By Ebele Orakpo
The National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), is poised to help Nigeria assume its proper position in Africa.
In this interview with Vanguard in his Abuja office, the Director-General, Dr. Umar Buba Bindir stated that NOTAP, established 31 years ago, was mandated by law to regulate the consumption of technology by Nigerian entrepreneurs and companies, energise the technology acquisition institutions in Nigeria, narrow the gap between the technology being consumed and the technology being supplied to the industry, noting that the ultimate objective of NOTAP is that Nigeria will be industrialised using its own manpower, its technological acquisition system and its own people. Excerpts:
Sir, what is NOTAP all about?
NOTAP is a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology with the mandate of ensuring the acceleration of Nigeria’s drive towards a rapid technological revolution by an efficient acquisition/absorption of foreign technology and a concerted development of indigenous technological capability through promotion of innovation and commercialisation of technology.
This continent depends on three countries – Egypt in the north, Nigeria in the middle and South Africa in the south. When you analyse them, you find that Egypt is very Arabic in nature, their culture is not very sub-Saharan Africa and therefore, may not be able to concentrate and deploy solutions for sub-Saharan Africa.
The economy of South Africa is very European. Again, it simulates the European way of providing solutions. It is only Nigeria that is true Africa so the future of the Black race on this continent is on the shoulders of Nigeria. Fortunately, these solutions are dependent on the strength of science, technology and innovation.
Therefore, Nigeria has no hiding place, it has to evolve to the highest level its science, technology and innovation and we are excited to have NOTAP in the middle of it. For any country that wants to be modern, maintain good health for its people, good educational facilities, and ultimately industrialise, I’m sorry to say, there is no cutting corners to acquiring and promoting internal technology and Nigeria is not different.
How has the journey been so far?
We realise that every company, irrespective of sector (oil & gas, power, manufacturing etc), uses technology to deliver its services. We discovered in our monitoring and technology transfer registration process that every company that goes outside Nigeria to strike a deal to acquire technology so as to be efficient, must sign an agreement which costs Nigeria lots of money.
So a communications company goes out to procure the software, and all the hardware required to deploy the services in Nigeria, the company outside will say ‘ok, we will help you to take this huge market in Nigeria but it will cost you N10bn’ for example, then they sign an agreement.
When they come to Nigeria, they will get N10bn but you don’t pay them in naira so you run to the CBN to change your N10bn to dollars so that you can pay your technology service partners. The CBN will then ask for the NOTAP certificate before the request can be processed.
They will then run to us to register that technology transfer agreement and that process of registration is in three ways: The legal perspective: Here, we check whether the agreement was drafted, negotiated and signed respecting Nigerian law or the foreign law.
If it is based on foreign law, we will not agree. The law of our land must be respected or at worst, we will reach a compromise, respecting the laws of both countries so as to be equitable. But when you go and draft it, not considering our country to be a law-abiding country, it is unacceptable. The second perspective is the financial perspective.
Because we are a developing country, they feel we do not understand the technology language and they double or triple the amount of money to be taken out of Nigeria to the extent that the amount of money leaving Nigeria turns out to not only pay for technology but amounts to capital flight.
We have, therefore, got commissioned and well trained staff who know most of these technology transfer agreements, how it is done in other countries and we compare. When we compare and using some of the guideli
nes provided by the CBN, we will tell them ‘look, the money is too much, reduce it here; no, this one cannot be approved etc.
The third perspective is the technical perspective. Before now, they will sign that they will come and help us and go so each time you have a problem, you call them again and pay more money. Now, we check the agreement to see that actually, they are training Nigerians to gradually take over so if we don’t see this training component, we don’t approve it.
And if it is very scientific and they are only doing research in their country, we will encourage them to do some research in Nigeria so that we too can build our capacity. If the agreement involves use of raw materials, in the past, even if you have the raw material, they will insist that it must come from their country so that they take more money out.
Now, we stress that no, we have the raw material and therefore you have to use our own. Sometimes they bring in their people to do the simple jobs but if we have the competencies in Nigeria, we will tell them to advertise it for Nigerians.
So until an agreement passes these three very stringent processes, it will not be registered in NOTAP. No compromise! We might decide to take bribe and just give them approval but that is not what we do here. We are very firm and we believe that this is what will change Nigeria.
What has Nigeria benefitted from the activities of NOTAP?
