Saturday, 27 August 2016

GUEST BLOG POST: Inventors And Inventions — Chris Woodford

EDITOR’S NOTE: At a workshop organized in London, England, United Kingdom in November 2003, co-sponsored by the Lemelson-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Programme and LEAD International, one of the key speakers, Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Programme at the time opined in a presentation, “Invention stimulates entrepreneurship and overall economic activity. Invention is defined as a focused application of the human mind to the world that yields an original creation with practical use. Inventions are typically patentable, but patents aren’t necessary to make it an invention. Innovation is defined here as the practice of bringing inventions into widespread usage, through creative thinking, investment, and marketing. That’s why basic invention is typically needed to spur innovative activity. Invention is that spark where it all begins.”

NAIJAGRAPHITTI BLOG now brings you posts which would guide you into all about inventions!

Chris Woodford is a British science writer and the author of many popular science books for adults and children, including Atoms Under the Floorboards: The Surprising Science Hidden in Your Home.

Image source:
By Chris Woordford

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a great inventor—of having a fantastically clever idea that changes society for the better and makes you rich in the process? The history of technology is, in many ways, a story of great inventors and their brilliant inventions. Think of Thomas Edison and the light bulb, Henry Ford and the mass-produced car, or, more recently, Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web. Inventing isn't just about coming up with a great idea; that's the easy part! There's also the matter of turning an idea into a product that sells enough to recoup the cost of putting it on the market. And there's the ever-present problem of stopping other people from copying and profiting from your ideas. Inventing is a difficult and often exhausting life; many inventors have died penniless and disappointed after struggling for decades with ideas they couldn't make work. Today, many lone inventors find they can no longer compete and most inventions are now developed by giant, powerful corporations. So, are inventors in danger of going extinct? Or will society always have a place for brave new ideas and stunning new inventions? Let's take a closer look and find out!

Photo: The wheel is probably the greatest invention of all time, used in everything from cars and planes to wind turbines and computer hard drives. Even so, no-one knows who invented it or when.

What is invention?
That sounds like a trivial question, but it's worth pausing a moment to consider what "invention" really means. In one of my dictionaries, it says an inventor is someone who comes up with an idea for the first time. In another, an inventor is described as a person of "unique intuition or genius" who devises an original product, process, or machine. Dictionary definitions like these are badly out of date—and probably always have been. Since at least the time of Thomas Edison (the mid-to-late 19th century), invention has been as much about manufacturing and marketing inventions successfully as about having great ideas in the first place.

Some of the most famous inventors in history turn out, on closer inspection, not to have originated ideas but to have developed existing ones and made them stunningly successful. Edison himself didn't invent electric light, but he did develop the first commercially successful, long-lasting electric light bulb. (By creating a huge market for this product, he created a similarly huge demand for electricity, which he was busily generating in the world's first power plants.) In much the same way, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi can't really be described as the inventor of radio. Other people, including German Heinrich Hertz and Englishman Oliver Lodge, had already successfully demonstrated the science behind it and sent the first radio messages. What Marconi did was to turn radio into a much more practical technology and sell it to the world through bold and daring demonstrations. These days, we'd call him an entrepreneur—a self-starting businessperson who has the drive and determination to turn a great idea into a stunning commercial success.

Photo: Left: Guglielmo Marconi didn't so much "invent" radio as make it practical and popular. Photo courtesy of US Library of Congress. Right: Thomas Edison's original patent for the electric lamp, granted in January 1880. This wasn't the first electric light, but it was the first really practical and commercially successful one. Artwork courtesy of US Patent and Trademark Office.

It's important not to underestimate the commercial side of inventing. It takes a lot of money to develop an invention, manufacture it, market it successfully, and protect it with patents. In our gadget-packed homes and workplaces, modern inventions seldom do completely original jobs. More often, they have to compete with and replace some existing gadget or invention to which we've already become attached and accustomed. When James Dyson launched his bagless cyclone vacuum cleaner, the problem he faced was convincing people that it was better than the old-fashioned vacuums they had already. Why should they spend a fortune buying a new machine when the one they had already was perfectly satisfactory? Successful inventions have to dislodge existing ones, both from our minds (which often find it hard to imagine new ways of doing things) and from their hold on the marketplace (which they may have dominated for years or decades). That's another reason why inventing is so difficult and expensive—and another reason why it's increasingly the province of giant corporations with plenty of time and money to spend.

