OLUSEGUN OBASANJO PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY CENTRE FOR HUMAN SECURITY
Education, Science, Technology and Innovation – For promoting national unity, security, cohesiveness, development, employment and progress. (February 2015)
Situation Analysis of Science, Technology and Innovation in Nigeria.
UNESCO policy on Science recognizes Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) as the drivers of national economic development, and key contributors to poverty reduction, disease prevention and environmental conservation. This fact has not been lost on successive governments in Nigeria. Indeed as the late President Umaru Shehu Yar’ Adua said in 2009, “nations become great when they excel in the fields of science, engineering and technology in both its teaching and application”. But efforts made during the colonial era and up until the end of the military interregnum in governance in Nigeria to teach and apply science to national development plans were often feeble and did not amount to much. However, even then, there were some secondary schools, colleges and the few universities that existed, that took the teaching of science seriously and had experiments in the fundamental science subjects of physics, chemistry and biology and not alternative to practicals as is the case in many institutions these days, including some universities. Some of the great scientists Nigeria has produced, emanated from such background.
Happily, from 1999, during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, the country commenced serious activities that were expected to place STI as an integral component of the nation’s development agenda. From then till now, a number of things have been done and actions taken ranging from the deliberate incorporation of STI into development agendas, enactment of policies for the promotion of STI and the establishment of infrastructure and institutions for the advancement of STI. In the main, the thrust has been to explore effective ways of developing and deploying Science and Technology for the benefit of Nigerians in all facets of human endevours, by enhancing capacities in such critical areas as biotechnologies, ICTs, space science and technology, energy, nanotechnology and mathematics. However, for a variety of reasons – insufficient will to implement well-meaning recommendations, dysfunctional public institutions, inadequate funding, especially for research activities among others – these efforts have not completely met expectations and so, have not been able to sufficiently leapfrog the nation into a technological milieu which economy is built on diversified knowledge that is exploited for nation building, wealth creation and a general improvement in the quality of life through the use of technology as opposed to the current one that is driven largely by the single natural hydrocarbon-based resource. As an aide-mémoire a few of these policies and actions bear recalling:
In 2004, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) was introduced as the engine of development which was to provide a framework for poverty reduction and wealth creation in consonance with the goals of the MDGs. That strategy advocated the use of STI in all aspects of government’s operations, as one that would restructure government and make it smaller, stronger, better skilled and more efficient at delivering its services.
In 2009, NEEDS was followed by Vision 20: 2020 – an economic development blueprint that envisages Nigeria as being amongst the world’s top 20 most developed economies by 2020. This projection was based, among others, on a strong STI component and on the understanding that the country would
Carry out a technology foresight programme by the end of 2010;
Invest a percentage of its GDP in research and development (R & D) comparable to the percentage invested by the 20 leading developed economies of the world;
Establish three technology information centres and three R and D laboratories to foster the development of small and medium-sized enterprises;
Increase the number of scientists, engineers and technicians and provide them with incentives to remain in Nigeria;
Develop new and advanced materials as an alternative to the use of petroleum products.
Furthermore, in 2014, there was a National Conference where a representative body of Nigerians debated several issues and problems that are militating against national progress and cohesion. In recognition of the role played by STI in national development, the conference, among the many committees it had, established one on Science, Technology and Development which addressed issues in the thematic areas of ICT, Science and Technology education, investment in R&D, indigenous technology, space and nuclear science, training of scientists, biodiversity and others. The draft copy of the proceedings and recommendations of the conference, including those on STI are before government for appropriate actions.
Outside these seminal policy documents, there are a number of other vital actions that have been taken by government from 1999 till now which are all designed to situate STI as an important tool for national development. Again, let us recall just a few: the establishment of two federal ministries and several other bodies to drive STI: the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and that of Communication Technology; the Nigerian Communication Commission as well as the National Information Technology Development Agency; the introduction of mobile telephony and associated internet services; the establishment of an African University of Science and Technology as well as an Abuja Technology Village; the launching of a communication satellite; partnership and collaboration with international bodies and private sector participation.
Some National Progress.
