Lip service – The Nation

  • Inadequate funding of R & D partly to blame for our underdevelopment

Successive governments in Nigeria over the years have understandably realised and appreciated the critical, indispensable role of rapid advances in science and technology as a necessary condition for the country’s accelerated development. Unfortunately, they have habitually only paid lip service to the need to plan and diligently implement policies to achieve this objective, particularly in the crucial area of funding and properly coordinating relevant research and development (R&D) activity.

Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonaiya Onu, underscored this point when he revealed at a press conference in Abuja that when he first assumed office in 2015, the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC), had not met for 30 years after the approval of the policy by the Federal Executive Council in 1986, and the attendant establishment of the council. NRIC is the body statutorily responsible for implementing Nigeria’s science, technological and innovation policy (STIP).

Expatiating on the pathetic state in which he met the ministry, the minister said, “When I was appointed as the Minister of Science and Technology, I came to a ministry where as many as five of its agencies had zero allocation for a whole year. There was money just to pay salaries. The ministry had a chequered history since its inception. At some time, it was merged with another ministry. At one time, it was scrapped completely and ceased to exist. At another time, it was constituted with only some of its former agencies”. Of course, no country that handles the very serious issue of research and development, especially in science, technology and innovation so cavalierly can make any meaningful developmental breakthrough.

The lacuna in this area of our development planning is mainly responsible for the debilitating and chronic import dependency that drains the country’s foreign exchange, her continued substantial reliance on earnings from export of crude oil as the major source of revenue as well as the huge infrastructure deficit in various sectors of the economy. It is noteworthy that the 1986 STIP document was reviewed in 1997 purportedly to “lay more emphasis on the coordination and management of science and technology system sectoral developments, collaboration and funding”.

Again, in 2003, the policy was reportedly updated this time “to take account of lapses observed in the implementation of the 1997 policy, especially on the need to address the institutional frameworks that should foster interaction among the various elements of the national system of innovation (NSI)”. The NSI was supposedly strengthened in 2005 when, working in conjunction with UNESCO, the country undertook a science, technology and innovation reform initiative.

Not done, the STIP was again reviewed in 2011 by the Dr Goodluck Jonathan administration, which said its effort in this regard had taken “advantage of the experiences in the design and implementation of the science and technology policy in the last two decades and a half” and that it was “a product of a novel, all-inclusive, participatory policy making”. But then, if all these years, the Ministry of Science and Technology had been largely marginalised and unstable; its agencies unfunded for the most part, and the body responsible for implementing the STIP, the NRIC, had not even met for 30 years, what then was the point of all these policy reform and review initiatives? Has it not been a case of all motion and little movement, given the country’s obvious stagnation in the sphere of STI development?

Unfortunately, the news reports did not indicate that Dr. Onu spoke about what steps he had so far taken as Minister of Science and Technology to ensure not just that the NRIC is revived and now meets regularly but that it begins to exhibit noticeable effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate. Beyond this, the herculean challenge before Dr Onu as minister is to spearhead the considerable strengthening of the Ministry of Science and Technology both financially and institutionally, as well as re-positioning the ministry and placing it at the very centre of Nigeria’s development planning and implementation where it rightly ought to be.

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