How and why do people invent things?
According to the well-known saying, "mother is the necessity of invention"; in other words, people invent things because society has difficult problems that need solving. There's some truth in this, though less than you might suppose. It would be more accurate to say that inventions succeed when they do useful jobs that people recognize need doing. But the reasons inventions appear in the first place often have little or nothing to do with "necessity," especially in the modern age when virtually every need we have is satisfied by any number of existing gadgets and machines. Where, then, do inventions come from and why do people invent them?

Scientific breakthroughs
Some inventions appear because of scientific breakthroughs. DNA fingerprinting (the
process by which detectives take human samples at crime scenes and use them to identify criminals) is one good example. It only became possible after the mid-20th century when scientists understood what DNA was and how it worked: the scientific discovery made possible the new forensic technology. The same is true of many other inventions. Marconi's technological development of radio followed on directly from the scientific work done by Lodge, Hertz, James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, and numerous other scientists who fathomed out the mysteries of electricity and magnetism during the 19th century. Generally, scientists are more interested in advancing human knowledge than in commercializing their discoveries; it takes a determined entrepreneur like Marconi or Edison to recognize the wider, social value of an idea—and turn theoretical science into practical technology.

Artwork: The discovery of how DNA worked revolutionized crime-fighting and forensic science—and will have huge impacts on medical science and technology in the future. Picture of a DNA double helix based on an artwork courtesy of US National Library of Medicine.

Trial and error
But it would be very wrong to suggest that inventions (practical technologies) always follow on from scientific discoveries (often abstract, impractical theories). Many of the world's greatest inventors lacked any scientific training and perfected their ideas through trial and error. The scientific reasons why their inventions succeeded or failed were only discovered long afterward. Engines (which are machines that burn fuel to release heat energy that can make something move) are a good example of this. The first engines, powered by steam, were developed entirely by trial and error in the 18th century by such people as Thomas Newcomen and James Watt. The scientific theory of how these engines worked, and how they could be improved, was only figured out about a century later by Frenchman Nicolas Sadi Carnot. Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors of all time, famously told the world that "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration"; he had little or no scientific training and owed much of his success to persistence and determination (when he came to develop his electric light, he tested no fewer than 6000 different materials to find the perfect filament).

Photo: Steam engines weren't developed scientifically: they evolved slowly and gradually by trial and error. As Nicolas Sadi Carnot later pointed out, they could be extremely inefficient machines—which meant they used a huge amount of fuel (coal) to power themselves. But that didn't matter in an age where coal was relatively cheap and abundant and people cared less about pollution.

Inventions that evolve
Some inventions are never really invented at all—they have no single inventor. You can comb your way through thousands of years of history, from the abacus to the iPhone, and find not a single person who could indisputably be credited as the sole inventor of the computer. That's because computers are inventions that have evolved over time. People have needed to calculate things for as long as they've traded with one another, but the way we've done this has constantly changed. Mechanical calculators based on levers and gears gave way to electronic calculators in the early decades of the 20th century. As newer, smaller electronic components were developed, computers became smaller too. Now, many of us own cellphones that double-up as pocket computers, but there's no single person we can thank for it. Cars evolved in much the same way. You could thank Henry Ford for making them popular and affordable, Karl Benz for putting gasoline engines on carts to make motorized carriages, or Nikolaus Otto for inventing modern engines in the first place—but the idea of vehicles running on wheels is thousands of years old and its original inventor (or inventors) has long since disappeared in time.

Accidental inventions
Some inventions happen through pure luck. When Swiss inventor George De Mestral was
walking through the countryside, he noticed how burrs from plants stuck to his clothes and were hard to pull away. That gave him the idea for the brilliant two-part clothing fastener that he called VELCRO®. Another inventor who got lucky was Percy Spencer. He was experimenting with a device called a magnetron, which turns electricity into microwave radiation for radar detectors (used for direction-finding in ships and planes), when he noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket had started to melt. He realized the microwave radiation was generating heat that was cooking (and melting) the food—and that gave him the idea for the microwave oven. Teflon®, the super-slippery nonstick coating, was also discovered by accident when Roy Plunkett accidentally made some strange white goo in a chemical laboratory. Its amazing nonstick properties were only discovered and put to use later. All these inventions, and numerous others, were chance discoveries produced by accidents or mistakes.

