By Silas Jock Santoi
Delivered By Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Honourable Minister Of Science And Technology, To Participating Students Of Senior Course 39/2016, Of The Armed Forces Command & Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State, On Monday, September 5, 2016.
I am happy to be invited to speak before such an august body of gallant men and women of our Armed Forces in this historic town of Jaji located in the equally important State of Kaduna. I am inspired by the knowledge that this College has played a very important role in training men and women into the finest officer corps of our Armed Forces who have so ably defended our nation’s territorial integrity and helped restore peace in many theatres of conflict both in Africa and other parts of the world. Indeed, this institution has been a symbol of excellence and a reassuring fountain of inspiration that has rekindled confidence in everyone, that the Armed Forces of Nigeria can defeat any foe and build enduring peace with our friends. I am proud of your heritage and remain strong in my faith that with greater determination and conviction in the capacity of our beloved nation to be a powerful member of the global comity of prosperous democracies of the world, you all gathered here, working with your other colleagues, shall help make the difference in Nigeria’s search for global peace and security. Nigerians are proud of your achievements.
The gallantry of our armed forces, particularly the recent successive victories recorded against the insurgents in the North East Zone of our dear country, has won the admiration of all Nigerians. Your determination to protect and secure the territorial integrity of our nation and hence ensure that no part of our country is under the control of insurgents is highly commendable. Today, many Nigerians: men, women and children who were displaced from their homes particularly in Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa States and were forced to live in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps scattered in many parts of the country as well as those who lived as refugees in neighbouring countries have started to return home. Life is gradually returning to a state of normalcy for them. The security situation in these States has improved considerably. I salute you. You deserve all the commendation that you get.
May I use this opportunity to thank the founders and all those who have worked as well as those presently working in this College for their enormous contributions to our armed forces and the nation. The establishment of this College has helped restore our national pride and saved a lot of resources which we would have spent in training our soldiers abroad. Indeed, if the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji had not been established, the nation would have needed one. I specially commend the Commandant and his management staff for their contributions to nation building.
The topic you have chosen for this lecture, “The Role of Science and Technology in National Development” is coming at a time when recent events in the global economy demand that Nigeria must start today to prepare for the future of a post crude oil economy. It is therefore timely and symbolic that you have chosen such a topic for discussion, especially considering the recent near collapse in crude oil prices that exposed the vulnerability of our economy and occasioned the important and urgent need for Nigeria to diversify her economy in order to help her withstand any future shocks arising from the decline of commodity prices in the international market. It is instructive that by the year 2099, by the end of this century, Nigeria’s population is expected to be as high as one billion people. With a growing population, I envisage a future when we will consume internally much, if not all of the crude oil we produce, leaving virtually nothing for export. The prospects of such a future for Nigeria demand careful planning if we are to meet the challenges of tomorrow, especially in a fast changing world.
The position that we now find ourselves as a nation is precarious. We must change the situation. We do not have the luxury of time. We must act immediately. It is important that I mention that since independence in 1960, up to today in 2016, some fifty-six years after independence, our economy has been characterized as a mono-product, resource based 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. Today we are in an economic recession. Though this has introduced a lot of hardship for all Nigerians but at the same time, it provides for us 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. We will need the efficient and effective deployment of science, technology and innovation to achieve this so that NEVER and NEVER AGAIN shall our country feel the effect of the shock in the sharp decline in commodity prices as we now feel it.
It has become important that I state clearly that no single nation in either ancient or modern times, has ever become great without science and technology. A nation can be rich but certainly not great by the mere possession of abundant natural resources. Egypt, surrounded by deserts, was able to use the River Nile, the longest river in the world, to irrigate her land and grow sufficient food which made it possible for the people to settle in one place resulting in a large population. The awesome achievements of ancient Egypt, especially in the spheres of architecture, medicine, mathematics and philosophy as shown in the construction of those pyramids, which survived very harsh conditions over several centuries, clearly points to the achievements of that ancient civilization. The United Kingdom utilized the power of steam and the production of iron and steel to build a civilization that exerted considerable influence in virtually every time zone of the world, thereby controlling nearly a quarter of the globe at the peak of her glory. Today, the English Language has virtually become a universal language, spoken as a second language in virtually all parts of the world. Also the United States of America, by the end of the 20th Century, was home to virtually all the major inventions. She has emerged the sole super power, with both the largest economy and the most sophisticated military known in modern history.
