A year into his re-appointment as the minister of science and technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, just like his predecessors in office, has not fulfilled a number of promises made to Nigerians.
Mr Onu, a former Abia State governor, is arguably one of Nigeria’s ministers with rigorous drive for home-grown-technological solutions.
Unlike some of the ministers currently in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, the minister has marked his fifth year in that same office. He was sworn-in for the second time on August 21, 2019, six months after Mr Buhari’s assumed power, to pilot the affairs of the 17 parastatals under the ministry.
Reviewing his general performance in the last one year, one cannot holistically say the agencies have recorded unprecedented strides in the last one year.
Mr Onu has made major unfulfilled promises from his previous four years in office. One of such promises is that the country would start its production of pencils with 2018 as the time stamp.
PREMIUM TIMES surfed through the almost ‘redundant’ website of Projects Development Agency, and of the 16 other agencies under the ministry for a clue on pencil manufacturing projects promised to generate over 400,000 employment opportunities, nothing surfaced.
Meanwhile, January 2020 marked the fourth year since the minister made the promise.
However, when quizzed in 2019 by the Senate on his achievements in the last four years in office, he said he had set Nigeria’s economy on an innovation-driven path which will make it as advanced as China in the “next 30 to 50 years.”
Also among his promises on bridging the technology gaps needed to boost agriculture, advance health, improve education and manufacturing in the country was to build nuclear plants, a project yet to materialise.
Asides his outstanding promises made during his first term, flipping through documents, interviews, videos and news reports, he has not made any weighty promises since his reappointment in 2019.
Nevertheless, PREMIUM TIMES identified a few achievements and failures based on Mr Onu’s promises.
Quoting the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, the minister said over 900, 000 jobs have been created through the implementation of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies of the Federal Government while over N1 Trillion has been saved through the reduction in imports of raw materials.
The ministry also held the 2020 edition of the National Science and Technology where the top three winners from secondary schools were rewarded with N1 Million, N750,000 and N500,000 respectively while scholarships till doctorate level were also awarded to another three young scientists who came tops in the competition tagged “774 Young Nigerian Scientists Presidential Award (774 YONSPA)”.
Also among the ministry’s achievements in the last one year were the first made in Nigeria ventilators and disinfectant safety sprayers by NASENI, an agency under the ministry, to combat the coronavirus.
It also signed an MoU with the United Kingdom Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for update of the Nigeria Energy Calculator 2050 (NECAL2050) and the China-Arab States Technology Centre (DASTIC) to boost Science, Technology and Innovation in Nigeria.
Despite Mr Onu’s promising clamour for patronage of local manufacturers and inventors in his first campaign, his performance from different indications in last 12 months still reflects a ministry lagging behind in the promotion of indigenous products.
While Nigeria continues to largely depend on assemblage, importation rather than manufacturing, the Minister’s promise of delivering nuclear technology for power in the country remains uncertain.
The minister has also been a butt of jokes over his plans to ensure Nigeria manufactures basic items like pencils and even toothpicks when other nations are basking in advanced technological breakthroughs.
Idowu Farai, a professor of Physics at the University of Ibadan, told PREMIUM TIMES the country has not been living up to its potentials in terms of science and technology.
But he rated Mr Onu’s general performance as better when compared with that of his predeccesors in the same office.
Mr Farai said Nigeria’s science and technology industry is not the way it is not due to lack of local inventions and innovators “but lack of enough industrialists”.
“We are not lacking in inventions, we are lacking industrialisation. The inventions are there in our research institutes and universities gathering dust because our local industralists do not want to take risk with our local inventions to produce them for commercial usage,” he said.
He urged the ministry to complement the efforts of local innovators and their inventions by working hand in hand with private investors.
“If you visit our research institutes, you will see prototypes of inventions made by Nigerians but that is where everything stops,” Mr Farai added, citing “shades of inventions that died due to lack of attention from the ministry”.