Photo: Right: VELCRO®: George de Mestral chanced on the idea of a clothing fastener entirely by accident. Here's a drawing from his invention US Patent 3,009,235: Separable fastening device (filed 1958, granted 1961) courtesy of US Patent and Trademark Office. Left: The Teflon coating that makes this frying pan nonstick was another accidental invention.

Advantageous inventions
From IBM and Sony to Goodyear and AT&T, many of the world's biggest, best-known corporations have been built on the back of a single great invention. IBM, for example, grew out of an earlier company selling intricate mechanical census-counting machines developed by Herman Hollerith; Sony made its name selling cheap, high-quality radios made with tiny transistors; Goodyear owes its name (and its chief product) to Charles Goodyear, a hapless inventor who finally developed durable, modern, "Vulcanized" rubber after a lifetime of trial and error; AT&T can trace its roots back to the telephone patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. But a modern company can't survive and thrive on one great idea alone. That's why so many companies have huge research and development laboratories where inspired scientists and engineers are constantly trying to come up with better ideas than the ones on which their original success was founded. As marketing genius Theodore Levitt pointed out in the 1960s, visionary companies need the courage to try to put themselves out of business by coming up with new products that make their existing ones obsolete; companies that rest on their laurels will be put out of business by their inventive competitors. This kind of corporate invention—companies trying to out-invent themselves and one another—is very much the way the world works now.

The world of corporate invention
There are probably more people trying to invent things now than at any time in history, but
relatively few of them are lone geniuses struggling away in home workshops and garages. There will always be room for lucky individuals who have great ideas and get rich by turning them into world-beating products. But the odds are stacked increasingly against them. It's unlikely you'll get anywhere tinkering away in your garage trying to invent a personal computer that will change the world, the way Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs did back in the mid-1970s when they put together the first Apple Computer. To do that, you'd have to set yourself up in competition with—guess who—Apple Computer, which is now the world's richest company, staffed with legions of brilliantly creative scientists, engineers, and designers, and with billions of dollars to spend on research and development. Really prolific inventors might file a few dozen patent applications during their lifetime, if they're lucky; but the world's most inventive company, IBM, files several thousand patents every single year. Companies like IBM have to keep on inventing to keep themselves in business: inventions are the fuel that keep them going.

Photos: Right: Inventors have to start somewhere: The Apple ][ computer made Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak rich and famous, but they started their lives making and selling their original Apple I in a garage belonging to Jobs' parents.

Think of inventions in the 19th century and you'll come across lone inventors like Charles Goodyear, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, George Eastman (of Kodak)—and many more like them. But think of inventing in the 20th and 21st century and you'll come across inventive corporations instead—such companies as DuPont (the chemical company that gave us nylon, Teflon®, Kevlar®, Nomex®, and many more amazing synthetic materials), Bell Labs (where transistorssolar cellslasersCD players, digital cellphones, commercial fax machines, and CCD light sensors were developed), and 3M (pioneers of Scotchgard textile protector and Post-It® Notes, to name only two of their best-known products). It was Thomas Edison who transformed the world of inventing, from lone inventors to inventive corporations, when he established the world's first ever invention "factory" at Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876.

These days, corporations dominate our world, and they dominate the world of inventing in exactly the same way. If it's your dream to become a great inventor, go for it and good luck to you—but be prepared to take on some very stiff, very well-funded, corporate competition. If you succeed, congratulations: maybe you'll prove to be the founder of the next Apple, AT&T, or IBM!

Photos: Nylon—the power behind your toothbrush: Could anyone develop such a fantastic material tinkering away in a garage? Not likely. In our sophisticated 21st-century world, it takes well-funded corporate research labs to come up with amazing new chemical materials like this. Read how it was developed by Wallace Carothers for DuPont in our article on nylon.

Originally published in EXPLAINTHATSTUFF.COM

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Main Reason(s) Why There Are Not Many Inventors In Nigeria

ANCIENT: The locally fabricated pressing iron which was once widely used in southwest Nigeria (and in other parts of Africa to date) was a vital part of traditional tailors’ tool of trade; it was powered by heat from burning charcoal lit inside the belly. Image credit - Michael Kyewalabye‎ (Uganda) Arsenal fans Group-Facebook 
By Kenneth Nwachinemelu David-Okafor

Please let me pointedly ask if you are following the ongoing serialization of the blog post "How to Become a Successful Inventor in Nigeria"?

I hope you are following this series as it represents one of the most interesting treatise on NAIJAGRAPHITTI BLOG thus far.

