“PUTTING THE RECESSION IN RECESS: THE ROLE OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION”

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FULL TEXT OF A LECTURE DELIVERED BY DR. OGBONNAYA ONU, HONOURABLE MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AS GUEST LECTURER OF THE 29TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF THE FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, OWERRI, ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2016

PROTOCOL:

This afternoon, most distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is with happiness that I stand before you, on the sacred soil of the oldest Federal University of technology, the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) to speak on a topic: “Putting the Recession in Recess: The Role of Science, Technology and Innovation”, which is of significant importance, especially at this time of our beloved nation’s economic development.

It is remarkable that from a modest initial enrolment of 225 undergraduate students and a staff strength of just 60 academic and non-academic staff in 1981, this great institution has today grown to have about 21,000 undergraduate and post graduate students with an academic staff strength of 926 and over 1,200 administrative and technical support staff. I am encouraged by this remarkable progress which you made over the past thirty five years. This shows your determination to ensure that this institution becomes a celebrated center of academic excellence. I salute you all, especially the Vice Chancellor of this University, Prof. Francis Chukwuemeka Eze, a great scholar and renowned academic of outstanding distinction for his commitment to the founding vision of this institution which has as its motto; “Technology for Service”.

Indeed, the story of FUTO is like the story of the five fingers of the hand, which when clinched together as the fist can become a strong instrument of collective achievement for the good of all. I greet you all-staff and students – for your unanimity of purpose and strong faith in your capacities and abilities to utilize the awesome power of knowledge to advance the frontiers of human progress. You should not relent. I am confident that the graduating students will draw enduring inspiration from the legacy of this great institution and become her worthy alumni in character and learning. The sky should remain your limit. I congratulate you all. I wish you success in your future endeavour in the years to come.

However, as we celebrate your graduation, you must be reminded that you are stepping into the society in a period when not only the Nigerian economy but many other economies in different parts of the world are facing very serious challenges resulting in a recession. We have seen the growth of some economies contract and job opportunities as well as income levels shrink especially among commodity exporting countries of which Nigeria belongs. This is even more devastating when one considers the grave implications of this recession on your future prosperity and that of our dear country, Nigeria. Despite the challenges we face, I would like to reassure you that the government of President Mohammadu Buhari remains resolute and determined to ensure that our economy recovers as quickly as possible. Indeed, the effort to reverse the situation is already gaining momentum and will soon begin to bear the expected fruits.

Therefore, I am optimistic that this recession is not a “death sentence” on your future hopes and aspirations as young graduates. It is in this context that I intend to share my thoughts with this distinguished audience on how this recession will be recessed and the role which science, technology and innovation is expected to play in this effort. There is no doubt that the issue of the current economic recession in Nigeria has generated a lot of debate among professionals and non-professionals alike. Suggestions on how to reverse it have also been even more contentious. Like every policy issue, there are always perspectives to it which are currently being harnessed and properly articulated to enrich the discussion and provide lasting solutions. I sincerely believe that by focusing on science and technology, and projecting it as the bedrock of our growth and development strategy, this will help equip our economy to adjust to the path of sustainable growth that will quicken the pace of recovery from recessions.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a foremost American Economic Research think tank, defines recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in a real gross domestic product (GDP), real income, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail sales”. The point to note in this definition is that not all economic downturns are considered as recession. For an economic crisis to graduate to recession its decline must be persistent over a given period of time. In other words, the critical macroeconomic variables that signpost recession must be identified and measured in time to ascertain their trends. It is only when there is a persistent decline in the trends of those variables that recession is established. Thus, generally, recession is established when there is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, which results in a business cycle contraction and consequent general slowdown in economic activity with implications for macroeconomic stability and declining standard of living. Macroeconomic indicators that capture recession include persistent decline in gross domestic product (GDP), investment spending, capacity utilization, household income and business profits in addition to rising inflation and unemployment rates.

Gregory Mankiw, a distinguished Professor of Economics at Harvard University reports that macroeconomic variables during the great American Recession that heralded the Great Depression of the 1930s as a period when real output in the United States fell nearly 30 percent; unemployment rate rose from 3 percent to nearly 25 percent; prices fell sharply at nearly 10 percent and stocks plummeted triggering prolonged and severe decline in the standard of living of the average American. Specifically, economic recession generally features wide spread drop in spending otherwise referred to as adverse demand shock. Such a sudden drop in public and private spending might trigger financial crises, and balance of payment disequilibrium as well as an adverse supply shock that will result in macroeconomic uncertainty. If such situations are not addressed early enough, it might lead to a total economic meltdown otherwise known as depression.

