Okonjo-Iweala Bemoans Declining State of Science and Technology

Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has bemoaned the gaping lack of a viable science and technology sector, adding that that most, if not all sectors of an economy, are linked to it and as such is a key tool to economic development.

The minister, who made this disclosure at the weekend, at the second Prof. Bart Nnaji biennial lecture series at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (FSUT), Agbani, Enugu, said the theme, 'Science and Technology - the key to Nigeria's Transformation,' was germane. She said advances in science and technology could help to diversify the economy, by improving productivity in sectors like agriculture, while defining new ones. She lamented that productivity in Nigeria's agriculture sector which contributes about 40 per cent of the nation's Gross Domestic product (GDP), and employed more than half the workforce, still remaining low.

She said: "Developing countries cannot hope to prosper in an increasingly competitive global economy and open trading system if they do not build the appropriate science and technology capacity to produce more value-added goods and services. In fact, I can confidently say that it is the dividing line between developed nations and those less developed.

"Although Nigeria is making some contributions to the development of science and technology, we are underperforming, relative to our abundant human capital I know that Nigerian scientists are making progress, sending our own satellite into orbit. I am also aware of developments in medical science, such as drugs used in combating sickle cell and other diseases; but a majority of these remain at the formative stages and do not become main stream."

Speaking further, she added: 'There are a number of reasons for the poor state of our Science and Technology sector. Firstly, we need a better and more coherent national strategy,as the sector remains highly fragmented, lacking effective coordination."Some of these institutions have been in existence for more than 30 years, yet there is little to show for their work as Nigeria still relies on research done internationally. If public sector research institutes in other countries can develop major technological advances like the internet and the human genome project, what is wrong with our own."

"Again, our scientists complain about lack of funding. I agree that fast growing economies 'must invest in Science and Technology. Over the past decade, government's Science and Technology expenditure has been less than two per cent of the yearly budget (less than 03 per cent of GDP per year)-a grossly inadequate figure. On the way out, she said policy makers at all levels in Nigeria need to be keenly aware that few countries can achieve development goals of economic diversification; food security, improving health systems, cleaner energy, generating wealth and jobs, and reducing absolute poverty, without the scientific, engineering, and technical capacity to handle these challenges .

"Given the government's limited resources, the chances of increasing allocation to the science and techonology sector are rather slim in the short to medium term. This is why we need to focus our research efforts and expenditure on the few areas where we have comparative advantage - areas like agriculture, petrochemicals, renewable energy, and mining, to mention a few. "Also, more effective partnerships between the public and private sector should be established and also mechanisms must be put in place to improve the quality of equipment and facilities available for teaching at all levels, as well as for research at the tertiary level," she added. While noting that the outlook on the world's economy was shaky in the aftermath of the 2008/09 global financial crisis, she said the Eurozone's sovereign debt crisis continues to weigh down economic activity in Europe and beyond, leaving in its wake political instability, as seen in Italy and Greece.

Chiemelie Ezeobi