Nigerian President pledges US$5 billion towards National Science Foundation

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has announced a US$5 billion endowment fund for the establishment of a National Science Foundation (NSF). The announcement was made in Abuja on 23 May during a briefing of the President by UNESCO's International Advisory Board for the Reform of the Science, Technology and Innovation System of Nigeria (IAB). The move reflects the President's commitment to using the 'windfall' generated by current high oil prices to diversify Nigeria's economy by investing in S&T. President Obasanjo is determined for Nigeria to become one of the top 20 economic leaders in the world by the year 2020.

In line with this vision, UNESCO's IAB put forward three recommendations in May which were favourably received by the President. In addition to the endowment fund, six Nigerian universities are to benefit from incentive measures which should enable them to rank among the 200 top universities in the world by 2020. Technology-based 'good business' zones are also to be created in each State. It is intended that the US$5 billion endowment fund be supplemented by donors.

The proposed NSF would be an independent funding body for competitive research and projects and programmes in innovation. Its main functions would be the provision of grants to research bodies, universities, enterprises and individuals on a competitive basis; the equipping and capitalization of research groups and; the establishment of research universities.

The Presidential briefing on 23 May was attended by various leaders of stakeholder groups, including the Minister of Science and Technology, the President of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences and representatives of professional groups. Included in the UNESCO delegation led by Hans D'Orville were Hubert Charles and Anthony Maduekwe, respectively Director and National Programme Officer of UNESCO's Abuja Office, and Folarin Osotimehin, UNESCO's Senior Science Policy Advisor, who is serving as Secretary to the IAB.

The IAB is presided by Dr Jo Ritzen, President of the University of Maastricht, former Science Minister in the Government of the Netherlands and former Vice-President of the World Bank. Dr Ritzen made a presentation to the President on 23 May on the theme of " Nigeria embraces S&T for growth: scenario 2020 ". Citing World Bank figures, he forecast that the reform of Nigeria's science, technology and innovation system would translate into economic growth of 8-10% per annum, up from 4% today and that the number of those living on less than US$1 per day would drop over the same period from 71% of the population to 20%. Nigeria's population is expected to grow from 130 million today to 175 million by 2020.

The draft bill on the creation of the NSF is being prepared by the Minister of Science and Technology, Prof.T.Isoun and the Chief Economic Advisor to the President, Dr Osita Ogbu, in cooperation with UNESCO. Dr Ogbu is also Chief Executive of the National Planning Commission and a member of the IAB. The draft bill and operational details of the NSF will be examined by the Cabinet and submitted, after approval, for the consideration of Parliament.

As part of the reform process, UNESCO is already working with the S&T committees of Parliament. In this connection, the Director-General of UNESCO launched the Parliamentarian Forum on Science and Technology in Abuja on 21 June.

Progress towards revitalizing the Nigerian S&T Sector was assessed at a Presidential Retreat on Science and Technology on 10 August. The Retreat was attended by over 600 participants, including Cabinet Ministers and members of the diplomatic community. The President used the Retreat to urge UNESCO to fast-track the science reform programme and the elaboration of the Action Plan on Science, Technology and Innovation.

Shortly before the Retreat, UNESCO submitted a report to the Nigerian government detailing the framework for the future high-level science governance council, which will be chaired by the President of Nigeria.

For details: Reform of the S&T System of Nigeria.

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