In Nigeria, the clamour of Science, Technology and Innovation resonating our daily lives becomes a testimony of government’s seriousness to move the nation forward technologically. Last week, 12th April, 2017, I presented a lecture titled “The impacts of Science, Technology and Innovation: Agricultural Extension” at National Institute for Policy Strategy Studies, Kuru before the participants of Senior Executive Course number 39. Other lectures presented by distinguished scholars and important personalities at this prestigious Institute bore the magic words “Science, Technology and Innovation”. These are clear indication that government is unearthing the reasons for the nation’s backwardness in technological breakthroughs. In the same vein, the way forward for achieving technological advancement could as well be identified. This is why the famous “National Science and Technology Week (NASTECH)”, a statutory annual event was changed to Technology and Innovation Expo 2017” to be in line with government policy and direction for achieving milestone in science and technology. Right from inception in 1987, NASTECH was aimed at creating awareness in Science and Technology and showcasing achievements in the sector. Thus, the Expo 2017, in addition to awareness creation, was designed to bring out achievements in science and technology, encourages indigenous innovations and technology, promotes Research and Development (R&D) as well as builds partnership between Research institutions and investors. Specifically, The Expo has seven objectives as stated in the program:
- Promotion of Research and Development (R&D) activities;
- Commercialisation of R&D results/inventions and innovations;
- Encouraging Nigerians to take up science professions;
- Showcasing to the public, potentials of R&D institutions;
- Building of partnerships between researchers and investors;
- Encouraging and promoting creation of innovative enterprises utilising Nigeria’s indigenous knowledge and technology to produce marketable goods and services;
- Promotion of R & D/ Industry Linkages as well as encouraging net workings amongst researchers and investors.
The five days event was held at the Eagles Square, Abuja between 3rd and 7th April, 2017. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST) and the private sector were the organisers of the first innovation and technology Expo.
No doubt, the EXPO 2017 became a platform for solid foundation to build a vibrant economy; all-inclusive while promoting innovation and technology-led industries. It is one of the strategic pillars of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017 – 2020, which was launched by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, 5th April, 2017 at the State House, Abuja.
The Expo served as an avenue to showcase recent developments in Research and Development efforts from the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, its multiple Agencies, other MDAs, Higher Educational Institutions and Organised Private Sector. It also facilitated the interface with Development Partners while Exhibitors showcased their latest inventions/innovations thereby displaying their capabilities and potentials to attract collaborators and partners.
A wide variety of innovative products were on display at this gathering of who is who in Science and Technology in Nigeria. An estimated over 500 innovative products were displayed from the over one hundred exhibitors from Academia, research centres, industries and private individuals.
The exhibitions were outstanding and stupendous, ranging from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (aka Drone) made by the Nigeria Air Force; to the miniature “first in the world” wooden car made by a furniture maker with no formal technical education whose only motivation was inquisitiveness. The exhibitors cut across ages and educational strata ranging from primary and secondary school students who “like to research things”; to professors. An example was the SS2 students from Regina Pacis School, Abuja who invented environmentally friendly, sustainable, fuel-free Magnetic generator and Dynamo Generator prototypes – with potential to address and solve the perennial power-outage bedeviling the Nigerians nationwide. Similarly, there were innovative geniuses like Adedola and Abdulbaseet, SS1 Students of Anchor Sprigfield School, Ota, Ogun State who invented a GSM-controlled electronic circuit with capability to protect appliances from power surges and could allow the owner to switch off his or her electronic appliances at home from any location in respective of distance. This is quite unbelievable!
The event was simply a success galore that made one of the organisers, Mohammed Attah, the National Coordinator of the Civil Society Organisation Coalition for Made-in-Nigeria products to react as reported by NewsDiary, an online newspaper, quoting him saying “There must be priority given to supporting the innovators and exhibitors by providing them with a visible online presence to attract investors and potential customers globally. In addition, future exhibitions should be massively publicised to get more international participants to patronise the innovators and exhibitors.”
The thinking of the Federal government on the Expo 2017 is reflected from the statement of Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu who was quoted saying “the determination by the government to rebuild a Nigeria that all can be proud of cannot be actualised without deploying science and technology to move the country to a path of sufficiency and prosperity”. He further assured the participants that his ministry would not rest until science; technology and innovation become the driving force in Nigeria’s effort to diversify her economy in order to stimulate sustainable development. ThisDay, one of the Nigerian dailies quoted the minister saying “I commend the participants at this expo for showing the Nigerian spirit in them. Our hearts will never depart from you because you are the future of Nigeria. We shall follow up on your inventions and mobilise the organised private sector to work together with you in the pursuit of the commercialisation of your inventions. The challenge we face is to rebuild our nation and move her along the path of self-sufficiency, prosperity, and international respect. I am confident that we have taken the right steps in our journey to greatness. What is required is for us to build on our achievements so far and remain determined and focused in our collective desire to build a modern Nigeria where science, technology and innovation will be the engine for economic growth and development.“
The five days program ended on Friday, 7th April, 2017 with prizes won by 12 individual participants and organisations. There were four categories of prizes. The first category was the prize for Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists (JETS), the second for Technology Entrepreneurs, the third for Research Institutions and fourth for Tertiary Educational Institutions. The assessment team was generally impressed with the quality of works achieved in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) sector in the country. It was stressed that, if these scientists, engineers and artists were nurtured and supported, they could resolve the challenges of over-dependence on imported products and services as well as infrastructural problems confronting the country. These challenges confronting the nation’s economy addressed by the exhibited projects crisscrossed all developmental sectors; food and agriculture; education; health; security and defense; ICT and social media; power and energy; transportation; housing; manufacturing; software development; elections; values and national re-orientation. Looking at the report of the assessment team led by the former director-general of Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Engineer Prof. Peter Onwualu, showed that at least 165 individuals and organisations participated and exhibited no fewer than 578 projects at the event.
There are many lessons that could be learnt from the concluded Expo 2017. It was very clear from the event that a missing link between the prototypes developed by the “Engineers and Scientists” and the investors existed. Either, the developers should mass-produce their inventions or the investors should come on board to help mass produce such inventions. In each case, financial support is highly desirable. The Federal Government can play an active role by improving access to finance for these innovative entrepreneurs as well as provide fiscal incentives for private investment in Research and Development to catapult the massive potential of Made-in-Nigeria products to the global market. What are the other lessons? Who were the 12 prizewinners? And what are the challenges of science, technology and innovations in Nigeria?
To be continued next week