IF NOT, you may join in right after reading this with the next links (CLICK HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE).

In this present post I thought I should take a break and share telling stories, to give my take on the wide spread recurrence of dearth of inventive thinking among Nigerians, from a perspective formed from lived experiences and bitsy incidences of life which many Nigerians and other Africans can relate to. Thus I am going to attempt to illustrate the story of Nigeria’s underrepresentation on the Hall of Fame of inventive nations with anecdotal vignettes from my childhood to adulthood and substantiate how I came to my own conclusions long before I could back up my opinion with hard facts. The stories, by their morals and by inference, capture cause and effect as they paint vivid pictures as clearly as data.

In the absence of any systematic study, we are at liberty to use anecdotal evidence; Mpofu et al. (2006) noted "anecdotal reports are an important source of information on sociocultural practices that are under researched, or from settings that are underrepresented in the literature" (Mpofu et al., 2006 p.477).

The first vignette I would share out of four is drawn the period covering ten to fifteen years as I grew up in southwest Nigeria, around (at one point) and inside (at another point) a university community.

Growing up as the child of a full-time civil servant and later a part-time large-scale subsistence farmer father, I witnessed firsthand the arduous nature of rain-fed subsistence farming bereft of an iota of mechanization: little changed since those days decades ago.

My father was not alone. There was a whole scale community of full-time civil servants who regularly moonlighted as part-time farmers among which number could be counted lecturers from the university. The goal of these men was fairly straightforward: to augment low wages by producing certain cash crops and thus reducing food bills. Many of them typically cropped yam, cassava, cocoyam, maize, vegetable (especially fluted pumpkin), peppers, tomatoes and okra. The average farm size was just under a hectare but was usually in broken up holdings, leased from the village land-owners (we would later learn that the land did indeed belong to the university from the original gifting from government but the villagers took advantage of their ancestral claims). They produced more than their families could consume, sold off the excess and reserved seed stock for the next farming season from their own yield (once there was not plant pest/disease outbreak). These men, their families and, occasionally, paid farm hands worked laboriously from dawn to dusk with sparse breaks for refreshments and banter in between. My father specialized in yam, cassava, and maize (he kept livestock separately as well); combined, he farmed one of the biggest land holdings.

Naturally, my mind wondered why none of these civil servants moonlighting as farmers did not attempt to figure out better and faster ways to do some of the more arduous tasks farming the land after long hours behind the desk and on weekends?

Do not get me wrong, I acknowledged these were conscientious breadwinners who took what role they played as family and dependents’ providers seriously. I thought highly of men, they, like my father, labored that I should have a better life. Of course, they consulted fellow part-time farmers should they have a knotty issue to tackle. At any given opportunity of a break, you could see them gathered, swapping tips on farming, family affairs, political developments, wicked bosses who denied them due promotions and even share coarse jokes. Usually, they discussed, huddled in groups by tree shades or whatever sun-cover they could find, dissecting topics as wide ranging as handling seedlings, fertilizer application, where to source the best crop seedlings, crop rotation options, weed control methods and the tactic of hiring farm hands at the cheapest rates. But in terms of the mechanics of saving time, energy, resources, through greater efficiency and less stress than their forebears did in order to exponentially improving yield per acre, they discussed nothing.

As I preferred not to toil this hard to make a livelihood, I got thinking: was this soul-gutting manual labour the only way to do this? From my reflections as a teenager I had learned enough even from snatches of ideas I saw in the movies to figure out that clever improvisations were close relatives to inventions. Improvisations on farms, I truly imagined, certainly could help expedite bush clearing/ground preparation, save time and, generally, multiply crop yield in the long run. I wondered at the conundrum and kept my eyes peeled to observe if I would discover even one person who failed to conform to the same mold; I did not find one. Gradually I was gripped by an ominous thought: perhaps it did not really cross their minds to figure out alternatives.

On the other hand I observed something else: whenever they came across someone with a clever idea or contraption which they wished to copy at no cost, they could take to it. Other than this happenstance, they seemed to accept the back-breaking work as their lot in life and they squared their shoulders and bore the burden with equanimity!

The real irony was that these men all worked the land around the very first university in Nigeria, a great store of knowledge with a reputed Department of Agriculture & Extension Services, where some world renowned scholars came to research and produce knowledge in agricultural science and agricultural economics. As a matter of fact the institution’s history is steeped in agriculture pedigree, for the first campus was located on an agricultural research station outpost.

