X-Raying Oragwu’s Suggestions on Nigeria’s Science and Technology Dilemma (3)

By Jerome-Mario Utomi     
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Jerome-Mario Utomi
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As the piece moves from lamentation to finding solutions, it will be rewarding to state that the global community particularly the development practitioners, do not think that what the federal Government is doing is the best way to solve the problem bedeviling the nation’s science and technology sector. They are particularly not happy that Nigeria has invested little in science, technology and innovation over the past three decades. This lack of investment has handicapped research and development in strategic industries.

To support this assertion, they argued that the country’s gross expenditure for research and development as a percentage of GDP is 0.2%, less than half the world average of 0.4% whereas, many smaller African countries have done far better than Nigeria. Mozambique spends (0.5%), Mauritius (0.4%), Uganda (0.4%) and Botswana (0.5%).

To solve these problems and save the sector and Nigeria by extension from inertia and potpourri of dilemma posed by the present challenge, these are what Felix Oragwu, FSAN. Proposed in that Keynote address Titled: The Challenges of Science and Technology in Nigeria’s Economy: The Way Forward, delivered in March 2018at Eagle Square, Abuja, from where this piece stemmed.

For emphasis, as noted in the first part, while every credit in compliance with the intellectual property law which creates propriety rights over intangible assets, goes to Oragwu as these solutions proffered on, and spread out in subsequent paragraphs are chiefly and completely from the aforementioned keynote address, it needs be underlined also that sharing this solutions is predicated first on public good considerations, and, on, informing those in the position of authority to such an existing roadmap which is part of my obligation as a citizen.

Beginning with the Challenge of Human Capital Development for Technologies and Industrial Goods Production / Manufacture in Nigeria’s Economy, the keynote address observed as follows; Nigeria has to increase drastically the number of her current Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology and Technical Colleges in relation to the in-explicable very large number of Universities and related Academies in Nigeria’s economy in order to clearly address the training and development of professional and technical skills for Technologies and Industrial goods production in Nigeria’s Economy.

This recommendation is supported by the fact that in Great Britain, a top globally competitive World Industrial Economy and which had her first University, namely Oxford University in1199, had eight hundred (800)years later , in 1957, a total of 15 Universities, 9 in England, 4 in Scotland, 1, in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland but had thousands of Polytechnics, Advanced Colleges of Technology, Technical Colleges and City and Guilds Schools all focused on training professional and technical skills on engineering components fabrication, welding skills, nuts and bolts making skills, primary raw materials processing skills, glass ware making skills, molding skills, panel making skills, steel rolling skills, metal fabrication skills, etc. and other various aspects of modern technics of production and services including equipment, machines, industrial plants, engineering tools, Scientific measuring and control instruments including fast computers.

This preponderance of professional skilled manpower in UK and USA R&D / Technology Development Agencies is also what was observed in Japan at the turn of 20thCentury AD and now observed in China, India and South Korea, which did not witness at first hand the 18th and 19th Century AD Industrial Revolutions in Europe, just like Nigeria. Therefore, Nigerians should follow suit, if Nigeria wants to make serious industrial and economic progress. This means far Less number of Universities for Scientific knowledge acquisition as at present but far more numbers of Polytechnics / Colleges of Technology and extremely far more Technical Colleges for professional / technical skills acquisition for production / manufacture of Technologies and Industrial goods (capital, consumer items and industrial materials) and Services in Nigeria’s economy,

Domestic Industries, both SMEs and Large Industries involved in industrial Goods production, manufacture and Services in Nigeria Economy, should be made to have Engineering Design and Fabrication Divisions at the ground floor of their operations, in order to undertake necessary technology innovations as part of their Economic activities, and be so monitored on a regular basis to ensure compliance,

The existing domestic R&D Institutions / Agencies should be made to see themselves primarily as technologies (equipment, machines, scientific measuring and control instruments including fast computers, engineering tools, industrial plants etc.) producing Agencies not just pretending to be another Universities and or Scientific knowledge based acquisition Institutions for which they are ill-equipped and not mandated compared with the Universities and Scientific research institutions including Agricultural and Medical Scientific Research Institutions, which are not R&D Agencies because their output is applicable scientific knowledge services in the Economy, in particular, natural Agricultural Commodity, natural Minerals surveys and exploitation, and Medical scientific Services. For instance, FIRRO was established by British Colonial Authorities as a Scientific Research services Institution in 1956 and remained so until 1979 when it was reconstituted into an R&D Institution for which it is still struggling to come to terms with.

Therefore R&D Institutions such as NASENI, PRODA, FIRRO, NOTAP, SEDIE, SEDIM,RMRDC etc. should clearly see their Mandates as technologies development and industrial goods production institutions in the economy and have their manpower dominantly middle level technologists, technicians etc. with professional and technical skills for technologies and industrial goods production. R&D Agencies should be in a position to read, use and produce Patents. Each R&D Agency should have an Industrial Liaison, Extension Services with Industry and also have to, market their output and earn Revenue. For example, PRODA under the defunct ECS, 1971-1975 was earning over 50% of its Annual Expenditure. NASENI’s inspiring innovation work on imported Electron Voting Machine can on commercialization earn a lot of revenue from the commercialization of the new modified Electronic Voting Machine. A total review of all existing R&D Institutions should be undertaken, and their responsibilities clearly determined.

