It was Dr Osita Ogbu, the erstwhile Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, who once said that “There exists an incontrovertible evidence that development is not driven by savings but by inventiveness, innovation and ideas generated through Science and Technology and the principal anchor and leader of this process must be the government”.
This adage fitted well with last week’s event at the ‘Aso Rock’ Presidential villa, when President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, gave fresh directives to the management of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) regarding his administration’s promise of 10 million jobs to Nigerians.
Also as a matter of urgent national priority, the president tasked the Science and Engineering Agency to resuscitate all its COVID-19 pandemic responses which came last year in form of manufacturing of COVID-19 disinfectant tunnels, ventilators, and the design and manufacturing of first Made-in-Nigeria helicopters amongst other sundry directives by the President.President Buhari said the promise by his administration to create over 10 million jobs for Nigerians was not a statement of intention but an order that must be carried out by NASENI and all other concerned agencies of the government. Any visionary leader would put resources and funds where his words and thoughts are.
This was the case with President Buhari during the NASENI Governing Board meeting held on the 26th January, 2021 at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) Chamber chaired by Mr. President himself. Apart from the directives given to the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of NASENI, Engr. Professor Mohammed Sani Haruna and the entire management of NASENI, the President further directed the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed and Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Muhammad Nami to release all statutory funds due to NASENI to enable it function optimally. According to the extant rule which established NASENI, the serving President is the Chairman of its Governing Board while an Executive Vice Chairman, appointed by the President, would be in charge of the day to day affairs of the Agency.
It fits perfectly to say it’s indeed a new dawn in President Buhari’s candid resolve to redesign Nigeria’s economic transformation, pathway and strategies for the nation’s economic development while Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation sector provides the new direction or compass.
According to the president, NASENI was founded as a mechanism to stimulate linkages between science and technology, the academia and the industrial sectors on one hand and Nigeria’s economic and industrial transformation on the other.
He said when NASENI was set up in 1992, the vision of the founding fathers was to have an innovation and technology based agency for the furtherance of the nation’s development. NASENI by its mandate is the sole agency of the federal government with the mandate to conduct developmental work in manufacturing of capital goods, equipment and machines thereby preventing the influx of foreign goods which caused capital flight.
That way the agency is capable of coordinating the proliferation of technologies developed either within or outside of its Development Institutes for the much needed industrialization of the nation.Facts abound globally that economies founded on knowledge and driven by innovation are economies which invest substantially and sustainably in technology and innovation.
The NASENI stipulates that “The Agency shall establish a Fund from which shall be defrayed all expenditure incurred by the Agency for the purpose of this Act. There shall be paid and credited to the Fund, one percent (1%) of the Federation Account in the first instance, to be increased to three percent (3%) by the year 2000”.
Regrettably however despite the provisions of the Act, the agency had never received such remittance from the Federation Account since its inception. But President Buhari would have none of such disconnects or disregard for the provision of the law anymore hence the directives to the Finance Ministry and FIRS to release the allocations and necessary dues to the Agency to enable it function optimally, so that the country could benefit from its research innovations for improvement on the nation’s economy, job and wealth creation.
The trend of non-release of NASENI’s statutory fund and dues, to a great extent, has hindered the agency from optimally fulfilling its mandate of establishing science and engineering infrastructure and development institutes in various fields and sectors of the economy, aimed at empowering small and medium scale industries through reverse engineering, appropriate technologies and advanced manufacturing technologies in order to keep the nation abreast and at par with other technologically advanced nations of the world.In the advanced and developed economies of the world, deliberate, need-driven and well-funded research and development activities in new and emerging technology innovations are the bedrock of the remarkable growth in their economies.
These nations invest heavily in research targeted at improving the various sectors of their economy, from agriculture to health, industry, defense, power and toward improving the lives and livelihood of their citizens.
The relevant government agencies of these nations all set up extension service systems for the developed technologies to be made available to relevant businesses, industries, farms and organisations who are already involved in the sector to help them improve their businesses and at the same time building the economy of the nation. Some on the other hand, or in addition to establishing extension services, develop a system where the researchers and the innovators of these new technologies are encouraged by their government to set up technology businesses relevant to their research results and products.
All these help the developed nations to create new jobs regularly, create wealth for the nation and the researchers. Most of these researchers go ahead to diversify some of their profits for more research and development activities.In many parts of Asia like Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Japan, small farmers have shown a remarkable capacity to use new technology, engineering and scientific outputs some of which are readily available back home in Nigeria yet are lying idle on shelves of agencies like NASENI or other institutes in science, technology and innovation system. Nigeria is yet to maximally utilise the benefit from global technology and will not until government is willing to furnish research institutions in Nigeria with the necessary support and incentives.In an increasingly globalised world, the ability of farmers in Nigeria and Africa to find pathways out of poverty and to contribute actively to national economic growth depends on improved infrastructure, education, cutting edge technologies and engineering innovations, which is the core of NASENI mandate.
With the enhancement of the capacity of NASENI to deliver on its mandate in the agricultural sector for example, and other agencies of government involved in establishing and promoting new market value chains and linkages with smallholder farmers, agriculture will boom once again as we had in the 70s during the days of the groundnut pyramids in Kano and Cocoa House in Ibadan.
President Buhari while reflecting on the state of Nigeria’s response so far on the COVID-19 pandemic noted that the nation’s continued reliance on solutions from other countries was a revelation of the amount of research and development gaps in the country. He therefore directed NASENI to scale up its research and development responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to find local solutions towards combating the virus just like other developed nations are doing to prevent the spread and also resuscitate those who are already infected.