Nigeria marches to mainstream science

By Nkechi Isaac

May 5, 2019

Nigerian scientists, environmentalists, farmers and other science supporters yesterday joined the 2019 global March for Science to urge their federal government to mainstream science as the key to the nation’s economic development.

“No country has ever attained structural and economic transformation without doing science,” said Dr. Abdulrazak Ibrahim of the Department of Biochemistry at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria. “So, this important occasion of March for Science 2019, which we promote and advocate for science, is a moment for us to engage with ourselves, members of the public service and every stakeholder to give science the kind of importance it deserves.”

Ibrahim was speaking at the science “hangout” organized by the Nigeria Alliance for Science, an affiliate of the Cornell Alliance for Science, with support from the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) under the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA). The event followed the theme “science is life.”

He stressed the need for more scientific literacy, not just among the public, but also the policy makers within the government, and decried the nation’s inadequate research and development agenda.

“Science is not important if it is not benefiting the people,” Ibrahim said. “The reason for the low benefit of science to the larger society is because the required investment in research and development is not there and the average in Africa is 0.3 percent, which is bad.

The molecular biologist called on Nigerians, the government and different ministries to adopt new ways of doing things by mainstreaming science because that is the only way the nation can achieve economic transformation.

“We have a number of countries we can borrow from. We do not have to be like England or Japan. If you look at agricultural biotechnology, for example, we have a few examples of tropical countries that are leaders in agricultural biotechnology, like Brazil, some parts of China and the US,” he said. “We need to invest in our homegrown technologies, invest in the people. We need to generate the next generation of scientists that will transform our economy. We need to bring about the change in behavior and this is scientific in nature.

“Our people need to understand the basic scientific issues about climate change,” he added. “Simple understanding of the basic principles can transform lives.”

Earlier, Prof. Alex Akpa, director-general of NABDA, pointed out NABDA has been at the forefront to support science and educate people about the advantage of science, saying everything in life revolves around science.

“The food we eat we have been growing it using the conventional method but with science through biotechnology a lot of change has evolved through crops that are resistant to pests and diseases,” he said.

Akpa, represented by the agency’s director of agricultural biotechnology department, Dr Nasiru Ibrahim, said science has helped Nigeria improve its health services, climate mitigation activities and agricultural biotechnology.

In her welcome address, Dr. Rose Gidado, the country coordinator of OFAB, Nigeria chapter, said Nigeria has been one of the countries that has consistently participated in the March since its inception in 2017 because of its firm belief in the importance of science and the role it plays in our everyday life.

She said the March seeks to create awareness among the populace on the need to speak up and take action in support of science and justice. She stressed the need for a united action in support of science because our leaders continue to delay climate action, and noted that science continues to be sidelined at our federal agencies. Healthcare and education continue to be neglected, hence the need to keep making our voices heard.

Gidado said that science is revolutionary and holds the key to economic development and addressing climate change, food shortages and challenges in medicine. She commended government’s effort at promoting science, but said a lot still needs to be done.

“The recent approval by the government for the environmental release of Bt cotton and Bt cowpea would help farmers use less pesticides in planting these crops, which invariably means less release of dangerous pesticides into the atmosphere, and more produce from their farm,” Gidado said. “Biotechnology is the way to go because the use of genetically modified crops in the agricultural sector would the help in the reconstruction, revival and rejuvenation of the sector, as well as enhance food security.

“However, despite all these landmark strides by the government there is still a lot to do in science development especially in the area of research funding. Science research is one of the most poorly funded subsectors of the economy, and any nation that is interested in development must dedicate funds for research and innovations.

“The government also needs to encourage students and studies in science. One of the great attributes of science development is catching them young. So, we also need to underscore the need for government to encourage young students to pick interest in the sciences to groom their invention and innovation capabilities and prepare them for the future,” Gidado added.

In his goodwill message,  Chief Daniel Okafor, vice president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), stressed the need for government to support research and development in science, especially in the agricultural biotechnology sector, to improve agriculture and make it profitable for farmers, prompt food sufficiency and create employment.

“The farmers are not scientists, but we are the direct beneficiaries of science. Science is life and is crucial to move this nation to the next level and we must continue to advocate for the Nigerian government and the stakeholders to do mainstream science,” he said.

“Biotechnology is the way to go and we farmers are in need of it. We’re talking about Brazil, South Africa and Argentina, where farmers are doing well. It is because they believe in science and they are researching into all areas in science. There is need to have complete team work in science development. I believe we will achieve food security, create more jobs and turn agriculture into a lucrative profession.”