At this juncture, it is important that I mention that at the end of the Second World War in 1945, the world was convinced that the three countries of India, Brazil and Nigeria held the greatest promise for rapid development. Indeed, as time passed by, India and Brazil met these expectations. Rather ironically, Nigeria, which has an abundance of both human and material resources and was for a long time, the sixth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, could not. Why? I strongly believe that the answer is known to all present in this arena. However, it is important to recall that there was a time in our history as a nation when the problem was surprisingly how to spend the money that had accrued to our national treasury.
It is important to mention that Nigeria has never paid sufficient attention to science and technology. Many parents discourage their children from pursuing a career in science, engineering and technology. Many of our pupils and students dislike the study of mathematics and science subjects in our primary and secondary schools. Very little research and innovation is going on in our industries, universities and research institutes. We do not pay enough attention to innovation in the informal sector of the economy such that the necessary infrastructure needed to harness the creativity and ingenuity of our sons and daughters is utterly lacking.
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. As this unfortunate state of affairs went on, funding posed a major challenge such that just before the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2015, 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 Parastatals. Even more worrisome was that the National Science and Innovation Policy (NSTIP), 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.
It is important for us to compare what happened in Nigeria with respect to science and technology with what happened in some other major emerging economies. 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. As I speak, she has emerged a net exporter of food, and a major global industrial giant with tremendous military capabilities as well as becoming both a Space and a Nuclear power.
China, the home of about one fifth of the world population, utilizing the awesome power of science and technology, has amazed the world with her economic “Miracle”. In recent times, she was able to double her economy three times over to emerge the second largest economy in the world. Though she was once a poor country, she now feeds more than 1.4 billion of her citizens and was able to record an unequalled economic growth in modern history, averaging more than a per capita GDP growth rate of 8%, spanning uninterrupted over a long period of three decades from 1979 – 2013. China is a major Space, Nuclear and Military Power in the world.
Brazil, by last year, 2015, emerged as the world’s ninth largest economy with strong potentials for further advances in the near future. Employing the enormous power of science and technology, she has become one of the world’s largest economies in agricultural production, scientific research, innovation and technological development. Brazil successfully hosted the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Most distinguished Participants, it has become clear that nations that truly desire to develop, modernize her economy and remain competitive must embrace knowledge, especially scientific and technological knowledge. Indeed, scholars of various schools of thought agree with several political leaders in the recognition of knowledge as an important instrument necessary to unlock the doors of underdevelopment. Sir Winston Churchill, one of the greatest Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom in a 1943 broadcast to his country men and women had said that: “the future of the world is to the highly educated races, who alone can handle the scientific apparatus necessary for pre-eminence in peace and survival in war”. Charles Steinmatz (1865 – 1923) described the monumental national development exploits of Israel in these imperishable words: “there will come an age of independent nations whose frontline of defence will be knowledge”.
It is important to observe that just as the acquisition of knowledge and its deployment has enabled many nations attain very high standards of living, so also has its neglect adversely affected both the living conditions of people and the influence of nations. Indeed, Arnold Toynbee in his classic work: “ A study of History” and Jim Nelson Black in his book: “When Nations Die”, both agree that intellectual apathy and lack of vision have led to the disintegration of the structures that made civilization possible.
Standing on this sacred soil of Jaji, I am convinced that Nigeria, as the most populous nation in Africa and home of the largest concentration of black people in the world, can make the difference, especially in her search for economic prosperity and political stability. Indeed, if she is to provide the right direction which the rest of Africa should follow and ultimately nurture the emergence of a new African civilization, then of course, she must not only nurture indigenous technology but also create new technology, thereby strengthening economic growth, promote self-reliance and self-esteem as well as further strengthen our competitiveness in the global arena which we need to diversify our economy in a sustainable manner.
