Research is an investment in the wellbeing of humankind: appraising the Nigerian research landscape
Nigeria is currently preoccupied with insecurity issues, banditry, herdsmen, restructuring, separatist agitators, youth unemployment, work stoppages, and economic challenges, to name just a few. As serious as these challenges may appear, we believe they are not capable of sinking Nigeria because they are challenges that could be solved if the right actions were taken. What we believe will sink Nigeria is the lack of adequate investment in research and innovation (R&I) at all levels, but particularly in the school system. This deficiency is lamentable because it is acknowledged universally that R&I are the bedrock of the successful development of countries around the world. Nigeria is projected to reach over 400 million people in 40-50 years. And a country this size cannot be expected to survive begging, borrowing or, worse, ‘rubberstamping’ technology, as it is the norm today. At first, in the early decades of the nation, it appears that there was an optimism and encouragement in education and research as a fulfilment of social-cultural development, but these have long withered. The societal and developmental problems Nigeria faces today, definitely, are reflective of what it has failed to do in establishing viable education, research priorities and quality standards of innovations and practice, and quality leadership and management structures, beginning 61 years ago when it gained independence and its population was only about 70 million. And what has brought Nigeria’s sorry state of R&I to a sharp focus is the Covid-19 pandemic. While countries like the United States, China, Japan, Israel, Madagascar, and Cuba were frantically researching to find cures and vaccines, Nigeria’s universities – that should be the hub of research activities – were closed because of a work stoppage by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Lamentations – The Blame Game!
We are not the first to reflect and bemoan the state of R&I in Nigeria. However, we may be the first to give it a comprehensive assessment as well as proffer viable remedies. About a decade ago, in a newspaper Editorial Board Comment in May 23, 2013, on how science, technology, and innovation (STI) “ruled the world,” the editors gave a scathing rebuke of the government and its research scientists. Any attempt to paraphrase the editorial will not do it justice; so, we have decided to present it, almost verbatim, so readers can feel the impact themselves:
“SCIENCE, technology and innovation rule the world. Their mastery has unleashed economic prosperity in many countries, guaranteeing a good life for citizens. The United States of America, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Canada and Italy, all members of the coveted G7 – the group of the most industrialised nations of the world – owe their global economic dominance to advances in STI. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, are not too far behind the G7; China, specifically, has hit the super highway of economic success because of its use of STI to leverage production.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is not doing well in this sphere – no thanks to a melange of factors. No doubt, the lip service paid to education by our leaders over the years is critical here. But the situation is not helped by the attitude of our scientists, who seem not to have a deep craving for scientific enquiry anymore. The upshot is the country’s growth and development backwardness. This is against the backdrop of the fact that over 20 research institutes dot Nigeria’s landscape, and even more universities and polytechnics exist.
So grave is the situation that the President of Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, in a recent media interview, challenged his professional colleagues to get in the groove through research that impact on the society. He seemingly queried the worth of a Nigerian scientist of today. One of his concerns was the country’s dependence on less endowed West African neighbours for the production of vaccines used in the campaign against yellow fever and polio epidemics. He said, “I know for a fact that we can’t manufacture reagents. But this wasn’t the case in the 1980’s. There is no reason why Nigeria should be depending on other countries for its vaccine. We had a vaccine manufacturing firm in Yaba, Lagos in 1994, which has gone under. It is lamentable that a country like Senegal is also one of the countries producing vaccines for us. If you look at scientific journals all over the world, what make the news are scientific discoveries, but what have Nigerian scientists done so far….? Presently, we have failed the country.”
This is a most damning charge that should serve as a rude awakening. Tomori, a noted virologist, and immediate past Vice-Chancellor of Redeemer’s University, Ogun State, is obviously in a vantage position to dissect the problems of the scientific fraternity. Nigerian scientists’ failing was palpable in the Pfizer polio vaccine clinical trials in Kano State, in 1996, which resulted in the death of children. As a matter of fact, such an experiment could not have been carried out in climes where relevant institutions and professionals are conscientiously at work.
