Nigerian universities are improving their capacity to contribute to the global response to the pandemic through innovative solutions. Some university administrators, who spoke to Funmi Ogundare, explained their efforts
Repurposing of old drugs for COVID-19 because it is cheaper and faster to achieve than new development, as well as the invention of a novel AmbuVent ventilator (now patented) are top on the list of innovations either in the pipeline or achieved as Nigerian universities scale-up research into COVID-19.
Babcock University is leading a tri-party effort to repurpose old drugs, in collaboration with the University of Ibadan and the University of Wolverhampton, UK in an international research consortium.
Researchers at the University of Lagos developed a new AmbuVent Ventilator (now patented), and hand-sanitisers which formulation included the utilisation of local plants.
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars of Private Universities in Nigeria set up a committee of seven universities to write a proposal for submission to the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) for ground-breaking collaborative research on COVID-19. Collaborating institutions are Redeemers, Covenant, Bowen, PAMO, Chrisland, Babcock and Lead City Universities.
Professor Bola Oboh is the Director, Research and Innovation, University of Lagos. She spoke of cross-cutting research in the institution. It involves researchers in Economics, Business Administration, Finance, Industrial Relations, Sociology, Estate Management, and Urban and Regional Planning. They “are increasingly keen on researching new business models, organisational changes and a new design of housing and urban planning models that will enhance COVID-19-friendly living,” she stated.
She said UNILAG has been supporting the formation of multi-disciplinary research groups and research centres to attract and utilise research grants from local, national and international funding agencies, adding that the grants would provide a simple, but effective solution to complex societal problems.
UNILAG has also taken the bold initiative to deepen the contribution of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for research and development to drive economic growth in the country.
According to her, “the university is supporting researchers to develop resources and facilities that are critical and useful for frontline healthcare workers and the society at large, especially where there are inadequacies.”
She cited instances of such interventions to include the recent development of a novel AmbuVent ventilator (for which it has received a patent), and hand-sanitisers which formulation included the utilisation of local plants.
The institution is also supporting researchers from multi-disciplinary backgrounds to actively collaborate with all stakeholders for innovative solutions that consider the peculiarities of the economy, especially the informal sector, and co-develop simple, creative, efficient, and sustainable policies to stabilise it.
The don noted that its Research and Development (R&D) initiatives also focuses on infrastructural development in transport, particularly in densely populated city of Lagos, adding that just before the pandemic, the state had enormous challenges following the ban on motorbikes and tricycles-a significant means of commuting for over 70 per cent of its inhabitants.
“We are establishing a research centre for transportation and logistics to explore sustainable and efficient solutions in this aspect critically. We are interested in shaping the post-COVID era through innovative research in Medicine as a team of experts are currently working to develop rapid diagnostic tools for COVID-19, to stem the tide with current challenges of testing Nigeria’s large population of untested individuals.”
In terms of job losses, the pandemic has invariably exacerbated the already bad situation of youth unemployment in Nigeria, as Oboh noted, “UNILAG seeks to resolve this ugly situation via the establishment of an innovation hub to empower youths. They would become globally competitive entrepreneurs in all facets of economic activities, particularly the use of digital platforms to generate and create wealth. They are strengthening the initiatives through several virtual meetings and webinars for innovative solutions to the problems of youth unemployment.”
She said the use of the university’s Centre for Unemployment and Skills Development has produced substantial interest and grants. They are deploying the grants for the research.
“The university will be channelling a large proportion of its research funding portfolio (garnered from Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through the Central Research Committee and Office of the DVC-A&R, into funding faculty research proposals. The focus would be on understanding the virus, producing other equipment for post-COVID-19 management and reshaping the schooling and education system as well as the business environment to be resilient post-Covid19 era,” Oboh stressed.
The Vice-Chancellor, Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Professor Ademola Tayo said his institution has set up an international research consortium. Members are Babcock University, the University of Ibadan and University of Wolverhampton, UK. Babcock takes the lead because it initiated the research project.
“Babcock University is also the lead author for a £500,000 grant that the consortium is writing for capacity building post-COVID-19.”
The consortium is currently working on the clinical trial of Chloroquine compared to Azithromycin plus vitamin C for the treatment of COVID-19, epidemiology and risk factors for COVID-19, including seroprevalence in the environment, sentinel surveillance of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in the environment.
They will also train 10 master’s degree students to acquire the relevant expertise, strengthen laboratory capacity for current and future epidemics or health issues. Two students will also proceed to PhD.
