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University as catalyst for national development in post-COVID-19 era – Part 4

By Oyewale Tomori
15 March 2022   |   2:46 am
Universities contribute solutions to local societal challenges. Here in Nigeria, university staff members serve as critical allies to governments and communities by providing comprehensive,

Universities contribute solutions to local societal challenges. Here in Nigeria, university staff members serve as critical allies to governments and communities by providing comprehensive, independent assessments of issues ranging from healthcare to cultural issues and community development. Facilities in some universities such as museums and zoos serve their home communities.

The open debate system and freedom of expression in the university is an asset for discussing national development devoid of politics.

Improvement of life through education. It is well known that access to higher education improves lives, enhances self-knowledge, employment opportunities and promotes civic participation.

The university is the agent of social mobility and social empowerment. They are sites for knowledge creation, dissemination, and scrutiny. To achieve this, and have a positive impact on national development, universities must be well-funded and resourced through public and private sources
Let me open the rounding off of this lecture with this statement. Long before COVID-19 came to disrupt our life, destabilize our livelihood, or stall our development and alter our lifestyle, we had commenced the drift down into underdevelopment.

COVID-19 only came to knock the nail into our coffin of underdevelopment. And we have a choice to let it complete the destruction or to collectively bring ourselves back from the brink of destruction and rise from the ashes of fragmentation to become a new strong and vibrant nation that will take its rightful place in the sane human society.

As has been demonstrated by other countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, China, and Indonesia that have moved from the underdeveloped status to the current advanced State, no country can move out of the vicious circle of poverty except by utilizing the new sources of power available through science and technology, rightly applied.

It is obvious that Nigeria has not yet shown enough and genuine commitment to applying science and technology to solving the problems of underdevelopment – illiteracy, unemployment, insecurity, hunger, and poverty. If Nigeria must be transformed into a developed nation, if we employ science and technology to solve the problems of underdevelopment, then science and technology activities, as well as education, must be adequately funded.
Nigeria has neglected science and misapplied technology to truncate her orderly development and progress. History has shown that when a nation is willing to change, its people reinvent themselves in a new process of creative thinking. Nigerians must have new and creative thinking about the role of science and technology in stimulating and advancing national development. Government must stop paying lip service to science and technology, and adequately fund science and research activities. Researchers and the academic community must use science to positively impact the daily life of the people of Nigeria. Industries must collaborate with scientists and the government to advance the country technologically and economically. We must popularise science and make it the property of the people of Nigeria. Science and technology must be inculcated into the culture and thinking of the citizens and introduced early into the education of Nigerian children from the primary school level. Nigerians must appreciate that no nation genuinely develops neglecting science and misapplying technology.

I do remember that in 2006, our President Obasanjo announced a $5 billion endowment fund for the establishment of a National Science Foundation (NSF). This attracted global attention, including comments and an editorial in Nature.

The editorial, while calling the plan “far-sighted”, also described setting up a politically independent science agency with an endowment to ensure long-term viability as an “eminently sensible use of windfall oil revenues”.

The Nature editorial concluded that “if it all comes to fruition, Obasanjo will be leaving a “spectacular legacy” for science not just in Nigeria, but also for the continent” Obasanjo left office without a kobo released to the stillborn NSF.

The same Obasanjo had earlier in 2001, donated US$ 5 million to the African Academy of Science, to promote inter-African cooperation and integration through effective application of science and technology that are important to the continent. His successor in 2012 decided to revive the fund under a new name: The National Science Research, Technology, and Innovation Fund, as an independent board headed by President Jonathan himself.

Up till the time he left office, no fund was released. With the current government, we may be seeing the light at the end of the dark tunnel of neglect of science and technology.

In March 2016, the Federal Government announced the set-up of an N3 billion National Research Fund. In August 2017, the federal government inaugurated a 21-man committee to manage the national research fund.  The eighth parliament of the Senate in 2016 passed the National Research and Innovation Bill. We waited to see progress on the announcement and the implementation of the Bill. Once bitten, twice shy, and we have been bitten more than once!!

To be fair to our government, it has initiated programmes for the funding of research, e.g., Education Tax Fund (ETF), Science and Technology Education Post-Basic project (STEPB). However, the success and performance of these interventions have not attained the desired objectives. These agencies have not operated independently, with both grantor and grantee, often not subject to accountability and rigorous auditing. 

According to the Executive Chairman, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), the fund spent over N300 billion on the transformation of tertiary institutions in the country from 2009 to date. The amount was spent on the provision of infrastructure and training of lecturers with a view to prepositioning the education sector for better performance.

In addition, more than 8,000 lecturers in tertiary institutions had been sent abroad to pursue Masters and Doctorate degree programmes during the same period. However, in the Daily Trust edition of 28 September 2013, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, indicated that in the 2013 Appropriation Bill, no capital budget allocation was made to the TETFund.

He further said the activities of the fund were interventionist in nature and observed that various proprietors of these establishments have abdicated and abandoned the funding of the sector to the fund. This, he said, “has greatly reduced the impact of the fund in funding the education sector in the last five years.”

According to him, unnecessary political interference in the implementation of beneficiary’s projects, which has led to delay in execution, poor workmanship and cost overrun as well as inexperienced desk officers for the fund’s projects in the states have caused poor workmanship and mismanagement of projects.
To be continued tomorrow

Professor of virology, Tomori, delivered this convocation lecture at the University of Medical Sciences, (UNIMED), Odosida Campus, Ondo City, recently.