The importance and features of global competitiveness of tertiary institutions, undergraduates, graduates, staff and their programmes is a huge topic to which I cannot do justice in a few minutes of a public lecture.
However, from my perspective, the main challenges to today’s Nigerian tertiary education system hindering institutions, students and academic staff from being internationally and globally competitive include issues of quality, access, and relevance; and productivity, research and innovation. We need to redefine and then internalise a tertiary educational system which will reward the demonstration of core values, as well as respect the need for frugal and careful economic planning that will serve our purpose within the framework of real academics.
Quality: To be a bit specific, when the University of Ibadan started nearly 67 years ago, it admitted and graduated just a few hundred candidates each year. From their performance, our students were evidently of the highest quality within the commonwealth and many were globally competitive. The University of Ibadan, Legon University in Ghana, and Makerere University in Uganda were classified as world class universities.
Access: But a major problem has evolved: that of access. Many of the young men and women though potentially qualified, could not get access to be admitted to the University of Ibadan and indeed the subsequently established ‘first generation universities’. Today, we have about 146 universities – federal, state, and private. From available statistics, we have about 500,000 (or about a third) gaining admission.
Relevance: A recent publication quoted the National Universities Commission, NUC, as lamenting the death of research in Nigerian Universities. Even more serious, is the fact that, with respect to that our universities understand the seriousness of the need to address in curriculum and research, the vital issues that will meet the country’s socio-economic challenges.
The issues of quality, access, and relevance must be addressed before Nigerian tertiary institutions can be globally competitive.
One approach to addressing the tertiary institutional challenges identified above is to find ways to do things differently. Einstein is often quoted as saying: ‘You cannot continue to do things the same way and expect different results.’
The tertiary educational system can use ICT (Information and Communication Technology) tools to address the above challenges to tertiary education above. I am happy to report that the Niger Delta University, NDU, where I serve as Chairman of Council has all it campuses – the Main Campus, Extension Campus and the College of Health Sciences in Amassoma – and the law Campus in Yenagoa – connected to the internet with Wifi, utilizing bandwidth from the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigerSat 1R) that we launched about 4 years ago.
The implication of this is that, the NDU staff and students have access to the same information in science, technology, research, arts and literature, etc. as their counterparts in Harvard, MIT, John Hopkins, Cambridge and Oxford. This provides the opportunity for staff and students to have access to the information that will make them globally and internationally competitive. It is my hope that Nigerian higher institutions and other schools will take a cue from NDU to utilise ICT for enhancing the quality of the education of their students.
How do we ensure that all that knowledge – indeed expensive knowledge – gathered over the years – particularly the knowledge of science, engineering, technology, mathematics – is mobilized to work for us to be globally competitive in terms of our ability to create jobs and improve the quality of life and sustain the well-being of all our people?
I am now forced to refer to my book published two years ago, titled “Why Run Before Learning to Work: Reflections on High Technology as the Strategic Tool for Development in Nigeria”. In the introductory page, I stated that Nigeria as a country – its government and institutions – have not fully utilised our natural resources and human capacities and knowledge of science and technology to make us internationally competitive. So what are key things we must do to ensure our capacities, products and services are globally competitive?
Federal, state and local governments must initiate policies and laws to ignite the use of science and technology for development.
There must be public/private initiatives and venture capital to support innovation leading to production of products and services. We must encourage entrepreneurship.
We must ensure that our institutions do not exist as silos, sequestering brains, and talent apart from other human activities. Universities, research institutes, banks, polytechnics, and businessmen, entrepreneurs, and uncles with money, must work together to create complex multi-skilled companies, to creatively and innovatively produce useful products and services.
Apple – a technology based company – has the largest private company assets in the world – out pacing-natural resource-based companies like Shell, Exxon, and Mobil.
In Nigeria, NigComSat Ltd is a technology based company that was created by Government, private institutions, and investor markets. It is now ten years old worth over 500 million US$ – and has no natural resource requirements.
Let me now refer you to ‘Why Run’ on how technology can spark global competitiveness in the areas of:
ICT – Information and Communications Technology for education, engineering, and the new ‘internet of things’ among others.
Space and satellite technology for remote sensing, security, and communications, biotechnology, particularly where agricultural biotechnology is increasing agricultural productivity supported by irrigation, drainage and mechanisation technologies; and where biotechnology inputs to medicine are beginning to solve health challenges once considered intractable;
Energy technologies in the oil and gas extractive sector, renewable and in alternative energy; and
Small and medium enterprises, using advanced technologies for small scale production or processes and services with huge market potentials. Technology is the most critical factor to success or failure of SMEs.
The ICT revolution in Nigeria was sparked and driven by government policy. Specifically, in March 2001, I submitted a memo to the Federal Executive Council on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to create the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA. Federal government subsequently created the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, in 2003; the Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd in 2006; and Galaxy backbone Ltd in 2006. These ICT institutions, their capacities and innovations and services, have contributed to the ICT sector and currently contribute 10% of Nigeria’s GDP; they have created over ten million jobs in the past ten years and made Nigeria and Nigerians globally competitive in this area.
And similarly, there are huge untapped (and inter-related) opportunities in space/satellite technologies, energy, technologies, and biotechnology. Equally, my brothers and sisters, it is technology, not money, that is the key driver in SME enterprise development. Until we put technology as the number one requirement for SME development, we as a country, are going nowhere!
The Chinese say: for every challenge there is an opportunity. I wish to appeal to our political leaders, academic leaders, business leaders, entrepreneurs, elders and youth – not to lament or complain about the falling oil prices and dwindling state and institutional revenues, leading to inability to pay salaries; rather we should mobilize and diversity our economy – using technology, engineering, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Our success in meeting this challenge can be achieved – based on the blessings of Nigeria’s:
Huge African market of over 179 million Nigerians, 300 million people in the ECOWAS region, and over 1 billion people on the African continent
Huge renewable natural and mineral – and bio-resources
Huge human resources, including scientists, engineers, technologies, mathematicians, innovators, bankers, entrepreneurs and technically skilled and unskilled manpower.
By tapping these resources, there is no reason for Nigeria not to be globally competitive, and create a prosperous and wealthy country for all of us.
I now come to the second part of this presentation. I have faith in Nigeria’s young men and women, to use their God-given intellectual talents to adopt science and technologies, and innovation to provide globally competitive goods and services that will create jobs and improve the quality of life of our people.
It is in that belief that I wish to donate two books each to the oldest secondary school in:
Ogoni-land in memory of Ken Saro Wiwa
Ikwerre-land in memory of Obi Wali
In Ibani-land in memory of Harold Dappa Biriye
In Ogbia-land in memory of Melford Okilo
In Nembe-Brass in honour of King Alfred Diete Spiff
In Kolokuma/Opokuma in memory of Isaac Boro
In Okrika, to Okirika Grammar School to honour the memory of Tekena Tamuno and all distinguished old boys
In Elelenwo, to our sister-school, Elelenwo Girls Grammar School, to honour its many successful women, through honouring specifically today, Dr. Timi Koripamo.
All those acknowledged specifically here, have contributed immensely to the educational, and scientific, and technological global competitiveness of our people in the South-South region and elsewhere in Nigeria.
.Isoun is former minister of science and technology, a scientist, author, editor, administrator and policy expert

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