In recent times, Nigeria has noticed an upswing in some of its development parameters. The nation rebased its economy in 2013 and at the new estimated GDP of over N 80 trillion (>$500 billion), Nigeria’s economy has become the largest in Africa and the 26th in the world and with an estimated GDP per capita of $2,800, even though poverty, joblessness and income inequality remain high. Infant mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio have fallen even though not to desirable levels. While it will be correct to ascribe this expansion in the economy to activities mainly in the sectors of petroleum, agriculture, energy, and entertainment, the heightened attention that the nation has paid to the institution and exploitation of STI has no doubt made its own significant contribution and brought benefits to Nigerians.
Of the many areas in which STI has intervened in the process of nation building and economic prosperity in Nigeria that by ICT, through the revolution that is occasioned by the Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM) and its associated internet services is probably the most visible and successful. Introduced in 2001 with under 300,000 users, the number of GSM subscribers grew to over seven million in 2004 and currently stands at over 130 million, making the country one of the fastest growing GSM markets in the world. As for internet access, starting with about 79,000 in 2000, almost 70 million persons now have access to the facility.
It is not only in voice communication that GSM diffusion and application have been operational; the technology has successfully aided many sections of the Nigerian economy – industrial/manufacturing, education, transportation, tourism, entertainment, health, banking, commerce including online sales, agriculture, government services, defence, sports and rural development. It is not surprising therefore that the ICT sector contributed 10.5% to the country’s GDP in 2013 and a further 2.56% of added value to other sectors, probably justifying its being the second sector, other than oil, in which Nigeria’s investment was strongest.
These success stories apart, STI can still take advantage of a number of favourable factors in Nigeria and do more to enhance the rapid development of the country. With an estimated population growth rate of 2.74% (2014 est) and a population of 175 million, about 65% of whom are under the age of 25 years, Nigeria is a huge country and an enormous market by any consideration. The nation’s demographics, along with its landmass of 910,768 square Km (5, 141 square M per capita) places the country as the most populous in Africa, with good land space and a large pool of young population that can be galvanized for sustainable economic activities. This is especially true of technology-driven businesses for which young persons are savvy and show great appetite, curiosity and comprehension. Furthermore, the country is replete with abundant human resources and boasts diverse cultures from the presence of over 250 ethnic groupings with vast indigenous knowledge systems. Additionally, there are many higher educational institutions – polytechnics and universities, as well as research institutes and academies for teaching, research and innovation; some are designated for Science and Technology and other critical areas of the economy – health, agriculture, space. Consequently, as a result of the size of its population, human and natural resources and several other factors, the country has a strong voice in international affairs and is well connected to international organisations in education, science and technology.
Some Factors Militating against STI in Nigeria.
Running side by side with these relative advantages, are a number of factors which militate against the proper and speedy institutionalization of STI as an agent for growth and national development. For various reasons, there has been a noticeable lack of will and executive capacity to implement some well-meaning recommendations which have been made over the years. An example is government’s attitude to recommendation for the application of STI to the exploitation of indigenous knowledge systems. Furthermore, although the country is blessed with over 200 institutions which are involved in research – polytechnics, universities, research institutes, academies, they appear to work in isolation and so, the required triple helix synergy between these institutions, government and industry is at best weak. On account of this, the process of converting research findings into patents and patents into goods and services with utilitarian values, is tenuous. Additionally, a good number of these institutions are duplicated, poorly funded, ill-conceived, dysfunctional and in breach of their primary responsibility. Surely, there is a need to streamline these research organisations. On another front, even with all the fillip that STI is giving to the national economy, not enough jobs are being created and many of those being created are of too low quality to reverse income inequality. This is partly due to the relatively high cost of internet access which condemns many to use such facilities only at cyber cafes for sending and receiving electronic mails and engaging in social media gossips. Such persons are not availed the opportunity of using the internet to convert ideas into products. Above all, there exists in the country a large number of children who are out of school and who therefore cannot gain from any science and technology education. With approximately 10.5 million children out of school, Nigeria leads twelve other countries with which it accounts for 47 percent of the global out-of-school population. Even at that, there is gender imbalance in school admission and some girls are discouraged from showing interest in supposedly masculine disciplines of science and technology.
