The Self-sufficient Pre-colonial Nigeria and a Lagging New Nation


The Self-sufficient Pre-colonial Nigeria and a Lagging New Nation

By Dr. Buhari Habibu

Sometimes back, there had been a debate on whether the teaching of history as a subject in post-basic education should continue. The debate drew our attention to the need to teach history in a manner that will discourage tribalism and ethnic intolerance, and should inform us on how our ancestors successfully managed their communities with scientific and economic independence. Over time, there is an increase in number of research in our institutions of higher learning aimed at understanding the scientific basis of using plant extracts in the treatment of diseases. In some institution, majority of the studies in biomedical and life sciences are aimed at evaluating the rationale behind the use ofsome plants treating specific diseases by our forefathers. In fact, researchers hardly pick a plant to evaluate its therapeutic efficacy, except there are previous reports indicating itsuse traditionally. Several countries have patency of drugs discovered from plant extracts. For instance, quinine used in the past to treat malaria and digoxin used in the treatment of heart failure were discovered from plants several years back. Despite the available clues from scientists of the pre- and post-colonial times, till date, no single biological compound discovered within Nigeria is currently in use as commercial drug. Unlike us, our forefathers as scientists, were able to use available natural resources to produce drugs for treatment. Almost all drugs circulating the country are imported and the influential citizens cannot treat headache in Nigeria. Simply because, we cannot manage a functional, efficient and reliable health care system.

In agriculture, several pre-colonial techniques that were discarded on arrival of modern technologies are now being given a second thought for possible improvement, because they give better yield in our tropical climate. In our institutions of higher learning, studies are ongoing to understand the traditional crop and pastoralist production systems that had been in existence since the pre-colonial period. Our inability to understand, improve and apply the pre-colonial scientific knowledge in the field of crop and livestock sciences, explains why little or no progress has been made in commercialising our agricultural system. This is not the case in counties like India and China, where immense efforts have been made to transit from the typical ancient knowledge to a new one by a conscious marriage between ancient and modern science. For instance, Nigerian currently has no breed of livestock, besides the ones developed by our forefathers using their ancient scientific knowledge. This is unlike in countries like Brazil and India, where more productive breeds of livestock have been developed from gene pool of indigenous breeds. The colonial masters, to certain extent, attempted improving our ancient scientific knowledge by establishing functional research institutions to upgrade the medical and agricultural practices they met; these were ruined few years post-independence.

Ancient African nations, including several of such in Nigeria, satisfy all their needs locally, with little or negligible dependence on immediate neighbouring nations, not to talk of distant ones. Their food, buildings, clothes, beds, drugs, weapons, kitchen utensils as well as the means of knowledge transmission, transportation and communication were all developed indigenously. They only localised foreign knowledge to initiate a sustainable indigenous production, but never depended on mass importation of products they can produce using natural resources, cheaply available to them. These policies made them have an independent robust economy with great resilience to prevailing financial challenges. Thus, managing our current economic stumps via creating policies on the use of Naira will only affect the performance of Naira within the country, but its performance with respect to other currencies will be determined by the extent of our economic independence. Excessive buying using other currencies through importation will put pressure on and depreciate the Naira, whereas, excess selling of goods or raw material, through export, will make the Naira appreciate. If we can revert to the lives of our forefathers, we will start consuming what we produce locally, and shift the exchange rate in favour of the Naira.

Even some educated Nigerians poorly understand the implication of over dependence on foreign products and services for our daily survival. While we complain of unemployment and weak economy, we are so much in love with the root cause of our economic retrogression. Our ancestors ensured they created employment for one another to sustain an awesome economy, while the Nigerians of today make frantic efforts to create employment for citizens of other nations, leaving our economy in shamble. Yes, the world is now a global village, but every serious nation uses the village to its advantage. We have all the wonderful gift of nature to our advantage, but have chosen to be lazy. We must stop being proud of producing nothing and importing everything, while we export nothing. Who will create employment for us if the government and citizens do not encourage quality indigenous production and patronise locally-made products? Even the nations we patronise, wonder if we know that our nation is our image and foundation of our survival as a people.

We are pompous of our first degrees, philosophy degrees (PhDs) and professorship; but our scientific skill or knowledge is inconsequential to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), because of educational system is certificate-driven. The ancient Nigerian educational system is highly practical and only for the purpose of application. We have a lot of wealthy citizens that spend wastefully and will never consider investing wisely to support entrepreneur and boost local production. Many citizens cannot directly invest in the economy, given that their wealth was gotten through illicit means. Others will never consider investing again as their hard earned fortune had been squandered in the past by management team they trusted. Local and foreign investors that have survived against all odds, rarely entrust Nigerians with sensitive positions in their companies. Undoubtedly, Nigerians can do better, as exemplified by those in the diaspora. Impunity perpetuated by the executive arm of government and the legal system are the main factors promoting these negative attitudes of Nigerians. Our nation can only be fixed through determination, patriotism, patience and discipline; these are the building blocks that give the blooming system in developed countries we love visiting, and are also instrumental to the success of our forefathers.

Our family and educational systems must begin to be practical in producing persons or graduates that must act indigenously in Nigeria with the patriotic aim of cutting down importation and increasing exportation of locally-made products and services. Both local production and export can only grow when there is trust and products are of good quality. We must improve and adopt the economic model of our forefathers in preparation for the financial challenges in the coming years, especially with dangling and diminishing income from crude oil export. The 90 million Nigerians(45%) that are currently poor may cease to live a destitute life, when there are many functioning local industries to create jobs for the 48 million unemployed, especially the 53% youths that are unemployed. If employed, these youths will have no time for crime and security will improve, with the incessant killings reduced, significantly. Government can generate monumental revenue by taxing employers and employees of local industries, and have more resources to run government and service its rising debt. All we need is the will and wisdom from both the government and the citizens. Every parent, teacher and lecturer must start singing the song of ‘produce quality products and patronise indigenous products or perish’. If our forefathers could, why can’t we?

Dr. Habibu lectures in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and can be reached through