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[LUSAKA] Nigeria has allocated US$25 million to fund the first site of the African Institute of Science and Technology (AIST).

Construction of the Gulf of Guinea Institute will begin this week (20 February) in Nigeria, after the government's Petroleum Technology Development Fund approved funding late last year, according to Desmond Akawor, minister of state for the country's Federal Capital Territory Administrator.

The institute, located in a 240-hectare site in Abuja, is due to open in September. Its research will centre on several different fields including biological, environmental and mathematical science.

It is one of three primary sites for the AIST centres for excellence, announced in 2005 (see 'Quest to fund African science institutions begins' ) and reiterated at the African Union summit last month (see 'African leaders set guidelines for scientific growth' ).

The other sites will be located in South Africa and Tanzania. AIST will also encompass smaller affiliated centres throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

AIST, also known as the Nelson Mandela Institute, is a public-private sector partnership aiming to produce more African scientists to help accelerate development in the continent.

According to Akawor, AIST will recruit Africa's best students and scholars to address the continent's problems including public policy, energy, water, and the environment through quality teaching and research.

He said it has the potential to be the scientific and technological engine of the Africa's economic growth, producing the continent's best scientists and researchers.

The Nigerian government has provided a governing council for the Gulf of Guinea Institute and is planning a fundraising dinner for the project, according to Akawor.

Brian Chituwo, Zambia's science and technology minister, said the initiation of the Nigerian institute was "a positive development in Africa's higher education system because it will concentrate much on research in various fields, which is currently lacking in most higher institutions of learning in Africa".