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‘Fund us not foreigners’, Nigerian innovators plead

Nigerian researchers and inventors at the country’s first science and technology expo in Abuja this week are urging investors to support indigenous technology.

The expo, a week-long event which started on 3 April, gathered over 200 researchers from universities and research institutions all over Nigeria.

In the bustling meeting halls, a lucky few were able to talk directly to science minister Ogbonnaya Onu as he weaved between the stalls.

For those presenting ideas it was a rare opportunity to bend the ear of the man who could change their future with the stroke of a pen.

Gregory Nwachukwu from Enugu State University of Science and Technology showed off his fuel-less generator. It’s a technology he believes could be advantageous for investors, as fuel shortages continue to hamper homes when the national electricity grid goes down—as it often does.

But the professor of electrical engineering says Nigerian investors tend to prefer foreign products. “Nigerian investors prefer going overseas, to countries like China, Japan, USA, instead of patronising ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods. They do not believe in the creative power of researchers in Nigeria. They leave us to rot away with our technology, failing to recognise that when we build our own, we are better off.”

Jonathan Enokela, lead researcher on a project that has produced an electronic voting system, shares the same frustrations. “We have developed the electronic voting system since 2008. We have written proposals to the electoral commission, government and ministries but we didn’t get any response. We even wanted to partner with private investors just to produce in quantities that will impress the government. We are here again exhibiting hoping that it will yield results through this expo,” he says.

According to Nwachukwu, Nigeria’s current economic recession could play into the hands of expo exhibitors because it might encourage investors to look inwards and support Nigeria’s indigenous technology.

But Sola Adewuyi, a researcher in electrical and engineering at Bells University, Ota, in Ogun State, says foreign investors are keener to invest in the fruits of Nigerian research than the country’s own government and industries. This limits national benefits from innovation, he says.

“Each time we have the opportunity to send proposals to countries abroad, especially Germany, we discover that they are quick to respond and go to the next step of taking up the idea. But we are losing as a country because the foreign companies use these research results to improve their country and Nigerians then go to that country to get the same thing on a gold platter,” he says. “This is time to look inward to move Nigeria from the present economic downturn and use what we have to improve our country,” he adds.

Many solutions are offered to the funding drought by exhibitors in the expo hall. Abiodun Ojo, a professor of chemistry at Afe Babalola University, said that in addition to private sector investment, the government should provide seed money for early-career researchers.

That would speed up research in the country and encourage young researchers to tackle projects that can move the country forward, he said.

Jackie Opara travelled to the Expo this week to report for Research Africa.