-By Segun Ayeoyenikan

It was Dr. Osita Ogbu, the erstwhile Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, who once said that “There exists an incontrovertible evidence that development is not driven by savings but by inventiveness, innovation and ideas generated through Science and Technology and the principal anchor and leader of this process must be the government”. This adage fitted well with the recent event at the ‘Aso Rock’ Presidential villa when President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, gave fresh directives to the management of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) regarding his administration’s promise of 10 million jobs to Nigerians.

Also as a matter of urgent national priority, the president tasked the science and engineering agency to resuscitate all its COVID-19 pandemic responses which came last year in form of manufacturing of COVID-19 disinfectant tunnels, ventilators, and the design and manufacturing of first Made-in-Nigeria helicopter amongst other sundry directives by the President.

President Buhari said the promise by his administration to create over 10 million jobs for Nigerians was not a statement of intention but an order that must be carried out by NASENI and all other concerned agencies of the government. Any visionary leader would put resources and funds where his words and thoughts are. This was the case with President Buhari during the NASENI Governing Board meeting held on the 26th January, 2021 at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) Chamber chaired by Mr. President himself. Apart from the directives given to the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of NASENI, Engr. Professor Mohammed Sani Haruna and the entire management of NASENI, the President further directed the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zaina Ahmed and Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Muhammad Nami to release all statutory funds due to NASENI to enable it function optimally.

According to the extant rule which established NASENI, the Nigeria serving President is the Chairman of its Governing Board while an Executive Vice Chairman, appointed by the President, would be in charge of the day to day affairs of the Agency. It fits perfectly to say it’s indeed a new dawn in President Buhari’s candid resolve to redesign Nigeria’s economic transformation, pathway and strategies for the nation’s economic development while Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation sector provides the new direction or compass. According to the President, NASENI was founded as a mechanism to stimulate linkages between science and technology, the academia and the industrial sectors on one hand and Nigeria’s economic and industrial transformation on the other. He said when NASENI was set up in 1992, the vision of the founding fathers was to have an innovation and technology based agency for the furtherance of the nation’s development. NASENI by its mandate is the sole agency of the Federal Government with the mandate to conduct developmental work in manufacturing of capital goods, equipment and machines thereby preventing the influx of foreign goods which caused capital flight. That way the Agency is capable of coordinating the proliferation of technologies developed either within or outside of its Development Institutes for the much needed industrialization of the nation.

Facts abound globally that economies founded on knowledge and driven by innovation are economies which invest substantially and sustainably in technology and innovation. The NASENI Act, since its establishment in 1992 stipulated that “The Agency shall establish a Fund from which shall be defrayed all expenditure incurred by the Agency for the purpose of this Act. There shall be paid and credited to the Fund, one percent (1%) of the Federation Account in the first instance, to be increased to three percent (3%) by the year 2000”. Regrettably however despite the provisions of the Act, the Agency had never received such remittance from the Federation Account as provided for by the Act since its inception. But President Buhari would have none of such disconnects or disregard for the provision of the law anymore hence the directives to the Finance Ministry and FIRS to release the allocations and necessary dues to the Agency to enable it function optimally, so that the country could benefit from its research innovations for improvement on the nation’s economy, job and wealth creation.

The trend of non-release of NASENI’s statutory fund and dues, to a great extent, has hindered the Agency from optimally fulfilling its mandate of establishing science and engineering infrastructure and development institutes in various fields and sectors of the economy, aimed at empowering small and medium scale industries through reverse engineering, appropriate technologies and advanced manufacturing technologies in order to keep the nation abreast and at par with other technologically advanced nations of the world.

In the advanced and developed economies of the world, deliberate, need-driven and well-funded research and development activities in new and emerging technology innovations are the bedrock of the remarkable growth in their economies. These nations invest heavily in research targeted at improving the various sectors of their economy, from agriculture to health, industry, defense, power and toward improving the lives and livelihood of their citizens. The relevant government agencies of these nations all set up extension service systems for the developed technologies to be made available to relevant businesses, industries, farms and organizations who are already involved in the sector to help them improve their businesses and at the same time building the economy of the nation. Some on the other hand, or in addition to establishing extension services, develop a system where the researchers and the innovators of these new technologies are encouraged by their government to set up technology businesses relevant to their research results and products. All these help the developed nations to create new jobs regularly, create wealth for the nation and the researchers. Most of these researchers go ahead to diversify some of their profits for more research and development activities.

In many parts of Asia like Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Japan, small farmers have shown a remarkable capacity to use new technology, engineering and scientific outputs some of which are readily available back home in Nigeria yet are lying idle on shelves of agencies like NASENI or other institutes in science, technology and innovation system. Nigeria is yet to maximally utilize the benefit from global advances in technology and will not until government is willing and able to furnish research institutions in Nigeria with the necessary support and incentives.

