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EDITORIAL

Need For Presidential Assent To NRIC Bill

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Developed countries around the world are investing heavily in research and development. This is because research is the tool that drives development. Through research, countries around the world are finding solutions to their problems.

Unfortunately, this is not the same in Nigeria. It is the expectation that researchers in the country ought to advance the frontiers of knowledge and apply such knowledge to solve problems facing her people and the rest of humanity in such areas as agriculture, health, housing, transportation, defence, power, roads, and water supply. Curiously, the country, unbelievably operates close to zero budgetary allocation to research. Nigeria has the potential to be among the richest nations with its abundant resources if more investment is made in the area of research.

According to Eurostat, in 2017, the European Union spent $62.04 billion on agricultural research, of which the UK and Germany received about USD 7.9 billion and USD 8.3 billion, respectively, for research and development in agriculture. There is no doubt that the increasing demand for improved crop varieties and the growing need to curb pre-harvest crop losses have encouraged the development of advanced breeding techniques around the world.

With the reality of climate change dawning on Nigeria, there is a growing demand for better-quality crops and high yield. It is estimated that Nigeria has lost USD 10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities.

Nigeria has over 40 research institutes, conceived to serve as havens for researching activities and to support the growth and development of the country. For instance, the Nigeria Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research was established in 1975 with a mandate to carry out research into the resources and physical characteristics of Nigerian territorial waters and high seas beyond; genetic improvement, production and processing of brackish water and marine fisheries

If research in this singular institute was properly funded, billions of dollars dedicated to importing sea food would have been saved. Nigeria has a big potential in both marine and fresh water fisheries including aquaculture. In spite of this high potential, domestic fish production still falls far below the total demand which was estimated at 2.2 million metric tons per year in 2008. As a result, the country imports about 60 per cent of the fish consumed locally.

Furthermore, a glimpse into the publications by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria show the capabilities of Nigerian researchers. The publication lists hundreds of technologies generated mainly in research institutes. These technologies are more than enough to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production as well as major exporter of food products and agricultural raw materials.

At the moment, Research and Development Institutions (RDIs), including Federal Colleges of Agriculture and Forestry, are excluded from TETfund funding. Attempts by the 8th National Assembly to amend the TETfund Act to include the RDIs was  met with stiff resistance by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), arguing that expanding the fund to accommodate federal Colleges of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Institutions will weaken it from performing and addressing the rot in the country’s universities and polytechnics.

It is the opinion of this newspaper that it is a policy slip for a country like Nigeria which is desperate for a technological revolution, to concentrate almost all available fund for research and extension in the universities while research institutes are poorly funded. This is why we are of the opinion that it is important for President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Nigeria Research Innovation Council (NRIC) Bill 2019. The Bill provides for the institutional research and training funding mechanism and infrastructural development for RDIs in Nigeria.

It is noteworthy that the National Policy on Science and Technology (NPST) was initiated since 1966 and has been revised not less than 13 times since then without the political will to implement it until January 7, 2016, when President Buhari inaugurated the NRIC which is the main impetus of the NPST. To complement the inauguration by the President, 50 Senators co-sponsored the NRIC Bill, which is almost a verbatim adaptation of the 2012 version of the NPST, to provide the enabling statute for the Council.

The NRIC (Establishment) Bill, 2019 was passed by the National Assembly last year but was returned to it by the President, citing some grey areas. The Bill has now been rectified and passed again by the National Assembly to be re-presented to Mr President for his assent.

Without doubt, the neglect of research, Science and Technology by successive Nigerian governments since independence is the underlying reason for the challenges of food insecurity, poverty and other national malaise which are currently threatening the nation. Signing that bill into law and implementing its provisions will go a long way to enhance the development of the country.

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