However, it is important to note that economic recession is not a unique Nigerian phenomenon. Periodic recession occur in market driven economies irrespective of whether such economies are advanced, emerging or developing. Its causes and probable cures are not the same in all circumstances mainly because differences in economic structures entail differences in economic conditions that precipitate economic recession. Therefore, any country that experiences recession must identify its unique characteristics peculiar to their economic structure and hence solutions must be crafted in the context of the domestic and external shocks which such an economy faces. This is why countries often pay attention to the development of domestic capacity that will transform its resources in such a way that the country depends less on imports that will insulate them from external shocks. This way, they will be able to address occasional domestic macroeconomic imbalances when and if they occur.

It is important to note that the United States of America, though being the strongest economy in the world, experienced a recession between 2007 and 2009 as a result of the collapse of their mortgage (housing loan) market. Due to financial globalization, which has erased boundaries in financial investment and foreign direct investment flows across the world, the impact of that recession quickly spread across many countries and regions that were exposed to portfolio and direct investment inflows from the world’s financial capitals of the USA and the United Kingdom. The impact of that recession in emerging market economies such as Nigeria and Brazil were different from that of advanced economies such as the USA and the European Union which was due to the differences in economic structure and institutions. The financial contagion created by these failed syndicated mortgage loans across the entire financial system in the USA led to the collapse of some major financial institutions. This created serious liquidity problems in the United States financial system. As a consequence, credit dried up, business profits plummeted and there were several quarters of decline in economic activity that led to spiraling unemployment and declining income levels orchestrated by the collapse of the stock markets.

The Obama Administration employed three pronged policy approaches to resolving the problem: first was the introduction of far reaching financial regulations to clean up infractions in the financial system. Second, was to reflate the economy by bailing out distressed financial institutions using government funds to enable banks resume lending to private businesses – especially small businesses. Third, was to provide direct cash bailout to the automobile firms, such as Ford and Chrysler motor companies that were at the verge of collapse because of illiquidity and inactivity. The fourth involved embarking on a massive infrastructure rebuilding effort that offered jobs and increased income. It helped restore consumer demand which was needed to reignite production and growth. These measures largely worked because the American economy was sufficiently inward looking for its production and demand which was supported by a robust industrialization that relied on over a century of scientific innovation, sustained by continuous Research and Development (R&D).

Back home, between 1982 and 1984, Nigeria witnessed its first economic recession which was principally caused by the sudden fall in oil prices after a prolonged oil boom of the 1970’s which saw oil prices more than quadrupled from $3.50 per barrel of crude oil in 1973 to $35.00 in 1981. Due to crises in the Middle East as well as the inability of OPEC countries to agree on production quotas, oil prices precipitously fell to $12.50 in later part of 1981. The sudden drop in oil prices impacted negatively on government revenue which depended heavily on oil exports. Indeed, oil revenues accounted for 87 percent of export receipts and 77 percent of Federal Government revenue at that time. The sudden fall in oil prices led to a 4.8 percent decrease in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 1981 and 1987.

Indeed, GDP growth contracted by 0.35 percent in 1982; 5.37 percent in 1983; and 5.18 percent in 1984. The recession precipitated fiscal crises, balance of payment disequilibrium, huge budget deficits and high levels of unemployment and inflation. By 1989, the World Bank in its Development Report declared Nigeria a poor country. This made Nigeria eligible to access Concessional Aid from the International Development Association (IDA) – an affiliate of the World Bank. Nigeria, in spite of its oil boom of the 1970s was unfortunately ranked as a poor country alongside such countries as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Chad and Mali. As a result of the impact of the sudden and sharp decline in oil prices, the 1982 budget consequently failed because it was benchmarked at $25 per barrel of crude oil, while oil price crashed to $12 per barrel, which was less than half of the proposed price.

The obvious implication of the recession was that government expenditure which had increased from 9 percent in 1962 to 44 percent in 1979 precipitously fell to 17 percent in 1988. With very low revenue from oil and falling government expenditure, critical infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and the rail system began to fail. Having developed the appetite for foreign goods due to the oil boom, essential commodities could not be imported because of scarcity of foreign exchange. Workers were owed salaries for months, and unemployment figures rose astronomically as firms that depended on foreign exchange to import relevant input could not access the forex they needed for their operations and therefore had to shut down. The overall impact of the recession was so wide spread that workers were being laid off by both government ministries and private companies in order to cope with the after shock of the recession while awaiting government policy intervention to halt the drift.

