NATIONAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY“ POLICY IN NIGERIA: AN OVERVIEW”

BEING

FULL TEXT OF A LECTURE DELIVERED BY DR. OGBONNAYA ONU, HONOURABLE MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AT THE NATIONAL DEFENCE COLLEGE, ABUJA, ON THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2016

PROTOCOL:

I am happy to be invited to speak to you on the topic: “National Science and Technology Policy in Nigeria: An Overview” before such an august body of gallant men and women of our Armed Forces, including some other gallant soldiers from other friendly nations. I am inspired by the knowledge that this College has played a very important role in training men and women into the finest officer corps of our Armed Forces who have so ably defended our nation’s territorial integrity and helped restore peace in many theatres of conflict both in Africa and other parts of the world. Indeed, this institution has been a symbol of excellence and a reassuring fountain of inspiration that has rekindled confidence in everyone, that the Armed Forces of Nigeria can defeat any foe and at the same time build enduring peace with our friends. I am proud of your heritage and remain strong in my faith that with greater determination and conviction in the capacity of our beloved nation to be a powerful member of the global comity of prosperous democracies of the world, you all gathered here, working with your other colleagues, shall help make the difference in Nigeria’s search for global peace and security. Nigerians are proud of your achievements.

It is remarkable that in the pursuit of world peace, since independence in 1960, our Armed Forces have played important roles in conflict resolution in different parts of the world, especially in Africa. In 1963, Nigeria deployed troops to Congo to help keep the peace in that central African country. She also played a major role in the peaceful resolution of the differences between Togo and the Republic of Benin in 1975. She equally deployed troops to Chad during the crisis in that country. Her leadership role in the peace keeping mission of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), helped end the crisis in Liberia. In other theatres of conflict, such as in Sierra-Leone and Darfur, Sudan, our Armed Forces made the difference with their gallantry.

The gallantry of our armed forces, particularly the recent victories recorded against the insurgents in the North East Zone of our dear country, has won the admiration of all Nigerians. Your determination to protect and secure the territorial integrity of our nation and hence ensure that no part of our country is under the control of insurgents is highly commendable. Today, many Nigerians: men, women and children who were displaced from their homes particularly in Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa States and were forced to live in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps scattered in many parts of the country as well as those who lived as refugees in neighbouring countries have started to return home. Life is gradually returning to a state of normalcy for them. The security situation in these States has improved considerably. I salute you. You deserve all the commendation that you get. You are worthy sons and daughters of our dear country.

May I use this opportunity to thank the founders and all those who have worked as well as those presently working in this College for their enormous contributions to our armed forces and the nation. The establishment of this College has helped restore our national pride and saved a lot of resources which we would have spent in training our soldiers abroad. Indeed, if the National Defence College had not been established, the nation would have needed one. I specially commend the Commandant and his management team for their contributions to nation building.

Most distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as I stand here, it is very clear to me that there is no duty more important and no task more urgent for any administration, than to preserve, protect and secure the nation and her citizens. This is so because in the absence of peace and order, the progress and prosperity of the nation and her citizens are in a jeopardy. Nations had been born and died when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of such nations could not be protected. History is full of such examples. This had been so, even for very wealthy nations, that lacked the military capability to secure themselves.

Nigeria is lavishly endowed with abundance of human and material resources. She has a good and hospitable weather, fertile land, a generous supply of water, abundance of mineral resources, an extensive coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and above all a suitable geography located almost at the heart of Africa. Nigeria cannot afford to be weak. She needs a military force strong enough to protect and preserve her territorial integrity as well as secure her citizens in order to guarantee peace and order.

Throughout modern history, weak nations or kingdoms have always been manipulated by the strong, with neither their independence nor their wishes respected. Indeed, they rarely have the strong voice needed in shaping human history either within or outside their countries. The high level of frustration suffered by Don Afonso I, the ancient King of the Congo who was a practicing Christian and literate in Portuguese, in his dealing with Portugal is characteristic of the fate of the weak nations in their international relations. King Afonso dissatisfied with the degradation of human dignity and the human hemorrhage associated with the slave trade, decided in 1526 AD to save his kingdom from decay by stopping the trade in slaves. His anguish and sadness can be best expressed by his letter to John III of Portugal complaining that:

“Portuguese merchants daily seize our subjects, sons of the land and sons of noblemen and vassals and our relatives… They grab them and cause them to be sold: and so great, Sir, is their corruption and licentiousness that our country is being utterly depopulated”.

He requested that only teachers and priests should be sent to his kingdom. He vehemently objected to any trade in slaves. Yet King Afonso’s letter was disregarded and his complaint treated with utter disdain, as the slave trade continued unabated.

