Experts set agenda for new science and technology minister, others

Ogbonaya Onu

Ogbonaya Onu

Want review of space, nuclear plants, renewable energy programmes

SCIENTISTS have set agenda for the new Minister of Science and Technology (S&T), Dr. Christopher Ogbonnaya Onu, and the permanent secretary in the ministry, Dr. Habiba Lawal, on how to use the sector to ensure national development and prosperity. They said Nigeria is making some contributions to the development of S&T, but is underperforming, relative to her abundant human capital.

The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) has the mandate to facilitate the development and deployment of science and technology apparatus to enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country through appropriate technological inputs into productive activities in the nation.

According to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD) African Innovation Outlook (2010), South Africa produced over 86,000 scientific papers – about 37 percent of the total research output of 19 African countries surveyed between 1990 and 2009; Egypt produced nearly 60,000 – about 27 percent of output. Nigeria produced 27,743 papers (or 12 percent of the total output) – about one-third of South Africa’s output.

Similarly, South Africa was able to secure more than 1,000 patents in 2010 alone, according to data obtained from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); whereas, Nigeria secured only 18 patents in the last eight years. This is unbelievably low.

The Guardian investigation revealed that most of the agencies in the S&T ministry are barely meeting their mandates because of poor funding.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have called on the new science and technology minister to address worries about the widespread hazardous incidents involving nuclear reactors in advanced countries. Nigeria’s plan to build nuclear power plants has raised safety concerns, given the fact that the government has demonstrated a lack of capacity to manage ordinary gas-powered and hydro plants as evidenced in the sale of the country’s power assets.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had obviously endorsed the nuclear power project, but has played safe by effectively pushing the responsibility for the safety of the proposed plants to the doorstep of Nigeria.

Speaking on the safety of the power plants recently, the Deputy Director General of IAEA, Dr. Mikhail Chudakov, who led the agency’s delegation on a two-week trip to Nigeria said the country should be prepared to take adequate responsibility for the safety culture and safe operation of a nuclear power in the country.

Also, stakeholders have called on Onu to address the myriad of problems surrounding the Nigerian communications satellite, popularity known as NigComSat-1, the multi-million dollar communication satellite, which spanned out of control just 18 months after launch.

The satellite, which was first launched into the orbit on May 13, 2007, cost the Federal Government N34 billion and the contact was executed by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation.

It was expected to provide broadband Internet and communications for government agencies.

They said although the satellite was re-launched in December 2011, with a lifespan of 15 years, the NigComSat-1 was ‘lying idle in space.’

They expressed disbelief that the satellite had remained idle in space at a time that Nigeria was facing multiple communications challenges, including the high cost of Internet.

They called for an investigation into the inter-agency rivalry between the National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA) and the Nigeria Communications Satellite Limited, said to be the reason why the satellite was idle.

The stakeholders observed that despite the enormous communications potential of the NigComSat-1, coupled with its 28 active transponders and 12 redundant transponders as payloads, Nigeria’s NigComSat-1 has not been put to optimum use since 2011 when it was re-launched.

They said that when put to use, the satellite could conveniently support over 168 television stations simultaneously and each television programme could be broadcast in three or four different languages concurrently.

They said if put to its optimum use, NigComSat-1 will enhance security intelligence reporting, particularly as Nigeria battles to end the problem of insurgency and terrorism in the North East amongst other benefits.

Stakeholders have also charged Onu on the development of renewable energy sources. They said alternative energy sources are at present the only panacea that will ‘bail the cat’ as seen practised by many other countries including neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.

They said long-term investments in renewable energies like solar and wind have the potential to contribute significantly to the electricity deficiency.

Indeed, the theoretical framework of the energy policy outlined by the Nigerian government seems promising, but there is a discontinuity, however, between implementation and theory.

On the way forward, a study published recently in Petroleum Technology Development Journal and titled “THE ROLE OF SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY IN NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: The Miracle of Malaysia and the Future for Nigeria” concluded: “In this paper we have discussed some ideas on the role of Science and Technology in the national development of Nigeria with an examination of Malaysia as a case history. Clearly, and incontrovertibly, technology is the engine of growth. Within this framework, business and industry are the drivers, government is the catalyst and academics are the fuel. Technology-based developments can occur only with concerted efforts to revitalize education, develop personnel, and create integrated industries that will involve close collaboration between government, industry/business and academia.

“It is the Malaysian model that we here advocate for Nigeria, a model whose success in the world is incontrovertible and admirable.

“When I went to Malaysia in 1991, PETRONAS was a US$5.7 billion local company, but today it is it is No 93 in the list of the world’s 500 fortune companies and diversified with over 100 upstream and downstream companies, including aircraft manufacturing division.

“It now operates in over 30 countries of the world, providing leadership in oil and gas exploration, production and petrochemical businesses. If we can imbibe the diligence and discipline of Malaysia, we can duplicate their stunning success and with reliance and focus on science and technology, can achieve the nation’s vision 20-2020.”

On the way forward, former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in a paper titled “Science and Technology – The Key to Nigeria’s Transformation” recommended the following: “Policy makers at all levels in Nigeria need to be keenly aware that few countries can achieve development goals of economic diversification, food security, improving health systems, cleaner energy, generating wealth and jobs, and reducing absolute poverty, without the scientific, engineering, and technical capacity to handle these challenges.

“ In the first instance, there is a need for an overarching national strategy for S&T and innovation: a strategy that will restructure our S&T sector for greater coordination, communication, and policy harmonisation. I am happy that the Steve Oronsaye Committee, having looked into this, came up with the idea that the government should establish a single point of research funding to promote synergy and create an efficient and effective platform for managing research.

“Secondly, given the government’s limited resources, the chances of increasing allocation to the S&T sector are rather slim in the short to medium term. This is why we need to focus our research efforts and expenditure on the few areas where we have comparative advantage – areas like agriculture, petrochemicals, renewable energy, and mining, to mention a few.

“Thirdly, more effective partnerships between the public and private sector should be established. In developed countries, R&D is mainly driven by the private sector. In South Africa, they contribute 42.7 percent, whereas the government contributes only 36.4 percent. So leveraging the private sector is crucial; any existing barriers to this kind of partnership should be removed….”



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