In apparent response to the situation, President Shehu Shagari, consequently declared “austerity measures” to halt the economic decline, and quickly put together The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (1982) which was sent to the National Assembly for quick passage. In presenting the Bill, President Shagari declared “it had become imperative for the federal government to take immediate action to protect the balance of payments and revamp the economy”. The Economic Stabilization (Temporary) Provisional Act of 1982 introduced a number of emergency measures to address the recession. Some of the measures adopted included Forex demand management, import and export reforms, tax reforms and monetary and fiscal policy reforms.

The introduction of demand management in Forex featured administrative controls of exchange rates which reduced Basic Travel Allowance (BTA) from N800 to N500 per person of the age of 16 and above per annum, with no allowance for children under the age of 16. Other major provisions of the Act, included fixing the number of people eligible to perform the Hajj at 50,000 and BTA of N800 per person against N500 for other citizens. Business travel allowances were also reduced from N3,000 to N2,500 per annum for companies registered in Nigeria.

Import reform was another major pillar of policies introduced to reduce increasing import bills which could not be sustained because of scarcity of foreign exchange and dwindling reserves. The reduction of Form “M” life span from one year to six months and the reintroduction of pre-shipment inspection for all spare parts, raw materials, books, were made to conserve foreign exchange and return stability to our balance of payments position. There were also extensive upward review of tarrif on 49 import items, including raising excise duties to as much as 45 percent on some luxury items. Monetary and fiscal policy responses to the recession were also far reaching. This included the increase in interest rates by 2 percent across board as well as a vigorous revenue drive to boost government fiscal position as a means to return the economy on the part of macroeconomic stability.

In spite of these policy reforms, there were very little evidence to show that the strategies adopted worked in reversing the recession. By the end of 1983, the economy was showing grave signs of instability as inflation rose to 30 percent, and foreign reserves declined to $2.85 billion which could only support Nigeria’s import bill for just a single month. The impact of the recession continued until 1985 when the price of crude oil started to rise. Also another policy response was introduced in the name of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).

The Structural Adjustment Program was introduced to restructure and diversify the productive base of the economy and diversify the economy away from dependence on oil. The need to achieve fiscal and balance of payments viability over the medium term and to promote non-inflationary growth were some of the objectives of the programme. The policy pillars to achieve these objectives included strengthening demand management in the forex market, adoption of measures to stimulate domestic production and setting up the Second tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM). Others included the further rationalization and restructuring of tariffs, the liberalization of external trade and the control of interest rates, among many others. Some other policies to ensure that the consequences of SAP did not adversely impact heavily on the people were the introduction of subsidized urban mass transit in 1988; creation of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in 1986; and the establishment of the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) in 1986 as well as a reflationary budget package in 1988, among others.

Over the years, the assessment of the achievements or otherwise of the objectives of the Structural Adjustment Programme has been controversial. While some commentators believe that there were some tangible achievements such as the reversal of the negative growth rate of GDP, easy access to foreign exchange and enhancement of efficiency in resource allocation, etc; others were of the opinion that the programme failed because it lacked policies that ensured effective corporate governance of public and private institutions. There was also widespread distortion in the implementation of government intervention programmes and more importantly the programme did little to significantly change the structure of the Nigerian economy or to wean away from dependence on imported products from abroad. Again Nigerians produced very little and became mere consumers, becoming almost totally dependent on foreign goods.

