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Challenges and Opportunities for Competitive Advantage in the 21st Century

Whilst environmental considerations must reflect in economic and development decisions, consecutively environmental decisions must be part of socio-economic development.

Several months ago a learned friend residing in Nigeria expressed concerns over the quality of education and curriculum in the country. He made further reference to students in tertiary institutions receiving mainly theoretical knowledge with no practical applications and remarked that given the teeming number of unemployed youths across the country, he is deeply concerned. I was compelled to deliberate over why he expressed his concerns to me, and what he expected me to do if anything at all.

Education is one of the greatest investments any country could ever make. I recollect my primary school days in Lagos. Besides learning a subject like civics – defined as the study of the rights and duties of citizenship, one day each week we attended a wood and metal works class at a location we aptly called ‘Centre’. There, we – boys and girls – acquired vocational skills in wood and metal fabrication. We manufactured spoons, forks, plates, knives, cutlasses, cups, tables, window-frames, sieves, and chairs, etc. This marked a humble beginning in my exposure to DO-IT-YOURSELF (DIY). Today it is relatively easy for me to read and understand a technical design, couple, fabricate, or repair numerous objects.

In the early 70s, although some houses in Lagos were equipped with pit latrines – Shalanga, others used an aluminum bucket with a lid. Hence an employment category known as Agbepo (night-soil men) emerged. For a fee, every night the Agbepo holding a short broom, with handkerchief over his nose, and a bucket would traverse neighbourhoods to collect faecal matter for disposal. The Agbepo seldom spoke but if encountered would grunt. At night upon sighting the Agbepo, little children experienced fright and would scamper for cover. Eventually I discovered that some of the faecal matter was disposed of at Ebute Ero in Isale Eko, near our learning facility. Hence depending on which direction the wind was blowing, occasionally the stench from the dumpsite would waft through our learning facility. For this reason, sometimes my fellow pupils and I were averse going to the learning facility. I wonder if civics, metal, and woodwork classes are directly offered in primary, or secondary schools in today’s Nigeria?

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Now let us consider the Urban Environmental Transition (UET) hypothesis. Debates on how to achieve a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability are far from being over. Though some consider economic growth as inherently destructive of the environment; others deem it beneficial, or initially destructive but eventually beneficial. The UET posits “there is a series of distinct environmental challenges that cities experience during developmentAs cities become wealthier, their environmental burdens shift in nature; otherwise described as moving from brown to grey to green environmental agenda challenges.” Most environmental problems in African cities are Brown Agenda related (Table 1).

The good news is sustainable development rests on three pillars (Figure 1): environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity. Explicitly, whilst environmental considerations must reflect in economic and development decisions, consecutively environmental decisions must be part of socio-economic development.

Here is the smart bit, the challenges and opportunities for competitive advantage in the 21st century. At the end of the life cycle of a tyre, car or lorry, proper disposal becomes an important and complex issue. This is a challenge in many municipal cities across Africa and elsewhere.

Resulting products from used tire treatment include energy production, wherein waste becomes an alternative source of fuel. After grinding up to 20 mm (chips): iron and textile fibres can be separated (Figure 2). Material can be used as a substrate in civil and industrial applications. Raw materials such as crumb rubber with dimensions of 0 to 4mm, which is 99% pure is ideal for use in anti-shock flooring, compounds and mixtures for asphalt, outdoor furnitures, insulation and sound-absorbing panels, etc.

I have always maintained that development wished by ‘others’ is inferior and comes at a snail’s pace if it comes at all. Each day, one is likely to read or view a report that a far-flung foreign entity; government, aid agency, group and even individuals are going to partner with Nigeria, pledged or donated billions in a currency of their choice to tackle one shortfall or another in Nigeria. Commendable! But against the backdrop of these unending reports, here are the facts; in Nigeria if you want a steady supply of electricity, buy a generator. Regarding roads, you are at the mercy of the potholes and whatever else may be out there. Alluding to safe drinking water, there are no guarantees and the list goes on. Arguably, it took the Highly Developed Countries (HDCs) many years to get to where they are today, but considering the gains made in many African countries since independence, one can only wonder what is/are inherently wrong with Africa?

In advanced countries, university libraries stock up-to-date literature, books, and reference materials. With well-equipped laboratories, electricity is constant and burns late into the night because students are engaged in research and learning. Regrettably, Africa remains beleaguered by development challenges. Many of its states are weak, with mostly basic economies at best and hardly any value-added before export. Similarly, the manufacturing base; electricity, transport, roads, and communications infrastructure are under strength, along with managerial and skilled-worker capacity. Is Africa equipped to join the rest of the world and be accounted as worthwhile? Can its nations have vibrant economies, or are they condemned to perpetual poverty, political and economic insignificance? Certainly, Africa can be turned around and made to compete with the best in the world, but to overcome inertia will require mettle, a total change in thinking and behaviour.

If development is to prove sustainable in Africa, it must begin with, be strategically driven, and led by highly skilled and qualified nationals. Now, let us revisit civics, which I defined as the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. Obviously there are some who do not subscribe to the idea of an entity called Nigeria. They harbour a sense of disenfranchisement, marginalisation or being set aside. However, citizenship and the duties of a citizen are inextricably linked through a social contract with the state. Once that contract is breached trust is broken and exceedingly difficult to regain. Has Nigeria exceeded its threshold; can trust in the leadership be regained?

Fortunately, Nigerians are stoic and hard-working. The country is endowed with both human and natural resources – neither should be frustrated or squandered. Like the Asian tigers have done, Nigeria needs to make the needful sacrifices. Citizens must roll up their sleeves and get on with the development agenda. Feed a person today, tomorrow he/she will go hungry again. One way to transform lives is through job creation. Hence, a challenge goes out to ANYONE, or GROUP in Nigeria seriously committed to employment and income generation for the teeming and unemployed youths, to seriously consider the following. Firstly, the knock-on effects associated with the proper disposal of used vehicle tires. Benefits include secondary materials products i.e. rubber modified asphalt for road construction, anti-shock flooring, interlocking bricks, applications in children’s playgrounds, artificial turf, mulching for landscape, outdoor furnitures (Figure 3).

Secondly, green logistics measures and aims to minimise the footprint or ecological impact of logistics activities. How could Nigeria merge efficiency with environmental excellence to create more value for business and also crucially for communities – with less negative externalities?

Thirdly, for nearly 5,000 years logistics continues to play a fundamental role in global development. From the beverages we consume to the foods we eat, our home or office appliances, the clothes we wear, medicines, gifts, fuel for our vehicles, vacations and much more, logistics pervades our everyday lives.

For decades steel containers have been used to move millions of products around the globe (Figure 4). 42% lighter than aluminium but costlier than its counterpart steel, could carbon fibre (Figure 5) composites revolutionise global trade? Time for too much grammar and unending debates is over, time to put actions to words Mbok, Biko, Jọwọ, Don Allah, Useni, Lahor wowo. My sincere apologies over any ethnic language omitted.

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