ANCIENT: Men inside canoe at 2009 Argungu Fishing Festival Image credit: Irene Becker
The second vignette comes from when my sartorial tastes began to bud and the flower of fashion consciousness was about to break into full bloom.

For reasons of my development of interest in designing my own clothes and other apparels, one of the sets of people I paid attention to closely, to observe how they plied their trade as they served me were tailors. As any young man that wished to dress in a dapper fashion, you minded who made your clothing. Designer clothing were not in those days rather the good old tailor – man or woman – was the go-to person, to realize my creative imagination in clothes.

Here I wish to review the tailor and the tailor’s ensemble; there was the inevitable Singer sewing machine, the measuring tape, sowing threads, the marking chalk and the rugged pressing iron (pictured). Every single item is imported but the locally fabricated pressing iron which the tailor uses to keep the shape of clothes before and after they are sown.

The use and the operations of these kind of irons has caused many tailors and their clients untold grief. You see accidents happen while using these locally-made irons. Sparks from the coal burning inside the belly of the iron can fall on new clothes and singe them irreparably leaving the tailor distraught and the clothe owner incensed (and sometimes inconsolable).

Yet for all the risks, no tailor or customer has thought it fit to subject the locally-made iron to operational improvements for optimal performance.

The third vignette is from my work in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

I have already written about the humble hand-pull canoe (dugout canoe) which is literally the "work horse" in several riverine and coastal communities in the length and breadth of Nigeria’s regions in several other blog posts in the past.

I have an abiding fascination with the hand-pull canoe (dugout canoe). The manner in which it has become frozen and without product modifications/enhancements for thousands of years is one of the most significant proofs that Nigerians are generally invention-risk averse.

The canoe is an important cultural symbol, occupational tool and mode of transportation from rural to peri-urban communities in Nigeria especially those which are coastal in nature or that are close to the waterways. Out of the 36 states which make up the Nigerian federation, whether in the north, south, east or west, there are only a handful in which the canoe for transportation, for artisanal fishing, for haulage, for socializing, and for sport / recreation in one part or the other. In some places school children cannot even go to school without the canoe which is the only mode of transport available so they call the canoe, "the water bus". In essence, the canoe is vital to the economy, livelihoods and way of life of certain Nigerian communities and thus a permanent fixture and feature in some Nigerian communities.

A Nigerian canoe is traditionally a lightweight boat, made as a dugout from a hollowed tree trunk, propelled by one or more seated or standing paddler using a single-blade or double-blade paddle or one long pole for punting the canoe. In the photograph above the paddlers are using both the long pole and the single blade paddle.

Dugouts are paddled across deep lakes and rivers or punted through channels in swamps or in shallow areas. Many folks have the same combination for movements in both shallow and deeper waters.

The canoe has a long history in Nigeria.

The history is even much longer than millions of Nigerians realize when they learn that one of the oldest dugout canoes was "invented" in the Komadugu Komadugu Gana River Basin geographically close to the Lake Chad Basin, in the northeast of a future Nigeria, 8500 years ago then you become even more askance.

A dugout canoe (now called the Dufuna canoe) was discovered by a Fulani herdsman in the month of May, 1987, near the village of Dufuna in Fune Local Government Area of Yobe State, not far from the Komadugu Gana River.

Various sources have documented the history and timeline of this huge discovery.  Understandably, this was one of the most significant archeological finds ever in Nigeria. Archaeologists suddenly gathered irrefutable proof that some form of advanced civilization existed in the Lake Chad Basin around 6000 BC.

The news frenzy and sheer excitement all over the world which followed the discovery was inevitable. The laboratory results which the crop of experts which were assembled to authenticate the finding could not help but redefine the pre-history of African water transport, ranking the Dufuna canoe as the world's third oldest known dugout. The other ones older than it are the dugouts from Pesse, Netherlands and Noyen-sur-Seine, France. As a matter of fact the emanating evidence of an 8000-year-old 'tradition' of boat building in Africa appeared to set aside the assumption that maritime transport developed much later in Africa than in Europe.

As some of the protagonists of the time opined, one of the great benefits of the discovery was that it helped archaeologists draw a relationship between what was happening in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world during that period. Indications were that while Nigerians were making canoes in Dufuna village in 6000 BC, the people of Catol Huyuk in Turkey were making pottery, textiles, etc, like people of Mesopotamia (in present day Iraq) were forming urban communities and the Chinese were making painted pottery in the Yang Shao region.