Needed Reforms of STI in Nigeria
What is clear is that although a number positive actions have been taken in pursuit of giving STI a pride of place in the process of building the Nigerian nation, there needs to be a review and a reappraisal of some of these actions. For one thing, government should show greater resolve to govern properly. Good leadership that is predicated on the rule of law deepens democracy and is key in ensuring widespread participation of a broad spectrum of stake holders including public institutions, universities , civil societies, international partners and the private sector. The Presidency should lead the drive to incorporate S and T as a culture of the everyday life of the people and to integrate it into the national economic development plan including economic, financial, budgetary, fiscal, labour, agricultural, industrial and micro enterprises. S and T should be at the centre of national development.
Government should implement recommendations made by experts which it had hired at great expense. Since 1999, government has set up many expert committees on STI as a stand alone or in conjunction with other pressing national matters using specialists from within and outside the country. Some recommendations from these experts have either been ignored or have not been implemented in full. Furthermore, there is need to re-orientate all levels of the educational system to emphasis the teaching of science. In particular, higher education should be made to contribute better to national economy as a long term strategy by increasing access and improving R&D. In 2005, Nigeria counted the greatest number of researchers in Africa and produced 11.4% of scientific publications in Africa. However, when the number of researchers is assessed per million inhabitants, Nigeria slipped to the fifth place behind Botswana, SA, Senegal and Guinea. The percentage of women researchers was also low. Raise this 50%.
Furthermore, the pattern of publication in the country shows 84% of published articles are in the life sciences especially of clinical medicine and biology as compared to 6% in engineering and technology and 5% in earth and space sciences. There is very little publication in mathematics, chemistry physics. Moreover, the scientific publications do not lead sufficiently to innovations and discoveries.
Recommendations for Remarkable Turnaround.
With the above background, we proceed to recommend as follows:
Short Term (6 years)
Promulgate a law that makes it an offence for any child that is born in Nigeria not to have basic primary and secondary school education. Prosecute parents who fail to send their children and wards to school.
Promote and popularize science by whatever means possible and ensure that information on the usefulness of science and technology reaches all stakeholders- through radio programmes, school science days, science fairs, science competition, public lectures, science awards, quizzes, newsletters, exhibition, science clubs, and science festivals.
Charge universities with the responsibility of instituting programmes and teaching the skills that equip graduates with what industries need. The IPS concept in Uniport. Meeting the demands of the private sector. Interdisciplinary research
Ensure the teaching of science related subjects of arithmetic, hygiene and nature’s study in all primary schools.
Provide all secondary schools with science teachers, laboratories and books to be able to teach mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology along with other subjects.
Establish a National Science Foundation (NSF) with an endowment of at least $10 billion so as to yield an annual budget of at least $500 and charge it with the responsivity of funding research, projects, programmes in innovation and universities in a competitive manner.
Reactivate the African University of Science and Technology Abuja as a post graduate university and charge it, among others, with the responsivity of producing Master’s and Doctorate degree holders in the sciences.
Reactivate the Abuja Technology Park and in addition, establish one technology park in each of the six geo-political zones for business incubation and as a way of enhancing knowledge based economy. Charge universities with the responsibility of ensuring their productivity.
Establish an African Technology Innovation Corridor between the African University of Science and Technology and the Abuja Technology Corridor.
Increase the nation’s global competiveness not just by excavating and exporting more its unprocessed natural resources but by improving its technical capability as this the currency that currently defines international competiveness.
Diversify the nation’s economy using STI.
Establish a body that would coordinate the activities of research organisations and get them to interact among themselves and with government and industry in the triple helix fashion. Should also draw up a list patents in Nigeria and explore how to convert these patents into valuable items that can be commonly used.
Encourage greater research output especially in engineering and the mathematical sciences.
Improve communication through the use of KA band satellite technology from Nigercomsat that would enable all nooks and crannies of the country to have inexpensive internet access. .
Provide six Nigerian universities with target funds to enable them rank among the 200 best universities in the world by 2020.
Target universities and research agencies with the solutions to well defined national development issues and fund them.