By Onche Odeh
The third Scientific Conference of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) opened on Tuesday with calls from heads of scientific agencies in Nigeria for the country to stake more investments in research and development of the outcomes of Science, Technology and Innovations.
The conference holding in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital has a theme, Science and Technology Innovations for National Growth and Development aimed at raving interest in science-based solutions to some of the common problems that have stalled national development.
The first call came from the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigeria’s National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Mohammed Haruna Executive, a Professor of Electrical Engineering.
In his keynote delivered on the opening day of the two-day conference, Prof. Haruna noted Nigeria is still lagging in the Frontline Technological wave which is primed on the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, Robotics, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Addictive Manufacturing, Big Data, Gene Editing, among others.
According to Prof. Haruna, the economic disparity between countries of the world is now dependent on the availability and the levels of adoption and adaptability of Frontline Technologies.
“The Science, Technology and Innovation status of a country will always determine its classification as developed, developing or underdeveloped,” he said, adding also that “only home-grown solution that is rooted massive soft and hard infrastructure can rescue the country from its economic vicissitude.”
Using the COVID-19 as reference, Prof. Haruna said, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data have been used for screening patients, monitoring the outbreak, tracking and tracing cases of the disease, predicting its evolution and assessing its infection risks.
“In COVID-19 Management, Rwanda is deploying high tech robots produced by the Belgian company, Zorabots, to perform a number of tasks, including mass temperature screening. Delivering food and medications to patients, capturing data, detecting people who are not wearing masks, among others. It is also using sophisticated mathematical algorithms developed by a local epidemiologist to minimize cost.”
According to Prof. Haruna, Nigeria, with the abundant natural resources, huge water bodies, large population, talents. Large geographical and suitable locations as well as the friendly climate should be a leader in the adoption and deployment of Frontline Technologies for development purposes.
“Despite all these endowment, Nigeria is ranked 74th in Research and Development and 155th in Industry ranking in terms of preparedness to adopt and frontline technologies,” he said.
While making reference to current technological strides made by Nigeria as seen in the telecommunications sector, the transition from 2G to 5G network optimization, the use of online banking, the introduction of electronic voter card reader, deployment of the Integrated Personal Payroll Information (IPPIS), REMITA and other secure payment platforms, and the rampant deployment of high-profile medical equipment across the country, Prof Haruna said it is however, sad that some of these achievements are dominated by foreign technologies and expertise.
“The Expertise and Application Software (EAS) market in Nigeria is currently dominated with softwares from Asia and Europe. Foreign software currently holds 77% of the market with only 23% for local content,” Prof. Haruna said, while quoting from a 2021 survey result.
While pointing out the implication of technology gap in Nigeria, he said, “The lack of domestic endogenous capabilities and capacity to produce modern technologies and competitive industrial good and services in Nigeria’s economy is fueling frightening problems like economic crunch, insecurity, poverty, unemployment, inadequate food value chain and inadequate health infrastructure in Nigeria.”
“Wealth creation, peace, progress and stability are by-products of knowledge-based economy and not commodity or raw material oriented and import dependent economy,” the NASENI Executive Vice Chairman said.
Dr. Obi Adigwe, Director General of Nigeria’s pharmaceutical research agency, the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) also corroborated Prof. Haruna’s position with a call for more people to invest in R&D in Nigeria.
He said, with a paltry 0.01% being dedicated to R&D, Nigeria and other countries in the region are being “outspent, out-trained and out-schooled” by the high-flying countries by as much as over 200 times.
“For the first in the about 35 years of its existence, NIPRD just receive a N4billion intervention announced after the visit of the Minister of Budget and National Planning. So many people called after seeing this on the television to say we have gotten to where we wanted. Although our agency (NIPRD) has received funding supports in the neighbourhood of 9-10 billion with the last three years, we are still far from where we ought to be,” Dr. Adigwe said.
He called on individuals, philanthropists, development agencies and organisations with the wherewithal to fund more R&D as being conducted by PHDs.