Memo to Buhari: Strategic Policy Instruments to Boost Research and Development In Nigeria and Improve National Innovation

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By Dr Joseph U. Igietseme

Significance: Just like the saying that, where there is no vision, the people perish, when there is no commitment and purposefulness, the society stands still or drift, despite of its greatness potential! Perhaps these ageless statements will best describe the present state of scientific research and development [R&D] in Nigeria. Scientific R&D has been the mainstay for meaningful innovation and industrialization in the human society since antiquity. In fact, the economic growth and the prosperity of essentially all developed nations and the recent expansion in the economies of the Asian tigers have been achieved through R&D in science and technology that accelerated innovation, industrialization and production outputs.

However, despite the country’s substantial crude oil endowments, Nigeria has achieved very modest to unremarkable R&D outputs due to grossly inadequate R&D inputs, weak R&D institutions and noticeably low key R&D indicators, including R&D expenditure as percentage of GDP, number of researchers in R&D, patents filing and licensing fees, and royalties; also, Nigeria is low in the global competitiveness ranking; and has considerably modest basic indicators of national wealth irrespective of how wealth is defined, including GDP per capita et cetera (Siyanbola et al, R&D and the challenge of wealth creation in Nigeria; Academia.edu. 2011). Thus, the urgent need for policy instruments to boost corporate and academic R&D in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. As democratic institutions take roots in the society, Nigeria has a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership commitment and purposefulness in prioritizing the crucial R&D imperatives of our times.

Prioritizing and active promotion of R&D activities result in specific tangible and intangible benefits: progress in pharmaceutical, medical and biotechnology industries, agriculture, academic scholarship, economic growth and national prosperity. R&D is not only fundamental to national prosperity, its necessary for national security, peace, stability and health of any modern nation. National R&D promotion leads to industrialization, indigenous and adopted, employment, and job creation; and spillover activities of R&D are enormous, including the emergence of biotech clusters/hubs and the accessory industries, introduction of new technologies for expediting everyday living and comfort, and the establishment of research centers of excellence in locations of intensive R&D. Besides, focused R&D can lead to a national product brand development. Importantly, nations now compete on the basis of innovation outputs; R&D promotes national innovation, improved

product/service quality, skills acquisition, and enhanced productivity. Furthermore, a national emphasis on R&D promotion will have the dual impact of enhancing both corporate and academic R&D, fostering synergistic academic-corporate interactions and collaborations; and strengthening capabilities in transnational and applied research will enhance academic scholarship of scientists, increase skilled manpower development, stimulate the application of scientific discoveries from the bench to the bedside or production facility, boost manufacturing outputs and job creation, and ultimately impact the economy and bring benefits to society. Economic expansion and national prosperity sequel to noteworthy innovation and cutting-edge breakthroughs in scientific and technological R&D are imperative for any measurable or meaningful international recognition or competitive edge for the nation’s academia or corporate existence in a knowledge- and technology-based

globalized economy.

National R&D Goals and Objectives. Several thesis have been written on the status and vision for R&D in Nigeria [E.g., Tolulope Opaaje, The State of R&D in Nigeria today. iQubebase.com, August 25, 2013; Akinwale Y., Ogundari I., Olaopa O., and Siyanbola W. Global best practices for R&D funding: Lessons for Nigeria, Interdisciplinary J Contemporary Res in Business, Institute of Interdisciplinary Business Research, Vol 4, No. 2, 2012. JUNE 2012; Siyanbola et al, R&D and the challenge of wealth creation in Nigeria; Academia.edu. 2011]. However, the current state of academic, public and corporate R&D in Nigeria is at best static, if not on a steady decline. Considering the significance and what is at stake in the nation’s bid for inevitable developments and industrialization to secure a meaning position among the modern nations of the 21st Century AD, Nigeria needs a strategic plan to boost the national R&D enterprise.

This is particularly required because, as Siyanbola et al put it succinctly, global best practice experiences have shown that a vertically applied national innovation system (NIS) that supports creativity, innovativeness, and entrepreneurial skills for market consciousness and demands, is required to effectively drive the performance of scientific research and its translation into economic development (Siyanbola et al, R&D and the challenge of wealth creation in Nigeria; Academia.edu. 2011). Therefore, as a potentially viable strategic approach, Nigeria MUST, first, set a national goal to fast-track the infrastructural development and capacity-building efforts that would produce at least 50% growth in the national biomedical, bioengineering and biotechnology R&D productivity within five years!