Because we have intervened in hundreds of thousands of agreements in terms of training of Nigerians, conduct of research and development and use of raw materials, we cannot quantify how much employment we have generated at the highest level, or how many industries we have helped to generate energy to supply these companies but I can only tell you that we have contributed enormously and it is a continuous thing.
Our intervention in financial terms – reducing here, not approving here, in the last ten years alone, we have saved Nigeria over N300 billion, money that would have left Nigeria unfairly on the basis of these agreements because we say no, use Nigerians, no, cut here and so on.
There are many other areas where NOTAP has impacted the nation. We have partnered with industries to ensure that we improve the education system, that the agricultural sector is also getting better so that the raw materials they require will be supplied.
We have partnered with them to ensure that our culture of intellectual property rights in Nigeria improves, and that other agencies of government that are relevant to their operations are mainstreamed to also look at what they do so that they can be able to improve their performance.
The net effect of our contribution is that what we say we are consuming should actually reduce. Unfortunately, as we speak, nearly 100 per cent of technology deployed in the oil & gas, power, ICT, energy, health, financial and communications sectors are imported.
So what is the problem here?
It is a clear indication that our own technology evolution/acquisition system is not responding to the needs of the Nigerian industry. When we summarise it, we can clearly see the gap between Nigerian industries and the Nigerian universities/research institutes.
This is the key difficulty if NOTAP were to be very firm. In Nigeria, we do not have a very clear strategy in technology acquisition. Most researchers do what interests them without respect to the needs of industries. Now, one thing that will shock you is this: despite the fact that our country’s major GDP earner is oil & gas, Nigeria does not have a core research institute in oil & gas.
Petroleum Technology Institute in Effurun is not. A research and development institution is not necessarily teaching, it is a core institution that has got a large volume of PhD holders, professors that are core, laboratories that are current, workshops that are up-to-date, publishing at the highest level, patenting and getting royalties.
This is what I call a research institute and we don’t have even one. That is not strategic. Secondly, everybody cries about power in Nigeria, if we don’t have power, we will not move forward. Nigeria does not have one single core research institute on power soft of hardware so how do you get power?
We seem to want things that will always very seriously depend on outside technology service providers. For instance, we have land and water but we import rice; we have rubber, we import tyres. So in NOTAP, we see that Nigeria does not seem to have the strategic thinking, the core application of knowledge to make life easy.
What is the way forward?
Now, my excitement is that when the President said that he has a transformation agenda, in the middle of that, he said: “We will put science and technology in the middle as the bedrock for transformation.” To me, the translation is that, now we will look at our education system, the research system, we will be able to be strategic; flagships that will drive our industries using our own knowledge.
Hopefully, using this transformation platform, Nigeria will now have a strategy on how to acquire knowledge, build up morale, confidence and expertise among our own science and knowledge workers so that we can move forward.
So you think government should intervene and tell the research institutes/universities what research to carry out?
Not really. You see, the biggest problem that is forcing us to face these consequences is that in Nigeria, we have really perfected the art of working in silence. We like working in islands; ‘this is my agency, I don’t want to partner with him,’ and then because of this individuality of institutions, you start having administrator and institutional rivalries.
We do not harmonise; we do not come together to be stronger, something that we see other countries making progress do, we don’t.
So this has to be cracked and as far as NOTAP is concerned, we have seen our vintage position, we see industries, we see what we are consuming in terms of expertise and materials and we also know what is possible in Nigeria, we now jump to the relevant institutions, bring them together in conferences, come up with themes to face a particular direction and go on visitations and courtesy calls, all in an attempt to build a system whereby institutions are coming together, understanding and helping each other so that collectively,
we can help our leaders to achieve the kind of transformation speed that we all deserve.
Two, I think we have a very weak understanding of the power of this knowledge coordinator. We treat science and technology as a sector like agric, health, education etc. But in most countries that have made progress, science and technology actually is a sector of sectors.
When you have a policy in agriculture to have food security, that means you must have breeders, poultry experts, know how to improve your seeds, so science and technology helps you to automate and empower you to attain that.
You look at health, you want to eradicate certain diseases, to ensure we have very strong, healthy children, what do you need? You need medicine, good food etc. That is the knowledge that provides you the energy to achieve that.
You go to industry, you need to manufacture things, add value, create jobs etc., it is the technology that sees the secret. How do you extract oil from groundnut, how do you turn palm oil into soap, how do y
ou refine your crude to get diesel, petrol and kerosene?
How do you till your land, put varieties that will grow with two rains and give you rice? These, we don’t understand in Nigeria. So agriculture is facing its own direction, Health is facing its own direction and science and technology is also facing its own direction. This again, can only be cracked by this synergy.
