TETfund is bridging the gap between industry and the academia, writes Elemdi Akowe

“I think the idea initiated by TETFUND is a welcome development and we should make sure that whatever research that is going on in our universities is research that is useful and can be practicalized in our industries. This will expand the scope of indigenous technology.” With this statement, Group Executive Director of Dangote Group, Mr. Mansur Ahmed endorsed the nation’s giant leap towards sustainable industrialization. He was speaking during a study tour by the Research and Development Steering Committee of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) to the Dangote Refinery, Petrochemicals and Fertilizer projects in Ibeju Lekki, Lagos led by the Executive Secretary of TETFUND, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro.

It is common knowledge, though regrettable, that Nigeria’s huge endowment of abundant raw materials and population of unemployed youth has not triggered the emergence of an industrialized economy more than six decades after independence. Similarly, the establishment of numerous research institutes has become a monumental misapplication of resources and a strategic blunder because they are mere repositories of research findings and exhibitors of prototypes remotely relevant to the technological needs of the country. Considering the centrality of industrialization in the accelerated pace of progress and development of leading nations of the world, it is perplexing that Nigeria is yet to achieve the critical dovetailing of research and development into its strategy for economic development.

But, its better late than never! The comments of Dangote’s Mansur Ahmed signify concern about non-prioritization of research and pleasant relief and satisfaction with the unprecedented study tour by the Research and Development Steering Committee of the TETFUND to such a major industrial complex, for obvious reasons. This represents yet another bold and purposeful initiative of Prof. Suleman Bogoro, TETFUND Executive Secretary to imprint his outstanding research stature as a turning point toward fulfillment of national aspirations for research-driven industrialization and overall development of the country.

The meeting of a research development team and a leading industrialist under the auspices of a highly resourceful government intervention agency headed by an accomplished research scientist and leader on the pioneer council of the think tank for translating research to innovations, strategies and evidence for policy and national development of the University of Ibadan Research Foundation, is a strong indication of synergy between the researchers in the universities and the industries. Mansur Ahmed assured that Dangote Group will continue to partner with research institutions for the advancement of indigenous technology and industrial development and to ensure that Nigerian graduates are equipped with the set skills to immediately fit into the industry upon employment instead of wasting more years in training them. Mansur Ahmed also pointed out that the industry and the academia need to work together to identify issues and problems so the researchers will come with their findings and proposed solutions and if the solution meets the expectations of the industry, the two will work together to find homegrown solutions.

An elated Bogoro explained that the study tour was vital in bridging the gap between industry and the academia. “This committee has 13-subcommittee and today four of them are here on this visit, we have the Engineering, Bio-resource and Environment, Energy as well as Petroleum, Mining and Extraction sub-committees,” he said, adding that “through researches and collaboration with the industry, we will be able to apply science and technology to improve our country.”

The TETFUND ES has actually been a strong pillar for research development having recently secured N12 billion for 12 public universities to undertake research that would contribute to national growth. The universities which will share the money equally are University of Abuja, University of Benin, University of Ibadan, University of Maiduguri, Bayero University Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, University of Uyo, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, University of Jos, University of Lagos, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University and Uthman Danfodio University, Sokoto, representing first, second, and third-generation universities, with two universities each per geo-political zone.

Prof. Bogoro disclosed the research areas for each university as centers of excellence, within a five-year period. The University of Abuja has public governance and leadership, the University of Jos and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University will research in food security, the University of Maiduguri would focus on arid zone research and development, Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto will take on urology and nephrology and Bayero University Kano would focus on renewable energy.

Michael Okpara University has root crop research and development, Nnamdi Azikiwe University got agricultural and engineering translational studies, the University of Benin has aquaculture and food technology, University of Uyo’s is computational intelligence, University of Ibadan is multi-disciplinary studies while the University of Lagos got biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management.

According to Prof. Bogoro the centers of excellence are to support strategic and applications-oriented research and expertise with potential industrial applications for national and globally competitive research and development in strategic and applied sciences, including medicine, with the aim of generating innovations. They will bring together the complementary resources needed for technical development and industrial application, including concentrating multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and translational research competence in order to further the development of products, processes, and services by focusing on problems that demand larger efforts than can be provided by smaller projects. These terms of reference will enhance utilization of scientific research by industry and make tertiary educational institutions more responsive to industry needs in addition to expertise development and training at doctorate level in areas of industry interest, and the development of knowledge management platforms and innovation hubs.

With a keen sense of patriotism and concern for national security, Prof. Bogoro also led the Fund’s Defense and Security Sub-Committee to the military high command where he harped on need for collaborative efforts with the academia to inject innovation perfected by research for defense and operations, noting that “warfare has gone digital”. In his remarks, the Coordinator, Defense and Military R&D sub-committee, AVM Onyemaechi Osahor also endorsed Bogoro’s advocacy, adding that academia should be encouraged to invest more in “problem-solving research” in defense and security. The Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tukur Buratai assured of the military’s willingness to support research activities to strengthen national defense.

Prof. Bogoro has indeed launched Nigeria’s hitherto stagnated research sector with a giant leap into the dynamic and multi-tasking mode for the vital enhancement and innovative outcomes globally associated with research and development. The robust revitalization of research and development studies in our universities, covering several critical areas of development challenges with substantial funding and a Research and Development Steering Committee of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) under his professional supervision is no doubt the best thing to happen for accelerated national development moving forward.

Akowe wrote from Ilorin