This may require the declaration of a national emergency on key critical sectors that include the power and R&D sectors, which will pull all stops and engage all available resources and expertise, foreign and domestic to achieve set goals. For the R&D promotion goal, the Mission will be: To make Nigeria a regional R&D hub in Africa by the end of this decade! Second, as a focused area of achievable scientific and technological R&D, Nigeria as an emerging economy should commit to a sustained multi-lateral and multi-dimensional [foreign and domestic] support of a vibrant and profitable biomedical and biotechnology R&D [BBRD] enterprise as a key bioeconomy driver of the national economy. Third, Nigeria MUST establish the key instruments for R&D policy implementation, support, & funding. Fourth, Nigeria has to commit to developing the blueprints for additional key national platforms and Centers for setting R&D priorities and orientation, R&D resource and knowledge mining and management, as well as sustaining the support of the institutions for dependable manpower, skills and expertise development.

In this respect, a national commitment is required for the following specific biomedical and biotechnology R&D [BBRD] objectives representing a significant proportion of the total national R&D sector: First, to boost BBRD in Nigeria through the effective and efficient promotion of biomedical and biotechnology knowledge management, academic/corporate BBRD stimulation, and the establishment of the equivalent of the United States of America’s National Institutes of Health [NIH] agency [possibly called National Institutes of Biomedicine, NIB] for biomedical R&D promotion, prioritization and focus, as a key additional national BBRD support platform.

The country already has the National Biotechnology Development Agency [NABDA] that will complement the BBRD promotion mission. Second, the Government should commit to making the Nigeria’s NIB and the NABDA vital resource centers for supporting and promoting academic and corporate R&D activities through deliberate and targeted sectoral and product development facilitation, resource sourcing and procurement of funding from major international agencies and foundations. Third, the Government’s commitment is needed to fast-tracking the execution and actualization of the national BBRD goals, objectives and vision, especially empowering R&D institutions and agencies with resources, funding and the necessary skill-development training, and challenging them to deliver on productivity and innovation. Lastly, the Government should ensure the empowerment of the relevant quality, standard and safety agencies to monitor and ensure the contemporaneousness and implementation of the national BBRD policies consistent with global best practices and the national aspirations of the private/public sectors.

Rationales for active Government role and support of R&D. According Ben S. Bernanke [former chairman of U.S. Federal Reserve Board; February 1, 2006 – February 3, 2014], Government’s role in national R&D promotion and support relates to Economic growth, Optimization of Social Returns from R&D and fostering national innovation [Bernanke, BS., Promoting Research and Development – The Government’s Role – Article is in Affordable National Security, Summer 2011]. Specifically, the role of Government is to stimulate, accelerate or sustain national economic growth; and since R&D is vital for a nation’s long-run economic growth and economic development, there is a sound rationale for Government’s support for R&D.

In pari passu, sustained economic growth increases the material living standards of citizens, increases national productivity and enhances broad-based prosperity. Besides, Government’s support of R&D fosters the national innovation and technological advances, since R&D lead to new products, more-efficient production methods, and dramatic changes in business organization/management; Government’s support of R&D assures this trend in the nation. Importantly, Government involvement balances the limited and narrow R&D scope of the private market [usually shaped by profitability concerns], ensuring broader R&D scope in the nation [e.g., rare diseases, futuristic tech, space et cetera].

Thus, market forces cause underinvestment in R&D, while Government’s intervention optimizes social returns from R&D to the benefit of the nation. In addition, robust R&D activities enhance the chances of Big New Ideas & greater innovation outputs. Moreover, R&D benefits are often global, impacting humanity generally that Governments care about. Furthermore, Government intervention in R&D ensures international competitiveness of the nation in a globalized economy, since nations now compete on the basis of innovation; and Government’s intervention assures export advantage and competitive edge in foreign reserves. Finally, effective Government intervention is required for the establishment of the necessary stable building blocks that constitute the foundation on which a profitable national R&D enterprise rests, including the availability of basic infrastructures, academic and corporate research capacity building, R&D program building, reliabl support/funding, and expertise recruitment that may involve foreign hires and mobilization of Diaspora scientists [Anand,NP., Hofman, KJ., and Glass, RI. The Globalization of Health Research: Harnessing the Scientific Diaspora. Academic Medicine, 84:525-534; No. 4, April 2009]. Government’s involvement in R&D to stimulate, accelerate or sustain economic growth, facilitate national innovation, and enhance international competitiveness, is an organic trend in the industrialized and economically emerging nations!