The Government Science and Technology Development Policy (with emphasis on No Technology No Economic Progress) should be in place for promoting Nigeria’s industrial and economic development and should be focused on (a) sustainable, well-funded and well equipped Science and Engineering Infrastructure Complexes in all aspects of Technologies and Industrial goods production and manufacture and the creation of professional and technical human capital for economic development. Private Sector Industries should follow suit and, also invest in R&D.

For instance, RMRDC should work on producing industrial chemicals (organic, inorganic, and special chemicals such as fertilizers and explosives) now heavily imported into Nigeria’s economy, PRODA should deal mostly with production technologies and industrial capital goods and Industrial Plants, NOTAP should concentrate on Innovations on imported technologies to produce new technologies for use by SMEs to stop them from continuing to go to import such technologies , FIRRO should deal with the processing of primary agricultural and other food commodities and industrial Food processing technologies and or industrial plants. This is the way to go for Nigeria to become a competitive Industrial Nation, and all these activities must be continuously monitored by an appropriate Government body to ensure implementation and compliance, Thailand produces over 15 industrial products from Cassava and Malaysia produces many industrial products from palm oil, how many industrial products does FIRRO produce from cassava and palm oil?

Government should consider seriously bringing all Public R&D and Technology Agencies together under one Umbrella, such as National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure Development (NASENI) to save Administrative costs and wasteful duplication of scarce resources, manpower and responsibilities. This particular suggestion is in line with that of late Minister Professor G.O. Ezekwe, when he initiated NASENIas such a body in 1992. This also is what is mostly observed during my visits to South Korea and Japan in the 1980s, where the now most creative and effective Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)was effectively involved in the establishment of the now thriving South Korea Steel (Sheet metal and Carbon Steel) making industry and the Korea Automobile Industry (KIA) now making waves in Nigeria.

Government Policy on Funding of public R&D Institutions / Agencies should also be reviewed so that public funding is scaled down as the Institutions / Agencies age, so that after a period of say ten years, such Institutions / Agencies should depend on their own earnings and pay taxes to the Government that set them up. This is the practice one has observed in my Trips to China, India and the Republic of South Korea which is worthy of consideration in Nigeria to stimulate healthy competition among Institutions for Private Sector funds. In my time only NASENI was headed by a Director General, the rest are headed by Directors, an urgent reversal to what obtained in the past will reduce costs of Management and Administration of R&D / Technology Agencies and for improved productivity and cost benefit,

The Staffing of R&D Institutions / Technology Development Agencies should also reflect their Mandates so that a Ratio of one Scientist, one Engineer, one Senior Technologist to four middle level Technologists (normally with HND) and to Thirty lower level Technicians (normally with OND) be established in order to address the Skills (mechanics, machinists, CPU components, electricians, fitters, welders, Vehicle components, bolts /nuts etc.) for modern industrialization of Nigeria, being it understood that University Degrees and or Basic education do not produce industrial goods but products (HND and OND) of Polytechnics / Technical Colleges do and create jobs and wealth in a Nation,,

Government should endeavor to address the unnecessarily high prestige / status accorded to University Degrees / Certificates in Nigeria, compared to the inexplicable much lower prestige / status accorded to the Diploma /Certificates of the products of Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology and Technical Colleges, the prime movers of competitive Technology and Research Industry and production / manufacture of technologies and globally competitive industrial goods,

NASENI and other related R&D Institutions should therefore brace themselves up to the demands of increased Internet Access,the challenges of Technology obsolescence in Nigeria’s economyand the on-going 21stCentury ICT Revolution and Innovations,

Government may wish to have a second look at its Policy on Industry and foreign Trade, foreign Investments and note that it is not wise to encourage near total dependence on imported Technologies and Industrial Goods,which subsidizeTechnologiesand Industrial goods production in foreign Industrial Nations at the expense of real economic growth and industrial development in Nigeria,

Nigeria should map out time bound scientific, technological and industrial goods production agenda based on greater creative work in order to achieve by the year 2030the following, namely, (1) 50% of modern technologies in use in Nigeria to be domestically produced, (2) 25% of the exports to be industrial capital goods (i.e. equipment, machinery, scientific measuring and control instruments including fast Computers, etc., based on the strategy of Technology Innovation in Nigeria’s economy, (3) 50% of Raw Materials Exports to be in processed forms, and all the above activities being guided by the recent Federal Government National Science, Technology Implementation Roadmap (NSTIR) and in tandem with National Economic and Recovery Growth Plan (NERGEP), and

Finally Nigeria’s Leadership Elite in Politics and Government need to seriously address the current Structure of Federal (Central) Government and 36 State Governments which take up over 75 % of the National Budget for servicing the bureaucracy leaving less than 25 % for Capital Projects required to develop economic development supporting infrastructures of Electricity Supply, Road and Railway transportation, etc. and to create jobs for the mass of our Youths and to combat the current terrible poverty now threatening the unity, peace and progress of our Nation. In this respect the incredibly large Remuneration paid to Political Office Holders in Nigeria needs drastic Review.

I hold the opinion that these are suggestions Nigeria and Nigerians must not ignore.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;j[email protected]/08032725374.

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