The old kingdoms which constituted present-day Nigeria also suffered a similar fate. All the leaders who wanted to exert control over their territories, by limiting the degree and level of foreign influence were accused of “obstruction of the Majesty’s wishes” and were banished into exile. No institutions were regarded sacred. The age-old traditions were desecrated and the culture of the people treated superciliously with scornful disdain. Hence in 1897, when the British Vice-Consul, J.R. Philips, sent a message to the Oba of Benin requesting to visit him, but this was turned down due to the Oba performing the most important ceremony, the Igue, which makes him sacred and divine, he nevertheless decided to embark on the journey. Unknown to the Oba, two of his chiefs arranged an ambush and killed nearly all members of his expedition. A punitive expedition was then arranged and this led to the Oba being deposed and subsequently exiled. Also the City of Benin was left in ruins. Nearly two thousand antiquities that were concentrated in the Oba’s palace which represented the symbol of the kingdom’s cultural values were forcefully removed. Nigeria has not recovered from this because today, she holds only the third largest collection (after those in the British Museum and Berlin) of Benin art, and this is obviously deplorable for the country that produced the art.

An attempt by King Jaja of Opobo, in the Niger Delta Region of the country, to exert independence in thought and action received immediate reproach and severe punitive treatment. It did not matter that he had earlier in 1875 been honoured with Britain’s Sword of Honour by Queen Victoria for sending troops to fight with the British in their war against the Ashanti in present-day Ghana. He ran into trouble as soon as he opposed their ambition to control the hinterland trade, which nourished his power and prosperity, in an unequivocal manner.

“My first and last words are that the country belongs to me and I do not want white traders… there. Anyone who wants to trade… with me, … could do so at the port of Opobo”

He was later invited by the British Council to “hear the message of the British Government” and found himself spending the last days of his life in exile in St. Vincent in the British West Indies. A similar fate was suffered by no less a personality than the Nana of Warri who was later sent on exile to Accra in 1894. This was a common feature of that time and even those who refused “British protection against some unnamed danger” were brought under submission through the “war to end all wars”.

At this juncture, we should never forget that it was the renowned Prussian military strategist, Carl Van Clausewitz (1780-1831) who, after studying the numerous problems that confront a people, observed that “all military problems are political, all political problems are economic and all economic problems are scientific and technological”. It is important that in the history of nations, no single nation whether in the ancient or modern times has ever been truly 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. It has become clear that nations that truly desire to develop, modernize their economy and remain competitive, must embrace knowledge, especially scientific and technological knowledge. Indeed, scholars of various schools of thought agree with several political leaders in the recognition of knowledge as an important instrument necessary to unlock the doors of underdevelopment. Sir Winston Churchill, one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom in a 1943 broadcast to his country men and women had said that: “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”. Charles Steinmatz (1865 – 1923) described the monumental national development exploits of Israel in these imperishable words: “there will come an age of independent nations whose frontline of defence will be knowledge”.

It is important to observe that just as the acquisition of knowledge and its deployment has enabled many nations attain very high standards of living, so also has its neglect adversely affected both the living conditions of people and the influence of nations. Indeed, Arnold Toynbee in his classic work: “ A study of History” and Jim Nelson Black in his book: “When Nations Die”, both agree that intellectual apathy and lack of vision have led to the disintegration of the structures that made civilization possible.

Standing on the sacred soil of Abuja, within the premises of this great institution of learning, I am convinced that Nigeria as the most populous nation in Africa, the strongest economy in Africa, the largest market in Africa and home to the largest concentration of black people in the world has a lot of contributions to make to world civilization. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology has an important role to play in helping to shape the future of Nigeria, a future that guarantees political stability, economic prosperity, and pursues the happiness of Nigerians.

At this point, it is important to remember how David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, described all known experts. He said that they “are experts on what was. There is no expert on what will be.” He went further to say that to become an expert on the future, then vision must replace experience. Hence in trying to shape the future of our dear nation, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) developed the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) in 1986. However, the STIP could not be effectively implemented until thirty years later, on January 7, 2016, when the lead organ, the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) with the President as Chairman, fifteen Ministries and two representatives of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) as members and the FMST providing its secretariat met for the first time. Since this year alone, the NRIC has held three meetings. In order to institutionalise the NRIC and the National Research and Innovation Fund (NRIF), a draft bill is under preparation for submission to the National Assembly to enact into law. The FMST is working very hard to transform the nation from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. Such an economy will be more competitive and better prepared to guarantee the peace, prosperity and security of the nation. Goals have been set and the roadmap identified to assist us achieve set objectives.

In the short term, Nigeria as a nation must work hard to feed her citizens. Science and technology play a vital role in the farming chain. It is only by employing science and technology in agriculture that any achievement recorded can be both competitive and sustainable. A nation that cannot feed her citizens is a country without self-esteem. Technology is the instrument that will unlock the scourge of hunger to enable us feed ourselves in a sustainable manner and hence restore our self-confidence. Shimon Peres in his Forward to the book: Start-Up Nation, the Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, made it clear -that “though many still consider agriculture the epitome of low technology, they are mistaken, technology was 95 percent of the secret of Israel’s prodigious agricultural productivity”.

