Lagos Commissioner for Science and Technology, Fatai Mabadeje, spoke with Emma Okonji on the on-going Science and Technology Week in the state, its use of technology in creating job opportunities and in driving governance, amongst others.
What is unique about the Lagos State Science and Technology Week, and how will it boost technology development in the state?
The Science and Technology Week, which started since on Tuesday this week, is expected to end tomorrow Friday the 15 of February 2013, and it is geared towards the continued utilisation of science and technology for the people of Lagos State, and it is an annual event.
It is targeted at creating opportunity for various stakeholders such as students, inventors, innovators, researchers among others, to exhibit their products that are largely driven by indigenous technologies. The idea is to foster development and utilisation of science and technology for the overall development of Lagos and Nigeria.
What led to this year’s choice of theme?
This year’s theme, ‘Promoting the Development of Science and Technology through Entrepreneurship Education,’ became widely accepted because it is relevant to the vision and aspiration of Lagos State in driving technology education. The theme, which seeks to promote indigenous technology development, is designed to explore and harness all scientific and technological inputs for the development of Lagos as a model megacity; to showcase indigenous technology research products with a view to promoting their development and deployment thereby conserving scare foreign resources. It also seeks to provide a platform for interactions between inventors and investors and to provide an environment for interaction between members of the public and the academia with a view to learning about the current development in science and technology.
How much of local content is being displayed among the products that are being showcased at the Science and Technology Week?
Nigeria is yet to develop her technology across different fields of human endeavours hence the Nigerian government and people are bent on local content development to boost our own technology. What we have today, is adoption of foreign technologies to fit into our own system. So what is being displayed all through the week, are products developed by primary and secondary school pupils and students, based on adaptation of other technologies they have seen. Yes, we as government encourages them on local content development and that is one of the purposes of the exhibition and I assure the public that Lagos State will continue to encourage local content development in driving indigenous technology in the country. A lot of technologies on display at the Science and Technology Week are ideas developed from local content, geared towards addressing local challenges.
What has been the impact of previous technology week?
The impact had been great and commendable. We have been able to increase the number of exhibitions and it has attracted more vendors and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to support the initiative. More companies are willing to share their ideas and resources, just to boost the initiative. For instance, we started with 60 pupils in 2011, and in 2012, we had over 300 of them. This year, the number has been doubled and it keeps increasing because the awareness is also increasing.
Your target appears to centre on students in primary and secondary schools alone. Are there plans to boost technology development in tertiary institutions?
Our plan to boost technology development in the state is not centred on primary and secondary students alone, but it cuts across students from tertiary institutions, as well as those that have graduated from various tertiary institutions. We have different programmes for these categories of people I have just mentioned. Our emphasis on primary and secondary school pupils and students in the ongoing Science and Technology Week is based on our vision for the development of primary and secondary education, since they are the bedrock of education. The earlier we get them involved in Science and Technology, the better it becomes for us as a nation.
Lagos State is concerned about Information Technology (IT) development and skill acquisition through training and re-training, but computer ownership among people is still low. What is the state doing to drive computer ownership penetration?
Like you rightly said, Lagos State is interested in capacity building of its citizenry, through training and retraining and that was one of the reason the state established the e-Learning Centre in Lagos, and we have started training our own teachers at the centre, but we discovered that those who have benefitted from the programme do not have laptops to work with on their own. Having discovered this, the state is currently partnering with local manufacturers of Personal Computers (PCs) and Laptops to make their products available at reduced cost for the people.
What is the state doing about its software institute and how does it intend to drive technology with software development?
Our concept of the establishment of a software institute is still fresh and intact. We want to do something different from others and we are still working on the project. We are talking with experts who will add value to the planned software institute. The institute will eventually transform from just a software institute to a full technology institute, which also encompasses software development and training. We have a long term plan for the institute. The physical building is ready, but we still need to put the right infrastructure that will drive the place.
In the area of driving technology with software, the state is actually keen at developing software institute that will meet the needs of the state in software development. We recognise that software development is key to technology growth hence we had long identified ourselves with software development.
Some time ago, the state set up a technology innovation fund to help technology savvy people access the fund. How far has it helped the people of Lagos in technology development?
Yes we have a technology innovation fund that is managed by the innovation council and I am the chairman of the council. The board has been meeting and in our last meeting, we invited four groups to make presentations on the type of technology they want to develop, how the technology will serve Nigerians, and how it will boost the finances of individuals and the economy of the nation. The fund is there and we hope to use it in supporting people who have marketable technology products that could add value to Nigerians and Nigeria.
Apart from the technology fund, the state also created Research and Development (R&D) fund and they are largely driven by the private sector.
Lagos State initially planned the establishment of forensic laboratory. How far has that project gone?
Actually the state had proposed the establishment of forensic laboratory for the state, but that vision is not dead yet, even though not much had been done in that regard. It is quite an intensive project and we have to take out time to get it right by starting well. So far we have written the expression of interest, which will be released for publication soon. We intend to partner with experts that are into forensic work and we hope to achieve our vision on that very soon. Right now the issue with site location has been concluded, and we are just waiting for a few more things to begin.
Recently JAMB introduced computer-based test. Given the country’s infrastructural position, do you think Nigeria ripe for this?
Yes Lagos is ready and Nigeria is also ready for computer-based test for schools. In fact Nigerians are already doing computer-based test in most organisations, and I think the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) can do it. All they need is the computers that are internet enabled. For Lagos, it is possible, but where I have some fears is the nationwide test. This is so because even in Lagos where we have most of the infrastructure, we still have to battle with some challenges. So I think JAMB should look at the possibility nationwide, before embarking on the computer-based test initiative.
To what extent is Lagos using technology in creating jobs and in driving governance?
Job creation is an extension of policy and strategy. We do not create jobs as a state, but we create the enabling environment that will drive job creation. In Lagos State, we have used technology in various ways in creating enabling environment for job creation in the state. We have 57 local government areas in the state and we have provided infrastructure in virtually all the local government areas in the area of youth empowerment to enable job creation. Again we have grown the economy of Lagos in the last five years, even though I cannot give you the growth figure, but as at 2011, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for Lagos was $18 billion, and we have surpassed that. We have created quite a number of rehabilitation centres where people acquire skills and thereafter, became self-employed and even became employer of labour. So by our policies and strategies, we create enabling environment for job creation.
In the area of governance, Lagos State is actually on top of the game in driving governance with technology. Our vision is to have full e-governance, where technology drives virtually everything.
We have a full data hub and we are one of the few states of the federation that has full e-governance system. We have put all government activities online, such that people can now interface with government online from the comfort of their homes and offices.
What is the way forward for Nigerian ICT sector?
We way forward for Nigeria in the area of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), is for the country to have a broadband policy that will drive internet penetration in both urban and rural communities. The policy will enable everyone have access to internet and that is what is driving the global economy. Nigeria has done so well in voice telecommunications, but the aspect of data, which is internet growth, is still foot-dragging and we need a broadband policy that will actually do the magic, just the way we experienced telecoms growth with voice telephony.
On our part as a state, we have gone ahead of the federal government to establish our broadband policy team and mandated them to come up with a framework for broadband development in the state.