The current recession which started in the first quarter of 2016 and continues into the fourth quarter of 2016, has the same origin as the 1982 – 1984 experience. In 2015, the price of crude oil fell sharply to under $30 per barrel as against a price of over $100, having even reached an astonishing price of as high as $147 per barrel of crude oil, for many years before then. Also as a result of militancy in the Niger Delta Region where crude oil is produced, crude oil production reduced drastically to as low as 600,000 barrels of crude oil a day unable to meet the OPEC quota of 2.2 million barrels of crude oil a day. All these helped reduce the revenue accruing to government. This recession also shows about the same characteristics as the previous one. There was a marked negative growth of GDP from -0.36 in Q1 of 2016, -2.06 in Q2 and currently at -2.24 percent in Q3 of 2016. This was accentuated by persistent rise in inflation rate from 17.61 percent in August to 17.85 percent in September, and 18.33 percent in October 2016. Due to macroeconomic instability, spearheaded by demand and supply shocks of foreign exchange as a result of the decline in oil price, the Naira depreciated significantly and unemployment rate also grew. The poor performance of the capital market has sustained capital flight and constrained capital importation which declined from $894.76 million in August to $649.76 million in September 2016, but improved to $1.82 billion in Q3 of 2016 as against $2.74 billion in Q3 of 2015. These economic indicators have adversely affected the economy in areas of industrialization, macroeconomic stability as well as the sustained growth and development of the economy.

The fact that the causes of the 1982 – 1984 recession is exactly the same as in the recession of 2016 raises a number of pertinent questions about the desirable policy choices in the management of our economy. It is obvious that the decline in oil price that triggered the former recession about 34 years ago is still the same condition that drove our economy into recession in 2016. Excess foreign exchange demand that led to the introduction of demand management in forex in 1982 resurfaced in 2016. Our inability to produce to satisfy local demand which resulted in the scarcity of many commodities leading to increase in prices is still very much the case today. Therefore, I am of the view that there is a missing link in the way we managed the economy in the past. Unfortunately, what we did in the past was that once the price of crude oil recovered in the international market, thereby increasing revenue to government treasury, just as the pain of the recession gradually disappeared, we relaxed and behaved as if nothing had happened. We then quickly returned to our normal way of doing things. Hence in the past, we never paid sufficient attention to the role which science, technology and innovation could play in nation building. As a result, we have continued to remain a consumer nation which produces very little. Our economy in the recent past, remained for a long time a mono-product economy, almost entirely dependent on crude petroleum. The sad thing which we should never forget, is that we do not either control or determine the price of crude oil in the international market. Hence whenever there is a sharp decline in its price, the effect is debilitating and the shock is much for us to bear. We need science and technology to help us diversify our economy in a sustainable and competitive manner, so that we can create both jobs and wealth. Above all, we need science and technology to help us move our economy from a resource base to a knowledge based, innovation driven economy.

Therefore, the quickest way to reverse this recession is to pay adequate attention to the role which science and technology can play in energizing domestic production that will sustain domestic demand. We will then be in a position to reduce pressure on both foreign exchange and national reserves, the two variables that help expose the economy to immense external shocks during recessions.

At this juncture, most distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is important that I mention, that in the history of nations, no single nation whether in the ancient or modern time, has ever been great without science and technology. A nation can be rich but not great by the possession of abundant natural resources as all that money can be lost with the collapse of commodity prices. Starting with Egypt, no nation ever ruled the world without science and technology. Egypt, surrounded by deserts, was able to use the water of River Nile, the longest river in the world, to irrigate its land and grow enough food to sustain a large population. The great achievements of ancient Egypt are seen in the mighty pyramids which remain a true wonder of ancient civilization. So many others including Rome dominated the world up to the United Kingdom in recent times. The United Kingdom utilized the power of steam and the production of iron and steel to build a civilisation that made it possible for her to exercise influence in virtually every time zone of the world thereby controlling nearly a quarter of the world at the peak of her power. Today, the English Language has virtually become a universal language spoken as a second language all over the world. The United States of America had virtually all the major inventions of the 20th century. She is the sole superpower, with the largest economy and the most sophisticated military in the world.

It is instructive that at the end of the Second World War when the urge for all nations to become independent was intense, the world was convinced that the three countries of India, Nigeria and Brazil held the greatest prospects for rapid development. As time passed by, India and Brazil met those expectations. However, Nigeria which has an abundance of human and material resources and was for a very long time the sixth largest exporter of crude oil could not. The reason is simple and very clear for all to see. It is important to point out that there was a time when the problem in Nigeria was surprisingly how to spend money that had accrued to the treasury.

It has become clear that Nigeria has never paid sufficient attention to science and technology. Our pupils and students run away from the study of mathematics and science in our primary and secondary schools. Many parents discourage their children from pursuing a career in science, engineering and technology. Very limited work is done in research and development in the industry, universities and research institutes. Indeed most of the industries depend on the research work done in other countries. Very little attention is paid to the innovation going on in the informal sector of the economy, as the infrastructure needed to harness the creativity of our people in the informal sector is lacking.

