INTERVIEW: How Nigeria can maximise benefits of Rivers Niger, Benue – U.S.-based Scientist (3)

In the concluding part of this engrossing interview with Bunmi Fatoye-Matory, Bamidele Omotowa, a Nigerian U.S.-based Chemist, Nuclear Scientist, and

In the concluding part of this engrossing interview with Bunmi Fatoye-Matory,
Bamidele Omotowa, a Nigerian U.S.-based Chemist, Nuclear Scientist, and Co-Founder of Pearlhill Technologies, says Nigeria can envision alternative approach to stimulate science, technology, job-creation and economic development.

You can read the first part of the interview here, and the second part here.

PT: What can Nigeria do to take advantage of her scientists?

Omotowa: During 1970-1984, Brazil spent $19.6 billion to construct the Itaipu hydroelectric dam on the Parana River on the border between Brazil and Paraguay for installed capacity of 14,000 MW. Approximately 10,000 families living beside the Parana River were displaced during the construction.

This project has established potential for Brazil’s 285 million people in the modern industrialisation age and beyond. The impact has helped to place Brazil as a key member of BRICS nations (an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), perhaps second most prestigious global economic block, after the G8 industrialised nations.

Similarly, China’s Three Gorges Dam, built at a cost US$22.5 billion, is home to hydroelectric power station along the Yangtze River with installed capacity 22,500 MW. Along with producing electricity, the dam has increased the shipping capacity and reduced the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. China regards the project as monumental and as a success socially and economically. Funding sources include the Three Gorges Dam Construction Fund, profits from the Gezhouba Dam, loans from the China Development Bank, loans from domestic and foreign commercial banks, corporate bonds, and revenue from both before and after the dam is fully operational.

An important function of the dam is to control flooding, which is a major problem for the seasonal river of the Yangtze. Millions of people live downstream of the dam, with many large, important cities like Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai situated adjacent to the river. Plenty of farm land and China’s most important industrial area are built beside the river. China relocated several millions of residents of 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages for the construction of the dam.

Benue flood. [Photo credit: Bella Naija]

The environmental impact included emissions, erosion and sedimentation, earthquakes and landslides, waste management, forest cover, wildlife, culture and aesthetics, national security, structural engineering integrity.

These challenges put age-old cultural beliefs to test, advance native expertise at solving problems and find their limits, justify the urgency to level-up with available global approach to solving local problems, and create vision for commerce for the next generations, and create a need for policy to manage labor immigration, and new settlers.

These projects describe how we could envision alternative approach to stimulate science, technology, job-creation, and economic development in Nigeria.

Since 1979, Cameroon has alerted Nigeria to the existential risk of the reservoirs water of Lake Nyos. Unpredictable overflooding would force Cameroon to release overflow downstream through the Benue basin all the way through Onitsha to the sea.

There is need to develop a response to this threat as a national security priority. Perennial flooding of this basin has frequently caused flooding all the way from Mubi region through Makurdi to Onitsha, Bayelsa to the sea. The anticipated catastrophe is expected to have the capacity to claim almost a million lives in Nigeria when it happens. The encroaching Sahara Desert endangers the arable land of Northern Nigeria.

Nigeria could explore channeling the overflows of Rivers Niger and Benue to strategically create new waterways to increase arable land in Northern Nigeria. This could result in up to five per cent increase of Nigeria’s agricultural output. As references, New York with 10 million people and Los Angeles with about seven million people use water sourced from 200-400 miles away.

The legendary erosion of Eastern Nigeria soil is an existential problem that we can carefully consider and target for long-term ecological, economic, engineering and socio-cultural development. These projects show the need for new ways to transport goods by rail, appropriately skilled workforce, support infrastructure, and social organisation.

Perhaps new towns will be created by the need. A growing society will advance our citizenship. Our mining capacity is currently very limited to non-processing activities, as has been our agricultural output.

By defining our burning objectives through government and legislative instruments, the young Nigerians can rapidly move science and technology to produce output that will rival and perhaps many-folds of our current earning from oil production. Nigeria’s population can be an asset.

Nigeria may even see the value to unleashing her secret weapon – education of resourceful and capable women of northern extraction. We must seek national and local leaders that think to solve society’s problems. The financing method for these mass impact projects can be realised by fiscal probity. The Nigerian government has made major gains in this area, and continuity could lead the way to force cultural change to financial integrity in our economy.

If Senator Shehu Sani’s (APC, Kaduna Central District) comments in January 26, 2016 of Vanguard Newspaper that, “$200 billion was being stashed away in the United Arab Emirates” were accurate, then there are adequate private funds to construct the Brazilian and the Chinese dams together, perhaps many times over, within Nigeria. Our elected government and legislature have a significant role to play to facilitate project financing and return guarantee for national development.

Senator Shehu Sani [Photo credit: Instagram]

The emigration process helped Nigerian citizens abroad to broaden their scientific knowledge.

Nigerian scientists have a significant amount of scientific expertise, particularly based in the U.S. where they are given the opportunity, in large numbers, to develop their competitive skills at the highest levels. Of course, there is similar opportunity elsewhere but for far fewer numbers. We must consider this as a time-sensitive tangible bequeath, intended or not. It will not always be available to us, and it will be increasingly expensive to access this wealth-pool in future generations of Diaspora Nigerians.

Other countries, like China (1980s-to date) and India (2000s-to date), have tapped into their diaspora resources, their scientists in diaspora, to assist with native national development. As catalysts along this path, China authorised the construction of the Three Gorges River Dam Project in 1980, and has lifted about 675 million citizens from poverty in the past thirty years, 230 million in the recent decade alone, with only about 100 million Chinese still below poverty line as of 2017.

