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Science and technology is vehicle to advance Nigeria’s economy, Prof. Ibidapo-Obe

By AKOMA CHINWEOKE
Professor Oye Ibidapo-Obe is the president of Nigerian Academy of Science and former vice chancellor of University of Lagos. In this interview, he speak on why the country’s leadership should be consistent with  national plans which must be geared towards poverty reduction as well as his determination to  progress steadily in mainstreaming the academy to national life.

Ibidapo

How effectively have you been able to combine your wealth of experience to inspire and drive activities at the academy to contribute to our economic recovery ?

Well, the Academy of Science was established in 1977. It is an academy not in terms of a school but an association  of  top level scholars in science and technology, medicine, agriculture, all areas that deals with science and science application.

When it was founded in 1977 by top scientists, the whole idea was to get them to move the nation forward in terms of advice to people so that they can act in advisory capacity and that’s what we are still trying to do. It is a honour to be invited because you don’t just apply to be a member of the academy. You must be invited by those who accepted that you are fit and must have reached a certain stage in your academic work.

The hazy weather condition and  rumour of acid rain has continued to cause panic in the country. As a scientist, do you think the Nigerian business environment  is under any form of threat ?

Of course it does, but you know these are visible signs of what the scientists have been talking about over the years that there is going to be climate change and that this climate is going to have effect on everything that you do from agriculture to water to health, etc.

So, that is a manifestation. Of course, it poses a lot of dangers because when you have cloudy weather conditions, it shows that there are some particles there in the atmosphere that are floating. But the issue of acid rain is not as direct as that, you get acid rain in heavily polluted areas. I don’t think what we are going to have is acid rain. There is no fear of having acid rain but when you get clouds coming together, then you have rain. So, you are going to have rain which is an effect of changes in the climatic condition that we have.

We are doing a lot of research in these areas. In fact, in 2012, the major theme of what we are trying to build up is what we call global changes which essentially dwells on what effect this climate change is going to have on us. We hope to examine the global foot print, what is happening to the water, you know we’ve been talking for a long time about the Chad drying up. What are we going to do about that?, Some of our northern states are being threatened by defforestation and its effect is moving as down as Abuja.

So, we are having difficulty and this has to be solved but in terms of the local acid rain , that will only occur in heavily polluted areas and that has to be industrial areas where a lot of carbons have been put into the atmosphere. I don’t think people should be worried about that for now but one thing you will see is that just as in those days when we were young , if it rained heavily accompanied with thunder storms, we get little pallets of ice coming down. We don’t see that any more because the world is getting warmer .

So,  these are some of the changes that scientists would have to contend with and try to make sure that they don’t affect us adversely.

With the near absence of research institutes in the country, how do you think we can contend with these likely changes in our environment?

Well, that is one of the things the Academy of Science has proposed and still proposing that it should be given the responsibility to monitor these research institutes as a group. For example, what are the outputs that we expect from these research institutes from the type of research they are doing and  have we  registered them to make life better?

So,  the quantum of the output is what actually would allow us to meet our Vision 20: 2020 because, without science and technology, there is no way we can accelerate because what we want to do is to overtake some big economies . So, to overtake, we have to accelerate, meaning that we need to get faster than them.

So, science and technology will be the basis of this enterprise; although the research institutes don’t seem to be doing as much as we expect from them, quite a few of them are doing very well. Others can’t do well because they don’t have the infra structure to do well.

They are just paper tigers. So,  these are some of the things we want to be doing with the federal ministry of science and technology so that things can be done. When we had our meeting with Mr. President, these are some the things we told him we will do and he gave us the go ahead but again due to inconsistency of policy, the vision kept somersaulting but we will keep on trying because the whole purpose of our academy is to make life more abundant for the common man.

Talking about Vision 20:2020, how can we achieve a reduction in poverty rate in the country when the economy is still down?

