November 9, 2020

Minister, Reps disagree over annual science award

Minister, Reps disagree over annual science award

As lawmaker insists award doesn’t exist

By Tordue Salem – Abuja

The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, and member of the House of Representatives representing Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State, Hon. Awaji-Inombek on Monday disagreed over the implementation of the annual science competition for Nigerian students.

The Minister had told the House Committee on Science and Technology that the annual Science competition was a reward for students in science and innovation, but Rep. Abiante disagreed.

He said if the project was actually in existence, then it may have been done secretly, with no proof that it had benefited any student of a community in the country.

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While the Minister took time to explain how the programme works, Abiante requested the Minister to give him the name of one person from his constituency who has benefited from the programme.

“Mr. Minister, these things you are saying, are the things you intend to do or things that you are already doing because, by the special grace of God, I represent two local governments and if you can mention just one person from my constituency that has benefited from all that you have said, I will be satisfied.

“All these beautiful and wonderful statements that we all make here yearly, have become a ritual that Nigeria should adopt. But right there at the grassroots, they don’t exist. If you doubt me, send any of your men.

“I am ready to go back to my constituency, just to see one of the things you have mentioned. For the sake of our children, I appeal that whatever we do, we should be very patriotic and be mindful of what we say because, before you know it, you see ENDSARS looking for the things you said you have done”, Abiante submitted.

But in his response, Onu said “the way the programme runs is that we write to the state government requesting the various local government areas in the state to conduct exams in four subjects of Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics and select one person from the local government. We are not involved in the selection process

“Those people selected from the local government will meet at the state level where an examination is also conducted for them and the best candidate picked and sent to us in Abuja. Those 37 students from the states will also sit for an examination from where we select the best three. We are not even involved in the process of conducting the exams.

“These three students are the ones that will be given awards. The President will present the award to them which is a government scholarship up to Ph.D. level, but that must be in a Nigerian University. We do not give awards to all those who sit for the exams. As Minister, none of the beneficiaries has come from my state of Ebonyi. I have worked with seven Permanent Secretaries and none of the beneficiaries come from their states.”

The lawmaker, was, however, not satisfied with the Minister’s insisting that “even the less educated in my village, there is a programme they watch. It is called Cowbell Mathematics competition. It is visible, verifiable and you can see it. Hon. Minister, I don’t know of any local government area that has conducted any of these exams you are talking about. Andoni is a local government area, Opobo is a local area. For Cowbell, Nigerians sit back in their homes and watch it. They see it. So, if anything is done in secret, I don’t think that thing is done. As far as I am concerned, there is no such activity that has taken place in my constituency.

“Probably, you can go back and rework the strategy” (at this stage, the Minister attempted to make a response, but the Committee Chairman, Rep. Beni Lar kept hitting the gavel to maintain order even when the Minister insisted on responding.

Hon. Lar said “I think what we will do is that the Director will provide the information so that we know what the Ministry is doing. But the Ministry says the state is doing it, and we cannot go without asking any questions. So, don’t be offended. It is just to clarify certain issues. So, let us provide the needed information so that members can be aware of. So, having said that, we have to go into Executive session with the Minister”.

Before the Executive session, Lar said there should be a collaboration between the lawmakers and the Ministry while asking the Director in charge of the project in the Ministry to furnish the House with details of the programme.

Also during the budget defence of the Energy Commission of Nigeria, Abiante queried the 2020 budget performance of the Commission, describing it as dismal, pointing out that barely seven weeks to the end of the 2020 budget circle, the Commission can only boast of 2.7 percent budget performance.

The Rivers Lawmaker said “Mr. Chairman, this is just a routine. For the first time, we have a budget that will run from January to December and we have just seven weeks to the end of this year and this budget.

“I should not be asking questions on what has not been done with the budget. I should be asking questions on what has been done, but not done well. But here we are a few weeks to the end of the budget year, we can only boast of 2.7 percent performance of the budget.

“During the ENDSARS protest, the youths did not go to the House of the Director-General or any Director. They went to the Houses of lawmakers and I am sure if this money was spent the way it was budgeted, there would have been something for them to do. We should be able to put these things in the public domain so that the people know where to direct their questions.

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“I am not even sure if there is anybody from my state, Rivers working in the Commission, because from the way the nominal role is presented, it is difficult to know if there is anybody from my constituency working in the Commission”.

Abiante was however infuriated with one of his colleagues who, asked whether it was compulsory for people from his constituency to work in the Commission.

“are you saying whether it is compulsory for my people to work in a federal government agency? I do not expect that comment from you. Please don’t push me, because if you do, I will talk and you will not like what I will say”.

However, Director-General of the Commission, Prof Eli Jidare Bala assured the lawmaker that he has a staff from River state among the 751 staff of the Commission, saying even though there may not balance in state representation at the moment, the Commission was working on ensuring equitable distribution of employment among the states.

The Director-General told the Committee that it was in the process of awarding a contract for its 2020 capital project, as he admitted that funds were fully released for taking off.