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By NBF News
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In his Enugu office, the Group Chairman of Stem Cell Transplantation Project for Africa, Dr Perry Iloegbunam is always looking for ways to propagate Stem Cell therapy in Nigeria. For over 10 years, the Stem Cell project has been dear to his heart. But today, he is no longer a happy man.

Iloegbunam who is also the National Chairman (Technical) of the National Committee on the Research and Application of Stem Cell Transplantation Technology in Nigeria (NACRASTIN) is angry over the attitude of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) on his pet project, Stem Cell.

In this interview with Daily Sun in Enugu, he lamented that some officials of the ministry and NABDA wanted to hijack the Stem Cell project from him. Excerpts:

Move to hijack our Stem Cell project
It is unfortunate that what we have laboured for over the years has been hijacked. I am talking about the hijack by some officials of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in collaboration with their business partners of our Nigeria Stem Cell project, which we have laboured for over 10 years.

We have in the past raised the alarm on this, but nothing had come out of the ministry towards resolving the matter, instead they are perfecting, consolidating their plans, and looking the other way as if no Stem Cell project ever existed in Nigeria.

What the ministry is doing is very embarrassing, shocking, heart-breaking and most unfortunate; that a people that laboured to attract this type of noble project for their country would be subjected to this type of extreme devastating, dehumanizing, and psychological trauma. Elsewhere people who had done this kind of service to their father land would be given honours and awards, but in our own case what we have got are jungle and gutter treatment.

Beginning the project
When we first introduced Stem Cell technology in 2001 in Nigeria, we did not only receive unwarranted attacks by the medical professionals in virtually all the teaching hospitals and health institutions we visited, but were also tongue lashed as if we were introducing poison. However, many of these people in recent times have apologized to us for their conducts and blamed what they did on ignorance.

I must confess that we went through difficulties of unimaginable magnitude and faced a lot of challenges to get the Nigeria Stem Cell project to where it stands today. We were even treated as out-casts in our own country. Some even described the entire Stem Cell presentation as an impossibility and, therefore, a 419 setup.

Our challenge now
Today, after 10 years in the saddle, some government officials ganged up with their business partners to hijack the project. We distributed Stem Cell books and other printed materials on the subject matter to most of the teaching hospitals and health institutions free; organized conferences, seminars and workshops free to all participants; and indeed funded all meetings and operations of the NACRASTIN without any financial input from neither the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology nor the National Biotechnology Development Agency or from anywhere else.

But after 10 years on the project, the initiative is at the verge of being taken away by some powerful individuals who are out to serve their own  interest instead of that of  the majority of Nigerians. They are now behaving as if the Stem Cell project is their own brain child and to worsen the matter they have also arranged for some businessmen to midwife their relationship with the payment company abroad.

The parallel committee that was set up by the ministry is with a clear script to undermine STEMCETA. If not, what is the justification for the new committee? What is the name of the new committee? Who are members of the new committee? When was the new committee inaugurated? Why did they mislead us into spending hundreds of millions of naira when they have a different secret agenda? Why is the NACRASTIN file declared missing by the ministry officials? Why did NABDA not make public (to date)the successful result of the Stem Cell pilot scheme which the agency requested for, witnessed and acknowledged all reports emanating from the process since 2006? What is the superiority of their new committee to the existing one? Above all, where is the spirit of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) the government has been propagating?

Is it a ploy to encourage and attract investors and businessmen only for them to be thrown overboard?

We think that Nigerians should be told of what went wrong with the National Committee on the Research and Application of Stem Cell Transplantation Technology in Nigeria (NACRASTIN), which they inaugurated. It is very regrettable that some government officials would use government machinery to trample upon others as if we are in a banana state.This is injustice, and the situation calls for a probe.

One of the directors in the National Biotechnology Development Agency on behalf of his partners, has been mounting pressure on Prof. Dr. E. M. Molnar, one of the members of our foreign partners each time he visited Nigeria, to circumvent STEMCETA. Their over-riding interest in this project and their pranks is no longer comforting to STEMCETA. This is a jungle approach to things and government machinery cannot be used as such by her officials.

Deceiving the minister
The honourable minister that inaugurated the NACRASTIN worked very hard to ensure the take-off of the project. Same is to be said of the minister after her, Dr. Al-Hassan BakoZaku. The third minister was very brief and the present one is very new and may have fallen victim of a hatchet plan. They may have misled and rail-roaded the new honourable minister into a web they have been creating for years now.

Importance of Stem Cell
The importance of Stem Cell technology in the 21st Century medicine cannot be over-emphasized. It is indeed a therapy that will dominate the medicine of the 21st century; a therapy that will reduce to the barest minimum diseases suffered by human beings; a therapy that would be used for the treatment of every human diseased organ; a therapy for the treatment of incurable and untreatable diseases. For selfish interest, some group of persons had being frustrating and playing down the take-off of this noble project just to position themselves for the hijack, else Nigerians must not benefit from the wonders of the 21st Century medicine.

The National Committee on the Research and Application of Stem Cell Transplantation Technology in Nigeria, NACRASTIN, was inaugurated on the 27th June, 2008 by the then Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Mrs. Grace Ekpiwhere as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative with the understanding that since it is a private sector initiative by Stem Cell Transplantation Centre for Africa (STEMCETA), the position of chairmanship of the technical committee be allotted to STEMCETA while the honourable minister of Science and Technology retains the overall chairmanship position.

The U-turn
Surprisingly, soon after the inauguration, instead of pursuing the noble templates and objectives of the Committee, which will lead to full domestication of the technology in Nigeria, some staff of the National Biotechnology Development Agency and Federal Ministry of Science and Technology decided to work against the committee for their own selfish end.

The domestication of the therapy would have made Nigeria a hub of Stem Cell technology in Africa, attracting patients from all over the African Continent as well as providing her own citizens with superior treatments for the diseases they suffer from.

Our request
We want the honourable minister of Science and Technology to thoroughly investigate this matter with a view to putting the Stem Cell project back on track and funded.