Nigeria’s science minister calls for demand-driven R&D

Nigerian science needs better links with industry, says minister Copyright: Flickr/IITA Image Library

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[ABUJA] Failure to commercialise existing research is holding back Nigeria’s economic development, minister of science and technology, Mohammed Ka’oje Abubakar, has said.

He identified a lack of ‘demand-driven’ research, and poor links between research institutes and the private sector, as the main culprits.

"Nigeria has not attained any appreciable capacity to translate successful R&D [research and development] results into products. The manufacturing sector now contributes a mere three per cent to GDP and most of the technologies Nigeria requires to sustain its economy are imported, expensive and difficult to adapt," he told a press briefing aimed at investors (24 February).

To reverse the trend Nigeria should learn from technologically advanced nations that spend a significant percentage of their GDP on R&D, he said, adding that it is clear that investment in science leads to technological and economic development.

The minister presented a list of R&D results from research institutes across Nigeria that are awaiting commercialisation to encourage investors and financial institutions willing to partner with the government.

The plan is to make a "quantum leap of the commercialisable results of our R&D from the laboratory to the market", he said.

The list contains more than 100 novel products and technologies in the fields of agriculture, engineering, energy and health, such as an organic fertiliser, a cassava peeling machine and an electronic voting system.

His call came shortly after plans for severe cuts to the country’s science budget were announced last month (9 February).

Umar Bindir, director general of Nigeria’s National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), said that it was cheaper for pharmaceutical companies and other industries to import ready-made R&D than to take up successful results from Nigerian institutes.

"Such procurement has been institutionalised in the country," he added. "But we can overcome this by establishing a national research council to coordinate activities in the country, which will ensure that research becomes demand-driven."

He called for 20 per cent of the annual budget for all education activities to be set aside to fund this council.

"The minister of science and technology should also be given the mandate of supervising all research institutes — the current situation, where they come under different ministries such as health, agriculture and water, does not allow for growth," Bindir said.

Daniel Gwary, a crop scientist at the University of Maiduguri, called for private organisations to fund research institutes to meet industry needs.

"In Nigeria, both the government and the private sector have failed to acknowledge the place of R&D," Gwary said.

But he added that talk of demand-driven research would not have any impact until Nigerian policymakers understand the importance of scientific research in development.