Oronsaye's report: Why Didn't the Panel Merge the FG Independent Research Institutes with the Universities.

There have been various commentaries on the recent Federal Executive Council's (FEC) approval for the full implementation of the Stephen Oronsaye Panel Report to merge some parastatals, agencies, and some commissions, while others will be subsumed, scrapped, or relocated. The approval was said to be in line with the need to reduce the cost of governance and streamline efficiency across the governance value chain.

Research Institutes are littered across the country with little or no research output. On the report was the proposed merging of some research institutes with similar activities. I was expecting a holistic review of our numerous research Institutes and their mandates. Rather than looking at just similarities in their activities, my expectation was a holistic look at these institutes to know how far they have gone with respect to their mandate since their establishment. Compare them with similar institutes within the universities with respect to their performance. Then, recommend the best model that will make them purposeful to achieve their mandates.

For example, there is the Biotechnology Development Agency with Bioresource Development Centres nationwide. The mandate of the centres is to carry out "well-focused" research and development in biotechnology in priority areas of food and agriculture, health, industry, environment, and other strategic sectors for national development. Well, go to the centres and check out their "bioresource" research activities and productivity. The story of most independent research Institutes in Nigeria is similar to this. They all receive budgetary allocations every year without any attention to their output.

We have Research Institutes for chemical technology, the Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructures with subsidiary R&D Institutes, the Institute of Medical Research, etc. It is a very long list. What are their research outcomes in comparison with the amount invested in them? What solutions have they developed for the country since their establishment? Where are the products commercialised from these centres and institutes? What are their IGR? What activities is the IGR supporting at the institutes?

The Centre for Automotive Design and Development (CADD) produced prototype tricycles in the 90s while it was located in ABU. The tricycles were as good as what we are importing from China and India today. It was closed down and later located outside the university as a unit of NADDC. To date, we have not had a product from there on the street. They have annual budgetary allocations that are more than the budget of some of the public universities.

However, you can see our roads littered with thousands of imported tricycles (keke) from India and China. Imagine if we were serious and purposeful, and those Keke were produced by CADD in Nigeria. Just imagine the economic impact.

These research institutes are populated with supposed researchers without research experience, PhD, or even MSc. It won't be a surprise if you find a third-class degree holder employed as a research staff in some of those research Institutes. One begins to wonder about the motive behind the establishment of these numerous "unproductive" supposed "research centres/Institutes" with annual budgetary allocations with little or no research activities. Were they established to really do research or just to employ to reduce unemployment?

Meanwhile, the most active research Institutes to date are still the ones located at the universities. An example is the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR) Samaru which was founded in 1922 and transferred to ABU when it was established in 1962. Those who started ABU surely knew what they were doing when IAR that had existed long before the university was added to the university. They possibly had better foresight than us.

FG can't be crying about the paucity of funds for the universities while the numerous independent research agencies and centres established by the Federal Government nationwide have budgets for capital expenditure higher than universities like ABU. We can't be too poor to properly fund universities but too rich to sustain "unproductive" institutes.

What if these research centres/institutes are merged with the universities? Imagine all the research centres/institutes in Kaduna state merged with ABU and having Executive Directors appointed by the Vice Chancellor to head them. Imagine all the FG-funded research institutes in Lagos merging with the University of Lagos. Imagine all the research institutes in Abuja merging with the University of Abuja. Imagine all the ones in Enugu merging with UNN, etc.

It is a well-known fact that there is a limit to the research capabilities of BSc holders. However, some of these research institutes are populated with this class of graduates. So what output are you expecting from these research institutes? That's surely not a purposeful hiring.

Why not merge these research centres and institutes with the universities? The research institute can be partly owned by the university and the parent agency. PhD students are key resource persons in research activities. While the staff of the institutes is trained by the university at no cost to conceive novel ideas and guide research students and fellows, universities will hire PhD scholars for research that is in line with the mandate of the institutes. The cost of running such centres will be reduced and the excess funds can be channeled towards research activities.

Postgraduate programs drive research in universities. That is why some of our best are hired for PhD in Europe, the US, Canada, South Africa, Malaysia, etc. Even though some of the research works are purposely or just for promotion's sake for now, but with vision and proper funding, we can change the narrative and make our research activities 'purposeful' and direct toward the critical needs of the country. The mandates of such research institutes when merged with these universities can set a path for the postgraduate research activities within such institutes and the relevant departments. This will improve the overall research output of the institutes and the university.

To avoid conflict, a clear responsibility of the parent agency will be defined. For example, if the institutes under NASENI are merged with the federal university in their respective states, it will be partly owned by both the University and NASENI. The Agency will play a supervisory role and provide funds for research that is in line with the mandates.

The concept of local content will be adopted where every public and private institution is mandated by law to patronise our research institutions for solution development. You can only engage a foreign researcher after you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that you can't get a solution to your problems from the available local content and resources.

Some government agencies have budgets for research and development. Such funds should be used to fund research in our universities to provide a solution to the government agency's challenges. Such funds can fund 2 to 3 PhDs in the university of their choice. This will create double output. The agency gets a solution to its problem and a PhD student or postdoctoral research fellow is trained.

To TETFund Boss and the other key stakeholders, it is time to consolidate on the gains of the over 20 years of TETFund postgraduate training of tertiary institutions lecturers. I think it is time to pause a bit and domesticate FG-funded scholarships. Instead of converting 30 million naira to dollars for a TETFund fully funded PhD in Malaysia, let the 30 million naira be used to fund the PhD in our universities in Nigeria. The facilities acquired from such grants will remain at the university for other students to use.

We have developed enough manpower in our universities to handle that. We have successful TETFund NRF researchers. Domesticating the scholarship fund will give the postgraduate students a good degree, help solve a Nigerian challenge that other countries can benefit from, and help develop our research capabilities. The testimony of what we were able to achieve in our department with a 32 million naira NRF research grant from TETFund in 2020 gave me hope that we can make this work.

To the Boss of NASENI and similar agencies, the universities are among your strongest partners in achieving your mandate. Identify the universities with a strong research base that is relevant to your mandates. Enter into an MoU with them concerning training and research. They will train your staff and hire PhDs to work on your ideas. Just make provision for the funds to execute that.

We can't continue on this purposeless path. It is time to either merge our institutions to save costs and maximize output or create a strong link between independent institutions of similar interests. It is time to domesticate our scholarships to develop our capabilities. We can't be too rich to fund international scholarships every year but too poor to provide a conducive research environment for these scholars upon return. Our universities and Nigeria at the moment need all the funds spent on international scholarships.


Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD.
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Copyright © Amoka 2024


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