It is important to point out that even the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology which should coordinate science and technology activities in the country was in the past treated as if the nation did not know what to do with it. It took up to 1980, 20 years after we became independent, for the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) to be established. I commend President Shehu Shagari for his vision in doing this. Shortly after the Ministry was established, it was merged with the Federal Ministry of Education. It was later demerged. Shortly after, the FMST was scrapped. Its numerous research institutes were scattered and given to many other Ministries including agriculture, health and industry. A short while later the FMST was re-established but not with the full complement of its original research institutes. As this confusion went on, adequate funding posed a big challenge. Just last year 2015, as many as four agencies in the ministry had zero capital allocation in the 2015 budget. In many cases the overhead in the recurrent expenditure was barely enough to buy diesel to operate generators needed to provide enough power for the efficient operation of the Agencies. Also the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (NSTIP) which came into existence in 1986 could not be fully implemented since the lead organ to drive it, the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) took as long as 30 years to hold its first meeting. Also the National Research and Innovation Fund (NRIF) which should fund research and innovation in the country is yet to be put in place. As all these happened in the past, other developing countries such as India, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia behaved differently. On attainment of independence, they put science and technology at the center of their developmental process. I am happy that President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration is changing all this.

In my book: “The Greatness of Nations: Technology in Nation Building”, I drew attention to the important role which knowledge and its strategic utilization can play in stimulating the development of nations in their respective search for social progress and human freedom. Be they small or big, history has shown that nations that prospered and made significant contributions to human civilization were those which embraced knowledge, especially technological knowledge.

Even countries, small in population and landmass, have attained greatness by embracing knowledge. Singapore, one of the smallest countries in the world, stunned the world when within a relatively short period of 35 years of her existence as a sovereign nation, surmounted many problems and overcame many challenges to become a modern nation. She then built the world’s number one airline, best airport, the busiest trading post, and enjoyed the world’s fourth highest per capita real income at that time.

Explaining how the awesome power of technology was used to transform the country the father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, in his book: “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story; 1965-2000” revealed how by integrating technology into the country’s economic and social development efforts, Singapore was positioned for survival and success in the then fast emerging knowledge-based global economy.

At this juncture, it is important that I point out that it is common knowledge that nations that are anxious to modernize and become competitive in the global arena must place high premium on the acquisition of knowledge, especially scientific and technological knowledge. It is also necessary to observe that just as the acquisition of knowledge has helped nations embrace prosperity; its neglect has impacted negatively on the fortunes of countries. Indeed, both Jim Nelson Black and Arnold Toynbee in their respective monumental works; “When Nations Die” and “A Study of History” agree that lack of knowledge and vision have led to the disintegration of structures and waning of forces that have helped make human progress possible.

As a nation, we should embrace knowledge and emphasize technology as an important instrument for national development. It will arm us with the necessary tool to address our economic challenges. As I speak, we must seek for alternative ways, which science and technology offer, to diversify our economy, reduce poverty, protect our environment, defeat illiteracy, create jobs, recreate the middle class, check insecurity and restore honour and accountability in the conduct of government business.

History has shown that no nation that has made sustainable progress has been able to do so without emphasizing science and technology. Such emphasis sustained over a long period of time, has always helped quicken the pace of economic growth and development. Japan did it. Many countries including those with large population such as India, Brazil and China are doing so.

India, one of the oldest civilisations in the world, entered the 21st century with a population of more than one billion people. As a conscious effort to fast track her development, she had from the early days of independence embraced science and technology; she has witnessed tremendous economic growth, recording spectacular achievements in many areas of human endeavour. Today, she has become a net exporter of food, a most remarkable achievement for a country with a huge population, especially considering her recent history of food shortages. As I speak, she has emerged a major global industrial power, with awesome military capabilities as well as becoming both a Space and a Nuclear power.

China, with about one fifth of the global population, has been able, in recent times to double her economy three times over to become the second largest economy in the world. Though once a poor country, she was able to record an unequalled economic growth in modern history, averaging more than a per capita GDP growth rate of 8%, stretching over a period of three decades from 1979-2013.

Brazil is the most populous nation in Latin America. She is also the industrial power of the region. Employing the enormous power of science and technology, she has emerged one of the world’s largest economies in agricultural production, scientific research, innovation and technological development. By the year 2015, she had emerged the world’s ninth largest economy with strong potentials for further advances in the near future.

