Ogbonnaya Onu, the minister of science and technology, says Nigeria will start producing its own pencils in another two years, as part of a wholesale production-sector revamp to be witnessed in the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari. Speaking in an interview with Daily Trust, Onu expressed assurance that the plan would have a “meaningful impact” on the economy, because the wide aim of the ministry is to “commercialise developed ideas and research findings to principal levels”. He dismissed questions over the importance of pencil production, saying Nigerians would be amazed at the multiplier effects, which will include the creation of at least 400,00 jobs. “Yes, I have heard questions on why pencils. We chose pencils to symbolize the problems that we have and our commitment to local production,” he said.
“To produce pencils, we need wood, graphite, rubber for the eraser and possibly, we will need aluminium to hold the rubber in place. Then, we may need paint to give it colour. But even if we don’t add paint or rubber, already we have a pencil and it will write. “Now, we have all the things to produce a pencil, which is used by a large number of people from our young pupils to engineers, and it looks simple to produce, yet we have not been able to produce it. That is why we talked about producing pencils.
“We have asked PRODA (the Projects Development Agency) to ensure Nigeria starts producing pencils in two years. It is actually not PRODA’s mandate to produce the pencils. No. PRODA is just to do the holistic research on pencil production in Nigeria. Somebody can start producing pencils here and will still be importing the wood, the graphite, the rubber, bringing in everything. No, that is not what we want.
“We want PRODA to do research to make the production process totally local. We have to treat the graphite to conform to the required standard for good quality production. We also have to work on the type, quality and shape of the wood to be used. The local content will also be total. This is PRODA’s assignment.
“When PRODA is through with its job, it is the private sector that will come in to do the production and we will see the benefits. When production of pencils begins, Nigerians will be amazed at the multiplier effects. It will create a minimum of 400,00 jobs. There will be the small-scale entrepreneurs that will do the beneficiation of the graphite, that is, prepare it for pencil production; there will be small-scale entrepreneurs that will prepare the rubber to be used as an eraser for pencils; and there will also be small-scale entrepreneurs that will also prepare the wood for the appropriate use. Can we imagine creating jobs for 100,000 people. The results will be amazing!”
He expressed worry that Nigeria has no single pencil-producing factory, despite the ease of required technology. “PRODA has confirmed that there is not a single pencil-producing factory in Nigeria and even in West Africa. This is why we are worried. We know this is a technology we can easily handle. Beyond that, the number of jobs we will create in starting pencil production is very encouraging. It will also be good for the image of the nation,” he said. “The pencil-production idea will make meaningful impact on the economy. It will certainly do. The wide aim of the ministry is to commercialise ideas, research findings, etc that we have developed to principal levels. And there are so many of them.
“We are working with the organized private sector. The National Association of Small-Scale Industrialists and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group had visited us here; they had never done that until now. We are making them understand we have taken a big risk off them by doing research and development and clearing the pitfalls, so theirs is to come in and invest
“The FIIRO (Federal Institute of Industrial Research) alone has developed more than 250 research studies up to the point of commercialization. And in incubation, we have an agency in charge that has done up to 1000 products. I have many of the products myself, and these are things we use on daily basis. Our major task now is to get these products into the market, but if they are not commercialised, and maintained, how can people know they exist? We can then start creating jobs. Government will also start earning revenues from the taxes these producers will pay to government to do many things.”
Onu also spoke on his recent visits to China and Indonesia for partnerships towards developing Nigeria’s science and technology sector, especially in local production. He described the visits as a success, saying many of the agreements that were “reached” would boost local production. He also expressed optimism that Nigeria will be Africa’s technology hub by 2026.