Science makes a fresh start in Nigeria?

At the request of the Government of Nigeria, an international advisory board for the reform of the country's science, technology and innovation system was established by UNESCO in October 2004. A core activity of the reform programme is a joint review of investment, industry and innovation in Nigeria involving UNESCO, UNCTAD, UNIDO and WIPO. Financed in equal shares by the Government of Nigeria and UNESCO/Japan Funds-in-Trust to the tune of US$1 million, the review is part of preparatory work for a donors' conference Nigeria is planning to call to fund implementation of a multi-year plan of action on science, technology and innovation. Other international agencies expected to join the reform programme are the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the World Bank and the International Association of Universities.

Could science be making a fresh start in Nigeria? Since the transition to civilian rule in 1999, consolidated in 2003 with the election of the second Obasanjo government, Nigeria has certainly given signs of renewed interest in S&T. In October 2003, it launched a low Earth orbit remote-sensing micro-satellite to monitor the environment and provide information for infrastructure development. This prowess has enabled Nigeria to join a Disaster Monitoring Constellation grouping Algeria, China, the UK and Vietnam.

President Obasanjo has since announced that his country is establishing, within UNESCO, a US$1 million Nigeria Special Funds-in-Trust for Science. This Special Fund will 'not only benefit Nigeria but also assist other African countries in designing project proposals for the reform of their national science systems and in developing managerial capacities', Nigeria's Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Turner T. Isoun stated in October 2004.

Nigeria has considerable human potential. It counts 60 universities, 44 polytechnics and 65 research institutes for a population of 133 million. However, there are also deep-rooted problems; these include insufficient funding of research and development, poor management, inadequate macro-level co-ordination and a lack of linkages between industry and research institute or universities.

The need for reform is patent after four decades of military rule marked by state corruption and spiralling foreign debt, following independence in 1960. The rewards of reform could also be immense, for Nigeria is potentially a wealthy country. The world's 13th largest oil producer and the 6th largest in OPEC, Nigeria also has gas reserves which, when fully exploited, will place it among the world's top ten gas producers. However, 'in the 1980s, the country failed to use productively the oil windfall to improve social conditions and encourage the non-oil economic sector', writes the UK Department for International Development (DfID) in its Nigeria Draft Country Assistance Plan (2004). 'Between 1980 and 2000, Nigeria's per capita income plummeted to about $290, well below the Sub-Saharan average of $490'.

The reform comes at an auspicious time. After sluggish growth initially following the end of military rule, GDP rose by nearly 10% in 2003, driven by strong oil receipts and agricultural growth of 7%. Public spending has climbed markedly, from 19% of GDP in 1997 to 50% in 2001 (DFID). One aim of the science system reform will be to use this growth to diversify Nigeria's economy, in order to reduce the country's dependence on fluctuating oil prices: oil exports accounted for 95% of foreign earnings in 1998, compared to 58% in 1970 (UNDAF).

Source: UNESCO Science Report 2005

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