Ways Governments participate, intervene and promote national R&D. Lessons from global best practices indicate that Government’s role in promoting R&D is principally in: first, formulation and implementation of policies that support and promote public, corporate and academic R&D; secondly, there is direct Government’s involvement in promotion/facilitation and execution of R&D. It is the current opinion of public and private policy analysts now that, while the rationale for Government’s support of R&D is sound and well established, the best policy for implementing this principle is still being refined even as global best practices in R&D abound. In this respect, Government policies that directly or indirectly impact R&D include: Government’s economic policies that support innovation and long-run economic growth, such as: providing a stable macroeconomic environment, sound public finances, and well-functioning financial, labor, and product markets are Government’s policies that support innovation, entrepreneurship, and growth, as do effective tax, trade, and R&D favorable regulatory policies. Also, Government’s innovation policies directed at the protection of intellectual property rights, market competition, and availability of financing targeted at innovative enterprises will directly promote innovation and technological change in society.

In addition, Governments policies emphasizing expanded basic research for enhancing the Social Returns from R&D and promoting long-term economic growth are important because fundamental research is ultimately the source of most innovation, albeit often with long lags. Most Economists argued that the potentially high social return to basic research, requires expanded government’s support for R&D that, over time, significantly boost economic growth. Government’s support of basic research in the academia and public/private research institutions is an active process in industrialized and economically emerging societies.

Furthermore, Government’s direct involvement in the promotion/facilitation and execution of R&D in the nation include the development or establishment of strategic and specific policy instruments that involve direct funding of government research facilities; this usually involves the establishment of Governments’ own research facilities. For example, in the United States (US) and many other industrialized countries, both nonmilitary and military R&D operations are operated as national priorities with dedicated budgets. The NIH, National Cancer Institute, the various military research institutions and NASA are among these Government-owned and operated R&D institutions in the US.

Also, Governments offer grants [or Contracts for specific investigator-initiated research projects, or Special emphasis projects] to university or private-sector researchers for scientific and technical research; the policy instruments for implementation are through grant-awarding agencies (e.g., the National Science Foundation, NSF, and NIH in the United States, or their equivalents in other industrialized countries) to academic institutions and other research agencies. While Governments funds 100% of R&D in Government-owned research facilities, up to 70% of academic R&D is government funded or supported. In addition, investigators and affiliated public and private institutions are further incentivized by the public policy that they keep the royalties, financial and other commercial benefits accruing from the research funded with Governments’ grants.

In addition, governments encourage translational research with commercial prospects, and offer tax incentives, such as corporate tax incentives and R&D tax credits to private and corporate R&D initiatives and efforts. The Government agencies handling each of these categories make the choices about how to structure specific programs and the support strategy [e.g., grants or contracts to individual researchers or relatively small research groups], research focus, priorities, directions, time frame/duration, proposal evaluation and scoring criteria.

The support model of most industrialized nations like the US involves: (a) Simultaneous supporting of multiple and divergent approaches to a given R&D problem to increase the chance of finding a solution and opportunities for cooperation or constructive competition, while ensuring that an effective peer-review process is in place to guide funding toward high-quality science; (b) Adoption of a long-run stable investment strategy that assures effective and diligent R&D activities to achieve reliable and tested outcomes. For example the internet revolution of the 1990s was based on scientific investments of the 1970s/1980s; and today’s widespread commercialization of biotechnology was based, in part, on key research findings (such as structure of DNA) developed in the 1950s. As a summary, there is no single best policy framework or instrument to promote/support national R&D and innovation growth.

A reasonable strategy among global best practices in R&D support is to “use a mix of policies” that include: continuous active support of R&D while taking pains to encourage diverse and even competing approaches by the scientists and engineers receiving support. In addition to stable continuous funding, educational, immigration and Diaspora expertise engagement policies that ensure availability of skilled experts, the definition and enforcement of intellectual property rights and the setting of technical standards, are all important for promoting national R&D and innovation to achieve the national goals. Ultimately, the elevated national R&D activities, job market growth in R&D-related sectors, national economic growth and increased national innovation competitiveness are measurable outcomes that justify government’s intervention in national R&D promotion.

(To be continued next week)

 

 

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