While the Tomori generation may have failed, it behoves him as president of our science academy to activate a pragmatic drive that will safeguard the nation’s future in STI. At the behest of the Federal Government, an international advisory body for STI was empanelled by UNESCO in 2004, with the task of reviewing investment in science, industry, innovation, performance of government, academics, science and technological institutions. The body, which also had the United Nations Development Organisation, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and World Intellectual Property Organisation, was required to develop a funding template, upgrade capacity for local scientists and review STI in the light of global changes. At another summit – a donor conference for Nigeria in 2006 to fund multi-layer STI action– the then President Olusegun Obasanjo pledged to provide $5 billion for the National Science Foundation. From the turn of events, the promise was a mere political statement. This is food for thought for Tomori, since the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan is a scientist.
The country’s enthusiasm or interest in science cannot be narrowed down to launching a satellite developed by another country into space. What serious-minded nations do is to develop robust, well-funded STI with set targets. Israel is a typical example with its six-year strategy that runs to 2017. The initiative entails 30 per cent increased funding for its universities and related research centres with the goal of wooing its scientists abroad back home. How this could be replicated here is a big challenge though, when, with just N1 billion each, the Federal Government is establishing some new universities.
Accreditation of science programmes in many universities by the National Universities Commission is dubiously obtained through hiring of equipment and academics from other institutions. These facilities disappear as soon as the exercise is over. Ironically, this charade is overseen by scientists. Facilities in older citadels of learning, such as the University of Ibadan, have become obsolete. A clear case is the Space Research Centre set up in 1959 at the university, one of the five best of its kind in the world then, but 50 years after, not a single space data could be obtained from there, according to a physicist.
However, as grim as the picture seems, the universalism of science affords Nigerian scientists engaged in serious research opportunity to secure grants and facilities internationally. Such first-rate brains are still at home and even more among Nigerians in the Diaspora. For those at home, a rethink of strategy has become imperative. A situation where some are indifferent to paying dues of their professional bodies abroad, which incapacitates them from updating their skills, is a big setback for both the affected and the country. It is high time the country produced an Alexander Fleming, Edward Jenner and other inventors who used their creativity or genius to serve humanity.”
The strong indicators of the deep poverty and state of disarray of Nigeria’s intellectual space have assumed more pernicious dimensions since this radical evaluation. Nationwide, Nigerians have grown despondent at the increasing evidence of the failure of the Nigerian state; disadvantaged students and graduates continue to bear the brunt of an insecure future necessitated by the ineffectiveness of social structures, the education system topping the list. The current research structure and the method do not appear meaningful enough to equip students and graduates with vital, essential knowledge and skills for “integration of hands-on experiences” to face and tackle problems in public life1. As a matter of coincidence, as we publish this article, the ASUU has embarked on yet another indefinite strike action. How can this ill-equipped, incapacitated yet critical potential workforce – the ‘future of Nigeria’- not achieving the full capacity of knowledge and mastery from exposure to research and innovation, possess the required competence to drive development?
Concerned individuals in government have also joined to express disappointment in the state of R&I in Nigeria. For example, Dr. Umar Bindir, former Director General of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) and former Secretary of Adamawa State Government, appeared to agree that Nigerian scientists had failed the country, when he remarked in early 2014 (personal communication): “But the onus is on us to transform how we do research, whose results will be used to embody solutions so that we too can innovate to push our nation to the next level of modern development. Yes! We have many PhD holders and indeed many, many full professors, but their impact on the socio-economic development of the nation has been negligible.” About the same time, another government official at TETFund (Tertiary Education Trust Fund) office in Abuja confronted me with: “Profs don’t know how to write proposals; all they know is sell lecture notes to their students.”
Relevant professional organizations also have opinions regarding the state of research in Nigeria and other West African countries. For example, the West African Research Innovation and Management Association (WARIMA) has identified some barriers that “prevent these researchers from achieving their potentials2.” These include (1) chronic underinvestment in universities and research institutions, (2) lack of access to current research findings, and (3) low wages and poor career prospects for researchers. WARIMA believes that, if these barriers were overcome, R&I and research uptake for national and regional development would be strengthened.