In addition, Nigeria must encourage the emergence of the requisite manpower equipped with the necessary technological skills that will help improve productivity and move Nigeria away from a consumer to a producer nation. Nigeria is blessed with fertile land and favourable weather conditions. Neither does it snow nor do volcanic eruptions occur with its attendant devastation. No earthquakes of note nor devastating floods of horrendous magnitude except those caused by our own negligence occur in our dear country. We neither experience hurricanes nor are we confronted with the destruction of typhoons. Nigeria is indeed blessed.
Nigeria can make the difference if we sustain the new direction which the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration is carefully planning for Nigeria to follow. On its own part, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology will help sharpen this new focus and strengthen the achievement of the goals which this new direction seeks to accomplish.
First, Nigeria as a nation must work hard to feed her citizens. Science and technology play a vital role in the farming chain. It is only by employing science and technology in agriculture that any achievement recorded can be both competitive and sustaining. A nation that cannot feed her citizens is a country without self-esteem. Technology is the instrument that will unlock the scourge of hunger to enable us feed ourselves in a sustainable manner and hence restore our self-confidence. Technology will help us defeat poverty, create wealth, fight illiteracy, reduce human suffering, create jobs, produce our needs locally and improve our capacity for export trade, thereby strengthening both our economy and our currency, the Naira, through increased export earnings.
Secondly, we need to discover, understand and venerate our past so that we can better appreciate the future. A people without a past cannot successfully plan for the future. We should employ the tools of technology to rediscover who we are and unravel our rich past to enable us know our true history and unlock the hidden achievements of yesterday to help us secure today for a better tomorrow. Self-discovery is very helpful in gaining self-confidence which is essential for creative work. Indeed, knowing the achievements of our ancestors and the richness of our past is the tonic we need to aim to surpass their achievements and be a leader in the world. In order to achieve this, we will encourage research in our universities such that they can become globally accepted centres of scholarship that can compete with the best centres of learning in other parts of the world. It is our intention that in the near future, we should be able to produce Nobel Laureates in medicine, physics and chemistry. The cooperation and collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and our Universities will grow stronger in the years to come. Many branches of our research institutes will in the future be located in or affiliated with universities. We are convinced that working closely with universities will be helpful in such a way that in the future, at least one university in Nigeria will one day be ranked as the best in Africa and one of the best ten (10) in the world.
Thirdly, we must protect and secure our country. The most important assignment, indeed the primary responsibility of any administration is to secure lives and property. We can build roads paved with gold, we can build the most beautiful houses but whenever there is crisis or war, people run away from their houses and no vehicles are found on the roads as people run to bushes and shelters in order to protect themselves from bombs. No meaningful progress can be achieved when lives of citizens are seriously threatened. We can recollect the sad situation our dear country faced recently at the peak of the insurgency in the North East Zone when unknown flags were flown in Local Government Headquarters in some States and the armed forces needed weapons to help fight and defeat the insurgents. Even with cash at hand, we could not buy weapons. If we had invested in science and technology and established our own defence industry, we would not have been confronted with that level of embarrassment. I am here to say to you that if we do what is right, this level of embarrassment will never occur again. This poses a challenge to the nation to as quickly as possible work hard and persevere until many of the technology gaps in the country are closed. There is no other option open to us.