Nevertheless, the canoe is one high utility piece of equipment yearning for improvements and modifications for optimal performance.

On any good day, on account of speed and efficiency, the canoe is laborious, difficult-to-handle and much slower than the motorized boat; on account of reliability and ruggedness, the canoe is not entirely dependable and cannot be handled well under inclement weather conditions; on the account of safety and other related parameters, the canoe is unsafe even dangerous. Canoe are prone to accidents on the water-ways. Several report of accidental drownings are recorded due to capsized canoes. Some accidents are even unreported since all victims perished and there were not eye-witnesses.

Why has the canoe remained unaltered for eons? Why was the Dufuna canoe unimproved?
Why has the canoe left frozen in the rudimentary stage in 'inventive' time? Why would an object that has effect in many aspects of the lives of large sections of people economically, socially, and culturally not be considered for modification? Why would an object of humongous value remain at the very rudimentary levels of development?

Was it that the problem which necessitated the invention of the canoe was solved and disappeared rendering the invention unnecessary? Or was it a case of creativity stasis, an invention arrest development, where creative imagination sparked and flamed out in one brief span?

There are more questions. Was the Dufuna canoe the result of one canoe carver (read "inventor") or several collaborators? When this man (or men) completed building, did they transfer the skill? If yes, what became of that know-how? If no, why not?

Whatever the answer you come up with, whatever the plausible explanation, the fact of lack of continuity of originality would not be lost on any observer. The people who usually argue that colonial adventurers interfered with the natural development curve of the colonized people would not be able to rationalize this query. Because the Dufuna canoe was invented thousands of years before the first intruders arrived. The whole affair does not shed flattering light on whatever was the system of skills transfer in the era.

MODERN BUT UNABLE TO POWER INDUSTRIALIZATION: President Goodluck Jonathan (middle) joggling the "Socket Football to Electricity" (invention) presented to him by the Uncharted Play Group during their visit to the Presidential Villa in Abuja in August 2013. Within the photo frame are: Vice-President Namadi Sambo (2nd left); U.S.-based Nigerian inventor, Miss Jessica Mathews (3rd right), her father, Dr Mathews Idoni (L), and Minister of Works, Mr Mike Onolonemen (R). Image credit/Photo: News Agency of Nigeria
The fourth and final vignette comes my experiences with electric power in Nigeria.

If there was something which truly united Nigerians across all known sociologic and developmental parameters, even more than soccer, it was the incessant poor supply of electric power. (Now I am writing this blog in mid-afternoon with my laptop powered by a petrol engine power generator; no electricity since yesterday).

If there was ever a cause which gets the goat of the average Nigerian it was incessant power failure. Nigerian leaders are stumped completely when it comes to Nigeria’s poor electricity supplies. Some finger conspiratorial "electric power sector cabal/saboteurs/generator importers intent on malfeasance" and others finger "corruption" while the pious intone the problem is "spiritual". Everybody holds their own viewpoints religiously and yet Nigeria still has electric power problems.

When three successive administrations within 16 years, from 1999 to 2015, from the Obasanjo to the Jonathan administration, tried to partially plug the electric power supplies shortfall with the vaunted NIPP, almost nothing changed. The primary reason for the impotence of the NIPP? Lack of gas. Why lack of gas in an oil and gas-rich country? The primary reason is due to a lack of investments in the downstream sector by the oil majors with the financial pull/muscle to execute such capital-intensive ventures.

I will quote directly from the work titled "The Opportunity Costs of Militancy in the Niger Delta, An Exposé" (CLICK HERE) which makes allusion to partly explain the core reason for the lack of investments in the downstream sector by the oil majors and because of the sensitivity of his subject matter the author signed off his work published on the Nairaland Forum website on Monday, May 30, 2016 only with his initials, LRNZH.

He wrote,

I was privileged to have a conversation with a high level executive in one of the international oil majors. My question to him is why we do not have the majors investing in massive industrial complexes to be located in the Niger Delta that will provide gas or power to manufacturers in places like Aba, refine crude oil and supply petrochemicals. Such projects will have a huge market in the West African sub-region. Shell has one in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, ExxonMobil has a few in Singapore and in the US, Marathon also has one in in Los Angeles, USA to mention a few.

