The world we live in today is science driven. Time there was when natural resources was all that man needed to survive. Therefore, the ancient man lived to farm, fish and hunt for daily sustenance. From his hunting wins, he made his crude clothing and used mud and leaves to build his home; his food was basic – nuts, fruits and cooked vegetable and meat.
Today, however, science has made all the difference as food, clothing and other products now come about through complex processes which themselves are products of research and development, a substructure of science and technology.
The role of science in national economic development therefore, has to be fully appreciated by the designers of our economic and education policies. We need to understand that although scientists work in the laboratories, away from the public glare, their findings, when translated into goods and services, rule the world.
The Asian nations that are aggressively pursuing the Science, Technology and Innovation(STI)-related industry are leapfrogging into the global market, while hesitant nations like Nigeria remain uncompetitive and import dependent; albeit her natural resources. In this dispensation, natural resources endowment is not enough for economic strength but the knowledge of how these raw materials, through science and technology, can be transformed into valuable goods and services for economic and social upliftment.
Research and Development breakthroughs have led to the reduction in processing periods of products. In modern times, fish and other livestock no longer take years to mature and the same goes for agricultural crops. Through biotechnology, trees now arrive at maturity much faster and fruit for longer periods. Science has made nations like Japan and Switzerland, which have very little natural resources, active participants in the global market.
This is possible because they import raw materials from other countries, especially Africa, and process them into more attractive and convenient products that fetch higher returns than crude products. Thus, although Nigeria has comparative advantage in the area of natural resources like oil and gas, solid minerals, and agricultural products, the current challenge is to build this advantage to competitive levels through value addition, an upshot of science and technology.
One of the most challenging areas to Nigeria is its oil sector, which remains at its primordial stage 50 years after oil discovery. We will benefit better from oil and gas resources when we beneficiate them into intermediary and tertiary products for local consumption and for export.