The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, has asserted that the country's economic and development problems can only be properly fixed if Nigeria, as a nation, pays adequate attention to science and technology.
He wondered how the country can possibly compete with other countries that spend about four per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on research and innovation when it (Nigeria) only spends a paltry 0.22 per cent of its GDP on same and other scientific innovations.
Speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP at the weekend, the minister maintained that "no nation in the history of mankind, whether in ancient or modern times has ever become great without science and technology."
He, however, expressed hope that the expo organised recently by the ministry where researchers, inventors and innovators as well as investors from all segments of the country converged to share ideas on moving the nation forward will change the way things were being done in the past.
"So, when this happens, you will see that the result is to promote commercialisation because you're telling the investors that 'look, we have these ideas that have gotten up to the level where they can be commercialised. We have inventions and innovations which you can invest in and make money out of for the good of the nation", he stated.
Onu challenged historians in the country to name any country in the world that had become great without science and technology, noting categorically that it was just not possible.
He said, "The thing is that the nation has not paid sufficient attention to science and technology. Take for example, the ministry of science and technology came into being in 1980, 20 years after Nigeria gained independence, whereas in India it was put in place by the first prime minister who looked after it and put in a lot of funding.
"Even when they had serious problems, today India is a space power, nuclear power and today there is no aspect of science and technology that India is not effectively participating in. Other countries are spending up to four per cent of their GDP on research and innovation and we are spending 0.22 per cent. There was a time we spent about 0.33 per cent. This is World Bank data. Then, how can we compete with these countries?"
Citing South Korea as an instance, the minister averred that at independence, over 59 years ago, Nigeria was at the same level with that country in terms of exporting agricultural products, but regretted that today, South Korea exports ships, cars, telephones, while the most populous country in Africa only exports crude oil and natural gas which, according to him, are commodities that the country does not control their prices.
"So, when there is a sharp drop in the price of oil, it affects us and we enter into recession. South Korea is not in recession now because they have diversified their economy in a sustainable manner and moved it away from being resource-based to a knowledge-based driven economy. I think this is the crux of the matter and it is something we must take very seriously," he added.
On the lessons learnt from the just concluded expo organised by the ministry, Onu said the major lesson was that the things Nigeria spends its money importing from outside the country could be produced by the country locally.
He continued: "That is the major lesson, which means that we can start now with promoting made in Nigeria products because this expo has shown that we can have and promote such products.
"When we do so, we are going to create jobs, grow our economy, fight and reduce poverty and above all, we can strengthen our currency because we will reduce the pressure on the Naira. That is why the Naira is going down in value, even with all the support that we are giving it, because we are not producing enough."
The minister noted further that his ministry has recorded some major milestones since he took over the leadership of the ministry, one of which is the putting together of the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC).
He said, "You can imagine a council that should have met 30 years before didn't meet, then something must have been responsible. And then for President Muhammadu Buhari's administration to come and get it right is a major achievement. We met three times last year, we met once this year and we are still working very hard to get to the level where the council will be institutionalised and then this fund will be established because once the fund is established, it will remove one of the impediments that the researchers have, which is funding.
"Secondly, we have been able to commercialise research findings. If we had been doing what we have achieved in one year in the past, by now we would have commercialised many of our research findings. And then the awareness on science and technology; many Nigerians belief that you can just enter the market and buy science and technology but what you buy is actually a product, not technology.
"For instance, I always try to explain to people that technological application is like repairing a wrist watch. If you buy a wrist watch and it goes bad, you cannot repair it if you do not know the technology behind it."
Authors: All Africa