Research activities in Nigeria


NOBODY knows everything. Research is to find out what you don’t already know. In scientific research, is it worth spending much time in the laboratory with walls full of research papers? Yes, it is important because it is to know how something works or why something happened. Scientific research is to study a specific problem using scientific methods in full details.

There are more than sixty six research institutes in Nigeria including; medical, agricultural, science and technology, education and socio-economic. However, most of the research activities are in the areas of Agriculture and Medical. Opportunities to build strong research activities in other sectors are weakened by the dilution and redirection of funding for other needs, such as, expansion of higher education and political activities.

Most of the research activities are been carried out in the universities but some of the universities lack equipment for carrying out research projects. It is well known that universities with high quality research projects will attract funding from various agencies. Nowadays, there are lots of private universities in Nigeria with a common goal of trying to make as much money as possible. The Federal Government needs to compel all the private universities to make having quality research facilities as a priority. The private universities must understand that research activity is a measure of academic quality of the institution which leads to high quality teaching and education.

Due to lack of research facilities in our universities and research institutes, it is necessary to collaborate with scientists in advanced countries where working conditions for research are more favourable. Such collaboration will involve technology transfer and it is necessary to consider both the local and national needs. Technology transfer simply means a process by which basic science research and fundamental discoveries are developed into practical and commercial relevant applications and products.

The quality and significance knowledge to be gained with such collaboration is enormous; use of state-of-the-art equipment, access to up-to-date data information as well as opportunity to search past publications, peer review and publications in reputable journals.

As Nigeria is today, research is no longer a luxury as the case may be in other developing countries. Now that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, for it to maintain this standard, local solutions and innovations need to be applied at all sectors, especially in agriculture, education and health sectors. This standard can only be maintained when the population is fed, educated and healthy. In 2012, our country launched a new Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Policy which states that;

“The new policy on ST&I has its core mission the evolution of a new Nigeria that harnesses, develops and utilizes ST&I to build a large, strong, diversified, sustainable and competitive economy that guarantees a high standard of living and quality of life to its citizen. Specifically, the new ST&I Policy is designed to provide a strong platform for science, technology and innovation engagements with the private sector for the purpose of promoting sound economic transformation that is citizen centered.

According to the former Minister for Science and Technology, Dr. Ita Ewa on 27th Feb. 2012, in his keynote address during Akwa Ibom Science and Technology week in Uyo pointed out that the new policy will drive national development in all spheres, including energy, agriculture, transportation, environmental health and education. It is now three years and none of the above is accomplished. However, research activities are not encouraging due to problems facing the country, e.g. lack of stable economy, good roads, water, energy supply, quality education, etc.

The development of research in other sectors other than medical and agriculture is neglected in Nigeria due to poor funding from government and private sectors. In advanced countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, large amount of money is invested in science and technology to break the cycle of poverty.

If Nigeria can improve on research funding (private and government agencies), the scientific advancement will help to eliminate poverty and improve home grown economic development, hence, improve the quality of life. It is time for Nigeria as the most populous black nation to emulate the advanced countries. It is a good thing that the present administration under the leadership of Gen. Muhamadu Buhari has promised to look into education sector which include the development of science and technology in the country.

Nigeria is one of the leading developing nations but hasn’t demonstrated its leadership in the field of research, especially in Africa. Researchers from World Bank and Elsevier Publishers recently analysed research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for 2003 – 2012 (released Sept 2013) identified three regions in Africa; West, East and Southern Africa (except South Africa) that within the last decade, the research output had increased from 0.44 to 0.72 per cent in 2012.

Nigeria is not doing much in terms of publications due to lack of research facilities. In 2006 (Galland, J. 2010, “R&D in Developing Countries, Main characteristics and implications – Science in Technology and Society Vol 15 (1) pp 77-111), scientific publications from developing countries accounted for 20 per cent of the global share largely from Asia (14.8 per cent). China accounted for about 7 per cent. Brazil had increased its global contribution by about 50 per cent within the same period. No information about Nigeria but it is believed to be lower than1 per cent.

In 2011, the developing world published over 830,000 scholarly papers, representing just under 40 per cent of the world’s scholarly output. These countries have indeed been developing in both absolute and relative terms, as demonstrated by their increasing share of global scholarly papers (see Figure 1). The output of the developing world grew at 15 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2002 to 2011, compared to 6 per cent CAGR globally. Publications from Africa was under 50,000 in 2011 and the amount of research papers from Nigeria may be far below some other countries in the continent.