Well,  you know a major theme in the need for the adoption of science and technology as our way of life is to eradicate poverty. How do you want to eradicate poverty if you don’t apply science and technology?  We want to get people off the streets, you want to get those of them in the farms to be enabled to do some work.

So, we need to introduce massive employment schemes to mop up unemployment of everybody, not necessarily graduates. If,  for example, we want to ensure food security, then we must put our energy together  to harness our agricultural potentials, and produce enough food for ourselves. We have been talking too much grammar. Lets get to the ground. If our target is to produce sufficient rice, we must get into action.

I understand Niger State has been designated as a rice zone, we should mop up all the useful energy, put them into the right farms,  let them produce upland rice all over Nigeria and the objective is that we will not import rice come 2012. That is an objective that will mop up a lot of people on the street .Also, in ICT sector,  there is so much opportunities for people to get gainfully engaged if we can deploy information technology just as we deployed GSM.

Also,  in industrial manufacturing, textile, for example, which traditionally employs a large number of people,  let us resuscitate our textile mills so that we can produce Ankara and cotton as well.

That would mop up a lot of things. Those are the type of things  that we are looking at but we are saying it has to be done. We want to see full implementation not just talk and we need sufficient time to make sure that we get result.

Stable  power supply crucial to kick start economic activities is still lacking  as the government failed to meet last year’s target of 6000 mega watts. Today, we are talking about generating 4,700 mega watts. Does that portray us as a country really serious about moving its economy forward?

On this issue of power, we have done quite a few seminars in the past but our major problem has always been that of policy somersault. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was in government, he came out with the independent power project (IPP).

If we had allowed that to go through, we would have been in a better shape today. Granted yes, they said power would only  improve if there is adequate gas supply but we should not always do with gas. Don’t forget there is also rural energy scheme that is supposed to tap alternative energy including mini and micro hydros, solar energy, and wind energy  in some areas like Katsina but things are not properly fixed.

Look at what we are getting in the power sector! You make two steps forward and three steps backward. We should be consistent with  our national plans. There must be an attitudinal change in the way we do things in this country not only in technology but even in politics.

So, that’s why we could not attain our last year’s target .It is a shame that we said we were going to have 6000 mega watts after failing to achieve that, we now said we are targeting 4,700 mega watts. Who knows , may be next time we would be talking about 3, 300.

It doesn’t show us as being serious. So, there must be a persistent and concerted effort to explore solar  and wind energy. We need to decentralized the power system. We understand that even the Ijora power station in Lagos can be resuscitated with little fund and it would serve a part of Lagos and that would reduce pressure from the national grid.

What impact do you think the ICT sector has made on the nation’s economy since the GSM revolution?
The ICT has impacted greatly on the country’s economy. You can now communicate with anybody in any part of the world.  Also, it has really changed the way we do things within especially e- government which is expected to at least start to take control of the matter of corruption.

So, there are ways the sector has contributed to the growth of the economy and it is only ICT that can allow us to accelerate in terms of thinking much more faster than what we normally have over the years . The ICT has impacted greatly not just in Nigeria but globally. The beautiful thing is that in terms of communication with mobile phones, Nigeria seems to have been better than other countries including United States.

As the president of the Nigeria Academy of Science, how do you think the country can achieve the much talked about accelerated development?

My advice is that we must realize that we are not likely to move anywhere without science and technology. So when we talk about  the economy, and the setting up of advisory council on the economy, the science and technology experts should be part and parcel of them.

That is the only way because the vehicle for advancing our economy depends on science and technology.  So, my advice is that in everything that the acting president does, he must put the component of science and technology into it. He must get people in science and technology to appropriately advise him as to how do we get there, otherwise, the economy is not going to move forward ;rather it would continue to go round and round in a circle. So, they must think science everyday.

Thank God he is a scientist himself, so he appreciates the import of science and technology in all aspects of the various sectors of the economy. We must include inputs from people who understand and can see science and technology as tool to develop the economy.


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