Thursday, 14 May 2020

Driving National Development Through Technology Innovation By Olatunji Adebola

Most developed nations in the world that have achieved remarkable economic growth and modernization have done so through the application of science, technology and innovation (STI) in all facets of their economies. The adoption of STI in promoting national development ensures that a systematic approach is employed in the search for solutions to existing societal challenges. There is thus no place for superstition and ignorance in a technology-driven society.

 Science, in a broad sense, refers to the systematic explanation of human knowledge of the natural world while technology involves the use of scientific methods in interpreting social phenomenon. In other words, technology implies the application of science in solving human problems. Innovation, on the other hand, refers to “a new idea, creative thoughts and new imaginations in form of device or method”.  Against this background, therefore, no meaningful national development can ever be achieved in the absence of STI.

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu who has been on the driver`s seat of the Ministry since 2015, has been working very hard to ensure that the nation`s myriad of problems and challenges are tackled through the massive deployment of science, technology and innovation. In the last six years, the Ministry under his watch has done quite a lot to place science, technology and innovation at the front burner of national development. He has made it repeatedly clear that no nation has ever become truly great without paying sufficient attention to science and technology and innovation.

Many countries that were hitherto very impoverished but later became wealthy and industrialized did so through the effective deployment of science, technology and innovation. They included Singapore, South Korea, India, China and Malaysia amongst others. There were other countries that were ravaged and devastated by war, but later recovered and rebuilt their infrastructure. And they became wealthy and prosperous because they utilized science, technology and innovation in nation building. The countries in this category included Japan, Germany and Vietnam.

Last Friday, the issue of science and technology in Nigeria`s development took a centre stage when Science and Technology Minister, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu gave a virtual lecture to Participants of Senior Course No. 42 of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, near Jos in Plateau State. The Course Participants were drawn from the top echelons of the bureaucracy, military, para-military, civil society and the academia. Dr. Onu spoke on the role of STI in national development. He used the occasion inform the nation the major strides the Ministry has made in using science, technology and innovation in fighting poverty, creating wealth and solving major national problems, including the Covid-19 pandemic currently ravaging the globe.

According to the Honourable Minister, the National Science, Technology Innovation Policy which came into being in 1986 and was last reviewed in 2012, was operationalized, as its lead organ, the National Research and Innovation Council, met for the first time in 30 years on January 7, 2016 under the chairmanship of President Buhari.

And since then, several policies have been put in place to ensure effective utilization of science, technology and innovation in national development.

The policies, according to Dr. Onu, include the National Technology and Innovation Roadmap (NSTIR) 2017-2030; National Strategy for Competitiveness in Raw Materials and Product Development in Nigeria; Presidential Executive Order No. 5 for Planning and Execution of Projects; Promotion of Nigerian Content in Contracts, Science, Engineering and Technology; National Leather and Leather Products Policy; and National Policy on Methanol Fuel Production Technology. These policies have since been approved by the Federal Executive Council.

The aim is to use STI to create jobs and wealth and fight and defeat poverty so as to move millions of Nigerians out of poverty.

The Minister also gave a cheering news on what his Ministry is doing to find a cure for the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic. According to him, this followed the pledge of N36 million the Ministry announced as a reward for any cure found for the pandemic by research institutes and individuals. The Minister, had on February 13, this year challenged Nigerian Scientists to find a home-grown cure for the pandemic. In his presentation at the lecture, Dr. Onu disclosed that many research institutions and individuals have written to the Ministry, claiming their research results and natural products can cure the disease. The Minister noted that a Committee, comprising Fellows of the Nigerian Academy of Science, has been set up to review the claims. The certified claims will earn the reward of N36 million set aside for that purpose.

The Science and Technology Minister further disclosed that as part of its response to curtailing the Covid-19 pandemic, the agencies in the Ministry have been mobilized to start producing hand sanitizers, disinfectants, personal protective equipment (PPE), including high quality face masks, body immune boosters, vaccines, test kits, ventilators and telemedicine. He added that the Ministry is presently working to upgrade the Molecular Biology laboratories in Abuja, Odi in Bayelsa State and Ibadan as part of its initiatives to tackle the pandemic.

The Minister told the Course Participants that the Ministry has recorded some salient achievements in the last six years which included the elimination of duplication of research efforts within the agencies under the Ministry; improvement in collaboration among research institutes, universities, industry and government; and considerable efforts in the commercialization of research results. Dr. Onu also disclosed that the Ministry, through one of its agencies, National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), has by virtue of licensing of technology in the past six years under his watch, saved the nation the total sum of N250 billion.

There is no doubt that, from the revelations the Minister made at the lecture, quite a lot has been done to take the country to the next level, using science and technology and innovation as the special purpose vehicle. What is left to be done is for wealthy Nigerians and corporate bodies to step forward and help in the commercialization of several research results and products lying idle in the research laboratories and shelves of many research institutes across the country.

In this age of globalization in which national boundaries have more or less withered away as a result of economic liberalization, STI is the way to go. The Science and Technology Minister has concretely demonstrated this from the achievements that the Ministry has recorded under his watch. We must embrace STI wholeheartedly and make the requisite investments. In due time, our nation and her citizens will be better for it. 

Adebola, a Public Affairs Analyst writes from Abuja.

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