26 December 2012

Nigeria: Science and Technology Sector in 2012

The last two events that occurred in the science and technology sector closed the year 2012 with a gloomy bye bye. The events were dramas of sort. They played out between staffers of the ministry of science and technology and the minister, Professor Ita Ewa on the one part, and some director generals and a World Bank official on the other.

On December 13, a mild drama played out in Abuja when some Director Generals openly denied that they received grants from World Bank Step-B project for research and development.

A World Bank representative at the workshop on the validation of the implementation framework for the revised science, technology and innovation (ST &I) policy has, while reeling out the financial institution's charitable works in the country, said most of the agencies and departments under the ministry of science and technology had benefitted immensely from the bank's grants.

Mr. Ben Nwanze, who represented the National Coordinator of the project, Professor Michael Adikwu said that the STEP-B project has been on for close to five years and would be concluded in 2013, saying that "the project has impacted positively in all 104 unity schools and tertiary institutions as well as research institutes under the Ministry of Science and Technology across the country."

But when it was their turn to give goodwill messages, some of the DGs in the ministry's agencies disagreed with Prof Adikwu, saying World Bank has not given them any grant for research purpose.

Professor Idris Bugaje, the DG of Nigerian Institute of Chemical Research and Technology, Zaria, said the bank did not support his institute on research and development but that it only got loan from the bank through the Federal Government.

Professor Bugaje said there was need for the bank to review its grants policy if it actually meant well for the country.

He said instead of sponsoring non research institute, the World Bank should rather concentrate on institute that do research and development.

Also, the Director General of National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM) Professor Willie Siyanbola said though the World Bank Step B project was meant to improve the well being of Nigerians, the country had benefitted little from it.

"Out of all the country in Africa, Nigeria and Mozambique have not benefitted as much as other African countries in the project. Whereas the grants Ghana gets from the project is about 40 percent, Nigeria only gets about 0.5 percent from the project", he said.

In the same vein, the DG of Nigerian Institute of Leather Technology, Dr Isuwa Adamu said his institute even applied for grants but did not get any.

However, the ministry Perm Sec, Hajia Rabi Jimeta said it would be unfair to say the World Bank Step B Project has not done enough for the ministry and its agencies.

She said the ministry had benefited greatly from the Step-B project and that hundreds of projects have been done by the Bank.

As if that drama was not enough, another one played out on December 18 at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja when the protesting staffs of ministry of science and technology locked up the minister, Professor Ita Ewa in his office for three hours.

The staffs, who were protesting over unpaid salary and 'welfare', barricaded the entrance to the minister's office at the fourth floor, second phase of the secretariat complex, preventing the minister from either going out or his visitors from entering the office.

From about 11am up until about 2:30pm when the minister was eventually allowed to come out to address them, the protesting workers were banging doors, windows and tables, singing solidarity songs and abusing the minister.

The chairman of the workers union, comrade Shehu Yahaya, told journalists that they were protesting on behalf of about 103 of their colleagues whose salaries and allowances have not been paid since January.

They have been working since January yet the minister failed to approve their salary, he said.

Comrade Yahaya also said the since the minister was appointed about one and half year ago he has been junketing around the world and across the country, adding that he has failed to meet one on one with the staff over their welfare since he came into the ministry as minister.

The minister does not take low level and middle level staff welfare seriously but the senior management staffs are the ones enjoining all benefits, Yahaya said.

But the minister denied that the ministry owes worker any salary as the 'workers' who claimed they have not been paid were not employed properly into the civil service.

According to the minister, the ministry is working to iron out the issue and the result of the verification exercise done would soon be out.

He said any worker whose appointment is verified to be in accordance with civil service rule would be absorbed while those whose appointments fail verification would not be absorbed.

On the allegation that he junkets the world and across the country, the minister said he had to do that because the nature of science and technology demands that he synergies with companies and agencies across the world to make ensure the development of science and technology in the country.

At this appoint, the minister was booed and jeered by the protesting workers. He got angry and said: "I am 60 years old. I have my first degree in 1970. Let's respect age I am older than most of you here."

The ministry's Permanent Secretary, Hajia Rabi Jimeta later calmed the workers and promised that a meeting would be held between the management and the representatives of the workers to iron out the issue of welfare and also resolve the unpaid salary issue.

She said "though the ministry would look into the grievances of the workers, no worker whose education qualification does not meet up with civil service standard" would not be absorbed.

However, one of the affected staffs told journalists that they were employed after a 'proper' interview in 2011 and that all of them have requisite education qualification.

He said since they were employed about two years ago they have been collecting salaries but the minister only ordered that their salary be stopped in January.

The staff, who pleaded anonymity, said "the minister deliberately wanted to frustrate them out of service so he could employ his political loyalists."

But apart from these gloomy events, the ministry and by extension the science and technology sector fared fairly well in 2012.

The ministry started the year with the promise of partnership between it and the Korean government in February. Prof Ita Ewa said Nigeria has a lot to gain from Korea and that the Asian country would also benefit from collaborating with Nigeria. But nothing has been heard concerning the partnership since then.

In March, President Goodluck Jonathan directed all MDAs to connect to Nigeria satellite launched in December 2011 by Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT)

The directive followed the formal handing over of the Nigcomsat-1R satellite by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) to the government of Nigeria.

President Jonathan, who was represented at the handing over ceremony by the chairman of Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited governing board, Prof Turner Isoun, urged all ministries, departments and agencies to hook on the new technology to quicken activities of government in the country.

He allayed the fears of existing and potential customers that there was nothing to worry about as government has set in motion machinery to acquire Nigcomsat-2 and 3 as backups to Nigcomsat-1, in case of any unforeseen situation as it happened in the past.

The president, who recalled that one of the cardinal objectives of his administration is the need to improve the living conditions of Nigerians by empowering them through ICT, said the satellite would surely benefits the poor in many ways.

He said China has been one "of our bigger trade partners with whom we have had very robust bilateral relationship. That this satellite was replaced at no cost to Nigeria testifies to the faith and confidence that the country has in Nigeria".

Also in March, three post-incubation entrepreneurs of the National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI)'s Kano centre won the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)'s N900,000 prize for aspiring small and medium entrepreneurs in the country.

NBTI is a federal government agency in charge of training aspiring technology based entrepreneurs in the country.

The apex bank gave the budding entrepreneurs the money for their various contributions to boosting small/medium enterprises sector of the country's economy.

Aside from these major events, most of the ministry's activities were centered on taking the results of Research and Development (R&D) from the shelves to the markets. And the minister, Professor Ewa promised to take this campaign to the next level in 2013. Will the angry staff of the ministry believe him?

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