By: DR. JOSEPH U. IGETSEME
(Continued from Last Edition)
Requirements for a successful national R&D policy implementation, promotion and R&D boost in Nigeria. Considering the national R&D support and promotion objectives articulated above, there are some immediate steps the Nigerian Government MUST take to achieve the objectives and goals. Extensive research in the academia and private sectors in Nigeria has reiterated some of these obvious key steps that would boost biomedical and biotechnology R&D [BBRD] as key bio-economy driver in Nigeria; in general, they include:
A Government-driven national commitment to BBRD support; establishment of the key building elements for a vibrant BBRD enterprise that include public electricity especially electricity, well supported national centers for setting R&D priorities and orientation, manpower development and long-term investment commitment. Some of the essential keys to a national BBRD promotion in Singapore have been recently reviewed by Lim Chuan Poh in the following reference [Lim Chuan Poh. Innovation Policy Around the World: Singapore: Betting on Biomedical Sciences. Issues in Science and Technology. The University of Texas at Dallas. USA. Mar 21, 2010].
The successful and burgeoning national R&D enterprises in China, India and Singapore in recent times indicate that there is no basis for reinventing the wheel to get moving forward on BBRD promotion and execution any time the nation makes the commitment, and musters the will and purposefulness. In fact, Nigeria can borrow a leaf from these living lessons among global best practices in national R&D promotion as an effective engine of national economic growth, job creation and improvement in national innovation.
Therefore, the contemporary Chinese, Indian and Singaporean success stories in R&D provide available models for Nigeria to make strides in R&D. In this respect, the specific keys to successful implementation of a national R&D initiative to reap its timely benefits are: First, committed funding and support programs in a sustained government commitment to R&D investment to the tone of at least 2% of the gross expenditure on R&D (GERD).
Second, the establishment of key public-sector research institutes that engage in both basic and mission-oriented R&D to develop a spectrum of capabilities, coordinate and set priorities, standards and orientation for national R&D activities; specifically, Nigeria needs a well-supported and effectively/efficiently managed NIH-like agency in addition to NABDA that will provide leadership and direction for biomedical and biotechnology R&D [BBRD] at the public, corporate and academia levels; this ensures an integrated and well-coordinated BBRD activities in the public and private sectors as well as the academia; and promote collaboration, sharing of reagents, results and awareness of progress in the fields. Global R&D trends show that the establishment of an NIH-like agency was a key element in the success of BBRD promotion boost in bioeconomy in China, Singapore and India in the last two decades. Third, the build-up of the necessary human capital resource
is crucial for a productive national BBRD enterprise.
This is because an adequate national capacity to engage in effective R&D at the desired scale depends on the supply of qualified scientists, engineers, and other technical workers. This key resource is commonly attained by a deliberate building of an educated and skilled workforce through local and external educational/training support programs, as well as attracting key foreign experts and expertise to universities and research centers; most successful R&D promoters have agreed that skilled talents are the key to knowledge creation and value-generating R&D activities!
The significance of an active Government’s commitment to proactive steps to promote academic research in Nigeria alongside a strong support for corporate and Government’s R&D activities cannot be over-emphasized. With the increasing numbers of federal, state and private universities in the country to cater to the growing domestic university admission applications but the diminishing recognition and low ranking of the nation’s universities on the world stage, limited academic research scholarship has been identified as the major problem. On the positive side, the good news is that all indications support the National Universities Commission [NUC]’s outlook that the Nigerian academia still harbors the brainpower that can perform, considering the stellar performances of Nigerians and the Diaspora scientists and professionals in all fields of academia [science and the liberal arts fields] wherever they are empowered and given the opportunity all over
Thus, Nigerian universities still harbor some of the best brains in the world that have the potential to perform outstanding research to enhance academic scholarship, institutional recognition and national innovation. Sadly despite this enormous potential, the results and general conclusions from scholarly studies and quantified performance of the past 20 years have shown consistently that Nigerian universities suffer gross inadequacy in essentially all areas and components of modern scientific research, including active research programs, innovations and productivity.
The general research capacity of Nigerian universities, including laboratory facilities, technological infrastructures, and research administration, funding and productivity, is placed at less than 25%! This dismal state spells a crisis in academic research in Nigeria, and consequently means a dim prospect for significant international recognition/rating of academic scholarship of Nigerian universities. Besides the negative impact of inadequate academic research on scholarship and institutional recognition, its impact on national human [manpower/workforce] and intellectual capital development, national innovation, commercial R&D and national economy are devastating for the nation’s global competitiveness in contemporary knowledge-based economies! Academic research is the nucleus of basic science research with a very high prospect of discovering new principles that drive innovation, and maintains the pool of knowledge principles for private
corporations. In developed, knowledge-based economies, academic research occupied a pre-eminent place in society. For example, NESTA, a prominent UK innovation foundation, recently reported that two-thirds of UK private-sector productivity growth between 2000 and 2007 was a result of innovation that flowed from academia.
Due to their importance to the U.S. innovation system, the development and expansion of major U.S. research universities, including the public land grant universities and other state universities, has played a key role in driving U.S. global innovation leadership. Indeed, the US Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), in its recent position paper as part of its ongoing advocacy for more university research funding in the United States, declared unequivocally that it has become almost a matter of faith in economic and innovation policy circles to point to U.S. research universities as the secret weapon in the U.S. economic competitiveness arsenal. So there is relentless public and private advocacy to strongly support academic research, including BBRD, in the developed nations to maintain competitive edge in innovation and ensure long-term economic growth, citizens’ good health and national prosperity.
A committed Government intervention and promotion of BBRD in the academia is required to bolster the national BBRD enterprise to the capacity to support the momentum of global trends that drive the economic and other benefits of BBRD bioeconomy; and with a very weak bioeconomy, the Nigerian economy is at great risk!