Diaspora Chinese played key roles to kick-start the reforms, and technical stimulation of their economy to current GDP of approximately $11.2 trillion (pop. 1.379 billion), rising sharply over the past two decades.

Similarly, Indian Prime Minister, Vajpayee came to the United States to offer fundamental changes to the relationship between India and its Diaspora. Citizenship rights reform were part of fundamental changes offered to invite and support diaspora Indians to facilitate bridging of technological expertise that limited India’s competitiveness. Subsequently, major technology companies moved to southern India in the recent two decades; and this has created what is today’s Bangalore high-tech hub.

India does not produce oil in any significant quantity, but the R&D facility of Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company is in Bangalore, not Nigeria. Surprised? It is a business decision. India’s GDP has grown steadily to $2.26 trillion (pop. 1.324 billion), at a less steep rate as China’s, but can be trailed to have gained steadily since the early 1990s.

Nigeria’s GDP is approximately $404.65 billion (pop. 0.190 billion). Diaspora Nigerians, including 381,000 census residents in the USA (2016) and 202,000 in the UK (2011), 28,000 in Canada (2011), about 10,000 in China (2016), and elsewhere, reportedly remit about $38 billion back home annually. Harnessing the Diaspora capacity, along with a careful integration into the youth economy, could see Nigeria approach a respectable $4 trillion-GDP economy for its projected population of 0.25 billion people at the end of the next two decades.

Current net oil revenue at below $75 billion with poorly skilled society will not lead us as far to our globally recognised potential. The rest of the world likely recognises the potential that we fail to envision.

Meanwhile, Diaspora Nigerians have significant expertise in academia or government institutions, but now urgently need to rapidly take huge risks to accelerate gains into executive management, Boards, and ownership of technology industries in globally competitive markets. The political parties must iterate and prioritise critical national goals, and plan for moving unemployed forty-year olds and younger out of poverty into employment. This could become a bequeath to future Nigerian children.

The youth in Nigeria can build an economy but our native culture and vision are not sufficient to be relevant in the global competition. No culture in Nigeria today has validated frameworks for science and commercialisation that currently challenge us. The Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) can help with this goal. They are driven by commercial success and will always adapt to succeed massively.

PT: You and your wife have trained your children through America’s most prestigious universities.Congratulations to your family. What should parents in America be mindful of in raising children here?

Omotowa: My thinking is that you must determine to give your children the best that fate will bring to them. I would avoid the mentality to be like everybody else. We need to encourage them to be their best in whatever they choose to do.

Living in urban centres is not particularly conducive in raising children because of the amount of idle time without parents’ oversight and there is potentially significant non-parent influence that help to develop distractive or lazy priority. It’s easier for children to pick up bad habits and bad company in big cities. Often, there are no neighbours to help through difficult times in the cities because people keep to themselves. It is good to find and move to neighbourhoods that support child rearing. Smaller cities could present the advantage that parents could be around to supervise the development of mind and priority of the children.

Reading to children is very important. An hour of reading to a child from the age of three is worth about twenty thousand dollars of accumulated tuition value by the time they’re ready to go to college. Reading promotes confidence, affirmation, skills, dreams and drive success in children.

As for the schools they attend, either private or public schools are alright, but parents must pay extra attention at the 7th grade, when they are about 13 years old, that they develop skills beyond academic life. They should be encouraged to develop leadership skills, not by bossing other children around, but by helping their peers who need help. They should be supported to participate in community development activities. It is important that children be taught humility and coping strategies against adversity. Compassion for the weakest in society should be ingrained into them.

Our children worked months-long as cleaner and sales person in a fast food restaurant; spoke Spanish well enough to interact effectively with fellow summer farmworkers on Idaho farms. During two different summer holidays, another spoke fluent French language, worked as a cleaner/custodian in a hotel, and on an assembly line ‘sweat shop’ with Idaho factory workers.

Of course, children should be encouraged to excel academically, especially taking advantage of Advanced Placement, Honors courses, and Dual enrolment in College Credit courses as high. College admission officers are increasingly taking notice of the breadth of a child’s non-academic achievements.

PT: How do you think we and our African-American cousins can work productively together?

Omotowa: Our African-American and African families were unequally disadvantaged in history. Nevertheless, disadvantaged. There are great opportunities to work together. A generation ago, we began the dialogue at the first World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in Dakar, Senegal in 1966; and continued at the second edition in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977.

Several African-American businessmen have visited the African continent on business exploration ventures. Late President Nelson Mandela, Nigeria’s General Olusegun Obasanjo (twice President), Ambassador Andrew Young Jnr and Reverend Jesse Jackson, as well as several other political and business leaders played pivotal roles in facilitating extensive understanding among members of our family. To date, the steady direct flight of Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Lagos, as the only American airline to do so in current adverse economic situation is testament to the commitment of Ambassador Young (as a former member of the Board) to keep open the bridge for cultural exchange.

We really need to work together as a team. Following those elders of both communities, we must strive to move past challenges to reach for the higher goals of improving our economics, security, and positioning in the global affairs. We need to help each other.

The advancement of African-Americans is a great opportunity for Africa to create one or many paths to its growth to glory on the world stage. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Former U.S President, Barack Obama [Photo Credit: indianexpress.com]

Recently, people who think little of us have sought to diminish the rise of former President Obama by characterising him as different from African-American slavery history. The same school of thought has labelled continuously challenged African economies and Haiti’s as “shitholes”.

The same mindset could have similarly labeled China in the years of her re-discovery between 1860 and 1980. At the least, Chinese history has taught mankind that periods of nationhood are not frozen frames but are feedstock for emerging new powers. People of African ancestry have made significant progress and could write the next chapter in advancing humans. We must work together when opportunity presents itself to advance progress on both sides of the Atlantic.

PT: Thank you.

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