This is difficult for me to write and it is not because I’m not using pencils, but the recent announcement by Minister for Science and Technology Ogbonnaya Onu about pencil production drew mixed feelings from me.
Onu said: “It is unthinkable that 55 years after independence, Nigeria is still not producing pencils when we have the human and material resources in the country to do so.” Pencil or no pencil, we can write this down in black and white as a shame.
But here’s the rub or the rubber: Onu announced that Nigeria will start producing pencils in two years time and this would create 400,000 jobs.
First thing to note with a pencil and paper here is that he is charge of science and technology and I’m no expert, but it doesn’t appear that much beyond rudimentary science and technology is required in pencil production.
So does this really require bold announcements from the minister? People are bound to think: “Pencil production? What’s the big deal? It’s not like we are sending a Nigerian to the moon. It’s not like we are stepping into serious manufacturing. It’s not like we are developing the technology to support efforts to improve power supply”. Two years, just pencils and big announcements just don’t seem to go together.
The second thing wrong with such announcements is that folks will pencil it down for future reference in two years’ time to see how far we have come with the delivery of a new set of pencils.
I know Onu wants to talk the talk and be seen to be doing something, but Nigerians must be getting tired of promises that are erased at the time of delivery. Let the minister quietly facilitate the production of pencils and leave the announcements to when this has actually been delivered.
At a reception for him by Ebonyi State indigenes when he became a minister in November, Onu said: “I want to assure you that I will make sure that I will be the best minister Nigeria ever had.” But if he wants his name to be sketched into history, pencil production is an underwhelming start.
He needs to pull out his pencil, sharpen his act, and write down the steps he needs to take to create the environment for serious technological advancement in the country. At the reception in November he drew an image of technological advancement: “The U.S. is the greatest power in the world; the largest economy, the strongest military and the U.S. has the highest diplomatic potential that she has used in the maintenance of peace all over the world. But the U.S. was able, is able and will continue to do so, so long as it is leading in science and technology”.
To make serious progress, we need more action, less talk and a lot more than made in Nigeria pencils.