‘Absence of research, development, major weak point in Nigeria’s academic system’
Research And Development better known as (R&D) generally refers to investigative activities that businesses, institutions and governments choose to conduct, with the intention of making a discovery, or breakthrough that can either lead to the development of new products or procedures, or to the improvement of existing products or procedures.
In essence, in an industry that is changing fast, or in a world that is evolving at break-neck speed, research and development ensures that entities and countries keep pace with their counterparts in terms of developmental strides.
According to Lucky Osaretin Odia, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Benin, in a paper entitled, “Research and Development Initiatives in Nigeria: Challenges and Prospects,” a nation that aims “at scientific and technological breakthrough must evolve a clear cut philosophy of national development, which include a well defined, strengthened and independent institution operating outside of the usual political interference/manipulations.
In the paper, which he said was of the view that the “Nigerian government and its people must do what they have been doing before now in research and development differently in order to expect the desired goal and benefits associated with research and development,” he added that, “Empirical evidences supports the fact that what makes the difference in the level of development among these sets of nations is the degree of commitment/funding by government/corporate organisations towards research activities, attitudes/how informed are its people in appreciating and encouraging local inventions as well as the amount of synergy between research centres and government/corporate organisations.
But founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Polymath Interscience, a science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) a research, development and manufacturing company, Prof. David Babatunde Adebimpe, is of the view that “Nigeria is not taking research as serious as it should,” stressing that “every area in which there is a ministerial appointment should have active education, research and development infrastructure of polices and activity.
He questioned, “How many active research centers are there in Nigeria? How many science, technology, mathematics and engineering (SMET) research activities are active in the country? How many initiatives have the government provided for the acquisition of intellectual property, or the engenderment of micro-scale SMET businesses?
Adebimpe continued, “Now, place the aforementioned against the backdrop of the fact that there are many successful Nigerian scientists in the Diaspora. The only difference being that the latter (Nigerian in countries like the UK, USA, Germany, Japan) have access to the superior quality of education and equipment, initiatives and help needed to have their natural abilities shine through. We do not know if we have natural R&D geniuses amongst our youth because we simply do not provide them opportunity to assess this potential. We certainly neglect R and D, and this neglect is certainly affecting our national development – to the extent that we do not even see our neglect as a big deal.”
On how the inability of Nigerian universities to spearhead research affects our growth as a nation, he said, “The effect to the progress of our nation is obvious, negative, and devastating to the development of a country. For example, it has led to the churning out of half-baked graduates and stagnant lectures. Due to this there is a lack of a pool of educated youths needed to bring Nigeria into the 21st century of knowledge in critical areas such as science, technology, engineering and healthcare.
From the standpoint of a realistic entrepreneur, most Nigerian science graduates are unemployable in the R and D sectors of their fields of study. Most lack practical knowledge, and lack exposure to instrumentation of the type needed, no to talk about those that bring research excellence and innovation. Currently we do not graduate researchers, and everyone graduates believing they are trained to knot ties and sit in offices. Who would place official responsibilities in the hands of a graduate who cannot speak or write a good sentence in English? My candid advice is that government should allocate farmlands to them and employ them as farmers on a large scale! We can’t all knot ties and work inside airconditioned offices!
So, in effect, the country cannot keep abreast of new innovations in the world, and we have to hire expatriates to do the things we should know how to do ourselves. In the end, they end up using our national resources inefficiently, do not generate the small businesses that export, and make ignorant decisions. Within governance, it is also affecting the socio-economic policies of government with agencies like NISER rotting away, Adebimpe, who holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Materials Science and Chemical Engineering stated.
He, however, advised that, “Government must reverse the proliferation of universities that Nigeria witnessed during the past years. Fewer universities mean larger spending. This can be done through mergers of some of these “universities” and the conversion of others into vocational education institutions, and of polytechnics that will generate those with support skills. We need skills, and we have none, and this even includes the support skills of technicians that scientists need. Each of the university-designate will the saddled with the responsibility of one subject area of national need, will be designated an R and D center-of-excellence for that area-of need.
Government should provide adequate and accountable funding to support the centre. With this in place, government will then increase its budget and allocations to all tiers of tertiary education with emphasis on research grants. Government will also encourage international collaborations and provide incentives to encourage the Private Sector to fund researches in universities, and endow academic or entrepreneurial chairs.
What is the place of research and development in the advancement of tertiary education in countries with Nigeria in focus?
Aware of the lacuna that the absence of research and development has created in the country’s advancement, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has delved into this area saying it is “Research and Development is a new elegant focus in TETFund.”
According to Executive Secretary of TETFund, Prof Elias Suleiman Bogoro, “The Board of Trustees of the organisation requested me to make my expression of vision for TETFund’s for five years. And I did a six-point vision, which include R and D; Information and Communications Technology (ICT); Strategic Plan (for the first time in TETFund); Staff Conditions of Service; Capacity Building etc. The board thereafter approved everything that I articulated and I was really excited by the confidence reposed in me by the board.
However, after the approval of the R and D, one of the requirements was to create a new department- the R and D and Centres of Excellence Department has been created in TETFund. Now, the idea is for TETFund to contribute and support the regulatory agencies in ensuring that R and D is strengthened in our tertiary institutions.
The absence of research and development is a major weak point in our academic system in Nigeria. Most developed countries of the world operate knowledge economies, and in these days of knowledge-driven economy, we must address the central role of education, specifically research and development, in driving economic development and overall sustainable development of any nation.
I tell you without any fear of contradiction that the most competitive nations of the world have centralised R and D in driving their ambition for economic strength, sustainability and renewability of resources and innovation. If there is no innovation, you will definitely stagnate because innovation/creativity is synonymous and indeed the centrepiece of R and D. If you do not have the capacity to use knowledge to further your growth and create new products you should forget about competing with the best of the world. We recognise this at TETFund and the role of tertiary institutions in executing this is so central because most of the tested best brains are in tertiary institutions.
The former university teacher continued, “So in order to ensure that there is strong R and D, which forges partnership between the researcher and the industry, it is important to make R and D a national imperative. And that is why we are saying that there should be a national R and D foundation for Nigeria. What that means is that a national R and D foundation for the country is suggestive of a foundation created by government, that draws funds so specified by law, and there is a board of trustees that sits and manages the funds, which could be .5 per cent of profit from all profit-making businesses so long there is a board of trustees trusted by Nigerians to manage and disburses the fund to strengthen the industry, research and the economy. And with that one, the very best of brains do not have to remain in the university system.
In fact, instead of the best brains in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education doing sabbatical in only tertiary institutions, they should be able to go for sabbatical and do relevant work and innovative research in the industry, and each industry would be required by law, to have an R and D desk that stipulates and insists that so much R and D funds are available, that should be accessed by tertiary institutions, centres of excellence, research institutes and other relevant economic driving, corporate entities. That is how the best competitive nations operate.”
He recalled, “We went to Dayton, Ohio, in the United States not long ago to discuss the issue of capacity building for innovative research by Nigerian researchers, and what we got from it is that our R and D exists only on paper.
Right now in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, there is a Science, Technology and innovative (STI) policy. A very robust and good policy. But it lacks the bite of the law, and so we are suggesting that the national R and D foundation should recognise that we have very good policies, but because the lack the backing of the law, they end up being ineffective. And that is why the national R and D Foundation that we are suggesting is not just for tertiary institutions, but for the entire Nigeria to enable us bring the very best technocrats, experts and let them manage the foundation.”