While these barriers are real, WARIMA appears to place the blame entirely on outside influences, most notably the governments in the region and funding agencies, while absolving the researchers themselves and research institutions of any responsibilities. The newspaper editorial, on the other hand, spreads the blame among the regional governments, research scientists, and universities. Government officials blame research scientists and universities. Yes, we concur with the consensus that the Nigerian research landscape is in distress. It is framed in this pathetic shape today. However, it is not just enough to complain. It is also important to proffer remedies, which is what we have done in this article. We are interested in dismantling this framed picture, and ‘pushing barriers;’ after all, life is all about motion in varying qualities, shapes and tempo, and nothing is static. The newspaper editorial identified some remedies that don’t seem to have taken root since the editorial emerged. Looking at it critically, it is clear that the Nigerian R&I landscape has gotten worse, at the same time the trajectory of global research has changed. The first challenge, therefore, is for Nigerian researchers to understand this new trajectory, and then embrace the bandwagon of global research.
The trajectory of global research points toward collaborative research. This is the reality of global research experience. Understanding this reality is crucial and central and is the first step towards resolving the lethargy and stagnation in ideas and efforts. Collaborative research spurs new forms and levels of knowledge for problem-solving. Relational knowledge helps to establish relationships within the universal flux, motivates interest and curiosity, and validates the research experience. It immerses in the flow of thoughts and ideas in the space of time, and focuses on the process of change and driving change. It shuns one-view perspective, while embracing interdependence. The complexity of modern societal and developmental problems that researchers are asked and required to tackle is beyond the solution of any one individual. This complexity has led to strong global advocacy for collaborative research as the most effective way to find suitable solutions. The advocacy is right and timely because it has been proven that diverse teams solve problems better than any one individual could. The Ebola crisis of 2014 represents a good example of a complex problem. Another is the yet evolving Covid-19 pandemic.
Education of the Ebola crisis: Collaboration applied to solve a complex problem
The Ebola crisis hit West Africa in 2014. The public health community panicked that if the Ebola reached Nigeria, the whole world would be in great jeopardy because of Nigeria’s large population and its strategic location in world travel. Of course, Ebola did hit Nigeria, but instead of the feared proliferation, Ebola was stopped dead on its tracks, with comparatively minimal number of deaths. This is a monumental achievement that Nigeria has yet to claim and receive full credit for. The Ebola success serves as a tribute to the ingenuity of Nigerian people, and a strong testament that, if Nigeria were determined, it could solve its myriad societal, economic and developmental challenges. Stopping Ebola required the leadership of Nigerians like Dr. Jide Idris and the late Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, cooperation and collaboration of other medical personnel, state and federal governments, airlines, and ordinary Nigerians who observed the rules strictly, and allowed themselves to be quarantined if they showed any signs of Ebola. People arriving Nigeria by air voluntarily submitted themselves to body-temperature checks before stepping onto the Nigerian soil. Dr. Adadevoh’s impressive piece of diagnostic work stood out, as well as her “stubbornness” when she came under intense pressure to let the index patient leave – a move that could have had catastrophic consequences. In most developed countries, the manner Ebola was contained in Nigeria would have been the subject of multiple movies and documentaries. A single film, “93 Days,” dedicated to Dr. Adadevoh, tells the story of the treatment of the index Ebola patient by Dr. Adadevoh and other medical staff at First Consultant Medical Center, Lagos. How quickly the movie fizzled out is another indication of how Nigeria has failed to devise strategies to propagate and benefit from its research achievements.
However, just like we study, reference or adopt the theories, methods, or techniques of pioneers and pacesetters with remarkable research and knowledge breakthroughs that have changed our world in science, social sciences, arts, and humanities, Dr. Adadevoh, and her small team is a tangible, influential, relatable practical centralized model or example of innovative collaborative research breakthrough worth studying and emulating in our context. This is an innovation in our recent history that we need to and must hold on to and not let slip. As reflected in the Harvard Business Review of July 8, 2020, there’s a consensus in global research that “a major determinant of how organizations handle crises…. Is through collaboration”. During a highly challenging and difficult time, long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Adadevoh’s medical organization had handled a major health crisis and made a “huge difference…through maximization of collaboration3.” The Nigerian research community needs to and must tap into this model and example to make subsequent relevant contributions and secure a unique spot in cultural competency in scientific research and technological advancement in the 21st century. As the world has embraced collaborative research as the avenue to solve complex problems, the following questions become pertinent for Nigerian researchers:
- Do Nigerian researchers across the spectrum of social and scientific engagements feel any responsibility for research and innovation not colored by ethnic, religious, or class bias and prejudices, to provide benefits “for the greater public good” – to reference the research goal of Dr. Adadevoh? Are Nigerian researchers willing to engage in dynamic exchange and cross-fertilization of ideas with others, places, events, subjects, and materials in the research space? Are they focused on change and the structure of change, namely the nature and qualities of motion and impact of the research experience? Are they adequately trained, experienced, prepared, and willing to engage in collaborative research?
