on and oftentimes reported misapplication of oil wealth should no longer be an acceptable way of life in the land.

It should be realised that Singapore, a country hitherto said to be on the same economic pedestal with Nigeria some decades back, is now occupying a front seat in the league of economically viable nations with marked growth and improvement in its major human development indices. This is promising in that, with genuine efforts, hard work, sacrifice and honesty of purpose on the part of the leadership and the following, besides the meaningful contribution of the Organised Private Sector (OPS), Nigeria indeed, can achieve its Vision 20: 20-20 objective as planned.

Shedding more light on the incontrovertible significance of the need to evolve a knowledge-based economy is Nigerian-born Philip Emeagwali, who was once described by former United States President Bill Clinton as “one of the great minds of the Information Age”.  

For instance, in the former’s recent article on the way forward after 50 years of “African Independence” from the Colonial Rule, in Africa Telecom & IT Magazine, he had opined that “looking forward 50 years, I foresee that nations delivering information and communication technologies will indirectly rule Africa,” of course, including Nigeria, his homeland.

Emeagwali as well emphasised how discoveries and inventions that increase wealth and reduce poverty “are the ‘heroes’ of science and technology…,” adding, “the Internet is a technology that connects people and connects with people in a way that will forever remain deep and enduring.”

Thus, the much-required transition to a knowledge-based economy will require an honest and radical modification or reformulation of government policies, spending habits, business practices, workforce training and compensation, and even cultural patterns and beliefs to attain this noble goal.

From now on, the nation’s leadership deliberately, must fast track the adoption and implementation of the new national ICT Policy document recently submitted for inputs from stakeholders.  The Government in partnership with the private sector players, need to invest heavily in quality and practical education. This will encourage modernisation, new thinking, processes, procedures and innovative concepts that herald sustainable development.

Nigeria should constantly be on the necessary voyage of discovery and search for new knowledge to resolve its seemingly overwhelming growth and development challenges and subsequently create wealth. The time to kick-start this all-important process is now.

 

Gbenga Kayode is a media professional and Managing Director/CEO, Wordkraft Communications Limited, Lagos, Nigeria.

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