At all times, we must protect and secure our country. The most important assignment, indeed the primary responsibility of any administration is to secure lives and property. We can build roads paved with gold, we can build the most beautiful houses but whenever there is crisis or war, people run away from their houses and no vehicles are found on the roads as people run to bushes and shelters in order to protect themselves from bombs. No meaningful progress can be achieved when lives of citizens are seriously threatened. It is also important that we should never forget that the weapons of yesterday have today become obsolete. The swords, machetes, chariots and Dane guns of yesterday have lost relevance in the warfare of today and even tomorrow. We should also recollect the sad situation our dear country faced recently at the peak of the insurgency in the North East Zone when unknown flags were flown in Local Government Headquarters in some States and the armed forces needed weapons to help fight and defeat the insurgents. Even with cash at hand, we could not buy weapons. If we had invested in science and technology and established our own defence industry, we would not have been confronted with that level of embarrassment. I am here to say to you that if we do what is right, this level of embarrassment will never occur again. This poses a challenge to the nation. We should as quickly as possible work hard and persevere until many of the technology gaps in the country are closed. There is no other option open to us.

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 unfortunately we 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 work very hard to strengthen the linkage between research institutions and the universities on the one hand and on the other also strengthen the linkage between industry and research institutes. 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. The time has come for us as a nation to look inwards. We must work to be self-reliant. We can no longer depend on other countries to meet our basic needs. Since we did so in the past, today we are paying dearly for it, the result of which is very unpleasant. We could afford it when the price of crude oil was high, but now we cannot. We must stop the mistakes of the past in order to build a future that is bright and promising. Our way to secure a bright future is to commercialise research findings. This is the only way that the impact of research and innovation can be felt by the people as new or improved products, goods and services are available in the market for the people to buy.

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 will involve the protection of intellectual property through patents. All these will ensure 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 also 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. The military can use these biscuits particularly for the use of those deployed for operations in very remote locations. I will like the military to take advantage of the facilities offered by the Technology Incubation Centers established throughout the country to help retired soldiers acquire additional skills that can help them start new businesses. This will help retired soldiers use their skills and talents to own their own businesses and hence help grow our economy. As their businesses grow, they will employ many Nigerians. In many countries, soldiers in retirement use the enormous experience they acquired in the war front and also in the course of duty to start new businesses particularly in areas such as security, defence and intelligence. These efforts help create jobs as well as create wealth for themselves and the nation.

The military, in its drive to be the best, should show greater interest in research and innovation. There is no way you can compete effectively with the very best in the world unless you intensify research and innovation. As you look for better logistic support, improved methods of engagement, reliable and efficient command and control systems, combat readiness and improved weapon systems, these can best be achieved through research and innovation. We should never forget that many discoveries that have become very useful to the human society arose out of research and innovation work embarked upon to support the Military. Computers, the GPS are a few of many of the revolutionary discoveries that have become a part of our every day life.

The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology working closely with the Federal Ministry of Defence can do a lot in helping our dear country meet many of her defence needs. Our armed forces, noted for their gallantry and patriotism, should be ready to use made in Nigeria goods and services. This will not only help grow our economy, improve productivity and competitiveness, create wealth for our people, help reduce poverty and create jobs but it will help the military to aim to be one of the very best in the world. It is by patronising made in Nigeria goods that our entrepreneurs can make profit and through research and innovation remain competitive and hence continuously improve on the quality of their products, goods and services. It is very important for us never to forget that hardly can any nation give to another its best weapons and military equipment. Whatever any nation can sell to us, it must be clear in our minds that such nations have ways they can render such weapon systems ineffective in case conflicts arise involving us that are against their national interest. Moreover, we must learn from the mistakes that our ancestors made in the past. When some nations utilised the science and technology of those days in building up their national capabilities, our ancestors did not. When those countries went out to explore the oceans and find the boundaries of continents, our ancestors did not. Hence, when the leaders of these nations met in the Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885 in the Scramble for Africa where they divided Africa, the second largest continent in the world, among themselves not a single African was there. The maintenance of world peace demands mutual respect which can only come when no part of the world is too weak compared with others. Science and technology can help our dear country to build a strong military that will promote world peace.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 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. The time has come for Nigeria to rise up and use science, engineering, technology and innovation to efficiently exploit the enormous natural resources Almighty God has endowed us with. If other people from far and near can come to Nigeria to take and use our abundant natural resources to develop their countries, is there anything wrong in our using the same resources to develop our beloved country?/p>

Nigeria has only one way to follow. Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation are the answer. It is also the way. Technology will help us defeat poverty, create wealth, fight illiteracy, reduce human suffering, create jobs, produce our needs locally and improve our capacity for export trade, thereby strengthening both our economy and our currency, the Naira, through increased export earnings.

I am confident that if we remain determined, hardworking, creative, resolute and focused, surely Nigeria, utilising the power of science and technology shall be the new nation on the mountain top showing the way for the rest of humankind to follow. I am confident that we shall succeed.

I thank you so much. May God bless our dear country, Nigeria.

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