Tayo said the expected outcomes of the research project would be setting up sentinel research sites, strong partnership with government for quick policy turnaround concerning epidemics, the graduation of 10 master’s degree holders, as well as setting up a strong international consortium.
“Besides, publications and policy briefs would be produced from the research. The group has already produced a COVID-19 paper. We are thinking very big,” the VC said.
The Faculty of Engineering, Lagos State University (LASU) partnered with the Nigeria Society of Engineers, Victoria Island branch in the production of an automated solar-powered hand-washing station machine as its contribution.
The machine enables three persons to wash their hands at the same time, taking into consideration the social distancing regulations of the government.
The leader of the Faculty of Engineering COVID-19 Research Team, Dr. Nurudeen Raji, explained that the automated solar-powered hand washing station machine does not require any touch from the user, adding that it has only one switch to power it on.
“The machine uses two small rechargeable batteries which can power the system continuously for a year. Water gets to the machine through a transparent hose that connects to either side of the machine. Another hose drains waste water (which may contain coronavirus) to a nearby ground for proper disposal. The machine has LED indicators to indicate when it is charging and when it is working visually. It has soap dispensers which can serve 1,000 users at each refill.”
The Chairman, Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars of Private Universities in Nigeria, Professor Timothy Olagbemiro said the body met recently online to deliberate on how it will embark on collaborative research as a response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The body set up a committee of seven universities made up of Redeemers, Covenant, Bowen, PAMO, Chrisland, Babcock and Lead City Universities to write a proposal for submission to the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) for ground-breaking collaborative research on COVID-19.
The research proposal, Olagbemiro noted, was designed towards sourcing funds from the federal government for research on COVID-19, adding that the institutions were expected to harness the resources of relevant staff in their respective institutions to write a credible proposal to be labelled ‘Private Universities Research Initiative on COVID-19’.
“Relevant resources in these universities across the country would be harnessed to research for the benefit of the Nigerian populace and the world as a whole,” Olugbemiro who is the Vice-Chancellor of Edwin Clark University, Kiagbodo, Delta State, said.
He said the committee also approved a team of five vice-chancellors to draft letters of appeal to the Central Bank of Nigeria for a grant of N250 million to each university in Nigeria as a palliative to mitigate the enormous economic distress of COVID-19 pandemic on its operations. The VCs are from Western Delta University, Fountain University, MacPherson University, Pan-Atlantic University and American University of Nigeria.
“The financial assistance is urgently needed to equip laboratories, classrooms and offices with advanced technology that will enhance teaching and learning environment for the staff and students based on the needs of the individual private university. The body also requested for financial assistance from TETfund, knowing the huge cost they will incur while preparing their campus for safety when students return after the government’s lockdown is lifted,” the VC said.
The Vice-Chancellor Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo State, Professor Babatunde Idowu, said the College of Basic and Applied Sciences would encourage possible collaboration with Pax Herbal and other firms which was a follow-up to the resolution reached during the 2018 international conference on science and technology.
He added that the Centre for Research and Development Esanland (CERDEL) has launched a strong awareness campaign on COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will sustain these campaigns because health issues are not event-oriented but process-oriented concerns. Unlike the case of Ebola, COVID-19 campaign will continue after the disease must have gone. Mainly, CERDEL is working so hard to attract grants from UNESCO and other world bodies. We have concluded arrangements to go into cutting-edge cultural studies that will create strong social reengineering in Africa. I must admit that the centre is critical to our research drive,” he said.
He added that its library has equally developed an online repository that allows researchers to freely access materials anywhere in the world, adding that the platform is dynamic and freely accessible, and would also ensure the upload of documents on past conferences.
During a visit to public institutions in Lagos, this reporter discovered that some reports of research efforts have been turned into academic publications and written in esoteric language. At the same time, many doctoral theses gather dust on the shelf.
This reporter also discovered the unavailability of laboratory and workshop equipment, tools and compatible consumables for executing developmental research, as well as disconnected research efforts that may not impact the economy and development of the nation.
The President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and a lecturer at the Department of Curriculum Studies and Instructional Technology, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, spoke to THISDAY.
He said “research comes in different grades and dimensions. These are foundational research activities not necessarily meant to invent tangible products, but to prepare grounds for innovations and inventions; and applied research directed at addressing practical problems in the immediate community or the society at large.”
He said TETFund is encouraging applied research through its new policy on research and development, as many professors have won competitive grants.