Publication growth is concentrated in Asia with large proportion from China which rose from 25 per cent in 2002 to 44% in 2011. The next three countries are India with 14 per cent, Brazil with 13% and Iran with 4.2 per cent. Looking at the regions below, Africa had the least number of publications (47,762) whilst Asia had the highest with 580,638 papers. It can be seen in the figure below that developing countries in Europe and Asia show similar pattern to the aggregate of publications coming out of the regions. In general, research in social science in Africa is less than 10 per cent. Much of the international funding for research is specifically directed towards health and life sciences. Based on the available information, South Africa and Egypt dominate research in Africa from 1999 to 2009 contributing 37 and 27%, respectively. However, Nigeria leads in West Africa and Kenya for East Africa. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa is expected to have more scientific researchers than any other country in the continent but this is not so. South Africa with population of about a third of Nigeria’s population is the leading research country in Africa with good environment for carrying out both experimental and theoretical research.

Asian countries are gradually catching up with the developed world. According to Mary-Louise Keary, Director of the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge, commented that in middle-and-low-income countries whose knowledge systems are weaker than developed nations, several factors help to explain the reluctance of these countries to support research; (1) Other areas requiring urgent attention (2) Stress on basic education and health care (3) Poor understanding of the results and long-term impact of research , e.g. basic research. (4) Catch-up or “leap frog” strategy of adapting knowledge produced elsewhere. Developing countries in Asia are gradually overcoming the above problems.

A good example is a recent accomplishment of 27 students of Maripal University, India where they partnered with Tata Solar Power Company early this year to develop a solar operated car. The two-seated car weighs 590 Kg and can reach a speed of 60Km/hr. Most of the third world countries are now spending a lot on research in various sectors, such as automobile, e.g. Malaysia and its Proton cars developed in the 90s where all components (except engine) are locally manufactured in Nigeria.

I was shocked when I read that cars are now been manufactured in Nigeria. They are not manufactured but assembled. Ordinarily, the plastic components are not manufactured in Nigeria. We are still far behind. Most of the other developing countries may leave us behind because we are consuming nation rather than manufacturing. Based on a recent report “(PM News Dec 15th 2015); “Nigeria’s automobile sector is set to contribute more to the global automobile sales in 2016 following establishment of more manufacturing units in the country.

According KPMG 2015 global Automotive Summary Survey, the automobile industry across Africa will increase in volume with global In 2015, investment in the automobile industry in Nigeria was at an all-time high, as more than 12 automobile manufacturing plants including cars, bikes, tricycles, and trucks began production in Nigeria sales expected to pass the 100 million mark and continue to rise till the end of the decade” Countries that are manufacturing automobiles are producing most of the components locally. It is intuitive claiming that we are automobile manufacturing country. For us to become an automobile manufacturing country, there are many rivers to cross as Malaysia did in 90s and ended up with Proton cars from low to high cost competing with the best in the world.

The four rivers to cross, may include (a) basic research (b) applied research, (c) Advanced development and (d) Product development. The basic research may not be necessary at this level because it develops new knowledge which may take a very long time (conventional automobile is well researched). Applied research may be the starting point because is on a short-term basis and favours quick bucks. Advanced development on the other hand weighs the pros and cons of the applied research to achieve the best method to achieve the target. Finally, the product development is the designing, creating and marketing of the new product. There is no easy way out claiming to be what we are not. The so-called automobile companies need to assemble scientists and engineers for the research activities.

A state of emergency needs to be declared in science and technology sector .Otherwise we will continue to be a consuming rather than manufacturing country. Recently (Dec. 27th 2015), Donald Trump, one of the Republican presidential candidates in the United States of America stated, “Look at African countries like Nigeria or Kenya for instance, those people are stealing from their own government and go to invest the money in foreign countries.

“From the government to the opposition, they only qualify to be used as a case study whenever bad examples are required. How do you trust even those who have run away to hide here in the United States, hiding behind education? I hear they abuse me in their blogs but I don’t care because even the internet they are using is ours and we can decide to switch it off from this side.
These are people who import everything including matchsticks. In my opinion, most of these African countries ought to be recolonised again for another 100 years because they know nothing about leadership and self-governance”. He was right, a good example is Nigeria where we import everything.

