ANALYSIS: How science and technology ministry fared under Ogbonnaya Onu in three years

Ogbonnaya Onu
Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology. [Photo Credit: Pulse.ng]

The Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, was sworn in, November 11, 2015, six months after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power.

Mr Onu, who was in 1991 elected the first governor of old Abia State, said he would work to be the best minister in Nigeria.

Since his assumption of office, he has laid emphasis on the patronage of indigenous goods and services. He showed support for this by directing all 17 agencies under the ministry to patronise Innoson vehicles as well as other local manufacturing companies.

His administration began the National Science and Technology Week which first held successfully in April 2017 and then March 2018 to showcase inventors and inventions.

The maiden edition of the expo which held between April 13 to 17, 2017 in Abuja, according to the minister, was productive as he noted that various products from research institutes under the ministry displayed at the event.

These products were later commercialised by investors which later led to a second edition to further drive the need to develop the country’s technology.

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Notwithstanding, efforts to promote indigenous products and the advocacy has not been very effective as there is still low patronage from Nigerians and encouragement from the government.

Mr Onu signed a Memorandum of Undertaking (MOU) with three international companies to export indigenous technologies and food and another one with NASCO to kick off commercial production of High Nutrient Density biscuits.

This biscuit which was picked and produced by NASCO Food Ltd was approved earlier this year by the federal government to be included in the school feeding programme for primary school pupils under the Special Intervention Programme of the federal government; in partnership with willing state governments.

The minister had also promised to encourage and empower youth in science and technology.

The ministry commenced in 2016 a process to encourage youth in all 774 LGAs of the country to participate in science and technology in a programme tagged “774 YOUNG NIGERIAN SCIENTISTS PRESIDENTIAL award (774-YONSPA)”.

The award is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology held annually. It is aimed at effectively encouraging and developing the interest of Nigerian youth in science, technology, and innovation (STI).

The competition is organised at the 774 local government areas across the country and the best 37 students are selected to represent each state of the federation, including the FCT.

Participation in YONSPA awards cuts across all senior secondary schools (private and public) through competitive examinations.

Under the minister also, 19 new high yield crop varieties were released by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to enhance agriculture.

The National Variety Release Committee (NVRC) approved the release at its 26th meeting held at its secretariat, National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (NACGRAB), Ibadan.

The varieties include: one soybean (SC-SL01), five maize hybrids (P4226, P3966, P4063, WE3205 and DKB350) and two maize varieties (AMANA-1 and AMANA – 2), one sweet potato variety (Solo Gold); three groundnut varieties (SAMNUT 27, SAMNUT 28 and SAMNUT 29); and three sorghum varieties (SAMSORG 47, SAMSORG 48 and SAMSORG 49).

Other Promises

The minister said he would ensure a partnership with the European Union (EU) on climate change, science and technology.

He also said he would ensure a N180 billion investment in the National Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap (NSTIR) 2030, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017 to 2020 will be driven by STIs and also move Nigeria from ‘assemblage to manufacturing’.

He said Nigerian will begin local production of pencils by 2018.

So far, Nigeria has not commenced production of pencils which the minister said will provide 400,000 jobs.

He also promised to ”close all technology gaps” to advance national development, commercialise science and technology ideas, get a monetary incentive of N1 billion, N500 million and N200 million for research purposes to the three top agencies, and use nuclear technology for power generation.

These are yet to be achieved.

The ministry also says it has been disbursing grants to assist development and entrepreneurs. But there is no information to show those who have benefitted from the largesse.

The ministry has budgeted another N45 million this year for disbursement to inventors and entrepreneurs.

While the minister has great ideas to promote technological ideas in all agencies under the ministry, the lack of follow-up and accountability appears to be a challenge, analysts opine.

The ministry says it has initiated the “The Roadmap for Science, Technology, and Innovation”, “The National Strategy for Promoting Competitiveness in Raw Materials and Products Development in Nigeria” and “The Policy Guidelines for the Planning and Execution of Programmes, Projects and Contracts with Science, Engineering and Technology Components”.

The successes (or not) of these initiatives are still in the realm of speculations

Nigeria’s automotive industry, for instance, is yet to compete favourably with foreign companies. The minister blames this on the absence of research and development.

A year after the Nigerian government signed an agreement with the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation to build and operate a nuclear power plant, the first of its kind on the continent, as well as a research centre that would house a nuclear research reactor, nothing has been done so far.

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