Prof. Mohammed Sani Haruna is the executive vice chairman of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). In this interview with NKECHI ISAAC, he lists various technological interventions of the agency. The excerpts.
The mandate of NASENI is specifically in the area of capital goods, research, production and reverse engineering. What do you consider star products of NASENI for 2017?
The products we’re proud of in 2017 are propeller turbines which were invented to add more to the agency’s intervention in the area of power supply and availability. Before now we have invented three different kinds of turbine, namely the cross-flow turbine which depends on waterfalls in order to generate electricity, the conventional way of generating power using water. Then we saw it has limitation – in riverine areas where constructing dam would be a challenge, erosion, lack of adequate water to make a dam have requisite volume of water for electricity generation; we invented kinetic turbine which depends just on flow of water but very low velocity of water can do that but that one still requires river, a flowing water. We discovered that in some places there are still challenges of power supply and they don’t even have dam, they don’t even have flowing water, what will be their own version, how can power be generated apart from solar.
In terms of hydro, we invented a means of which you will only need to intercept public water supply pipe by inserting this turbine which is in the shape of normal pipe borne water with the turbine imbedded inside, it doesn’t interrupt or pollute the water, in fact, it is like normal pipes, it generates electricity while allowing water to get to its destination.
So, we’re proud of that because so many places that would not have benefitted from other forms of small hydro generation can benefit from this and even someone in his farm by means of irrigation or conveying water from some distance, before it arrives where he wants to use it he can generate electricity while using the water for what it is intended.
The second innovative product of 2017 is electronic voting machine; we have several machines that are already patented, ranging from voter registration machine to the voting machine itself to result collation. All these are solar powered devices and using the technology called cloud computing which would allow data to be captured and recorded in data bank probably with the electoral body instantaneously such that the device used in capturing the data stores nothing so that the issue of ballot box snatching would become useless as the devices don’t store but transmit data.
This is highly secured because it is not based on satellite or internet. It is an innovation of special, integrated virtual private network in which it’s not only password that is required to operate any equipment but by metric data of the operators.
We’re proud of it and it is a product that Nigeria will be proud of. I am sure other African countries and other parts of the world will need it. We’re not aware of anywhere else where this technology is used for election. The advantage of this also is that if the electoral body so desires, you can be watching registration process real-time on national televisions, you can watch the election process and witness the vote counting online which takes care of manual method of counting votes.
I know people may feel that this technology is very advanced for us but whether we like it or not the world has become automated and we have to catch up and take our place, also the foundation for good governance is free and fair election, this is our contribution to that aspect and we believe it would stand the test of time.
This electronic voting machine has been presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), what is the update, is there possibility of its use for the 2019 general elections or subsequent ones?
The Federal Ministry of Science through the personal intervention of the minister, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, reached out to INEC. However, the technical committee between INEC, NASENI (FMST) is still in place to look at what features, if not all, can INEC use. Of course, INEC is doing this taking into consideration the electoral laws as it affects electronic voting system, looking at the legal constraints, the possibilities. So, because the work of the committee is still ongoing I will not preempt their outcome but I can assure you that INEC is interested in utilizing this technology in subsequent elections if not the upcoming 2019 elections
There were talks of NASENI going into partnership with Nigeria’s car manufacturing company, Innoson Motors for the mass production of Keke NASENI. Any update on that?
Keke NASENI was launched at the end of 2014 and then we went into modifications and advancement where we introduced the cargo version. Now interestingly, many people, especially members of the National Assembly (NASS) have been coming to NASENI for the cargo version for some rural areas for the haulage of certain agricultural products. We’re producing to meet their requirements but that is not the intention. Our preference is to have a vehicle, automobile manufacturer to mass produce this. We’ve been discussing and have discovered two challenges: to mass produce a product you need to produce factory production line specifically for that model which requires a huge investment. Unfortunately there’s no venture capital or fund dedicated for technology commercialization for any entrepreneurs to access.
The method of funds’ assessment or loan provision for businesses as far as the banking sector is concerned is to see things on the ground, not to invest for things that are yet to be done. And again, the importers of this product into Nigeria are finding it easy to trade in rather than go into manufacturing. No one would want to invest in a new product until he is guaranteed that the market would be there, in other words there must be guarantee that government is willing to ban importation before someone can risk investing his huge resources for commercial production of this.
These are the two things we discovered but the discussion is still ongoing but at the end of the day if no one mass produces it then we’ll go the way we did with solar panel, we will ask for approval to set up a pilot plant to start the production for investors to see that it is viable.
When produced locally, people believe the tricycle, Keke NASENI would be costlier for obvious reasons than the imported ones, don’t you think this will make the venture as exercise in futility because people would prefer cheaper imported product than a locally manufactured more that is expensive?
What is done elsewhere, and Nigeria has no option than to copy other peoples’ way of promoting local products, there must be incentives, there must be some interventions and reliefs for would-be investors, in fact there must be fund to support willing entrepreneurs. For instance, when government decided that there must be power supply sufficiency and availability in the country, it brought in discos and they were given all sorts of support by the government to ensure they’re in business, that sort of support must be replicated in the manufacturing sector if we’re to carve our niche as a nation in this sector.
Any progress report on the partnership with China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) on local manufacturing of transformers?
The FMST is pursuing this vigorously. We just met with the Ministry of Finance on the way forward with the partnership. There are certain technicalities, however, the government is doing its best to overcome the hitches relating to the partnership. It is still going on because our engineers, technicians and scientists would proceed on training in three months to be able to do installations and operation of these machines. So, it is hopeful that with the ministry’s current tempo and the cooperation of the finance ministry we can commission one of the phases of the project before the end of the year.
The kinetic turbine which your agency installed in a rural community in Nasarawa State, how has it affected the lives of the people?
Actually, from our assessment we discovered that the power supply to the community is now inadequate because the availability of power supply led to the expansion of the village. There were only 23 houses in the hamlet when we installed it but there are over 50 houses now. The community is now commercialized with a lot of activities going on.
They complained recently that the power supply is no longer adequate. So, we went there and discovered that it is overloading and we approached the Nasarawa State government and have also approached the Federal Ministry of Power to provide us resources to add more because the beauty of kinetic turbine is that it can be installed in casket, you can add more without dismantling what is there. We discovered that while we had provided them with 60kwh per day what they need now is over 700kwh per day because of the expansion.
We’re happy that the installation has opened up the community because prior to the installation there was no school in the community but now there’s a school in the area, there are also barbing shops, churches, mosques, community viewing centre and others. What this invariably means is that installation of the kinetic turbine brought expansion and growth both socially and economically to the community.
Are there plans to replicate this project in other rural communities that are not on the national grid?
Of course, we’ve already been approached by Ondo State and we have assessed three different dams and we’re already producing the turbines with the hope to install the three units in different places in the state by April this year.
NASENI has always said its major challenge was to get MDAs to start patronizing its products, especially its solar panels, have you attracted patronage in this regard?
Well, I must confess that the patronage by MDAs is still very discouraging but I am happy to say that the patronage from the private sector and individuals is very encouraging. We’re not even able to meet the demands/requests from individuals and the private sector without running shifts in the factory. However, if we get the MDAs’ patronage it’ll help the agency to expand the 7.5mws capacity to 25mws in the first instance and 50mws subsequently.
You see several contracts that MDAs are signing with other foreign suppliers would have created job at home. There are several solar project contracts awarded to foreign companies to provide while ignoring the products of highest quality we have at home. Doing so would have guaranteed more job creation and we’ll expand or even duplicate this factory elsewhere in Nigeria.
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