Nigeria rethinks ‘failed’ science policy

Would a better science policy help? Copyright: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep

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[CAPE TOWN] Nigeria’s science and technology policy, widely seen as inadequate, will be rewritten to serve the wider goals of the country, its science and technology minister said last week (7 September) at a stakeholders’ meeting in Abuja.

Mohammed Ka’oje Abubakar told representatives from government ministries, international agencies and professional bodies that a review of the policy is necessary to harmonise it with socio-economic policies in the country.

Nigeria’s first science policy came out in 1986, followed by a second one in 1997, whose goal was the creation of an independent, integrated economy. A third policy in 2003 emphasised a systematic approach to determining technology programmes.

But the policies have been criticised on many counts, with a primary objection being that they lacked legal status and were not enforceable. In addition, the most recent policy was put together without wide consultation, say critics, and does not support the goals of other policies, such as Nigeria’s two major plans, the National Development Plan and Nigeria 2020, which aims to turn the country into a major economy within a decade.

Abubakar said Nigeria needs a policy that will help government agencies and development partners work together to achieve these goals.

"The state of science in Nigeria is not as desired and this is because the existing science policy is not being implemented as it should be," said David Okali, immediate past-president of the Nigerian Academy of Science.

He highlighted the government’s failure to allocate the budget stipulated in the current policy as a prime example.

Previous policies have not had a clear vision and have not developed relationships between the Ministry of Science and Technology and outside organisations, added Hassan Omowunmi, from the National Centre for Technology Management, a government agency specialising in science and technology training.

And Olusola Ogunwenmo, director of research at Babcock University in Nigeria, said a review was long overdue.

"Nigeria has depended on other nations for virtually everything because of the absence of an effective science and technology policy to galvanise growth and development," he said.

The country is unable to deploy emerging technologies that would boost healthcare and food security as it lacks a policy to regulate and develop these and other fields, he added.

"We have the manpower to play active roles in the deployment of biotechnology for food security and nuclear technology for power generation, but where is the policy to guide the process?"

Hassan Omowunmi said that when the policy has been drafted it will be discussed by UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other development partners before being presented to the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Assembly for executive approval.

She said this will translate the policy into a legal document and so enforce the implementation of some sections, especially those concerning budgetary allocation and the establishment of institutions and structure to promote scientific development. The current science policy did not have this status.