COMMERCIALIZATION OF RESEARCH FINDINGS, KEY TO VISION 20-20
The first step would be to look inwards and pick up products of research by local scientist and commercialize them. Not commercializing means that we are importing everything we need: clothing, furniture, electronics etc but the one that is even taking more money is that the few industries doing some form of production imports all machines they require and this is valued at hundreds of millions in foreign exchange every year. Just think of generators as an example.
All the generators that are used in this country are all imported, all the grinding mills, think of any equipment. Some of these are simple equipments that our researchers can work on and produce locally. If they are produced locally it means you can buy them locally and the producer can employ more people so attacking unemployment problem and creating wealth because they can make more money and invest in other areas and most importantly the pressure on our foreign exchange will come down. Cann't Nigeria put something on the global table? Must we remain a nation that just consumes what others have produced? Now that the oil industry is crashing do we still have the money to sustain the huge importation? But Nigeria will gain a lot if it commercializes some of the products of local research and innovation.
Determined to pull this nation out of the quagmire and drop flashes of light on the pathway to 2020, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology has risen to the challenge.
At the National Council on Science and Technology held recently at Presidential Hotel Enugu, the ministry provided an opportunity for egg heads in the science and technology sector to brainstorm on how to fast-track the process of industrializing Nigeria.
The minister of science and technology, Dr Alhassan Bako Zaku charged Nigerian Scientist to embark on demand driven research which will facilitate the speedy commercialization of R and D outputs into industries saying that industrialists now complain that research results are often not targeted at the industries. He warned that 'the world will not forgive us if so much is spent on us and we cannot convert the resources we have for use by Nigerians. The money spent on us then is a waste.'
He said 'government has realized that science, technology and innovation are the primary driving force of development and globalization,' adding that 'deployment of science and technology apparatus will enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country.'
He therefore tasked the scientists on the need to promote problem-solving and market driven research and to ensure maximum benefit of research outputs to the states, local government areas and even individual homes and lives. 'It is in this light that all parastatals have been directed to base their research in solving at least one of the 7-point Agenda.'
Reiterating this view, Director General of Raw materials Research and Development Council Prof. Peter Onwualu hinted that a myriad of challenges face the research commercialization efforts in Nigeria.
His words: 'The major challenge is the environment that we are operating in and the near absence of the relevant engineering infrastructure that is required to translate prototypes to actual commercial models. Even when you have the commercial models, you still need environments where you can mass produce machines. These are yet not in existence in Nigeria. Most of the fabricators or institutions can only produce one or two units but we need an environment where you can actually produce thousands of units of the same machine.'
Asides this, the DG also identified inadequate funding as a bottleneck.. The private sectors in Nigeria are not yet mature to the level where they take risks and invest money that can be lost. That's why in some countries, government bring out some seed money where people can draw grants or soft loans that can be used to fund such innovations so that ones the innovations now picks up then it pays for itself.
The absence of research industries linkages is another challenge. He said some of the research outputs are not demand driven. End users should e brought in to the process at the onset of the research activity.
'The individual or organization that needs the research output is brought in from the beginning so that the research itself is demand driven. Once the product of the research is out the industry or the individual that needs it immediately picks it up. You don't now have to spend money to do any other scaling up because they are already in demand so demand driven research is one way to go. We have to ensure that any research we undertake has an end user waiting for it. So there is need for collaboration between industry and research.'
Equally, Director General of National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, NOTAP, Engr. Umar Bindir opined that the first secret in commercializing research and development is that those people involved in Rand D activities must work and produce results in response to the needs of the industries. If you do that automatically commercialization is easy, however if you are engaged in doing R and D without necessarily keying into the needs of the people and serving people you then have to come and find where the problem is before you can apply it.'
He said NOTAP is strategically placed to monitor technology transfer agreement of both public and private sector who bring consultants and technologies into the country adding that their records show that huge sums of money foreign currency are lost annually on payment and engagements of the foreign technologies that Nigeria consumes. When you have outputs of R and D in a local economy like ours do not expect the industry to take it up immediately. 'NOTAP is therefore positioned to pick up this result from the researchers as pilot plants and prototypes and then promote them gradually so that industries will recognize that they are good standard quality products that can easily be absorbed.'
Engr. Bindir further hinted that Nigeria is losing billions of foreign exchange annually to import technology services and hardware. ' In the power sector for instance all those working in the power sector, the purchase, installation, maintenance, servicing and operation of the equipment are mostly done by foreign consultants. This is foreign technology that Nigeria is constantly consuming. So why shouldn't Nigeria do it. We must position the Nigerian scientists, the Nigerian innovation system to respond gradually to make sure that it is domesticated. That's how China, India and Brazil did it and Nigeria can do it.'
The need for appropriate administrative infrastructure and incentives on R and D patenting came to the fore and the NOTAP boss said that 'We are also facilitating ways to promote patenting. We are now encouraging researchers to produce and we will access it, we will find out if they are patentable because we have got the data bases we can do such things for them and facilitate the patenting their products. It is only patent that initially will indicate to you that the product is commercializable.
He lamented that the patenting culture in Nigeria is not very vibrant. Over the past 10 years less than a 100 patents were recorded. This is so meager that one institute can actually do in a very vibrant scientific economy but with the establishment of IPTTOs we hope that is going to completely explode.
National Agency for Science Engineering Infrastructure, NASENI has recorded modest success in commercialization of primary science kits, weighing scale machine, automatic voltage regulator and has various projects on its table for commercialization but most importantly, the Director General of the agency Prof. Olusegun Adewoye said there will be commercialization of research products without necessary infrastructure in place. The DG who was represented by Dr Solomon Momoh, Director Engineering Infrastructure said, 'Ours is to develop engineering infrastructure. If you have developed something and you want to collaborate with us in ensuring the product standard or need equipment, we will help you develop that.
Commercialization processes would be a walk over if the relevant ICTs are deployed. Director General of National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Prof. Cleopas Angaye 'We play a very key role in commercialization of research because there are various techniques now for scientists to adopt. We can make it possible for this system to run a little bit faster. For instance you can use computer aided design to cut keys and information is loaded in memory you can replicate it very easily. With IT we can get to our destination (2020) faster than we can imagine.'
With all these in place, the government should adopt policies and provide regulations especially more conducive environment for industrialization which is firmly rooted on commercialization of local research products in Nigeria.