Funding NASENI For Research And Development 

By  Jerome-Mario Utomi
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Khalil Suleiman Halilu (Executive vice chairman and chief executive officer of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure NASENI)

If there is any recent evidence that points to hope for Science and Engineering Infrastructure in Nigeria, it is the recent visit to the Management of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), by the Senator Francis Ezenwa Onyewuchi-led Nigerian Senate Committee on NASENI, where the committee among other declarations affirmed its commitment to work with the Management of the Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) on the need to speed up the various stages of commercialization of the agency's research & Development (R&D) results, technology prototypes, machine and equipment for the ultimate transformation of the Nigerian economy.

As a background to the piece, the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) was established in 1992 by the Federal Government with a mandate in specific area of Capital goods, research, production and reverse engineering. NASENI, by its mandate and scope of operation is the Nigerian only purpose built Agency designed to conduct developmental work in the areas of manufacturing and as such, it is capable of coordinating the proliferation of technologies developed either within or outside of its Centers including patents obtained, establish and nurture appropriate and dynamic Science and Engineering Infrastructure-base for achieving home-initiated and home-sustained industrialization through the development of relevant processes, capital goods and equipment necessary for job creation, national economic well-being and progress.

Essentially, in addition to the Senate Committee’s declaration that “the transfer of technology and the ability to domesticate some of the NASENI technologies will be very instrumental to our national development", another area of interest arising from the visit, was the revelation by the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of NASENI, Mr. Khalil Halilu, that the agency has three products amongst others, which are top-notch and ready for the market; solar-powered irrigation system, electric tricycle and motorcycle, noting that Nigerians will soon start seeing NASENI-branded products in the markets, as part of our efforts to build a national brand for the country".

Again, aside from the Senate Committee revelation that they are ready to support the Agency in every way possible as long as the efforts are aimed at turning around positively the Nigeria economy, creating jobs, and reducing the country's over-dependence on Imports, there are in the opinion of this piece, other crucial reasons that rendered the recent visit by the Senate Committee as delightful.

Beginning with promised support for research & Development (R&D), it is pretty obvious to most Nigerians that the nation has in the past had too many leaders that completely ignored or better still, defined research and development too narrowly in a manner devoid of process and outcome fairness. This past failures has made the Senate Committee declaration a commendable move.

'If there is no proper research, probably, proper development policies will not be in place or if proper policies are in place maybe, they would not be implemented to benefit the right stakeholders'. This fact partially explains why research and development are inseparable given that the failure of research may hinder development.

Take as another illustration, In the words of Dr. Denis Taylor, a British leading scientist in the electronics field and former Chief UNESCO Advisor at the University College, Nairobi, Kenya, who was also among the British scientists that developed radar during the Second World War, One thing that is very apparent to all is that developing countries must concern themselves first and foremost with their natural resources. This does not, however, mean selling these natural resources abroad as raw products. No, to get the maximum benefit, the raw products must be turned, if possible, into manufactured products and then exported. I believe this is one of the main reasons why developing countries should encourage a proportion of their better graduates to have training in research method. Now, we can come back to the question – “ls research important in the developing countries?” I think it is. He concluded.

Away from the words of former Chief UNESCO Advisor, this piece is also of the view that ‘’science builds knowledge of how the natural world works, while engineering use that knowledge to develop useful technologies, and these technologies may, in turn, provide key observations and tools that help scientists build even more knowledge of the natural world’’.

The above point becomes even more appreciated when one remembers that till recently, previous administrations in the country have continuously professed science and engineering as the bedrock of nation building and development, yet starve the agency of funds.

Without doubt, there is simply no question that Nigeria as a nation and Africa as a continent will continue to face developmental challenges. But such challenge can only be solved if agencies such NASENI is well funded for research and development-as it will resultantly bring sustainable approach that will bring nation and Africa as a continent out of technological woods.

This is a more reason why the ongoing efforts of the present Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of NASENI, Mr. Khalil Halilu should be given the needed support via adequate budgetary allocation- and would, in opinion of this piece, be most rewarding if the agency is allowed to remain under the presidency for a greater efficiency.

This author is not alone in this line of call.
While chronicling the slanted and unsustainable effort different African governments made in the past to bring their nations out of technological woods, a book titled: ‘Technology and Wealth of Nations’ thoughtfully and masterfully examined the inspirable relationship between technological development and economic progress of nations, and deftly argues with facts that the point of sail of all economies is the introduction of the manufacturing sector or the industrial economy.

The author establishes that Africa’s prolonged economic plight is centered on the two fundamental challenges of a manufacturing economy. And traced Africa’s economic backwardness to its roots – a key problem that has kept our policy makers handicapped and our economies crippled. With documented facts on the institutionalized crippling policies and organized sequences of stagnating events of the colonial masters, the author asks: “Why is it that Europe, which hosted the industrial revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries, did not permit technological education in Africa in about 50 years of colonization, and prefers to send aids afterwards?”

As to the way out of the continent’s technological debacle and the current wealth disparity among nations (industrial economies), the referenced book opined that the current wealth disparity among nations (industrial economies) represented by highly industrialized Europe, North America and Japan on one hand and most developing (non-industrial economies) countries, in particular, those in sub-Saharan Africa, on the order hand , is primarily the difference in the technical capability and capacity to produce and manufacture modern technologies and to use the technologies to produce and manufacture globally competitive industrial goods and to sustain the commanding tasks of science and technology in the economy.

The disparity, it added, has since considerably widened and will continue to widen as long as the developing countries depend almost totally on industrial nations for the technologies and industrial inputs they need to sustain their economies. Consequently, the only way to bridge the wealth gap is for the developing countries of the world to build their domestic endogenous capabilities and capacities to produce modern technologies and competitive industrial goods in their own economies. He concluded.

Finally, even if NASENI is later merged with another agency or made a department in a particular Ministry as presently mooted, following the Federal Government’s decision to implement Oronsaye report, it is obvious to this piece that for the nation Nigeria and Africa by extension, to catalyze the process of creating an enabling knowledge-driven environment for local mass-production of standard parts, goods and services required for the Nation��s Technology Advancement, particularly in the area of capital goods research, production, and engineering, adequate funding and manpower development are not only indispensible but mandatory.

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

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