It would seem that as societies evolve with the imperative of solving existential problems, countries such as the demographically challenged China are set to rule the world while the African continent takes the back seat. Africans are regularly trapped in the Mediterranean Sea while seeking an escape from bad governance. For instance, in the bid to solve the problem of parking cars and other vehicles in a crowded city, a 26-storey smart garage with a fully automated parking system was recently built in Taiyuan city in North China. The digitally operated park is designed to curb the desperate search for space, manoeuvring and parallel parking on the busy streets of China.
Road users and motorists in Nigeria would rather clog the road with their vehicles and create an impossible traffic snafu in their bid to beat the traffic situation. The traffic snarl so caused is contrived as a potential market for roadside traders to add to the confusion. In societies like Nigeria, innovations and creativity are easily stifled and discouraged. The country’s centres of learning—and this can be said of most part of the continent— have defaulted in finding local and ingenious solutions to the problems plaguing it. In the case of the digital park in China, it is an epic study in optimal space management: a space which can ordinarily fit only three cars is made to contain 50 vehicles. This is no mean feat.
But there must be a bedrock for innovation and creativity, because it just does not happen outside an enabling environment. African societies are cemeteries of innovative ideas. There are legion of examples, from the France-based Ivorian engineer who designed an internet-compliant, solar-powered backpack to the Nigerian doctor who was sacked after discovering a cheaper and more efficient way for carrying out Caesarean Sections. Rather than being encouraged and empowered, these innovators have been ignored, to put it mildly. The talented Nigerian doctor is cooling his heels in police detention for allegedly hacking into bank accounts.
Both the establishment and the people’s attitudes are implicated in the dismal situation in which the African continent has found itself. While the people seem primed to revel in disorder, the template for leadership in the continent is that of heinous abasement. The political leadership derives enormous personal profit from societal failures. Thus, the continent is living up to its ignoble labelling as the heart of darkness from where everybody wants to escape despite its huge endowments and potentials. This only goes to show that, more than endowments and potential, the attitudes of people and their leaders determine their collective state and destiny.
To be sure, locally sourced solutions to social problems are bound to be more controllable than strange and exotic ideas. And there is also the question of the dignity and pride that accompany such accomplishments. It is therefore advisable for Nigeria to evolve a system whereby creativity, innovation and good governance can help in ameliorating the existential crises that are preventing it from achieving the goals of development. The Chinese response to social problems in building a digital motor park is admirable and worthy of emulation. There should be innovations not only for traffic problems alone but also the myriad of social problems plaguing the country. Sadly, the country as presently constituted is a long distance away from significant change.
But we believe that all hope is not lost yet. If there are concerted efforts by the leadership to steer the nation’s ship aright, there would be a glimmer of hope in the horizon. Countries like China which are making waves in their bid to become the next world power are also coming from deprived backgrounds; the only difference is their response to challenges and issues. Nigeria needs to learn from such countries.