The boy who designed ‘helicopter’ in JSS1
You can call him a 'restless' young man whose head is bristling with ideas, but you cannot fail to see the passion and determination to succeed in his eyes. At 22, Emmanuel Okekunle, a senior secondary school graduate, has invented different items that show promise of an upcoming technologist or engineer. However, he regrets that many like him have been discouraged by lack of support and encouragement. He spoke to Sunday Vanguard. Excerpts:
Please tell us about yourself and what you have been doing.
I am a young inventor. I graduated from secondary school in 2010. I started trying my hands on innovations at the age of five. I made a wheelbarrow with copper wire at the age of five which was able to carry five liters of water. I was using it to fetch water then. I moved from there, when I was seven, I designed movable toy cars using motors, batteries and tomato tins.
When I was in JSS1, I designed a toy helicopter. By the time I got to SS2, I had a teacher who encouraged us to put in more efforts in inventions as it could secure us scholarship to further our education. This encouraged me to try my hands on rechargeable lamp, rechargeable fan, emergency alarm, electric waste bin which converts waste to ashes, aquarium and so on.
When I left secondary school – Cherubin and Seraphim College, Jos – I started thinking of other things to do while waiting to further my education. I went to the state Ministry of Science and Technology to tell them of my innovations, but I did not get any support. So I went to NTA, Jos which gave publicity to my inventions on national network.
Based on the publicity, the Plateau State Chapter of the Nigerian Society of Engineers invited me to see my works. However, nothing much came from that as they merely advised me to try and improve on the finishing of my works. It is not that I do not know that the finishing on my works is poor, but I cannot do much without financial support.
I was not discouraged and when I saw a promo on NTA on science exhibition, I decided to go for it. I worked on a methane digester which our science teacher taught us while in school but which did not work. Luckily for me, it worked and I was able to use it to produce bio-gas using poultry droppings mixed with other things. I represented Plateau State in Abuja at a science and technology exhibition with it.
What exactly do you want now?
What people like me need is support to improve our knowledge and capabilities. If government can assist us, we can take Nigeria to higher levels technologically. Professors alone cannot achieve Vision 20-2020 for Nigeria. Government needs to encourage people like us. If people like me can be assisted with scholarship to further our education and advance our skills, we will be able to build on our natural talent.
For instance, I am currently working on an electronic device for mitigating the effect of HIV/AIDS. It will use battery, resistor, transistor, diode and so on, which will be attached to the arm to reduce the level of virus in a victim's body. I am still working on it and I am optimistic it would work.
Where did you get the knowledge for your inventions considering your level of education and what has been the reaction of your parents?
I see it as a natural talent from God. I just get the idea and begin to try my hands on them. If I am able to acquire necessary education with this God-given talent, I will be able to do a lot. At first, it was difficult for my parents to appreciate what I was doing. I would pack tins and all manners of junk into the house and they would abuse me as being too playful. Those days, my mother would always throw away the things I pack to make my 'toys' before I return from school and would advise me to be less playful and face my studies. But when they saw that I was making a headway, they began to encourage me.
One would have expected that you should be in a higher institution by now since you completed secondary school in 2010…
I have been applying for admission but I am yet to be lucky. I will write the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) this year again and I pray that I'll be lucky. I know the value of education and a lot of people have been encouraging me to try and go to school to boost my talent. I believe that education will assist in actualizing my dreams and I will keep struggling until I secure admission.
We often read about young inventors like you but we don't hear of them again after the initial publicity. What do you think is the problem?
Many of them give up due to lack of encouragement from government and other agencies. As my experience has shown, they just look at what you have done but do nothing to help you improve on what you have done. I have many friends who are gifted like me but many of them give up because of lack of assistance or encouragement to carry their ideas further.
One about innovations is that the more you practice, the more knowledge you develop. So if we get sponsorship from government we will achieve more or even better than some of these technologically advanced countries.
We also need more encouragement from the ministries of science and technology. It is not enough to organize competitions where the only thing we get is coke and buns. They need to do more than that.
We need people who will be willing to move the country to the next level in the area of science and technology. Both government and private people should show interest in young inventors, train them and employ them after that so that they can translate their ideas into reality. People like Dangote and Adenuga who have been trying in different areas should join hands with government to move Nigeria to greater heights technologically.
Some of your inventions that we have seen are rather crude-looking. What are you trying to do to improve of this?
Everything is tied to finance, if I have the finance, it is not difficult to have better and attractive finishing for my inventions. I have gone to several exhibitions. What I need now is assistance to translate my inventions into reality. I have a lot of invention ideas in my head and with necessary assistance and encouragement, I will be able to translate them into concrete innovations.
By Taye Obateru