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Agenda For Nigeria’s Returning Minister of Science & Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu

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Ogbonnaya Onu

President Muhammadu Buhari has finally sworn-in members of his cabinet after months of delay. Of particular interest to Techawk is Ogbonnaya Onu, who has been reappointed as the Minister of Science and Technology.

Of course, the first governor of old Abia State has no background in science and technology like some of the appointed ministers who have no relationship or connection with their assigned portfolios.

For Ogbonnaya Onu, he did his best to contribute to the growth of science and technology. Premium Times in an analysis of his 1st term (2015-2019) outlined some of his achievements:

“Since his assumption of office, he has laid emphasis on the patronage of indigenous goods and services. He showed support for this by directing all 17 agencies under the ministry to patronise Innoson vehicles (an indigenous vehicle manufacturing firm) as well as other local manufacturing companies.”

“His administration began the National Science and Technology Week which first held successfully in April 2017 and then March 2018 to showcase inventors and inventions.”

“The ministry commenced in 2016 a process to encourage youth in all 774 LGAs of the country to participate in science and technology in a programme tagged “774 YOUNG NIGERIAN SCIENTISTS PRESIDENTIAL award (774-YONSPA)”.

This is a typical example of government officials just scratching the surface without making any groundbreaking impact. They will always politicise government affairs.

Now that Ogbonnaya Onu has another opportunity to drive science and technology vehicle, here are some of the things he should focus on:

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Focus on boosting and supporting the Nigerian Tech ecosystem

The Nigerian tech ecosystem is rapidly growing with Lagos as its epicentre. Tech startups deploying innovative and creative solutions to the challenges in the country in the area of fintech, healthtech, logistics, agritech, social entrepreneurship, propertytech among others are springing up.

Some of these startups have raised millions of dollars from angel investors and venture funds. Kobo360, a Nigerian logistics firm recently raised $30m from Goldman Sachs and a consortium of Nigerian banks, mDaas Global, which is building a network of tech-enabled diagnostic facilities in Nigeria, has closed a seed funding totalling US$1 million, Gokada, a motorcycle-hailing startups firm has raised $5.3 million Series A round to scale its business.

At the same time, there are technology hubs across Nigeria that are incubating and organising accelerators to scale startups. According to GSMA, there are currently 55 Hubs in Nigeria.

What should the Minister do? The Minister should use his powers to remove or ease the barriers for doing business in the Nigerian tech ecosystem. From regulatory barriers to tax and energy, they are limiting some of these startups.

Importantly, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology needs to strike partnerships with the hubs to organise pitch events, mentorship programmes and provide funding opportunities to eligible startups. There is absolutely nothing stopping the Ministry from having a  Tech Fund to support startups.

Ogbonnaya Onu

Initiate policies and partnership with emphases on technology (Machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality)

Having a tech-savvy minister of technology is what obtains in other parts of the world; this is not the case in Nigeria as individuals are rewarded with positions for their contributions to election and loyalty.

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This said Minister Onu is expected to go beyond ordering the 17 agencies to patronise Innoson Vehicles. The world is moving towards Zero-Emission Cars. This means in the next 20 or 30 years when the world is moving towards driverless and electric cars, Nigeria will still be struggling with petrol or diesel cars thereby making the country a dumping ground for these cars that would have been banned in Europe and America.

Clearly, Innoson Vehicles do not have the capital or capacity to research electric or autonomous vehicles. Ogbonnaya Onu can invite the likes of Google, Uber and General Motors who are market leaders in these areas; to help with building the cars in partnership with Innoson Vehicles. This is the future.

We do not want analogue partnerships. We want digital partnerships that will shape the future of Nigeria. We want to hear the government talking about using artificial intelligence to combat climate change, we want to hear the government discussing machine learning to predict the social services Nigerians require.

The ministry urgently needs R&D department. If it does not have one, it must establish it.

Nigeria is simply joking with Science!

Combining science and technology is absurd. Although scientific knowledge allows us to build new technologies; they are too important to be handled by someone who rarely understands its concepts. It should be separated and be handled by a seasoned science-inclined person and back by funds.

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Science involves research and investigation, a whole lot of research and a lot of funding. The types of science include physics, chemistry, astronomy, health science, meteorology, medicine, nuclear physics, geology, botany etc.

We can say that Nigeria is not ready for science yet. This is why all the medicines in the country will continue to be marketed and not produced in the country.

Musa Suleiman
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