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[ABUJA] The head of a parliamentary science committee has expressed dismay at drastic cuts planned for Nigeria's capital development budget for science.

The cuts were highlighted last week (9 February) during a hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology

The government will slash the budget, which funds buildings and equipment but not salaries, from 53 billion naira (US$350 million) in 2010 to US$33 million in 2011.

The budget was presented to the National Assembly in December but, last week, as part of the budget hearings, the committee heard a defence from officials at the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.

Ishaq Akinlade, the committee's chairman, said: "It is a pity that the government has failed to accord the development of science and technology the attention it deserves.

"It took the national assembly serious battles in 2010 to raise the allocation for capital development for the science sector. It is lamentable that, instead of improving on that, the executive arm of government reduced it.

"For any country to move forward, science and technology must be taken seriously. Allocation of 20 per cent of the entire national budget to the science and technology sector is not too big."

A senior official in the science ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the situation was "pathetic" and that ministry officials felt "hopeless" about the prospects for science.

"We don't have any explanation for the reduction but, from all indications, it is a deliberate attempt to undermine the contribution of the science and technology sector to the nation's economy," he said, adding that it was hard to compete with powerful lobbies such as defence.

Oye Ibidapo-Obe, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, said: "A lot of government funding is needed to enable the science and technology ministry, and the 20 research institutes under the ministry, to service their mandate as well as contribute to the realisation of the nation's Vision 2020".

This refers to the plan to turn the country into a major economy by that date.

He urged the ministry to clearly articulate its programmes and activities for the 2011 fiscal year in order to highlight the potential impact of the cuts on national development.

"It is not enough to say allocation to the sector is on the decrease. There should be evidence of what needs to be done, how it will be done, when it will be done, and how much is required to accomplish such a task," he said.

The Nigerian presidential election is planned for 9 April.