Sen Robert Borofice represents Ondo North in the Nigerian Senate. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Science and Technology, stated that restructuring might not solve Nigeria’s problems but devolution of power will definitely change things. He also spoke on some other issues.
The world seems to have left Nigeria behind in terms of science and technology, what is happening?
I have been in science sector for a long time from the university level to government and now to senate. Government has never taken science and technology as a sector that can do something. Until we do that, we will not develop fast. Thankfully, we have been able to conclude work on the bill on science and technology innovation policy framework which is a very portend tool in driving technology advancement. For it to be effective, we have to go back to teaching science and technology in all our institutions. If you take hundred applicants today, 70 per cent will be applicants from business and management and 10 per cent will come from science and technology. You can’t develop fast that way. We have to reposition our science and technology right from primary education. We need to have a pool of teachers that will teach this subject. We need to bring all the science subjects together and treat them as inter-disciplinary issues because for them to be competitive, there must be innovation. We need a solid background. We have to invest in awarding scholarships in these areas so we can encourage innovations. That will move us forward more than where we are now. We have STI council and foundation that will bring about all these things.
Are our science research centres still functioning?
Research centres are functioning more or less not in the aspect of doing original research but they are now areas where known technology is applied to produce results. You cannot do research when you are given an envelope because there are some researches that will take 15years as gestation period before they will yield results. We are so much in a hurry in this country because when someone puts #1 in a project today, he expects to get return tomorrow but in research, it usually takes time. We don’t take science and technology seriously in Nigeria. Most countries that were in our position in the 60s have gone very far now. South Korea is an example, it embraces STI, Brazil will soon be a large economy in the world, but we are in the same position. Others like Malaysia, Singapore all embrace science and technology.
What would it cost us to bridge this gap between Nigerians and these counties that have gone ahead of us?
I don’t think we can put a finger on it. But I know that some countries spend as high as 3.5 per cent of their GDP on STI. France has the highest funding for science and tech. We are at 0.01. So, we need to do more, we need to start with one per cent but because we are lagging behind, we need to go as high as putting two per cent of our GDP into science and tech, so that we can catch up. Government must start funding science and technology for us to move forward.
The FG has said Nigerian economy is out of recession, yet Nigerians have not started feeling the impact, what do you think is happening?
This government inherited almost a bankrupt economy, which is why we went into recession. Before APC government came in, a barrel of oil was selling for about $130pb and we were producing about 2.1m barrel per day but when APC came in, the price of oil dropped to about $32pb. The MEND problem reduced the production to about 500,000 barrels per day. So, you can see the decline in revenue generation and we are more or less a mono economy that depends on oil. So, when you come from that background that depends on oil, and the government said we are out of recession, I think it’s based on what is coming in. The revenue is improving. So, it will take time for man on the street to feel the impact. When government begins to fund capital projects, it will trickle down to the street.
The FG is seeking for permission to source for loan again. Nigerians are worried..
There is nothing wrong in taking a loan. Every country takes loans. America takes loans and it is in debt. The question is, what are we using the loan for? As long as we are using it on projects that have returns and we can pay back the loans, then it is okay. The problem we have had in this country is that we take the loans and some people share the money and put it in their pockets. But we have an administration that is very serious, and focused on the economy and infrastructural development. I think there is nothing wrong in taking a loan. I think the senate will not oppose the loan request, what the senate is doing now is to block leakages in the system. If we can do that, it will help a lot. We discovered that some MDAs are not returning into the coffers of government, internally generated revenues. If this internally generated revenue are paid into the account of government and are implemented in needed areas, we won’t even have need for loans. Even if we take a loan now, the need to take a loan later might not arise because we will be able to generate our funding
Is the war against corruption succeeding?
This is a very complicated society. It is a democratic society where we follow the rule of law. Look at what happened in Saudi Arabia recently where some princes were arrested and minister because they have their own laws which allows it. In Nigeria, it is difficult, we must follow the rule of law and it takes time. Government is very serious about fighting corruption but corruption is promoted by people. You should expect those who are corrupt to fight back. Some of these people who perpetuate this corruption are still in the system. So, there is need to sanitise the system. Look at the case of Maina, in the 7th assembly, we tried very hard to bring Maina to book but he was being protected by the ruling government and we couldn’t do anything. Now, he found his way back to the service and nobody knows how, that has generated lots of controversy. Imagine the damage he would have done if he was allowed to stay in the system. There are so many Mainas that are still hiding in the system and these people will fight against any plan to expose them. We know that the president is not corrupt and he has promised to end corruption, but there are people who will not want it to succeed.
There have been calls for the whole system to be restructured. Are you in support of this?
We have a constitution and we are a federation and federalism implies that, there will be some autonomy granted to the federating unit. We pretend we are running federalism whereas we are running unitary government where power resides at the centre. It should be so. If we are trying to be like America, we need to do it right. They have state police, the FBI, which is equivalent to federal police. There is also the local sheriff. What we really need is not restructuring but devolution of power. If this is done and states take responsibility of the development of their states, with all the services and logistic accrued, there will be less pressure on the federal, less pressure will be on who becomes president. To me, the Federal has no business being in agriculture, it should be left to the states. The FG should only make policies. The FG has nothing to do with sports. Sports is sponsored by clubs in the US. The FG has nothing to do with things like this. Restructuring might not solve our problem but devolution of power will definitely change things.
Will you support the return to regionalism?
Remember when we were practicing true regionalism, the western region was the first to have a TV station in west Africa, there was the cocoa house, we had the first world standard stadium, industrial estate and the rest. We were using our resources gotten from agriculture. We were able to put in place development that enhanced standard of education.
Considering the Spate of killings, kidnapping and the rest, do you think Nigeria needs a state police?
Yes, it has become necessary because members of the state know that terrain and language very well, it will be easier to police it rather than bringing somebody from Maiduguri to come and police Ondo State. He won’t know where to start or how to communicate with the people. I strongly believe in the devolution of power. Earlier, we tried to do it but some people didn’t understand what we were saying.
Are you contented with the way the FG is handling the issue of herdsmen attacks in some parts of the country?
Nobody is happy and I don’t think the government is happy. Maybe be they don’t have solution to it, the states and people are not happy. Nobody will want to see some herdsmen killing and causing destruction. We have conflicting reports on who are these herdsmen, some have said they are demobilised soldiers from places like Libya while many others believe they are Nigerians. We need to devise a way of confronting them, if it means using the army then, so be it. These herdsmen are armed and so we need superior weaponry to march them.
How would you rate the APC government?
I am from the university and there, every five years, the governing body picks out persons to look at the problem of the university and make recommendations. We don’t have that system in politics, but I am happy that the APC caucus met with Mr President and there was a frank exchange of views. Honestly, based on our manifesto, we have not done well at all. People are not happy with us, they are disappointed that we cannot fulfil some of our promises, but I keep saying that some of these promises are not because we are weak but the resources are not there. We need to educate our people and let them know the problems confronting this nation. The only way to go about it is that we need to go for loan and even about that, people are complaining.