In an increasingly globalized world, the ability of farmers in Nigeria and Africa to find pathways out of poverty and to contribute actively to national economic growth depends on improved infrastructure, education, cutting edge technologies and engineering innovations, which is the core of NASENI mandate. With the enhancement of the capacity of NASENI to deliver on its mandate in the Agricultural sector for example, and other agencies of government involved in establishing and promoting new market value chains and linkages with smallholder farmers, agriculture will boom once again as we had in the 70s during the days of the groundnut pyramids in Kano and Cocoa House in Ibadan.

President Buhari while reflecting on the state of Nigeria’s response so far on the COVID-19 pandemic noted that the nation’s continued reliance on solutions from other countries was a revelation of the amount of research and development gaps in the country. He therefore directed NASENI to scale up its research and development responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to find local solutions towards combating the virus just like other developed nations are doing to prevent the spread and also care for those who are already infected.

Prof. Mohammed Sani Haruna, while speaking to the Press, after the NASENI Governing Board meeting, reiterated that President Buhari’s acceptance to preside over the NASENI Governing Board as stated in the NASENI Establishment Act was historic. He said the President had accepted to direct the affairs of the Agency as stipulated by law. This move by him, he observed, was the beginning of a new Nigeria and also a fresh start for a genuine socio-economic journey to the top for every Nigerian.

According to Professor Haruna, those directives by the President to the concerned government institutions to make available to NASENI its statutory funds will enable NASENI to fast track the scientific and technological development of the country. The decision of Mr. President to sit over the Governing Board of the Agency was not only a motivation for Management and staff of the Agency but also an added prospect in putting Nigeria’s economy on a solid footings through the Nigeria Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (NERGP) and other economic agenda of government: the poverty alleviation policies, job and wealth creation programmes all will reboot effectively since it is the infusion of science, engineering, technology and innovations into indigenous manufacturing that guarantees job and wealth creation which ultimately results into national economic recovery and growth. He said that was the secret of all developed nations and even the emerging strong economies in South-East Asia, including China, Japan, Singapore and the rest of them.

The Professor of Electrical Engineering said that, “Without investment in science, technology and innovation, it is practically impossible for any nation to come out of poverty or for its people to experience genuine economic development”. The Agency, he disclosed, with the little resources so far made available to it had achieved a lot in the various sectors of the Nigerian economy with interventions in Power, Agriculture, Education, Health and Industrial sectors of the Nigerian economy. He said that, with the newly approved funding, several other sectors of the economy will be immensely boosted and the impact felt all over the country. Professor Haruna also disclosed that the Agency with the meagre resources available to it had invested in human capacity development leading to outstanding scientific and technological breakthroughs in the development and manufacturing of Small Hydropower turbines, Smart Pre-paid Energy meters, laboratory equipment, agro-allied machines, the unmanned aerial vehicles and several other technological innovations based on research and development by NASENI. The Agency also intervened in producing face-masks through 3D printing, solar-powered hands-free handwashing devices, ventilators and disinfectants devices to help the nation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The NASENI electronic voting systems when adopted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will help the nation to efficiently and effectively manage the election processes. The Agency’s efforts and achievements on locally produced jet engines and the Made-in-Nigeria helicopters will eventually put the nation in its rightful place in the committee-of-nations with capacity for aviation systems manufacturing.

The need for affordable, high quality technological equipment and products in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. NASENI has the human and material capacity to achieve this for the nation. For example, most rural communities that are off and far from the National Grid can benefit from NASENI Small Hydropower (SHP) technologies and solar panels for rural electrification thereby improving people’s lives and livelihoods.

Coincidentally the Nigerian Lawmakers in September 2020, specifically, the Senate Committee on Finance and Review of Public expenditures expressed their awareness on the huge potentials for financial returns on investment in technology innovations by NASENI and its ability to alleviate poverty and avert future economic challenges. The Senate Committee had earlier given similar directive to the Account General of the Federation to release the 1% Federation Account Statutory Fund to the Agency. The Senate Committee also disclosed that with the right support and proper funding for NASENI, Nigeria will benefit in many ways and in several sectors of its economy. The Lawmakers also confirmed that the Agency has the requisite human and material capacity to intervene and bridge the gaps in different sectors of the nation’s economy through its core mandate given to it by the extant law which is to domesticate foreign technologies and innovate new indigenous ones in line with its mission statement, which is to create an enabling knowledge-driven environment for local mass production of standard parts, goods and services required for the advancement of technology in Nigeria.

“This Statutory Fund, when received by the Agency, will go a long way in making the Agency to fully actualize its mandate and purpose”, said, Professor Haruna. “NASENI, through its numerous projects seeks to demonstrate that Nigeria has the capacity to produce indigenous and home-grown technological equipment for self-reliance. Without doubt, the new President Muhammadu Buhari’s order and the same directive also issued one year earlier by the National Assembly are the new vistas for assessing Nigeria’s priority and investment windows and one could venture into an affirmation saying, perhaps, a new Nigeria economy beckons if only men will be faithful.

(Segun Ayeoyenikan is the Deputy Director of Information, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure,NASENI, Abuja)