In view of all the things that have gone on in the world, we must always remember that political leaders and scholars of various schools of thought agree that knowledge is an important instrument to unlock the doors of underdevelopment. Indeed, one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill, in a 1943 broadcast to his country men and women, had remarked thus: “the future of the world is to the highly educated races, who alone can handle the scientific apparatus necessary for pre-eminence in peace and survival in war”. Even the imperishable words of Charles Steinmatz (1865-1923) found expression in the monumental national development achievements of Israel. According to him: “there will come an age of independent nations whose frontline of defence will be knowledge”.

Nigeria as the most populous nation in Africa, with the largest concentration of black people in the world, occupies an important place in Africa’s search for economic prosperity and political stability. As has been shown, if she is to provide the direction which the rest of Africa should follow and help nurture the emergence of a new African civilization, then she must lead by example by nurturing indigenous technology, create new technology as against being a mere destination of foreign technologies and hence help strengthen economic growth, promote self-reliance and self-esteem, as well as strengthen our competitiveness in the global arena, thereby becoming the technological hub for Africa.

Indeed as a nation which the rest of Africa look up to provide the direction it should follow, we must encourage the emergence of the requisite manpower equipped with the necessary technological skills that will help improve productivity and move us away from being a consumer to a producer nation. Nigeria is blessed with fertile land and favourable weather conditions. No snow. No volcanic eruptions with its attendant devastation. No earthquakes of note. No devastating floods except caused by our negligence. We neither experience hurricanes nor are we confronted with the destructive power of typhoons.

I am confident that Nigeria can make the difference if we remain focused and determined in the new direction which the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration would want Nigeria to follow. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) is determined to help achieve these goals. First, we should seek to feed ourselves. A nation that cannot feed her citizens is a country without self-esteem. Technology is the tool that will enable us feed ourselves and restore our self-confidence. Technology will help us reduce poverty, create wealth, fight illiteracy, reduce human suffering, preserve our environment, produce our needs locally and improve our capacity for export trade, thereby strengthening our economy and our currency, the Naira, through increased export earnings.

Secondly, we need to discover, understand and venerate our past so that we can better appreciate the future. A people without a past cannot successfully plan for tomorrow. We should employ the tool of technology to rediscover who we are and unravel our rich past to enable us know our history and unlock the hidden achievements of yesterday to help us secure today for a better tomorrow. Self-discovery is very helpful in gaining self-confidence which is essential for creative work. Indeed knowing the achievements of our ancestors and the richness of our past is the tonic we need to aim to surpass their achievements and be a leader in the world. In order to achieve this, we will encourage research in our universities such that they can become globally accepted centres of scholarship that can compete with the best centres of learning in other parts of the world. It is our intention that in the near future, we should be able to produce Nobel Laureates in medicine, physics and chemistry. The cooperation and collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and our Universities will grow stronger in the years to come. Many branches of our research institutes will in the future be located in or affiliated with universities. We are convinced that working closely with universities will be helpful in such a way that in the future, at least one university in Nigeria will one day be ranked as the best in Africa and one of the best ten (10) in the world. This will enable Nigeria embrace a new African Civilization that will position the continent as the respected cradle of human civilization.

To enable us achieve this, it is important that we begin early to mobilize the citizenry toward appreciating the role of science and technology in nation building. This explains why already a conscious mobilization effort has begun with the aim of sensitizing the citizenry on how we can utilize Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation to strengthen our economy, reclaim our national pride and energise enduring happiness.

We need to teach our children, science related subjects in such a way that they can learn the subjects with greater ease. Charity, they say, begins at home. We must encourage our children to show more serious interest in science subjects and mathematics as a way to awaken their consciousness early in life to appreciate the benefits of science and technology in human progress. Already, we have initiated measures to equip some of our Primary and Secondary Schools with science laboratory equipment in order to awaken greater practical interest in these subjects at a tender age. We can no longer continue with a situation where many of our students in secondary schools study science subjects without having a laboratory experience whereby they employ “alternative to practicals” as they sit for their examinations.

It is also our intention to initially build a Science and Technology Museum in order to show our rich past in technology and also explain how technological ideas are conceived, nurtured and developed as well as acquaint the people with perceptible ideas of how science and technology can be utilized to advance the frontiers of human progress. In doing so, we intend to use the Museum to explain with clarity all natural phenomena, thereby raising the consciousness of our people through promoting the relevance of science and technology to our everyday life. The Science and Technology Museum will also be a Knowledge Center where our people, particularly the young ones, can come to learn by doing. That way, their creativity is sharpened, improving their inventiveness and hence promoting innovation.

