Nurturing Talents

I read and noticed with great admiration how the story of that young automotive ‘engineer’ Muzammil Umar from Kebbi trended on social media. To remind us, he built a car which he drove to school. How cool and honourable can driving a car you built be? I couldn’t see the automobile in person but from pictorial observation, I saw a generator in the car bonnet, probably used to provide power to the car. Well he got so many Facebook likes and comments. The ingenious car was also always the first in the convoy of the incumbent governor of the state during his campaign last year.

Nigerian SS3 student builds car, drives it to school in Kebbi
Muzammil with one of his rides

To another talented automotive designer, Bashir Aliyu, living about 150 km from the engineer, in Sokoto. The beautiful small prototypes he made were again trending on social media. Lots of people fell in love with him. To cap his admiration, the Governor of Sokoto State invited him and offered him a full scholarship to study automotive design in the US. That’s great for him and for Nigerians.

bashir aliyu
Bashir with one of his beautifully designed cars

In another northern state of Nigeria, in Kano, an unaccredited engineer built a helicopter in 2007 that could fly at 7 feet (roughly the distance between your floor and the top of your door) off the ground. It was built from an old Honda engine, Toyota parts and parts of a wrecked plane. He was presented to the National Assembly some years back, I didn’t know what he got from it though.

In Anambra, I read how some teenage boys designed prototypes of helicopters too. Another man in Benue also built a small chopper too. All are yet to fly though.

If you follow carefully, this is a story of young talented individuals following their passion. This is a short story of how young men spend ample amount of time working on what truly motivates them. And it reminds me of what Albert Einstein said about his intelligence, “it’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”.

I was in Stuttgart (Germany) last year, and my friends took me to tour the museum of Mercedes Benz at their headquarters. I toured the museum for about 4 hours and still couldn’t finish it as it should be. I saw right from the 8th floor (top most floor), the first automobile made by Karl Benz, and the 4 carriage wheel by Maybach. As you go down the floors, you will experience how they made advances in the engineering of cars, and even how the name Mercedez Benz came to be. Today, many of the most beautifully engineered cars are from Mercedes Benz. The president of Nigeria is driven in one.

Perhaps the world already knows how to make cars and airplanes compared to the times of Karl and Maybach when automobiles where not known. But the trend in young Nigerian adults translating their passions into tangible creations can be improved. Perhaps the education system in place should not only seek to educate people into knowing math, English or even French as recently obligated, or civic studies, or worse educate them out of their creativity (as Sir Ken Robinson popularly says and I agree 100%), but there should be spaces provided to nurture such individuals with rare and exceptional skills and talents in turning abstract ideas into reality.

Innovation spaces to empower and hone the creative skills of individuals that will make them come up with new quality ideas should be provided. The educational curricula should should also foster creativity and innovation. It should make regional innovation one of their main goals.

Bashir and Muzammil will not be the Karl Benz and Maybach (even though I wish they can. Karl and Maybach lived a few kilometres from each other in different cities like Bashir and Muzammil, although Karl and Maybach never met in their lives) of our generation, but they might turn out to be something remarkable if nurtured. There is a trend we need to understand here. These talents are not just popping up out of the blue. Many of them exist and some sadly do not open their package (talent) because the system does not have a mechanism in place to discover talent.

It is my wish that the culture of creativity and innovation will be fostered in our schools and universities. What do you think about a curriculum that fosters innovation? Have you come across individuals who kept at their passion in trying to succeed? We will want to read about their struggle if you don’t mind sharing.



I founded Innovation Lounge, a nonprofit that aims to foster the culture of creativity and innovation in schools and universities in Nigeria. If you want to support our efforts, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.


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