What is the way forward?
Unless we are talking to each other, unless we are all operating within the same frequency, this will continue. However, what comforts me is that these are traditional characteristics of developing countries. You don’t know where you are going, you don’t seem to have strategies, you don’t seem to use science and technology and certainly, Nigeria is a developing country.
So for us to transform and become the desired industrialised country, there are a number of things that we have to change.
Recognising all these challenges, NOTAP using its advantage of seeing industry and how it operates, we also flag a number of projects and then energise our partners to work with us to enable us contribute in this process of transformation. NOTAP has innovative approaches and ideas to enhance efficiency.
First, NOTAP believes that the FG MUST establish a research fund, budgeting yearly N5b – N6b for research purposes irrespective of where it is happening and we must do it very quickly. Two, I think the President should be the mentor of acquiring and deploying of science and technology for industrialising Nigeria.
A few weeks ago, when he was telling the nation about how proud he was that Nigerians were able to design and launch satellite, and in that congratulatory message, President Jonathan reiterated that ‘we will continue to enforce the acquisition and application of technology’ so this mentorship is very important.
He should go to the next level and establish the Science, Technology and Innovation Council which he should chair; so that when you see the agricultural policy, you will know the science and technology content to automate it. So the minister of Agric is aware of how he must partner with the science sector.
Health, this is the science and technology content, and because it is the President driving it, the timelines and roadmaps are firm and therefore we, the bees working at the bottom will have no hiding place.
If you are not performing, you will be known, if you are performing, you will be known; if we are changing Nigeria, it will be seen, if you are creating wealth using our technology, we will see. Third, NOTAP realises that when you follow all these big companies working in Nigeria to their motherland, you find that their research and development is very intensive.
That is what we are paying for. They do the research on our materials, our systems, generate the knowledge, employ PhD holders and high level people and when they export the results to us, we pay a lot so literally, we are supporting their evolution to the highest level. NOTAP says no, Nigeria must understand that we too can do it.
Big time companies like Obasanjo Farms, should have its own research facilities in poultry, feeds, etc. Dangote Group should have its own research team, an institute where it is looking at cement and wheat with the ultimate aim that one day, Nigeria will not import one grain of rice or wheat. This is what NOTAP sees and floated the Agenda 1777.
What is Agenda 1777?
What it means is that 1, we must understand that Nigeria is one and we must do away with tribalism, religious bigotry, geo-political zone, political leaning etc.
We believe in the next seven years, Nigeria should be able to establish seven multinational companies, give the world seven international products they will depend on, meaning that our technologies have worked, our scientists have worked, our businesses established and other countries buying from us.
We observed that deploying the science & technology model as a link between the research institutes and industry is very strategic for Nigeria. We must understand that when students go to school, they should see it entrepreneurially.
You are going to study agriculture because you want to fatten goats; chemical engineering because you want to process goat skin; you want to become a chemist because you want to come out and become the proprietor of a company producing fertilizer.
We have to imbibe this culture to make sure that our education system narrows the gap between it and industry so that industries are coming out of the knowledge.
For example, the Airport Road in Abuja, from the stadium to the airport, what you don’t know is that the stadium complex itself is a scientific beehive for Nigerian entrepreneurs to produce high energy foods, drugs that will heal sports people, kits for sportsmen and women, leather to produce balls etc.
On this same road, you have the Abuja Technology Village which is supposed to be a big small-scale science park with incubators, Nigerian entrepreneurs designing software, drugs etc. On that same road you have the African University of Science and Technology which is the first such engineering and technology university.
There is the Nigerian Space Agency, the Communications Satellite company, the Nigerian Biotechnology Development Agency, the Nigerian Information Technology Development Agency that will be established there.
Also, there is the Nigerian Defence College, a military university, and the Cancer Research Institute will be established on the same road.
When this road is completed, it will be a five-lane dual carriage, the best 30 – 40-kilometre stretch in the whole of Africa connecting one of the best cities on this continent to one of the best airports in Africa. With institutions scattered on that road, Nigeria already has the platform for innovation. But because of that inherent behaviour of working in silence, you will not even know that they are there.
So NOTAP has observed it and we are now working on it. This is part of that Agenda 1777. That in the next seven years, this stretch will evolve to be Africa’s premier science, technology and innovation corridor. We will check what is missing, what we need to do, how we will do it and we will continue talking about it, synergizing, bringing the stakeholders together, encouraging and supporting government.