It is with immense joy and a great sense of honor and gratitude, that we welcome everyone here to the first ever Enugu Technology and Innovation Fair. Truth be told, with the myriad of socio-economic and political challenges facing Nigeria today, the idea of hosting a technology and innovation fair of this nature is in and of itself a revolutionary act.
We wish to thank God almighty for his supreme guidance. We congratulate our hardworking and dedicated team at the E-tech Center and many of you, too numerous to mention here but played a pivotal role in putting this together.
We are especially appreciative of the effort of our partners, especially the Enugu State government, led by his Excellency, the Rt.Hon.Dr.Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the Enugu based start-up incubator, Hardware Garage for making this day possible.
Most importantly, we wish to extend our profound gratitude to the young, sharp and innovative minds here today. How can we forget the great sacrifices each one of you have made individually to come this far. Your inquisitive, ingenious and avant-guarde spirits represent the future of Nigeria. Thank you.
Of course, we cannot fail to acknowledge all of you here present. We are deeply honored by your presence and please be rest assured that we do not take your support for granted.
It’s through the collaborative effort and total commitment of all of you that made this day even possible. It does takes a village and we thank you all immensely.
With that said, let me quickly remind us why we are here and why today is so special. It is the day that we as a people, have elected to leapfrog the effort in transforming this nation from a beggarly produce-based monolithic economy, heavily reliant on crude oil revenue to a technology driven, knowledge-based one with limitless potential. If we as a people will thrive in a restructured Nigeria, there is a need for new sets of revenue streams that do not depend on the monthly allocation from the federation account. If Nigeria will survive in the 21st century, it has to be weaned off of overdependence on crude oil which is fast being replaced by more environmentally-friendly energy alternatives. This leap, ladies and gentlemen, is very crucial to our survival.
In January last year, yours truly wrote a widely circulated open letter to the southeast Governors. In the letter, we bemoaned the fact that Ndigbo with all our famed ingenuity and spirit of enterprise, are punching way below our weight. We reiterated the fact that as a people, based on our current socio-economic realities, we are not just ill-prepared but poorly positioned to function in the present or take on the future.
In addition to widespread insecurity, poor and decrepit infrastructure, the lack of access road between our sister states continues to hamper what should be a seamless movement of goods and services across state lines. Our region has consistently lagged behind other in terms of being a favored destination for new investment capital. We argued that to survive in a post-oil Nigeria economy, our people need to massively invest in areas of Science and Technology so as to transform our nation in general and the southeast in particular, to an Innovation hub that will spur wide ranging economic activities. Ladies and Gentlemen, part of the fulfillment of that dream is why we are here today.
Our method is simple. Harness the innovative spirit that propelled many inventions during the dark days of the Nigerian civil war to grow our faltering economy. The inventive minds that pushed us to make big things out of nothing is still alive and well. All we need at this time is for both our political and business leaders to buy into this redemptive idea.
In line with our vision, there are few steps we believe should be taken to make progress in that direction:
1.Create a conducive environment for innovative minds to develop and thrive. We do not need to be importing toothpick from China when we have young brains here that build drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in our backyards.
We recently completed a 150-million-naira Enugu Tech and innovative Center along Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway. It’s a 4000sqm of built space where innovators or would be innovators could have a space to practice their art. We have approached local colleges and also reached out to the Federal Universities of technology throughout the country in order to identify brilliant scientific minds and get them to partner and train in our center. This is not a matter of doing the talk, we are actually walking the talk. But we can do a lot more with your support.
Identify local technology startups with great economic potential and provide them with seed capital. In that regard, we are happy to partner with a reliable start up incubator called Hardware Garage. This company domiciled in Enugu and run by hardworking young Nigerians have successfully midwifed few local technology companies all the way from product development to commercial success. We need more of those.
3.Annual Enugu Technology and Innovation Fair
A yearly event like what we have today that brings together innovators and business people in one place, in a symbiotic relationship is critical to our effort. The innovators will help develop the parts and equipment needed to service local industries while business people will help the startups by investing in product research and development. Such an event will also position Ala-Igbo in particular and Nigeria in general as a technology hub within the West African sub-region.
Those are our goal and we are open to collaboration with anyone, willing and able to complement our effort.
Not too long ago, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) listed two out of five southeast states among those with poverty rate higher than the national average. My people, not only do I feel highly embarrassed walking around with such an unflattering label on a place I call home, but I am seriously troubled by it. I am sure we all feel the same way. What that means is that with all the song and dance we make about the Igbo spirit of enterprise, many of our people still manage to find themselves, living like the poorest of the poor. Of course, this is not just from the action or inaction of one administration, past or present. It’s a culmination of decades lost to the locust. Things are not looking good my people.
As Ndigbo, our history need not be that way. We are still the same people with an indomitable can-do spirit that defiles all odds. We are still the same people that rose from the ashes of war to build the strongest middle class in sub-Saharan Africa. And yes, we still have what it takes, today and even tomorrow. All that is required is to do away with the toxic mindset of self-defeatist crass individualism that elevates primitive accumulation of wealth to the detriment of all.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. M.I Okpara, the man in whose memory this hallowed ground is named after, committed his life fully to the service of our people. It is therefore not surprising that many decades after his demise, his name continues to ring a bell and inspire awe in all of us. I can assure that M.I was not the richest man of his generation. The task before us today is therefore very simple. Be the change that you want in our society and hope to be remembered like Okpara.
We thank every one of you for coming. May God bless!
Osmund Agbo, MD, FCCP
CEO, Enugu Tech & Innovation Center
This is excerpted from the speech given during the maiden Enugu Technology and Innovation Fair held on Thursday, August 21 at Michael Okpara Square, Enugu.