Then, our toys had, inscribed under or behind them, “Made in Japan”, and as those got out of reach, we had the “Made in Taiwan” set. These bundles of joy would fall apart after our little hands had put them to serious use.

It was not uncommon to see a toy plane loading sand outside our “verandah”, the patio and porch of the colonial styled residential building where we lived as children of civil servants in an all-women teacher training college, in Afikpo, South Eastern Nigeria.

When our toys, these plastic and aluminum bundles of joy weathered out, our imagination would not. We created our versions of these toys with anything that was malleable, foldable or that could be tied. All over, rotor motors were ripped out of old radios to make fans mounted on plywood splats. Jerrycans were cut open with four tyres affixed to make sand-moving carts.

Older kids knocked solid wood together on four tyres ripped from wheel-barrows to make carts that could move farm produce from the subsistent farms. These could move water cans, and younger kids took bumpy rides in them as well.

We did not know it, but we were tooling engineers, playing in the dirt.

China especially moved on with their tooling engineering programme, while we were told to tie brooms as handwork.


In December, 2017, Apple CEO, Tim Cook declared “… In the US you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure we could fill the room. In China you could fill multiple football fields.” … China called that right from the beginning.

tool design engineer’s duties would include drawing up blueprints and schematics, consulting with engineers and manufacturers about specifications and production, and working with teammates to solve problems. Without tooling engineers, no nation would ever produce anything it conceived – from a simple plastic spoon to a 3-moving-part kitchen tool or a farming machine with many more moving parts.

In fact, if Apple were forced to solely manufacture the iPhone in America, there is a good argument that it would not be able to manufacture any at all. If it did, it would be a few million copies annually. So, again, why China?

Tim Cook, maintains, “There’s a confusion about China… the popular conception is that companies come to China because of low labor cost. I’m not sure what part of China they go to but the truth is, China stopped being the low labor cost country many years ago and that is not the reason to come to China from a supply point of view…

…The reason is because of the skill… and the quantity of skill in one location… and the type of skill it is. The products we do, require really advanced tooling. And the precision that you have to have in tooling and working with the materials that we do are state-of-the-art. And the tooling skill is very deep here.”

Those words remain true today as when they were first said. So, we will be dedicating this coloumn to all the kids who abandoned their love for making things to study engineering without any ‘practicals’, and all who were flogged for ‘playing in the dirt’. The opportunity to present Nigeria with its greatest set of tooling engineers may be gone, but we shall seek out tomorrow’s champions who are making little hydraulic equipment with syringes and wires all over Nigeria and Africa.

These are our tooling engineers and innovatechs who must not fail. Like we did.

Picture Caption: 2019. Fifteen-year-old Nigerian boy, Hope Emmanuel Frank, from Akwa Ibom, Southern Nigeria, wowing people with his engineering talent, using wood and condemned laptop batteries to construct a moving caterpillar.

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