His response is that his company, like other companies recognized that potential in Nigeria and did some feasibility studies. The risk to such project is too huge considering that it requires several billion dollars investment and a long time to bring to fruition. He blatantly opined that the market is not the issue. In fact, it will change the Niger Delta and West Africa. Gas flaring will become history with such complexes.

It is apparent that the lack of peace in the Niger Delta due to militancy will never allow such projects to be considered. The business case is just not there. Ironically, even the fuel stations that are owned by the majors like Total and Mobil are being considered for divestment by their owners.

Of course, the corruption really rankled the most.

I am reminded of Nnamdi Awa-Kalu in his work "The Energy and the Elegy: The Tragedy of Nigerian Innovation" (CLICK HERE) where he wrote,

Of course, let us not forget that some innovation flows from the restiveness that the lack of electric power causes. 419. In Western depictions of Nigeria, the fraudster caricature dominates the larger narrative of a corrupt state held back by its own greed. Some Nigerians have found the will to profit from the innocent and from the state, through internet-based scams and every other form of cheating. Even when this corruption is not online, it is ever present. All signs point to a ruling class that is happier to get fat on the public purse than to spend on development. The reasoning seems to be that there is no harm in budgeting inflated amounts on infrastructure while spending a fraction of that on actual projects. So, vast millions are skimmed off and put in offshore accounts while the work is eventually carried out with money that is not enough, if it is done at all. In that small but crucial way, Made in Nigeria has emerged as a byword for shoddy design and poor execution, to be avoided wherever possible. Which makes it all the more ironic that the newly-elected government swept into power using the traditional broom, that most backward of implements, as its symbol of change.

The other day, Bill Gates of MicroSoft and the Belinda and Bill Gates Foundation gave an interview in which he opined that Africa has less electricity than 30 years ago. Many Nigerians think he is not off the mark.

Poor power supplies stared hard at the intrepid Nigerian spirit and won.

Little wonder the lofty dreams of rapid industrialization seem grandiose and far-fetched.
Why are Nigerians not innovating their way out of darkness and inventing off-the-grid solutions to the parlous state of electric power supply in Nigeria?

Now everybody knows there are recurring problems with the system, yet nobody invests the commonsense required to tackle the problems resolutely.

What is even more baffling is the attitude of the higher institutions of education, particularly those concerned with science and technology, of which Nigeria has a few, which behaved aloof and disinterested in the electric power conundrum. As a matter of fact, the reason for the perennial closure of universities in Nigeria has been the lack of electric power supplies on campus.

Of course, there are people we could readily finger who people look up to ¾ like the scientists, the PhD holders, the engineers and others in their cadre who otherwise ought to cater to societal challenges by virtue of knowledge they possess.

On September 30, 2008, the VANGUARD newspaper wrote,

Mrs. Grace Ekpwihre, Minister of State for Technology, recently pronounced one of the enduring truths we have evaded telling ourselves when she announced that doctorate degree holders have failed Nigeria.

Indeed, if one were to take an inventory of a modern home or office and itemize all the things that have made life worth living for mankind  computers, telephone sets, television, internet, automobiles, aircraft, motor boats and the ubiquitous generator sets, to mention a few  one would be appalled by the fact that Nigeria's vast number of advanced degree holders have made next to no contribution to these inventions. Even those who have studied abroad and stayed there have made negligible contributions to mankind.

Many people may not remember Chief (Mrs)  Grace Ekpwihre’s tenure as the Honourable Minister for Federal Ministry of Science and Technology but her strong albeit apt critique of doctorate degree holders having failed Nigeria are now immortalized by VAGUARD Editorial titled "Nigeria: Encouraging Inventions".

When I took all the above stories together, over time, the overarching inference came to me as clear as glass: when people live long enough with certain handicaps they deign to tolerate and cope with then the handicaps disappear by merging with their way of living as a sort of coping strategy and thus become just part of what makes life what/how it is; they learn to live with handicaps, eventually.

They finally never make any effort and gradually get stuck in the rut; eviscerated but helpless; challenged but appallingly risk averse.

The handicaps in Nigeria are so overwhelming, so rampant and so intractable that the will to dare for change is gradually ground down, lack of trying thus becomes culture.

These, in the main, I consider the key reasons why there are so few inventors in Nigeria --- under-exercised imagination/poor use of the imagination, lack of inventive thinking, thinking outside a problem solving mode, neglect of knowledge, misapplication of resources and being innately risk averse.

Now I am sure you have your own stories with their own inferences; I do not mind swapping stories, do you?