If care is not taken, Nigeria will continue to experience brain drain rather than brain gain. A good example of brain-drain is that of Dr. Olurotimi Badero (ex Univ. of Ife (now OAU), a Nigerian U.S.-based interventional cardiologist, nephrologist and peripheral vascular specialist is the only doctor in the world to have full specialist and certification in nephrology and cardiology (combined heart and kidney specialist).

Our former minster for science and technology recently paid a visit to our president and urged him to show more interest is science and technology by increasing the yearly allocation to the sector (Vanguard 23rd Dec. 2015). Nigeria needs to wake up, our reliance on oil will soon come to an end. Recently, a stunning breakthrough by a group of chemical engineers in the United States of America unleashed a massive power supply of fuel enough to power the entire world for 36000 years. This is one of the miracles of science. Billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, etc are interested in this new discovery. The US Dept. of Defence is pumping in a lot of money so are the Apple, Facebook, Google, etc.

The International Energy Agency predicts $48 trillion could soon flow into this sector making it the number one source of energy in the planet. With this Nigeria’s oil will have no value within the next few years. It is time for our Leaders to recognize the importance of science and technology in our daily activities, i.e. we eat, communicate, drive, drink, etc., all these are direct results of scientific discoveries from; biotechnology, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, computer science, life sciences, nanotechnology, etc.

The research Institutes in Nigeria are just like quality control laboratory for analyses but not for any research activities. How many research publications are they publishing in international reputable journals? I believe the percentage is less than 0.05 per cent. Majority of our high ranking officers in our institutes are just after their pockets.

Our government should start funding research activities in the areas of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology involves the creation and utilization of structures with at least one dimension in the nanometer length scale that creates novel properties and phenomena otherwise not display by either isolated molecules or bulk materials. The potential uses of nano-materials and nano devices should lead to breakthroughs of many frontiers, including environment and energy, medicine and health, materials manufacturing nanoelectronics and computer technology, aeronautics and space exploration, biotechnology and agriculture, and security. In our society where health system is nothing to write about, the use of nano particles may lead to new formulations and routes for drug delivery and sensor systems able to detect emerging diseases in the body. This are of research will prevent our rich politicians from travelling out for medical treatment.

An urgent area of concern for our government is the use of polymer currency which will dramatically reduce cost if well researched.  Polymer banknotes have several advantages over paper banknotes, these include: Non-fibrous and non-porous; last longer at least, four times longer in circulation than paper; harder to counterfeit; printing involves high technology that prevents duplicating the note; and can be recycled. My dream is to see all our currency denominations change into polymer banknotes. Paper notes after a short circulation become dirty and create environmental problems.

Nigeria needs to move forward in the areas of science and technology. Most countries are introducing polymer banknotes and if our government can fund research activities on the use of polymer banknotes, we may be producing our own polymer currency locally instead of relying on scandal-hit Securency International Pty Ltd (now acquired by Allens and Lintakers). Areas that we need to carry out research on our fading polymer currency include; (1) choice of biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP) with correct orientation (2) Choice of ink with correct formulation (based on metamerism) (3) study on polymer/ink interfacial adhesion, etc. Interfacial adhesion between the polymer substrate and ink may be a leading factor contributing to fading of our polymer currencies. Therefore, adhesion at the interface needs to be improved so that the polymer currencies can last long without fading. Faded polymer banknotes can be recycled for advanced applications.

Finally, for us to move forward, both the Federal and state governments need to address the followings to prevent brain- drain

Federal Government to equip all the federal universities and state government to do the same.

No new private university must be establish without provision for research activities
Federal and state governments to compel all private organisations to set aside at least 10 per cent of their profits for collaborative research with universities

Federal Government to set up a central research body – may be under National University Commission
To establish a world-class research institute
To encourage institutional networks beyond the academic spheres; local/international
To collaborate with developed countries

Nigerian leaders are known to set up various committees ignoring the importance of science and technology. The more you research, the crazier you sound to ignorance people (Tola Adeniyi Sr.). Nigerian politicians always think of what they will get rather than what they can contribute. Various proposals from Nigerian engineers and scientists have been killed by the politicians or ministers because they believe we don’t need that as long as the western world can provide all our needs. It is time to wake up. Don’t let us continue to be a provider of scientists and engineers to advanced countries under brain drain condition. Wake up Nigeria – today’s technology is based on yesterday’s science. Let us be part of the nations that will revolutionize 21st century with scientific discoveries.

Professor Shonaike is the director, Centre for Research, Development and Linkages, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos