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Policy-research imperative in Nigeria’s development process

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Continued from yesterday
The crisis of research-policy nexus is a microcosm of the larger challenge of research dynamics in Nigeria. What we have observed about public administration percolates down from the larger higher education problematic in Nigeria. If research in Nigeria’s higher education sector is not able to feed the policy intelligence and action research needs, it is essentially because Nigeria’s underdevelopment has also happened to her tertiary education and its research component.

The enormous challenge faced by higher education research in Nigeria is that of how to effectively hold the two ends of global significance and local relevance together. It is the challenge of thinking global and acting local.

However, this is a high-sounding formula that is not easily realized in a third world educational context like Nigeria. One all-round situation is the dissonance between research methodology, global best practices and local realities. I am speaking about a situation where research methodologies are not cutting edge sufficiently to capture what is wrong and proffer creative solutions. Indeed, courses in research methodologies are not as robust or are far between in the programmes of most Nigerian universities. There are reports in technical and popular media about how Nigerian academics not only fail to understand the rudiments of writing grant-winning proposals, but also even failing to access local research grants, like those provided by TETFUND.

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There is also the lamentable lack of research and development (R&D) that connects the universities with local industries and private sector. It is doubtful how many universities are engaged in R&D that brings the universities as sites of research into critical and productive relationship with industries for the development of significant innovation that the Nigerian state can deploy in the service of its development agenda. It seems to me that a lot of development challenge can be taken up and resolved within this public-private partnership between universities and the private sector in attending to development and governance challenges. Why is this strategy not being explored?

The answer lies in between the perception of what government is capable of doing and what the government should really do. Public universities in Nigeria are oriented on the subvention culture: vice chancellors go every month to Abuja to receive their quota of the oil money as their operational subvention. And most of these universities spent these subventions on overheads, rather than in the development of innovative research. And the dissociation of government itself from the understanding of the utility of the universities and their research capacities is not helping matters, especially in terms of research funding.

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The solution is to be found in a concerted effort on both sides of the divides to collaborate in raising the research-policy nexus to a cutting-edge level that makes Nigeria visible in the global research conversation. This requires, for instance, undermining the anti-intellectualism that pervades government’s perception of higher education. And the universities themselves have a most significant role to play in this regard, in the deployment of their research portfolio towards fundamental development matters in policy friendly templates.

In critically attending to their research portfolio, the universities, through the public-private relationship with the private sectors, push the boundaries of development innovativeness in ways that draw the conscious attention of the government at all levels. If the University of Ibadan innovate with the challenge of farming and husbandry in the southwest, the University of Nigeria does the same with the problem of erosion in the eastern part of Nigeria, the Niger Delta University critically develop a research framework that speaks to oil spillage, and the Ahmadu Bello University attends to desertification in the north, then the government is forced to take these institutions seriously and facilitate the required funding of research. TETFUND is already doing so much in this regard. The universities just need to get more involved in a win-win problem-solving endeavor.

Concluded.

Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, professor of public policy & Directing Staff, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.

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