- Can they afford creative resources, intuition, empathy, and painstaking thoroughness to sustain and accomplish the types of research that provide solutions to problems? Do they have a conducive environment for collaborative research and the capacity to channel their individual research achievements through the full range of expertise needed to get to the point of impactful research uptake?
- What identifiable structures, raw materials, new techniques or blueprints are available and readily accessible, and can be meaningfully explored with relative ease? What efforts are being made to encourage partnerships and support sustainable research linkages among local and international universities, research institutes, government and industry?
Challenges facing collaborative research in Nigeria
While pondering the above questions, some fundamental issues unique to the Nigerian research landscape deserve attention. The issues, for now, belong in the realm of hypothesis and may require robust experiments to test and propose solutions to them:
- The Nigerian tertiary educational system is relatively young. The system therefore lacks sustained research culture. For example, Nigeria’s premier University of Ibadan started in 1948 – 73 years ago – as a college of the University of London. The initial objective for the college was development of educated manpower for post independent Nigeria. Research and innovation were not in the front burner. Ibadan did not sever its umbilical cord of London until October 1962, and did not start awarding its own degrees until July 1965, almost two years behind Nigeria’s second university, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, that started October 1960. In essence, there have been slow, unsure, and unsteady transitions. Important gaps in facilitating, conducting, managing and sustaining research were not bridged, just like a viable space for research has not been encouraged and supported.
- Universities operate under the “Ivory Tower” mentality. This is the belief or practice that creates an essence of superiority and exclusivity. Some universities avoid collaborating with others to avoid “tainting” or “lowering” themselves. In these environments people at the top of the academic ladder – the professors – tend to assume superior knowledge, and challenging this status is considered impolite, with negative consequences. A conducive research environment of inclusive social and emotional support can help to reduce ‘anxiety and frustrations,’ bridge gaps, form linkages, and encourage diverse ideas and participation.
- Respect comes first, ahead of correctness and challenge. Complicating the Ivory Tower mentality is the cultural “respect for elders” that makes it difficult for a younger academic to voice out or exhibit a superior knowledge that may be counter to the position of his/her elder supervisor or professor. Fear of reprisal creates a low level of assertiveness.
- Prejudices of ethnic/tribal and religious diversity. Deep-rooted prejudices are still very much alive everywhere, including university campuses, despite increased interactions, associations, intermarriages, and social networks. The prejudices prevent the citizenry from knowing each other better beyond the thin façade of what makes them different. Understanding each other’s perspectives is a key ingredient of research collaboration. When this is lacking, researchers encounter individuals who are opposed to any form of collaboration. These individuals also tend to embrace stigmatization, such as the so-called “Nigerian Factor” – the erroneous perception that Nigerians cheat and are untrustworthy. As a university professor once groused, “You tell a Nigerian colleague your idea, the next moment he takes your idea and publishes on it.”
- Unstable governments. Nigeria has gone through episodes and various levels of political instability which has led to underfunding of education, generally, and research, in particular. Research policies have either been neglected, or funds meant for research have been diverted to fight insurgency and boost security systems.
In practice, however, useful research appears to be going on in the tertiary institutions and research institutes. Every year, Nigerian universities turn out thousands of graduates with Masters and PhD degrees. At this level of turnout, it is safe to assume that research universities are doing a good job reinforcing research, innovation, and research uptake. But where are the research outputs being channeled, especially those from the PhDs? Decades of these PhDs should comprise a measure or assessment of progress. To gauge the reinforcement efforts by Nigeria’s tertiary institutions, the following rhetorical questions may be helpful:
- How well are the tertiary institutions managing the little research funding they are getting, and leveraging the funding to achieve greater research objectives? How are they managing the highly limited government incentives to build and promote quality beneficial collaborative research? For example, when TETFund (Tertiary Education Trust Fund) provides research grants to the tertiary institutions, how well do the researchers manage their research projects, in terms of team work, quality research, regular progress reports, and high quality final technical and financial reports? How many of the qualifying federal and state institutions are even taking advantage of this little resource provided by TETFund?
- How timely are the institutions modifying their curricula to teach skills pertinent to collaborative research?
- How well are postgraduate students supervised, mentored and identified as future research leaders?
- How often do the heads of these institutions, individually or collectively, try to influence policy or advise the government of how best to maximize return on its research investments?
- How many of the institutions maintain functional offices for research administration and management?
- How often do the researchers avail themselves of skills acquisition and networking opportunities to improve their knowledge of research findings and research collaboration opportunities?
If each question attracts an affirmative answer, we are fine. Otherwise, we are deficient in the way we conduct research in our tertiary institutions.
INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH ACTIVITIES
Promotion and wage earnings appear to be a major motivation for conducted research, ahead of promoting innovation and technology, achieving ranking, and procuring external research funding. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), appears to paraphrase in its website the state of institutional research activities: “No institutional framework and enabling environment for sustainable research culture, leading to difficulty to attract international funding4.” Do other Nigerian universities share these same criteria? Let’s take them one-by-one:
Lack of Institutional framework – Information obtained from the websites of selected universities, reveals diverse research compositions. UNN, for example, operates research Centers and Institutes, as well as Research Groups. Each group has a coordinator and shares a broad research interest. Currently, there are 165 such groups. The groups receive minimal financial support from the university. A professor is the Director of UNN Research Groups. UNN also has a Directorate of International Collaboration, charged with linking up with international institutions for mutual benefits that include collaborative research projects. The University of Ibadan (UI) has more elaborate research structure with a professor as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) of Research, Innovation and Strategic Partnerships (RISP). The Office of Research Management is structured for research administration, management, legal and intellectual property functions. RISP also subscribes with Research Africa Professional that provides information on international research funding opportunities. The website also lists research Centers and Institutes, as well as local and international sources of previous research grants. At Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, research is conducted in several fields of technology through individual Faculties and University research centers of excellence. Examples include the Center for Space Research, and Center for Energy Research and Development. At Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, the University Research Committee, headed by the DVC (Academic), is the highest research management body. The university has elaborate research policy and strategic plan. University of Ilorin (Unilorin) has a professor as the DVC Research Technology and Innovation. Unilorin also has Centers and Divisions that support research training, national and international collaborations, equipment and grants, as well as three main research groups – Biomedical Engineering, Biodiesel and Biofuel. The university also subscribes with Research Africa for international research funding opportunities.
The cost benefit of contracting outside agencies for international funding opportunities is not clear. Also unclear are definitive initiatives for identifying research strengths, especially those that would place the universities in the map of global ranking and prestige.
Lack of enabling environment for sustainable research culture – Lack of resources is a big problem5,6. Funding is low. Statistics compiled for the African research landscape, shows only 1.3 % of research money spent globally is spent in Africa. This dismal percentage includes funding from outside the continent, implying that research investments made by African governments are miniscule. The same statistics shows that the proportion of researchers in the African population is approximately 27% lower than in the UK or U.S.A, and the percentage of Africans pursuing postgraduate studies is three times lower than the global average. The same gaps exist in the facilities and equipment needed to conduct cutting-edge research.
But even where some resources exist, they are badly disjointed. For example, individuals, governments, and organizations that fund and conduct R&D in Africa do not have any mechanism for systematic collaboration. Because of this, African researchers miss the network and efficiencies that result from innovative collaboration. Their focus, therefore, is limited to getting whatever resources they can and publishing their papers in collaboration. With this limited focus, they are not well positioned to lead the type of research that would solve the continent’s problems. Consequently, no permanent collaborative research capacity is left in the place that future researchers could benefit from. Similar to the Ebola case, researchers are left holding their individual research achievements, with little or no connection to the complete range of expertise needed to get to the point of impactful research uptake. Citizens are the eventual losers in that they are deprived of new products or services that improve their standard of living. The deprivation, in turn, kills their desire to access and apply research knowledge that could provide local solutions to various developmental challenges.