As a measure to bridge the gap between research findings and product commercialization, we have initiated a novel programme of action aimed at encouraging the commercialization of current and future research findings in our universities and research institutes. This is aimed at ensuring that good ideas grow into viable products and services of immense market value to both entrepreneurs and the general public. This will ensure that our research efforts are market driven, thereby responding to the urgent needs of our development as a nation resolute in its search for self-reliance, import reduction and is export driven. The recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and Nasco Food Ltd, Jos, involving the production of high nutrient density biscuits with the Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) as the implementing Agency, is a good example. To encourage inventions and patents, we have initiated efforts to strengthen intellectual property laws in order to ensure that good ideas are protected. We are conscious of the fact that in any nation, there is a direct relationship between the number of patents granted and the level of economic development. Also inventors and innovators work best in an environment where their intellectual property are recognized and protected. Investors are more willing to invest in research findings where patents have been secured. This will be very helpful in the commercialization of products, as an important instrument for economic development. This improved cooperation between the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Organised Private Sector (OPS) is the only way to go. The OPS can benefit tremendously from the research and innovation work done in the research institutes by expanding their business opportunities through commercialization of research findings. I am encouraged to observe that our efforts in this direction is receiving favourable attention as the number of granted patents has risen considerably in the past one year. We believe strongly that this will help our scientists and engineers to create wealth for both themselves and the nation. We are convinced that once this happens, more people will be attracted to study science and engineering.

It has become important that in order to strengthen our regulatory responsibility so as to achieve greater harmony in the system as well as efficiency on policy implementation, we have encouraged Inter-Agency cooperation and collaboration among the 17 Agencies under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. This is to ensure that resources available to the ministry are most efficiently utilized. Also this will make it easier for the operations of the Agencies to be more effectively monitored in order to achieve optimum results. We have been able to enforce discipline and strong work ethics whereby all staff of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology come to work at the right time. We have demanded and obtained increased accountability and transparency in the conduct of government business. All these are aimed at promoting the cardinal values of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration.

Also it has become of critical importance to our country, in view of the adverse effect of the sharp drop in the price of crude oil to the revenue accruing to our treasury, for us to utilize science, engineering, technology and innovation to diversify the economy. I am happy that the Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration has initiated a bold step aimed at deepening the role of Science and Technology as Nigeria’s engine of economic growth. In this regard, it has given practical expression through the take-off of the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC), which though inaugurated on February 18, 2014, only met for the first time on January 7, 2016 as the major organ to drive science and technology in the country as envisaged in the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy which came into existence in 1986, some thirty years ago. As I speak, in this year alone, the Council has met on three occasions.!!

The NRIC has the President as Chairman. Its composition includes 15 Ministers and two representatives of the Organized Private Sector. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology serves as its Secretariat. It is our intention to institutionalize this important body. Efforts have begun with the aim of forwarding a Bill to the National Assembly pursuant to enacting the relevant Act that will establish the Council as an enduring instrument of government, charged with the important responsibility to drive Science, Technology and Innovation in the country as a key component of our development process. The Bill will also establish the National Research and Innovation Fund with a minimum of one percent of our annual Gross Domestic Product, GDP, accruable to it. This will help accelerate research and innovation in our universities, industry and research institutes as well as encourage the creative genius of talented citizens, inventors and entrepreneurs, thereby creating new businesses that would stimulate job and wealth creation.

Also it is our intention to harness and efficiently utilize innovation wherever it occurs in the nation to help increase our productivity. It is therefore in this regard that we intend to harness the informal sector by encouraging our talented craftsmen/women and indeed all inventors that abound in different parts of the country. In today’s globalized world, talent alone cannot make one fulfilled. It is only when talent is developed and utilised that self-actualization can truly be achieved. We intend to establish Technology Villages in the six geo-political zones of the Country. This will help us properly shape and sharpen the innovation of the creative genius of our creative minds into finished products and services to be of benefit to our dear country. In establishing these technology villages in different parts of the country, each location will place emphasis on the skills that abound in such places. It is important to mention that when I served as Governor of old Abia State in 1992, some 24 years ago, I commenced with vigour the process for the establishment of a Technology Village in the State. The project could not be fully realized due to the sudden nature of our departure from office.

