The coronavirus has caught the world of science with its test tubes, tongs and racks down, as it has continued to rage on, picking a second wave of rise; especially with the re-opening of schools. Covid-19 has recorded one million deaths so far, with a huge thirty three million cases worldwide. The US as the nerve cente of economic and technological advancement is probably the worst hit, reaching over 200,000 deaths. The UK has seen 250 per cent rise in food insecurity as a consequence of the effects of a pandemic that is considered the most ruthless of the 21st century. Pharmaceutical companies have been in a race to provide a vaccine that can effectively decimate this virus, with conglomerates like the British AstraZeneca Plc, struggling with its trials so far; as some volunteers had started showing signs of some neurological problems. Russia claims to have a vaccine but it doesn’t seem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has given its full approval.
Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, have dodged a bullet and have been shielded by God’s providence from the destruction of Covid-19. We have been limited to its economic scourge mostly; and have even impressed with the way we have stood firm, despite the fact that most European and Asian super powers have fallen into a recession due to Covid-19. It is impressive to see that our scientists and the managers of our research institutions are joining in the race for a cure and a vaccine to the Corona virus. In a bid to improve local innovation and economic growth, The Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND) disbursed Two hundred million naira, for research focused on the virus. Prof. Suleiman Bogoro made this known at a roundtable hosted by Nigeria Triple Helix, themed ‘How Innovation Drives Economic Development’. In his address, he stated that, “TETFUND is sensitive to prevailing issues, and apart from the seven and a half billion naira national research grant, two hundred million has been disbursed to research specifically focused on Covid-19 pandemic”. He also added that two thirds of the 2020 research grant will focus on science, technology and innovation, while the rest will cut across humanities, security, and national integration, among others.
This brings to the fore, a one hundred percent increase in research funds, from a mere three billion, to a whopping seven and a half billion. Prof. Bogoro highlighted this at the 2020TETFUND Board of Trustees retreat in Abuja. He declared that this new increase, makes TETFUND the largest holder of research funds in the country. He also disclosed the establishment of six medical simulation research and clinical training facilities in each geopolitical zone of the country. He also announced the provision of 500 classrooms, 2,383 staff and administrative offices, 40 fully equipped libraries, 250 science laboratories, 38 ICT centers, eight medical centers and sick bays, and 100 vehicles and major infrastructure in the 12 newly established federal universities. Prof. Bogoro stressed that, “The fund administration of recent has undergone some internal restructuring and realignment for efficient and better service delivery – including the institutionalisation of research and development, review of existing guidelines for content based interventions, investigate verification, science engineering and technology training program”.
In the pursuit of the structural changes made, TETFUND has inaugurated a one hundred and sixty two member standing committee on research and development last Thursday, in Abuja. This was made to ensure a paradigm shift in research and development in the country. The executive secretary emphasised that the committee would be focusing on thirteen thematic areas including education, ICT, bio-resources, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and digital economy among others. He decried that there has been a disconnect between academia and industry over the years in the country, where research has been utilised for attaining academic heights only. “For industry, it has been more convenient to shop for innovations and results of research findings in climes outside the shores of Nigeria”, he added. He alluded this to two main reasons: one is the mutual distrust between the academia and the industry, and two; the artificial walls and valleys created by the academia around themselves, which prevents the industry from leveraging on research outputs from tertiary institutions.
During the inauguration, two pleas were made to the federal government. First is the increment of research funds to $1 billion per annum, to be able to meet up with global challenges. Second is the case for the promulgation of a law for the establishment of a National Research and Development Foundation, NRDF, to deepen research in the country. Bogoro said it was necessary to do this, so as to galvanise our nation building efforts, because of the inevitable benefits of research and development to the socio-economic challenges in Nigeria. It is very obvious that the coronavirus pandemic has served as a catalyst for the development of our indigenous research institutions. It is also pertinent to note that our scientists and the managers of our research industry are bracing up, and stepping up to the challenges brought about by a raging pandemic; that is not only claiming lives, but also claiming economies. It is commendable that the leadership of TETFUND is working towards promoting cohesion and synergy between tertiary education and research output, with industry and problem solving. This is yielding fruits already as a professor from the Biochemical Parasitology Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and his team, have recorded positive outcomes from an ongoing research on a malaria vaccine candidate. Nation building is not purely a political endeavor, it is also a scientific one. We should learn to listen to science and pay rapt attention to it, as being deaf to it can have grave consequences. The US is a painful example of this, from its current struggle with Covid-19.