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Science, technology budgets remain paltry despite calls for improvement

By Victor Uzoho
17 December 2020   |   3:03 am
There is no gainsaying that technology is a means of harnessing and exploiting man’s understanding of nature for his own benefit. It is an application of knowledge for practical purposes

*CSJ condemns N204.933m frivolous allocation to STI in 2021 budget

There is no gainsaying that technology is a means of harnessing and exploiting man’s understanding of nature for his own benefit. It is an application of knowledge for practical purposes, used to improve the human condition, natural environment, or to carry out other socio-economic activities.

Undisputedly, science and technology (S&T) hold the key to the growth and development of any nation, and play a fundamental role in wealth creation, improvement of the quality of life and real economic growth, and transformation in any society.

S&T has been recognised as a key tool for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as it is fundamentally linked to most, if not all sectors of the economy, and is a powerful driver of economic growth through creation, adoption, development, diffusion of new inventions, technologies and associated know-how.

From findings, many developed and advanced countries progressed rapidly because of their heavy investments in science and technology. The United Kingdom and France benefited greatly from the industrial revolution in the 19th century, likewise, the United States emerged from an agrarian economy in the 19th century into an industrial superpower in the 20th century.

Also, Taiwan and Korea exploited advances in silicon microelectronics from the early 1960s, while China and India emerged as industrial leaders in manufacturing and information technology respectively.

However, in recorded achievements, all these countries invested heavily in people, factories, and infrastructure that provided the foundation for the industries we see today. These successes were all based on carefully designed roadmaps of plans and strategies.

Unfortunately, in many underdeveloped countries, technology is seen as a consumable item, and not something that can be produced or created. Analysis of technologically advanced economies showed that at each level of the economy, science and technology provided the engine for economic growth.

For example, in the case of primary products, the application of science and technology significantly increased yields from agricultural production and mineral beneficiation. Therefore, there is a need for countries with the intention to grow, to invest significantly in S&T.

In the case of Nigeria, several experts have called on the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocations to the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST), as it seeks to diversify the nation’s economy away from crude oil.

From analysis, FMST for the past eight years received an average of 0.76 per cent of the federal budget ranging from 0.6 per cent in 2012, to 0.92 per cent in 2017, which is the highest so far.

Often, annual budgetary allocations to the FMST only cover staff emoluments and nothing more. In 2018, only 0.01 per cent of the federal budget was earmarked for research and development. This represented 1.87 per cent of the Ministry’s budget, as recurrent expenditure accounted for 42.8 per cent of the Ministry budget in the same year.

In the 2019 appropriation bill, FMST with over 17 agencies, geared toward facilitating the development and deployment of ST apparatus, to enhance the pace of socio-economic development of the country through appropriate technological inputs got a paltry allocation of about N66.82 billion, rather than the proposed budget of N8.82 trillion. This was lower by 12 per cent than the 2018 allocation.

The allocation was less than one per cent of the proposed 2019 budget and was the least in the appropriation bill. Even the office of the secretary to the government of the federation got more funds than FMST.

In the 2020 federal budget, FMST was allocated about N105 billion, while the capital expenditure for ministry was about N63 billion.

Also, in the 2021 federal budget, the ministry was allocated a paltry N50.73 billion amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which had shown the need for more investments in the S&T sector, as Nigeria was yet to come up with striking innovations to combat a future outbreak of such disease.

However, even with the lean allocation to the S&T ministry in the 2021 appropriation bill, there are still frivolous, inappropriate, unclear, and wasteful estimates allocated to the ministry, as it is suffused with many agencies, centres, and institutes, which seem to have developed capacity in a multiplicity of research and engineering among others.

Recently, the Citizens Wealth Platform (CWP), a part of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) kicked against some frivolous allocation of about N204.933 million to the ministry in the 2021 appropriation bill, saying they were unnecessary and wasteful.

Speaking with The Guardian, Convener, CWP and Lead Director, CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, said it was imperative to mandate the agencies to concentrate on not more than two ventures and develop them to full market and user stage and should be made to liaise and consult with private sector operatives and public sector agencies in their areas of research and find out their needs, which are currently imported.

According to him, targets should be set for the agencies so that the country would not be engaged in perpetual research without evidence of the use of research findings, noting that resources were being too thinly spread and as such leading to little impact and no value for money for the country.

He said the allocation of public resources to these agencies after some years should no longer be automatic but based on output, which would serve a sectoral public or private need, noting that rationalising the agencies could further benefit Nigeria.

He maintained that the vote of about N119.453 million, being allocated for technical proficiency development should be saved, as the said item has no definite meaning, class of beneficiaries, or a definite location.

Also, he said the vote of about N85.479 million, is allocated for the establishment of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Television Station in Abuja should be saved, saying it was unnecessary, as the use of existing public television stations would take care of the need if any.

Meanwhile, the ministry was established with the mandate to formulate, monitor and review the National Policy on Science, Technology, and Innovation (NPSTI), to attain the macro-economic and social objectives of the Vision 20:2020 as it relates to S&T.

Also, FMST is saddled with the responsibility of promoting wealth creation through support to key industrial and manufacturing sectors, creation of technology infrastructure to facilitate the drive for development, application of natural medicine resources and technologies for health sector development, and ensuring that research and development impacts Nigeria’s economy through the promotion of indigenous research capacity to facilitate technology transfer among others.

Meanwhile, in one of his works, “The role of Science and Technology in National Development: The Miracle of Malaysia and Future for Nigeria Petroleum Technology Development Journal”, former Chairman, Emerald Energy Resources, late Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah, stressed that for the present and future development of Nigeria or any other country, ST remained the key.

He maintained that the sooner Nigeria realises that her escape from poverty is predicated on her investment in science and technology education, the better for her, noting that there was a technological power vacuum in the country waiting to be filled.

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