Pardon me if I do not get excited about many of the hot news in the Nigerian technology landscape. Much of it is just hot air. And that is exactly what the news that the University of Nigeria, Nsukka will start producing laptops sounds like – hot air.
So, UNN has established a technology incubator called Roar Nigeria Hub. That is lovely. We need as many of those as possible. We should have more hubs everywhere possible, especially in and around university and polytechnic communities.
UNN Laptop Production: With What?
When I read that the school says that the hub will soon start producing laptops – and tractors too – for the market, I lost steam right there. My question is, With what will these items be produced? With steel from Ajaokuta, or with petro-chemical materials from Eleme? How many of the parts – electronic and otherwise – will be made there at Nsukka or anywhere in the country? Where will training for the skilled personnel who will make these things take place? There is such a thing as factors of production. These factors do not currently add up in this picture.
The Option of Assembling
Perhaps if the school had said the laptops (and tractors) would be assembled at the hub, I wouldn’t be this disbelieving. Hardware manufacturing isn’t magic. We either have the capacity to do it or we do not. And I know that UNN does not. Even leading global tech brands operating in the country do not. Assembling is one thing; manufacturing is another.
One More Question About Made-in-UNN Laptops
I have one more question we need to ask about these proposed made-in-UNN laptops. It is a business question. Will these laptops be commercially viable? In other words, at what cost, considering the current state of infrastructure, will they be produced? At what cost will they “flood” the market? Will anyone looking to buy a laptop find them compelling enough to choose them over competing products? Or is this another bad business decision that will die off even after staff and students of the university have been forced to buy one each to give the project a boost?
We have seen similar initiatives go down this path in the last 30 years and it is tiring. The dynamics involved have not improved: power supply, materials, logistics, exchange rate, manpower, money. We need to put an end to this trend of making grandiose statements that do not hold up to the realities on ground.
Commendable as the passion behind this project is, it is difficult to see exactly what is going to be different this time. UNN’s Roar Nigeria Hub will be better off keeping a focus on apps and software and dropping this laptop project in its current form. Colour me Thomas on this.