The drastic slump in the international market of the price of oil, the nation\’s live wire, and the slip into recession of the economy appear to have woken up the sleeping giant, Nigeria. Over the years, we neglected other sectors of the economy to the detriment of national development and wellbeing of the people.
We are today talking about the diversification of the economy, with government drawing attention to hitherto neglected areas, one of which is the science and technology sector.
Indeed, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, appears in a hurry to reposition the sector which is critical if we are serious about developing as a nation.
In a lecture on the \’Role of Science and Technology in National Development\’ to participating students of the senior course 39/2016 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna, he expressed disappointment at the inability of past leaders of the nation to recognise the importance of science and technology to our development.
He wondered why the nation\’s economy was allowed to remain a mono-product resource base economy for that long, pointing out that that lack of foresight and tact was responsible for the current crises in the economy.
\’At independence, we exported commodities namely groundnuts, cocoa and palm oil. We did not add any value to these commodities. That explained why we exported cocoa but imported chocolate into the country. In 2016, we still export commodities namely crude oil and natural gas. We do not add any value such that we export crude oil only to import refined petroleum products. We continue to flare our natural gas, one of the few countries that do so. The sad thing with these commodities is that we do not even determine the price of what we produce. Others determine the price for us.
\’The recent sharp drop in the price of crude oil as well as the shrinkage in the volume of the crude oil which we can export due to the militancy in the Niger Delta Region of the country have helped reduce the revenue available to government, \’ he said.
He, however, contended that though the current economic recession is painful because of the hardship many Nigerians are facing , it had provided the nation an opportunity to start doing things differently for the good of all.
\’We need to move away from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based, innovation driven economy that will make us diversify our economy in a sustainable manner and also be competitive in the global economic arena. This way, we will be able to withstand any shock whenever there is a sharp decline in the price of commodities in the international market,\’ he said.
Onu who stated that no single nation in either ancient or modern times, has ever become great without science and technology, spoke of the need for Nigeria to efficiently and effectively delve into science, technology and innovation so that Nigeria would not fall into another mess due to sharp decline in commodity prices in future.
He expressed sadness that very little research and innovation was going on in the nation\’s industries, universities and research institutes, which according to him, is a sign that Nigeria has never paid sufficient attention to science and technology.
He said, \’Let me also add that even the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, which is statutorily charged with the responsibility of coordinating science and technology activities in the country was, until recently, treated with neglect. It took about 20 years after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, for the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to be established in 1980, under the leadership of President Shehu Shagari. However, shortly after its establishment, it was merged with the Federal Ministry of Education.
\’It was later demerged. Shortly after, it was scrapped and its research institutes scattered and found home in other ministries, including agriculture, health and industry. A short while later, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology was reestablished but, this time, not with the full compliments of its original research institutes.\’
The minister also lamented that before the present administration, funding had posed a major challenge such that as many as four parastatals under the supervision of the ministry had zero capital allocation in the 2015 Appropriation Act.
\’To compound matters, even the overhead in their recurrent expenditure was barely enough to buy even enough diesel to operate generators needed to provide sufficient power for the efficient running of those parts totals.
\’Even more worrisome was that the National Science and Innovation Policy (NSIP), which came into existence in 1986 could not be fully implemented as the main organ to drive it, the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) took as long as 30 years to hold its first meeting on January 7, 2016, under the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. We should salute this administration for showing such remarkable sense of vision and purpose,\’ he said.
Onu who compared what happened in Nigeria with respect to science and technology with what happened in some other major emerging economies like India, China and Brazil, said the time had come for the nation to not only nurture indigenous technology but also create new technology, thereby strengthening economic growth, promoting self-reliance and self-esteem as well as further strengthening our competitiveness in the global arena which we need to diversify our economy in a sustainable manner.
\’India provides a good example. As one of the oldest civilizations in human history, she entered the 21st century with a huge population of more than one billion people. As a calculated measure to fast track her development, she had right from the early days of her independence in 1947, embraced science and technology and as a result, energised remarkable economic growth, recording spectacular achievements in many fields of human endeavour.