I am happy to state that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration through the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology will work speedily to close all technology gaps in the country. Currently there are many technological gaps which we have allowed to exist for a very long time. This is no longer acceptable. We will employ the shortest possible means to close these gaps. We will support the Organised Private Sector (OPC) to produce and manufacture locally those goods and products that we buy and import from abroad in large quantities, year after year. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology will achieve this, through a new flagship programme: Technology Transfer Promotion Initiative (TTPI). Through this important programme, investors who want to manufacture goods in Nigeria and also are willing to transfer their technology to Nigerians will be encouraged with a basket of incentives made available by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology working with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government.

We are also aware of the enormous difficulties which many inventors and innovators face with funding to convert their brilliant ideas into products and services in the market place. We also know that our financial institutions are not structured to meet these needs. We can no longer afford to allow any obstacle to either delay or prevent the commercialisation of research findings, as this has a serious impact on job creation, wealth creation, poverty alleviation, reduction of human suffering, and national pride. We will in the near future propose the establishment of a Science and Technology Development Bank (STDB). Whereas the National Research and Innovation Fund (NRIF) will assist research and developmental work in the country, the STDB will provide venture capital for commercialisation of new ideas as well as support local manufacture that encourages technological development in the country.

In the near future, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, as a way to encourage local development of technology, will come out with practical steps to appeal to Nigerians to patronise Made in Nigeria Goods. We believe that it is a patriotic duty on the part of all Nigerians to encourage Made in Nigeria Goods by buying locally made products. This is the only way we can build a big, strong and resilient economy. We will continue to work to bring together government, industry, research institutes and universities for the good of the nation. We will be organising a Technology Exposition where major research findings, prototypes and pilot plants where necessary from all research institutes, universities, industry and organized private sector are brought out for investors and the general public to see as a way to facilitate commercialisation of research findings.

Most distinguished ladies and gentlemen, while the major thrust of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is to focus research and innovation on areas that will help us feed ourselves and reduce imports into the country but we will also ensure that our nation will embrace all areas of science and technology. We cannot always be copying from others. We should aim to lead in some areas so that others can come to learn from us. At this juncture, I want to rededicate myself and my colleagues in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to the service of our dear country. We will give our best because we know that only the best is good enough for our dear country. It is important I call on all Nigerians to support us in this important but difficult journey. In this journey, mistakes may be made. I ask my fellow citizens not to judge us only by those, but also to consider our love for country, our passion for our job and our commitment to serve the common good. It is important to remember that for over 56 years after independence, we never followed the right route of attaching importance to science and technology in nation building. This new route we are taking will take time for the good results to show. We should show patience and understanding, the type shown by farmers who after planting the seed must wait for it to germinate, grow and mature before harvest is due. I call on all Nigerians to be united in this new journey. We must all work together. The investment on science and technology must come from all levels of government and from all Nigerians. This is one project that every Nigerian must own.

In view of all the things that had happened in our country, I am convinced that the Almighty God has a strong reason for making Nigeria the giant of Africa. The challenge we face is to live up to this expectation by recognizing that to whom much is given, much is also expected. The future of Nigeria lies in Science and Technology. China is where it is today, because of science and technology. Brazil is moving steadily toward this direction because of science and technology. India is on course because of science and technology. Why should Nigeria, the giant of Africa, not do likewise? It is important to ask the following questions: Who built the great artwork of Igboukwu, Ife and Benin? Could our ancestors have done such great things without science and technology? No. Our generation, this generation must do more. No one asks anyone else to respect him or her. It does not work that way. Respect is earned. If other people from far and near can come to Nigeria to take and use our abundant natural resources to develop their countries, what is wrong in our using the same resources to develop our own country?

I believe that Nigeria can lead the way for Africa. By putting the Recession in recess, science, technology and innovation can be an effective instrument that will enable us diversify our economy, create jobs, reduce poverty and ensure that she becomes strong and resilient even in the face of future challenges. Indeed, science, technology and innovation can not only halt the drift, it can reverse the trend and re-route the Nigerian vehicle towards a new destination of enduring prosperity, resilient buoyancy and diversified economic base that is sustainable and competitive. I am confident that we will succeed.

I thank you so much. May God bless the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, and bless our dear country, Nigeria.

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