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Nigeria's monarchs have launched a new initiative to encourage the development of science and technology by using local languages.

The Council of Traditional Rulers in Nigeria says that science and technology is not perceived as culturally relevant, and is not being used in local situations because development strategies are communicated in English — a language not spoken by a large percentage of people.

The initiative was launched last week (20 March) at the UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) headquarters in Paris, France.

It follows a call by the African Union to make 2007 a year of developing and promoting science, technology and innovation in Africa (see 'Ministers propose 2007 as 'year of science' in Africa').

The initiative will develop teaching and communication materials on science and technology in Nigeria's three official languages — Ibo, Hausa and Yoruba — to promote a culture of science and innovation for building local innovation systems.

Scientists, engineers and information and communication technology experts will participate in the scheme, working closely with institutes and universities.

Oba Okunade Sijuade, the Ooni of Ife, southwest Nigeria, pointed out that Nigeria constitutes over a quarter of sub-Saharan Africa's population and that as the initiative develops, the monarchs would "reach out to other monarchs not only in Nigeria, but also other parts of Africa."

An example of this is the plan to establish a science academy — the Yoruba Academy of Science — to promote collaboration throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Sijuade added that consultations to establish a Nigerian regional office of the Islamic Academy of Science are ongoing.

Addressing the monarchs, Koïchiro Matsuura, director general of UNESCO, said, "By promoting science teaching in your mother tongue, you are helping to preserve Nigeria's linguistic and cultural diversity, as well as expanding access to scientific knowledge."

"Above all, [you are] working to raise awareness at all levels of the importance of science and technology to national development."

UNESCO is currently cooperating with Nigeria on programmes to revitalise the national science and innovation system.

This includes a science and technology forum for parliamentarians, the establishment of a high-level science governance structure and a proposal to create a US$5 billion endowment fund for a Nigerian National Science Foundation.

Nigeria's monarchs are representatives of the traditional rulership in Nigeria. Their role in government is mostly reconciliatory; making peace interventions, courtesy visits and negotiations.