Lack of enabling research environment goes beyond resources. Unfriendly and hostile research environments can emanate from corrupt practices, such as political intrigues, exclusions, and outright unethical behaviors. Examples include restricted announcement of research solicitations and indiscriminate award of research grants. Some lecturers have been known to use threats, coercion, and friendships to add their names in new awards and ongoing research projects. Hardworking and conscientious research faculty who are victims of these corrupt behaviors get left out of productive research.
International research funding – Regardless of perceived political maneuvers, international funding agencies are sympathetic and have helped to ease African plight, particularly, in the areas of health, agriculture/food safety and environment/climate change. Researchers can tap international goodwill and funding resources to improve their research capacities. Agencies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EU’s Horizon Europe (formerly Horizon 2020), U.K.’s Department of International Development, the Ford Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust are potential sources of funding. Others include the Carnegie Foundation, UNESCO, WHO, USAID, NIH, AESA (Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa), AU (African Union), CARI (Coalition for African Research and Innovation), CODESTRA (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa), GRC (Global Research Council), the University of Cambridge-Africa Partnership, and many, many more.
The AU, for instance, will support “stimulating, collaborative, internationally competitive, cutting-edge, fundamental and development-oriented research in areas having a direct bearing on the technical, economic and social development of Africa.” GRC wants “to be a resource for those institutions wishing to build a world-class research landscape.” CARI recognizes that “to succeed, we need to create conditions that are conducive to scientific and technological innovation: more R&D partners with more skills, more funds, more support, and more ambition.”
Each of these international organizations has strict guidelines and expectations for awarding research grants. They all favor collaborative research projects that target complex problems. Researchers must also realize that even if the research idea and the principal or key investigator originated in Africa, the international organization, invariably, prefers a foreign research team member to manage the research project. This is not a matter of discrimination, but of trust. They suspect, or know that African researchers lack proper post-award research management that entails efficient tracking of financial transactions and compliance with technical and financial progress reports. In rare cases where they allow local principal investigators to manage research projects and funds, the projects may still be terminated prematurely for any lapses in research management. Worse still, the research organization and principal investigator could end up blacklisted. It is, in part, for these reasons that nearly 70% of the research meant to solve African problems are performed outside the continent7. The other reason given is that Africa lacks adequate and the proper infrastructure, facilities and equipment to conduct cutting-edge research.
Lack of structure and focus at government agencies
Governments play a vital role in research and innovation. They are partners, as well as providers and supporters of resources. Governments also constitute a huge market place for products of research and innovation. When governments fail to act in any of these capacities, research and innovation falter. That is the case with Nigeria. The Nigerian government has a wonderful science, technology and innovation policy published by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology8. If the policy were implemented, just 50%, Nigeria would be in a great research position. But that is not the case; the policy appears to be on paper only. Furthermore, bureaucratic bottlenecks persist. The agencies that fund and manage research activities, such as TETFund, Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, and National Universities Commission (NUC) lack proper structure and focus for research procurement and management of their grants. TETFund, for example, grants billions of Naira as interventions for Institutional Based Research (IBR) and National Research Fund (NRF). But these interventions are neither regular nor well managed. The agency lacks research or program managers that one can call anytime and get proper answers. Indexed or catalogued repositories of final reports are either missing, or not made available to the universities, leading to missed collaborative research opportunities. The above inefficiencies, in part, account for little or no return on Nigeria’s research investments.
Lack of industry/business support and partnership
Industry/business support of research in Nigerian universities is relatively non-existent, compared with the level of partnership between industry/business and universities in developed countries. The oil and gas industry may be the only exception, in that it provides some support in the form of technical workshops, buildings, vehicles, computer hardware and software it donates to geology departments of Nigerian universities. But the oil industry could do better by conducting intentional and strategic research projects that develop local technologies.
