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  • Nigerian science fund 'should inspire Muslim world'


Recent moves by Nigeria to put science at the heart of national development should inspire other predominantly Muslim countries to take similar steps, said Pakistan's minister for higher education last week.

Atta-ur-Rahman was referring to the Nigerian government's approval last month (23 June) of plans for a US$5 billion endowment fund for science and technology.

The fund, drawn from Nigeria's vast oil revenues, is expected to be supplemented by donors and the private sector.

Nigeria will set up an independent National Science Foundation to disburse research grants, set up new scientific universities and equip existing research groups.

Atta-ur-Rahman told SciDev.Net on 30 June that he hoped "this excellent Nigerian move" would encourage the 57 members states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to back plans for a pan-Islamic fund to promote science and technology in the Muslim world.

The plans were proposed in 2003 by Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf, but were rejected by a meeting of OIC heads of state (see Musharraf seeks boost for Muslim science). OIC members are now reconsidering the proposal.

Atta-ur-Rahman, who is also coordinator general of COMSTECH, the OIC's committee for scientific cooperation, said that at least US$1 billion per year should be invested in developing human resources and capacity building in Muslim countries.

He added that business leaders in Muslim countries should form a commission for promoting science and technology.

But Nigeria, an OIC member, is not waiting for collective action. Working with UNESCO and COMSTECH, it is pressing ahead to reform its science and innovation system.

Jo Ritzen, president of the reform programme's international advisory board, advised Nigeria's president Olusegun Obasanjo on 23 May that reforming the sector would translate into economic growth of 8-10 per cent per year by 2020, up from four per cent today.

Ritzen also said that the proportion of Nigerians living on less than US$1 a day would drop over the same period from 71 per cent to 20 per cent.

As well as backing the board's recommendation for the US$5 billion fund, Obasanjo supported its proposals to create technology-based 'good business' zones in each Nigerian state, and to boost support for six universities to enable them to rank among the world's top 200 by 2020.

Progress will be assessed at a 'presidential retreat' on science and technology in Abuja on 10 August.

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