Harnessing technology for a pot of soup

This is a true story. As a child, along with my younger brother and sister, we refused to eat our own mothers pot of soup. Yes! We returned from Command Children's School, An's Barrack, Yaba, tired and very hungry. Yet we took one look at the freshly prepared "Eba and vegetable soup" and declined to eat. Before you draw the wrong conclusions permit me to say it was not that my mother was a terrible cook (she is a great cook in fact) nor was it because we were spoilt brats. It was not because we were still getting accustomed to Nigerian culinary delights after the preceding 5 years in England. The truth was that there was kerosene (otherwise known as Jet-A1 fuel) in her soup. It was so thick you could smell it. How did kerosene  get in to the vegetable soup? It was a simple error in skill or technology or both.

 This gist begins with my dad bringing home a live goat (if you are a vegetarian or animal rights activist you may want to skip to the next paragraph). Despite lacking skill and experience, my mum chose to kill and prepare the goat in partnership with an uncle rather than call the usual "Mai nama" (butcher) to save money. They did not just lack skill, they also lacked the "technology" to roast an entire goat. In Africa there are two basic methods for roasting a goat or cow or lamb. One is on a spit (long metal rod) over an open fire and the other is in a pit, much like old style barbecue. Either way you need an area about five feet wide and three to four feet across. You will also need a lot of wood or charcoal. The spit method seemed easier as there was no permission to dig a  pit in the lawn of our house at 15 An's Barrack. They set to work roasting the goat but the poorly set up spit gave way and the bucket filled with kerosene, fell on to the goat and then both fell in to the fire. I still recall my mum making us fetch buckets and buckets of water as she frantically sought to wash away the kerosene before my dad got home. After an hour she gave up, sliced and diced the goat and made the famous vegetable soup. 

Now this is where the story gets interesting. My dad returned from work to see the stand off. My mum was crying in a corner and we kids stood arms folded feeling confused, abused and angry. My dad brought his favoured army belt and said to each of us,"your answer to this question will determine how many strokes of the belt you will each receive". Wait a minute I thought. "How can this be our fault?". 

Then my dad asked a question that still reverberates in my hearing until today, "How many times have you gone to school and returned with a pot of soup?". 

He continued, "your gaining education only indicates that perhaps you will learn and maybe make something out of life. It is not proof of any achievement. It does not mean you will get a job or more importantly create jobs for others". He must be a prophet because across the world (not just in Africa) we see an increasing number of graduates but decreasing employment opportunities. We see skilled labour unable to find labour with their skills. This problem is compounded in Africa where educational achievement becomes a status symbol and the youth do not return home with "a pot of soup". You see engineers doing anything but engineering and lawyers unable to practice law. 

That is why I am excited by the achievement of Nigerian Navy engineers who designed and built the first made in Nigeria warship, NNS ANDONI (it is pictured above at the Naval Dockyard before weapons were installed). I was privileged to have the assistant project manager take me on a tour of the ship during my visit to Nigeria in April 2012. What really impressed me was the enthusiasm and competence the officer displayed. He spoke about the challenges in passing through bureaucratic bottle necks and the toll on his family from the very long hours (he was working on a Sunday afternoon). As an engineer myself who was privileged to be part of a Nigerian and British international team that designed and built two spacecraft launched in to low earth orbit in 2011, it was exhilarating to see that they used similar techniques to us. In terms of skill, the team was made of a mixture of competent US and UK trained engineers and fresh graduates to ensure knowledge transfer. This was similar to my satellite experience. They were allowed a free hand to express engineering ideas in a conducive atmosphere (which was a feat considering the usual military command and control). There was an initial setback, when funding for the build of the warship was pulled in the usual African policy somersault. However, when the team was reconvened they did not just learn but built on the experience to produce the NNS ANDONI that we see today. Every engineering feat is a performance based endeavor. They also had the right technological backing from the Naval Dockyard. As we seek to make Africa the new manufacturing capital of the world it is small steps like this that will lead to the giant leaps we desire so we can bring home the pot of soup.


This is in response to the Article below:

Jonathan Inaugurates Nigeria’s First Locally-Made Warship, Articles | THISDAY LIVE

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