The goal is to stimulate creativity and achieve excellence in research and scholarship. From the onset, Nigerian researchers are handicapped because of the absence of sustained research culture they can grow into. This is unfortunate because of the negative public perception of their output. But what the public also need to understand is that having a PhD degree does not automatically confer on the holder the capability to develop award-winning research proposals, conduct innovative research, and contribute productively within a research group. These are not automatic skills; they come with time, mainly by doing, and if reinforced with adequate resources, active mentorship and training. A disservice most academics do to themselves and their institutions is to hide their deficiencies in research skills, either because of ego of being called professors, or pride. In the first place, publishing papers, a primary criterion for academic promotions, is a different ballgame from developing winning research proposals or managing research projects. One is cooperative while the other is competitive. Publishing a paper is cooperative, from the initial manuscript submission, through multiple reviews, to the final editing and “polishing” by journal editors. Developing winning proposals, on the other hand, is competitive. There is a lot that goes into developing competitive research proposals and, if successful, managing research projects and grants. Multiple researchers compete against one another for limited funds. Each research group must therefore present a strong case. A research proposal could be rejected for any number of reasons, including rambling, bad grammar, neglecting proposal guidelines, choosing weak topics, or even the disposition of a reviewer. A funded research project could also be terminated for project mismanagement. To improve their chances of winning grants, research institutions need to discover their research strengths and support those researchers and research groups that fit into or contribute such strengths.
In the hierarchy of providing remedy, creating and/or improving existing institutional research structure comes first. Creating a functional research structure should be the direct responsibility of the institution, and should come at very little expenditure. The structure at the University of Ibadan stands out. A professor heads the powerful office of Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Strategic Partnership (DVC-RISP) that is charged with enhancing the university’s international profile and visibility, establishing strategic partnerships with world-class institutions, and seeking new ways of enhancing the university’s revenue generation capacity. Under this office are several operational programs that are charged with different aspects of research at the University, including the Research Management Office (RMO) that is responsible for the central coordination and management of research conducted by researchers in the institution.
Creating an enabling environment for sustainable research culture is the responsibility of diverse entities, including institutional administrators, governments, individuals, alumni, philanthropies, and local businesses. These entities provide initial resources, such as internal research funding, research faculty, graduate students, facilities and equipment, as well as equitable management of resources. Without a strong and functional institutional research structure, it would almost be impossible to have a suitable environment for productive research. Available resources could be wasted or misapplied. Funding from international agencies is not automatic, and becomes more difficult in the absence of a functional research structure and initial indigenous resources. Competition for international funding is fierce, and every competitor must present their best case and qualifications, including the ability to manage technically and financially complex projects.
Effective remedies would achieve the following objectives:
- Create and/or maintain and strengthen research structure and university-wide services for research administration and support management of all sources of research grants. The structure must be functional and proactive in seeking opportunities for research funding, locally, regionally, and globally.
- Encourage and facilitate capacity development in research, proposal development, and research project management skills.
- Identify academic departments or postgraduate fields that have the potential to achieve leadership in their areas, either locally, regionally or worldwide, and build research leadership in those departments or fields. With time, inter-disciplinary areas and collaboration would emerge, with each department still maintaining discipline-specific strengths. Initially, the leadership areas may be few, but they are the ones that would place the university in the map of global ranking and prestige. This approach appears better than poorly-funded research groups whose research leadership at local, regional or global levels remain questionable.
- Provide high quality, research-oriented postgraduate education that nurtures and retains talent, as well as creates a network of well-trained future research leaders. Such an education exposes postgraduate students to inter-disciplinary courses as well as soft skills necessary for team work. The common practice of a sole supervisor for a student appears outdated and should be replaced with a research committee that includes members from other disciplines and, if possible, other universities. This arrangement would expose students to additional mentorship that their primary supervisor might not be able to provide. Mutually-beneficial collaboration between faculty and students should also be encouraged.
- Initiate and develop research partnerships with academia, industry and government. Take advantage of any resources available through partnerships. Encourage participation in TETFund’s research solicitations and activities, and ensure there is a process in place that gives feedback to responders.
- Promote collaboration and strengthen the capacity of universities to deliver applied research that addresses local and regional developmental challenges.
- Link up with the world for effective collaborative research and funding. Although the initial engagement may be in the capacity of a contract collaborator to foreign institutions and scientists, the researcher’s aspiration should include becoming a principal investigator, accumulating infrastructure, getting resources, and acquiring adequate training in research management.