Lastly, the valuable experience among the global best practices in R&D enterprise prosecution have shown that the leadership of a national R&D enterprise vehicle is crucial for its success. In this respect, it would appropriate to recommend that Nigeria should strongly consider Diaspora R&D experts, preferably scientists in the academia, public agency or industry, among the candidates to lead the R&D support and promotional mission of the incoming and immediate to moderate future Governments. The objective is not to stage a competition for competence with equally qualified in-country experts but there is the need to bring into the country fresh outlooks, alternate attitudes, additional work ethics and in-depth experience among the global best practices in R&D support and promotion in national R&D development. In this respect, it is strongly recommended that seasoned appropriated Diasporans should lead the R&D promotional segments of the ministries and
agencies in charge of tertiary education, health, and science and technology in the country.
It appears that the unique perspectives and approaches that seasoned Diaporans lived through different developmental phases in developed societies bring to the job in home country are usually superior to the theoretical precepts garnered from literature about how things work among global best practices or the superficial observations and experiences of traveling/visiting experts to developed countries.
There are numerous qualified Nigerian Diasporans to take on the leadership task of R&D enterprise promotion, if the Government makes the effort to reach out and engage them rather than the convenience of settling for Diaspora hustlers who may display shallow or superficial knowledge of R&D issues but lack the vision, detailed know-hows, knowledge of resource sources, hard work habits and stay-power to go the extra mile required for success. For example, the National Universities Commission [NUC] recently established an International Advisory Committee to assist the agency with its academic BBRD promotion in Nigeria under its PUBSD initiative [www.pubsd.org.ng/][
NUC, top Nigerian scholars in U.S. reach deal to boost research in federal varsities ] [The Guardian News. Sunday, 13 July 2014 20:55]. Several members of this committee who are Nigerian Diaspora scientists and research program directors in the academia and US Government agencies, are managing highly succesful science and technology R&D enterprises abroad. Some of them can be engaged to move the national BBRD forward to promote national innovation. Also from the academia is Professor Augustine Esogbue, a recently retired Artificial Intelligence engineering expert from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia in the United States; the former member of the US NASA Scientific Advisory Board who held a renowned endowed professorial chair for several years, should be available to lead a Nigerian national Science and technology R&D promotional initiative. In addition, from the industry and Corporate R&D world, Professor Isa Odidi of
Intellipharmaceutics, a Canada-based, publicly listed global R&D pharmaceutical company, stands out as a highly capable visionary and CEO to lead a national R&D enterprise initiative. While the appointment of a national R&D promotion Czar is in the hands of the Government in power, it is highly recommended that the Diaspora is a judicious source of leadership to drive a meaningful R&D promotion initiative in Nigeria at this time to achieve rapid measurable outcomes.
Ultimately, whether a Diasporan or in-country leadership is engaged, the Government should resist the common political pressures that lead to placing square pegs in round holes that have not led the country and people anywhere near her R&D goals. Besides, any R&D Czar appointed by the Government should explore how to expand and apply the NUC’s PUBSD platform that is attempting to promote BBRD in Nigerian universities using international collaborations and knowledge management resources there are readily available in the global village.
Why BBRD is a Nigerian imperative in the context of African R&D promotion
According to Bernanke: ”The location of R&D activity can matter in regional R&D influence and application. Thus, beside the national economy benefits and scientific/technological prowess that a country achieves from proactive R&D promotion, the significance and urgency to establish an active NIH-like agency in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria is enormous. Such an institute will likely attract support and funding from several international sources:
The Welcome Foundation; the Fogarty Foundation; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Dangote Foundation; et cetera. Also, with Nigeria as a regional leader in several socioeconomic and political activities in Africa, such an agency ensures a rapid response to public health and disease control and prevention, providing a hub for regional integration and coordination of biomedical health and environmental issues. In addition, Nigeria has considerable manpower in the Diaspora to jumpstart and sustain R&D in various science and technology fields if the enabling environment is provided. Moreover, such an institute will provide a base for continuous research on endemic diseases and a reliable, scalable research center for any epidemic disease. Furthermore, the establishment of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) is in the horizons. AESA will be a platform for managing Africa-focused research programmes and a think
tank to direct the continent’s science. AESA is due to be launched in June 2015 by African heads of state, and will operate out of the headquarters of the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi.
Three international funding bodies are giving seed cash of around US$4.5 million to establish AESA. The London-based biomedical charity the Wellcome Trust also hopes to transfer the management of millions of dollars in its research funds to the alliance. AESA’s other two backers are the UK Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington. AESA will train and empower a critical numbers of excellent scientists in all corners of Africa. Tom Kariuki, a Kenyan immunologist was appointed as the alliance’s director in March 2015. AESA will invite funders both on and outside the continent to delegate the peer-review and grant management of their African programmes to the alliance.
The idea is to shift the centre of gravity for African funding decisions to the continent, says Simon Kay, head of international operations at the Wellcome Trust. AESA wants to create more buy-in from African governments on the research being done, Kay adds. The realization of a Nigerian NIH-like agency will position the country to benefit greatly from AESA from the standpoint of a national platform than when individual scientists are dealing with the pan-African agency.
Conclusion. It is understood that the foregoing recommendations for policy formulation and implementation to boost science and technology R&D in Nigeria will likely require the associated legislative actions and mandates in several respects; but that exercise should not be an insurmountable task if the persisting national enthusiasm for superior R&D activities would induce an executive leadership vision, political will and purposefulness for the policy formulation and implementation to pursue a vibrant R&D enterprise in the country.
Dr Joseph U. Igietseme is Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry & Immunology and the Chief of the Molecular Pathogenesis Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention [CDC] in the United States of America.