Reflections on History, Biology and Steel | The Guardian Nigeria News


As a professional writer, with between 53 and 54 years of experience, I choose my adjectives carefully. Calling this assembly “historic” and “extremely important” was neither thoughtless nor accidental.

Your invitation affirms, with fanfare, that a new social ground is, indeed, being shattered. His presentation text celebrates the NGO Network, the Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa and the CSO Coalition for the Rebirth of Ajaokuta, as pioneers.

The invitation further claims that this national conference on the Ajaokuta steel project and President Muhammadu Buhari’s industrialization program is “the first of its kind to be facilitated by the civil society sector.”

It gives me a pause to think. Have leaders of national unions, media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community organizations somehow harvested my brainwaves and read my mind?

I have often applied in moments of reflection – and I have expressed the view, in personal exchanges – that sector activism, as we see it here at the Army Resource Center, would appear to be the way forward to support strategic industries.

My fervent wish is that the activists who have brought Nigeria into this wonderful new social perspective will merge into a National Steel Interest Group, whose jurisdiction encompasses the entire steel industry (legislature included).

Its main goal would be to ensure that the policy gaps that stymied the steel industry do not reoccur, after Russia and the Eastern Bloc countries put Nigeria on the path to industrialization. fast.

Indeed, a national steel activism could, in theory, give the impetus to other interest groups to imitate the coalitions of Ajaokuta and safeguard sectors such as “space”, “atomic energy”, “Fishing”, “plastics” and “aluminum”.

But before I move on to the second “adjective”, maybe I should digress and elaborate on my identity. Many may remember that I wrote an “Astronomy” and “Space Science” column in The Guardian newspaper for 16 years, until 2017.

However, you will be surprised to learn that my area of ​​specialization used to be steel! In fact, I lived at the Delta Steel Company (DSC) for about ten years and was fully involved in the effort to restart the plant after it first closed.

When the press campaign yielded results and the legislature sent a contingent to DSC, Engineer Obi Okoye, then General Manager, granted me a lifetime residency at Camp Extension. But when he left, I had to pack my bags!

Now, let’s come back to my second “adjective”: that is, the “crucial” importance of this convention. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, “crucial” means “extremely important because it will affect other things.”

The remainder of this talk is about these “other things”, most of which are “ideas” and “abstractions”. An idea is a plan, or a thought, of what to do. Ideas which are not associated with any specific thing are said to be “abstract”.

This convention is “crucial” because it is a turning point. This is in stark contrast to the lonely struggle Engineer Okoye and I waged at DSC, until the national media came to our aid.

But to “turn” to what? Do you have a vision for the future? Will history and genetics, for example, be taken into account in your plans for the steel industry? Otherwise, Ajaokuta and the other plants will be stillborn. They will fail, like DSC.

Let me explain why. The time must surely come, when Ajaokuta is not profitable. It could be soon, after its inauguration; or later, due to unforeseen requirements, such as dumping of foreign steel into the Nigerian market.

Whenever such a crisis arises, policymakers must have a conception of steel that goes beyond financial “profits and losses”. Steel should be viewed as a vital evolutionary asset, the production of which has what biologists call “fitness relevance.”

In Darwinian theory, behavior (or information) “relevant to fitness” enhances an organism’s ability to produce offspring and wage competitive warfare (fighting for survival!) – which is what drives it. of the biology of the Earth.

The competitive advantage of steel production comes from the fact that most capital and consumer goods either: (a) contain steel; (b) are made with steel machinery; or (c) are transported in vehicles, mainly made of steel.

Survival benefits are passed on from generation to generation, through sexual activity and / or learning. All living things, even plants and bacteria, learn. In fact, “intelligence” is broadly defined as the ability to learn from past experiences.

This is where the story comes in. Knowing the past helps us understand the present and prepare for the future! I will summarize two principles of neuroscience, to illustrate my point.

First, the principle of free energy considers the brain as a predictive machine whose role is to minimize surprises, that is to say to anticipate future events. It involves reducing “free energy”, which neuroscientists equate to entropy (ie disorder, chaos).

The other principle is mental time travel, in which neurons tap into the brain’s database of past experiences (stored memories), before making decisions about the future. Mental time travel occurs at both the organism and the societal level.

The “data bank” of a society is its history: collective memories, stored in libraries, archives and school textbooks. Having been unable to access this database, Nigerian policymakers were oblivious to the value of steel as a survival asset.

However, Africa’s ancient industrial past affirms the relevance of this strategic alloy. As early as 2000 years ago, for example, the Haya of Tanzania produced medium carbon steel in preheated forced draft furnaces.
• Professor Obatala gave this message of goodwill to the Nigerian Army Resource Center, Asokoro, Abuja on November 25, 2021 during a conference of civil society activists, who are collaborating with policymakers, in their efforts to resuscitate the complex Ajaokuta Steel.


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