I am happy to state that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration through the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology will work speedily to close all technology gaps in the country. Currently there are many technological gaps which unfortunately we allowed to exist for a very long time. This is no longer acceptable. We will employ the shortest possible means to close these gaps. We will work very hard to strengthen the linkage between research institutions and the universities on the one hand and on the other also strengthen the linkage between industry and research institutes. We will support the Organised Private Sector (OPC) to produce and manufacture locally those goods and products that we buy and import from abroad in large quantities, year after year. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology will achieve this, through a new flagship programme: Technology Transfer Promotion Initiative (TTPI). Through this important programme, investors who want to manufacture goods in Nigeria and also are willing to transfer their technology to Nigerians will be encouraged with a basket of incentives made available by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology working with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government. The time has come for us as a nation to look inwards. We must work to be self-reliant. We can no longer depend on other countries to meet our basic needs. Since we did so in the past, today we are paying dearly for it, the result of which is very unpleasant. We could afford it when the price of crude oil was high, but now we cannot. We must stop the mistakes of the past in order to build a future that is bright and promising. Our way to secure a bright future is to commercialise research findings. This is the only way that the impact of research and innovation can be felt by the people as new or improved products, goods and services are found in the market for the people to buy.
As a measure to bridge the gap between research findings and product commercialization, we have initiated a novel programme of action aimed at encouraging the commercialization of current and future research findings in our universities and research institutes. This will involve the protection of intellectual property through patents. All these will ensure that good ideas grow into viable products and services of immense market value to both entrepreneurs and the general public. This will ensure that our research efforts are market driven, thereby responding to the urgent needs of our development as a nation resolute in its search for self-reliance, import reduction and is also export driven. The recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and Nasco Food Ltd involving the production of high nutrient density biscuits with the Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) as the implementing Agency, is a good example. The military can use these biscuits particularly those deployed for operations in very remote locations. I will like the military to take advantage of the facilities offered by the Technology Incubation Centers established throughout the country to help retired soldiers acquire additional skills that can help them start new businesses. This will help retired soldiers use their skills and talents to own their own businesses and hence help grow our economy. As their businesses grow, they will employ many Nigerians.
The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology working closely with the Federal Ministry of Defence can do a lot in helping our dear country meet many of her defence needs. Our armed forces, noted for their gallantry and patriotism, should be ready to use made in Nigeria goods and services. This will not only help grow our economy, improve productivity and competitiveness, create wealth for our people, help reduce poverty and create jobs but it will help the military to aim to be one of the very best in the world. It is by patronising made in Nigeria goods that our entrepreneurs can make profit and through research and innovation remain competitive and hence continuously improve on the quality of their products, goods and services. It is very important for us never to forget that hardly can any nation give to another its best weapons and military equipment. Whatever any nation can sell to us, it must be clear in our minds that such nations have ways they can render such weapon systems ineffective in case conflicts arise involving us that are against their national interest. Moreover, we must learn from the mistakes that our ancestors made in the past. When some nations utilised the science and technology of those days in building up their national capabilities, our ancestors did not. When those countries went out to explore the oceans and find the boundaries of continents, our ancestors did not. Hence, when the leaders of these nations met in the Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885 in the Scramble for Africa where they divided Africa, the second largest continent in the world, among themselves not a single African was there. The maintenance of world peace demands mutual respect which can only come when no part of the world is too weak compared with others. Science and technology can help our dear country to build a strong military that will help world peace.
Respected participants, I am convinced that the Almighty God has a strong reason for making Nigeria the giant of Africa. The challenge we face is to live up to this expectation by recognizing that to whom much is given, much is also expected. The future of Nigeria lies in Science and Technology. China is where she is today, because of science and technology. Brazil is moving steadily toward this direction because of science and technology. India is on course because of science and technology. Why should Nigeria, the giant of Africa, not do likewise? Our generation, this generation, you and I, must work harder. No one asks anyone else to respect him or her. It does not work that way. Respect is earned. The time has come for Nigeria to rise up and use science, engineering, technology and innovation to efficiently exploit the enormous natural resources Almighty God has endowed us with. If other people from far and near can come to Nigeria to take and use our abundant natural resources to develop their countries, what is wrong in our using the same resources to develop our beloved country?
Nigeria should lead the way for Africa. Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation are the answer. It is also the way. I am confident that if we remain determined, hardworking, creative, resolute, and focused, surely Nigeria, utilising the power of science and technology shall be the new nation on the mountain top showing the way for the rest of humankind to follow. I am confident that we shall succeed.
I thank you so much. May God bless our dear country, Nigeria.