By Moses Nosike
To actualize the Vision 2020, the national planning commission has brought together all the relevant stakeholders to brain storm on the way forward.Â Part of these stakeholders include Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).Â In this exclusive interview, Director General of Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Engr. (Prof.) Peter Azikiwe Onwualu, spoke on the role of his CouncilÂ in that direction and on other issues of national economic development.Â Excerpts:
The Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman recently spoke about institutionalizing the Vision 2020 by making Ministries, Parastatals and Agencies part and parcel of the programme.Â What is the role of your Council in that direction?
Yes, the plan for crafting the document for Vision 2020 as approved by the National Planning Commission is such that it encompasses all relevant stakeholders.Â What the National Planning Commission has done was to put together 39 groups.Â Those 39 groups were established according to different thematic groups.
For example you have group from energy, manufacturing, science, technology and innovation, agriculture, security and all other aspects of the economy.Â In each of these 39 groups you have a number of people, depending on the constitution; some ofÂ them 20 members, some 30 members and each of these groups is made up of eminent Nigerians drawn from both public and private sector.Â People who have experience with development plans and in their own thematic areas.Â These are the core group of people that came up with the initial document.Â In addition to all these, National Planning has also put up adverts, calling for memoranda from the general public or anybody who has any ideas about what will make the document to be better.Â All these were integrated into the crafting of this document.
We also know that the actualÂ implementation of Vision 2020 will be by MDAs, that is Ministries, Departments and Agencies. So it was felt that those MDAs should also be part of the initial process.Â Apart from Ministries, it also includes the other tiers of government; the state governments and their ministries, departments and local governments. With respect to Agencies, they are now supposed to look at their own, vision and try to also come up with their own Vision 2020.Â For us as Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), we have also looked at our own strategic plan for the Council which we have been implementing.Â What we have done is to use that document to come up with our own VisionÂ Â 2020 plan.Â If the President wants Nigeria to be among the 20 largest economies by 2020, what is it that RMRDC should do towards achieving that goal? As a Council, we have sat down to look at our programmes and activities.Â Essentially, our contribution is with respect to manufacturing and innovations.
We are looking at the issue of local content.Â We want a situation where by that 2020, Nigeria should be able to source at least up to 80 per cent of industrial raw materials from within the country.Â It is not just a statement, the implication of that is if you take the statistics, we are currently sourcing only about 20 to 30 per cent of our industrial raw materials locally.Â If the vision is that by 2020 we should reach 80 to 90 per cent of local sourcing of raw materials, it then means that we would have been able to establish industries for exploiting our natural resources; those of agricultural origin and those that are minerals as well as other industrial raw materials.
The implication is that thousands of industries would have been established adding value to these natural resources.Â Off course, that now means wealth creation, the issue of unemployment would have been addressed and if these thousands of industries are to function and supply the raw materials required by industries, it means that the non-oil sector would have been developed.Â It also means that infrastructure such as roads electricity, water, etc would have been developed.Â So you see that the vision is not only addressing raw material, but also addressing all the other sectors that would have contributed towards the achievement of Vision 2020.
That is why for us, we have taken that as our vision and when you expand on that it means we are going to increase on research funding multiplying many fold the amount of money we spend in funding research in different institutions.Â We are going to increase the building of capacity for researchers to be able to do research.Â We are going to work more with private sector to establish more industries for processing raw materials.Â We are going to increase on our activities with respect to capacity building in process equipments, making sure that Nigerians can actually design, fabricate or build machines for processing raw materials within the country.Â It is a whole range of activities we are putting in place and we believe that if we are able to achieve our own little contribution and all the other MDAs also make their contributions in their own areas, then at the end of the day Mr. Presidentâ€™s Vision would have been achieved.
Sometime in February this year, the technological exhibition undertaken by your Council shows you have done a lot that by now our local industries should have improved, but the situation is not so.Â What urgent measure do you think can be taken to visibly impact on local manufacturing?
I believe that government has a lot to do.Â Even in the so called capitalist economies, government from time to time intervenes in the operations of the private sector.Â Take the United States (US) for example, even with all their perfect infrastructure working, cost of production very low, but you find that when the economic meltdown started, the large scale manufacturers of automobile in the US were almost going under but the government had to intervene by getting bail-out funds approved through their National Assembly.Â This is because they know that hundreds of thousands of peoplesâ€™ livelihood were at stake.Â In other to avoid the kind of social problem that can emanate from the closure of those industries, they had to give major automobile companies bail-out funds. If a developed country can do that for industries that are already established and making profit, it then shouldnâ€™t be out of place to say that within a developing economy such as Nigeria we should have that kind of intervention funds.
These other countries we talk about for example the US, there is what they call the National Science foundation having a large pool of funds put in there by government for researches, innovations from Universities and research centres.Â People involved in these researches and innovations draw money from the National Science foundation for a start-up.Â We recommend that we should have that kind of intervention fund in Nigeria where in addition to funds for doing research, there will also be funds for innovative activities for people who want to pick up the results of research and turn them into goods and services.Â This is how a number o clusters started in some of these developed countries.
It did not just start by accident.Â Government made the initial investments.Â The private sectors in the developed countries were groomed by government policies until they got to such a point where they are now stabilized.Â It is still government responsibility to create the enabling environment for these private sector organizations to be on their feet.Â Once they are on their feet, naturally they will take over and there will be no need for further government intervention. We believe that especially for new areas where you want to convert the products of research into actual goods and services, you really need some kind of public sector intervention. That is why we think there is a missing gap resulting in people questioning why entrepreneurs do not approach banks for loans.