Ogbonnaya Onu tasks Nigeria to focus on the opportunities as well as the challenges of Covid-19, writes Bashir Adamu.

It is a well-known fact that science and technology play a crucial role in national development. This point is not lost on Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Science and Technology Minister. He is one of those intellectuals that has developed an interest in politics and has been very active in the political field. He was one-time Governor of old Abia State where he made a tremendous impact. He was also the presidential candidate of All People’s Party (APP) and National Chairman of All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP). He contributed significantly to the merger that produced the All Progressive Congress, the current ruling party. Dr. Onu played opposition politics for 16 years coming from the Southeastern part of Nigeria where the Peoples Democratic Party held sway. He refused to cross carpet but remained resolute because of his belief and idea on governance. This was rewarded in 2015 when the APC won the presidential election. Dr. Onu was appointed as the Minister of Science and Technology, a well-deserving ministry judging from his wide knowledge of science and technology. He has learned and taught science from seminary school to university. He brought all the acquired knowledge to bear on the ministry of science and technology with a mission to place the ministry in its right position as a major driver of development.

Dr. Onu was invited to deliver a lecture at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS) Kuru, Jos by the participants of Senior Executive Course No. 42, 2020. In this expository lecture, Dr. Onu highlighted the achievements of the ministry under his administration and the synergy between the ministry of science and technology and NIPSS as the think-tank for policy in Nigeria, as well as the ubiquity of science and technological innovation as the driver of development.

The minister opines that countries that have advanced in history did so through science and technology innovation. Hence, there are tremendous efforts by the ministry of science and technology under his leadership to reposition Nigeria towards technology-driven development. This is coming when the entire world is ravaged by the COVID -19 pandemic. Dr. Onu argued that this pandemic constitutes a global challenge, yet there are opportunities that the country can derive via this challenge, hence Nigeria should focus on the opportunities rather than only on the challenges. The ministry of science and technology is poised to drive this development. Therefore, the minister through his speech last Thursday challenged Nigerian scientists to find a cure for the COVID-19 and pledged a financial reward of N36 millions. He noted that this has yielded results as many institutions, and individuals have written to the ministry claiming their research results and natural products can cure the COVID-19. Therefore, the ministry set up a committee comprising Fellows of the Nigerian Academy of Science to critically assess their claims to ensure that the solutions can remedy the pandemic. Also, the minster supervised the development of a strategy for prevention, tracking, testing, and treatment (PT3) on a short, medium, and long-term basis, all in a bid to tackle the ravaging effects of the pandemic while searching for a home-grown cure. To this end, the ministry mobilized the agencies and parastatals under the ministry of science and technology to start producing hand sanitizers, disinfectants, personal protective equipment (PPE) including high-quality face–masks, body immune boosters, vaccines, test kits, disinfectant dispensing equipment, ventilator, telemedicine, among others. These are efforts to put the ministry in its position as the driver of development.

The leadership of Dr. Onu in the ministry of science and technology has restored the belief and confidence of Nigerians in the ministry as it has been at the forefront in combating issues of national, regional, and international repute. The ministry of science and technology under the leadership of Dr. Onu has recorded tremendous achievements which are unprecedented such as elimination of duplication of research efforts within the agencies under the ministry, thereby conserving scarce financial resources. The ministry has improved collaboration among research institutes, universities, industry, and government. It has also substantially improved the awareness of the general public on the importance of science and technology to nation-building. It has worked hard to encourage our young people and the girl-child to show interest in the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

According to the minister, the ministry made considerable effort in the commercialization of research results as many research results are now found as products in the market place for people to buy. In the determination to fight poverty in the country, the ministry has given skills for capacity building to many Nigerians in the area of fabrication of machines, leather technology, solar energy, finishing of buildings, small hydro turbines for power generation, etc. It has also equipped many entrepreneurs with home-grown technologies to help them grow their businesses for job creation.

Concerning innovative technology for the future, the minister submits that the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is mindful that Nigerian youths must play vital roles. In this regard, the ministry commenced in 2016 a process to encourage the youth in all 774 LGAs of the country to participate in Science and Technology, in a program tagged “774 Young Nigerian Scientists Presidential Award (774 – YONSPA). The idea behind this is to ensure deepening of the culture of technology by encouraging youths to get involved in technology-oriented programs and courses.

As a visionary leader, Dr. Onu is thinking about the post-COVID -19 era in which the ministry of science and technology will be the driver of development in Nigeria. The minister suggests that the goal of the ministry is to make the states and local governments the veritable engine-houses of value-added, technology and innovation-driven, socio-economic growth. This will be accomplished by deploying a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. The purpose of this approach is to decentralize developmental thinking and programming, taking it down to the grass root to ensure that every state and local government develops the capacity for self-sustenance.
Adamu wrote from Abuja