Achieving these objectives would lead to the ultimate goal: Raise a critical mass of excellent Nigerian research leaders and academics capable of:
- Developing quality research proposals that attract national and international funding.
- Becoming Principal Investigators (PI) in collaborative research teams. PIs have the power to shape and influence the research culture, conversations, and research practices.
- Managing their funded research projects – technically and financially – at a level that satisfies global funding standards.
- Leveraging their PI status to procure adequate research infrastructure – equipment and facilities – to conduct cutting-edge R&D that would identify and tackle Nigeria’s developmental challenges, as well as contribute to the sum of global knowledge.
- Mentoring huge numbers of talented and innovative future research leaders that Nigeria will need to sustain its economic progress and future wellbeing of its citizens. Such research leaders should be capable of building their research into products, and trained to be entrepreneurs. For sustained growth, the researchers should be exposed to leaders from academia, industry, government and finance that can serve as advisors, mentors, partners, and strategic investors.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The complexity of modern societal and developmental problems in Nigeria demands strong advocacy for research collaboration as the best approach to find appropriate solutions. However, tribal differences, long-held prejudices, cultural behaviors, relative youth of the tertiary institutions coupled with lack of established research culture, pose potential impediments to effective research collaboration. The seriousness of the impediments demands attention in order to prevent further deterioration of the existing challenges in Nigeria’s research landscape. Lack of institutional structure and enabling environment for sustainable research culture have been cited as deterrents to attracting international funding. Add these to lack of focus and structure on the part of governmental agencies charged with providing resources for impactful research. Absence of robust and functional research structures at the research institutions affects their ability to sustain a thriving environment for research and to secure international funding. International research funding agencies appear sympathetic to African developmental challenges and are investing a lot of money to eradicate disease, improve agriculture and food safety, as well as clean up the environment. To attract these funds, Nigeria’s research institutions need to continuously develop high quality research proposals, through developing superior applied research-oriented postgraduate education, identifying and nurturing research leaders, and building leadership in their areas of research strength. Furthermore, they need to initiate and develop research partnerships with academia, industry, government and finance, and continuously encourage and facilitate capacity development in research administration, research project management, and entrepreneurship.
Nigeria, like the rest of the world, is confronted with a myriad of societal and developmental challenges that need drastic solutions. Nigeria needs no extra motivation than the universal acceptance that research and innovation are the bedrock of the successful development of countries around the world. The long gestation period of research and innovation dictates that Nigeria can no longer wait to begin substantial investment in this endeavor. It would be an understatement to say that Nigeria’s tertiary education is in jeopardy. It lacks adequate content because scientific research – the essence of education and bedrock of learning and innovation – is largely missing. Nigeria needs to pay serious attention to the content of research and how this content is facilitated, in terms of structure, quality, and quantity, while also adapting to the norms of the global research community of the 21st century. There is an urgent need and necessity for institutions charged with research and innovation to shift from the current status to one that embraces and nurtures growth through practical, culture-sensitive innovation, and cultivates partnerships, collaborations, and multidisciplinary approaches. A functional research structure that promotes efficiency, and contributes to global scholarship must be vigorously built and established on firm foundations. Finally, and very importantly, the Nigerian government must devise strategies that connect research achievements to the point of impactful research uptake – where Nigerians can see improvements in their standard of living. ALL hands must be on deck for all the above to be achieved.
Nigerians hunger for leaders that would take them to the moon. Only those leaders that commit to invest heavily in research and innovation have the best chance to satisfy this quest.
- Sarter, EK, 2020, Reflections on a Collaborative Approach to Teaching Research Methods in Public Administration.: Sage Publishing – Teaching Public Administration, Vol.38, Issue 2, p.101-112. http://doi.org/10.1177/0144739419875177
- Gardner, H.K. and Matviak, I. 2020. 7 Strategies for Promoting Collaboration in a Crises: Collaboration and Teams: Harvard Business Review, July 8.
- WARIMA 2018 Conference and Call for Abstracts.
- University of Nigeria, Nsukka website: www.unn.edu.ng (accessed April 14, 2018, and March 8, 2022).
- Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI).
- African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI).
- Park, P., 2014, Funding Research in Africa: The Scientist, November (www.the-scientist.com).
- National Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Policy, 2012 Edition, published by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.