How TETFund is Deepening Research for National Development – Prof Bogoro

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Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro’s second term appointment was approved by the Federal Government on Monday, 21 January, 2019, in Abuja. He was the Executive Secretary of TETFUND between April 2014 and February 2016.

In the initial part of his first tenure as the Executive Secretary of TETFUND, his interest in research and development (R&D) led to the creation of the Department of Research and Development (R& D) at the TETFUND.

Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro obtained a Bachelor Degree in Agriculture in 1981 from the University of Maiduguri, Master Degree in Animal Science from ABU, Zaria in 1988 and a PhD in Animal Science at the Federal University of Technology, now Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi in 1997. He was elevated to the rank of Professor of Animal Science (specializing in Biochemistry and Ruminant Nutrition) in 2003.

Professor Bogoro is among the Senior and accomplished leaders providing oversight as members of the Council for the National Think Tank for Translating Research to Innovations, Strategies and Evidence for Policies in Nigeria. The leaders are academics, national professional officers, technical, business and administrative leaders selected from universities, research institutions, national agencies and the media.

Prof Bogoro is prolific researcher, with numerous publications in international and local journals, whose versatility has also been projected through his consultancy on and management of international, national and regional projects supported by the World Bank, UNDP, USAID, DFID, and several others.

In this interview with a team of Editorial staff from Economic Confidential in Abuja, Professor Bogoro bares his mind on why Research and Development (R&D) has taken Centre stage in TetFund and eventual tackling of several national issues therefrom. Excerpts:

TETFund is Deepening Research

Why the recent collaboration with the military and security agencies on Research and Development (R&D)?

Prof Bogoro: It is only obvious that if you want to operate effectively in the modern era, your strategies have to be modern. And it is science, technology and innovation that make the difference. In the 1990, early 1991 gulf war that people thought was going to last for months and years, it lasted 72 hours. It was in fact the display of modern application of science and technology in warfare as never before. That was when you heard about laser-guided bombs; that was when you heard about stout bombers. So, it was science and technology that was applied to that level.

Why is TETFUND focusing more on Research and Development?

Prof. Bogoro: At TetFund, we are happy to elevate research and development in identifying the right priorities going forward. The greatest of nation, the greatest of economy, and the greatest of technology are all hinged on quality education, and it is research that defines quality education. For instance, the US and Russia, are using research to develop their military and technological mind for economic advantage. It therefore, become necessary for government, the academia and industry to interface in a sustainable manner that produced goods and services for local consumption and export. Any research that did not hold out commercial possibilities was an effort in futility against emerging realities.

How do you intend to pursue the research and development agenda for the nation?

Prof Bogoro: We recently inaugurated a 162-member standing committee on Research and Development (R&D) towards achieving the goal. The members were drawn from a pool of Nigerian researchers, innovators, representatives of relevant MDAs, and the private sector. They are expected to drive TetFund’s intervention policy in public tertiary institutions towards the nation’s economic and technological competitiveness. They are to ensure a paradigm shift in research and development in the country. It would focus on 13 thematic areas, including education, agriculture, Information Communication Technology (ICT) and digital economy, engineering, defense and military, energy, environment and bio-resources, Medicine, pharmaceuticals, petroleum, industrialization and infrastructure development.

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What is the reason behind the inauguration of the Committee?

Prof. Bogoro: As you may be aware there had been a disconnect between the academia and industry over the years, resulting in research in tertiary institutions becoming merely a tool to attaining heights in the academia. The research and development over the years has also been mainly focused on promotions rather than problem solving for the good of the nation. For industry, it was more convenient to shop for innovations and results of research findings in clime outside the shores of Nigeria. This is because the academia has developed thick walls and created artificial valleys that prevent the industry to leverage research outputs in our tertiary institutions. This is coupled with the mutual distrust between the academia and the industry.

How do you rate Nigeria’s tertiary institutions on research for development?

Prof. Bogoro: For too long, our universities dwell too much on teaching at the expense of research. Teaching does not define as much quality of education as the research that generates new innovative knowledge, and so shaped everything including pedagogy for teaching. If we go to food security, with all these our anger, there are many things that we are not even addressing. From the production to processing, to storage, quality management, and packaging. It is a whole gamut. From the main agricultural Institute to food technology and packaging, it is science, technology and innovation that define those things. Check it, the most competitive economies; the top 20 have the highest investment and funding on R&D in the region of 2 to 6 percent majority, within that range. But what is Nigeria’s funding of R&D, it is 0.2 percent.

Does it mean that TETFUND will now focus attention on R&D than providing infrastructural facilities to higher institutions?

Prof. Bogoro: Obviously, it implies. Initially, TETFund was set up ostensibly to arrest the rot and deterioration in the educational infrastructure occasioned by long period of neglect and very poor resource allocation. We were looking for good offices for lecturers, classrooms for students at the universities. There were ramshackle buildings which were regarded as classrooms. There were broken glasses. In libraries, the collection of journal articles were 15 to 20 years behind. From the building itself to stocking of books. The truth is that we needed to do what I called “The Paradigm Shift”. We should go beyond providing just the physical infrastructure by looking at the content sufficiently. the content is the personnel or human capital or academic staff that we call the Faculty. That is the critical mass for any university or polytechnic or college of education. We just don’t erect a building called a library, and work away. We ensure that up-to-date and relevant text book, and of course the hardware such as the laptop, desktop and even the software, which is critical, are provided. Now, we are even talking about the digitization of thesis. For those that have bachelor’s degree, they must acquire Master’s degree and proceed to PhD. So, these are things we are emphasizing and doing. And that is why the percentage of PhD-holders in the universities has moved from, originally, about 50% some years ago. And now, we are having more than 75% for most universities. We are hoping we will improve on that for polytechnics and colleges of education. With higher qualification, you now know that you are improving the quality of faculty, which is a factor in rating of universities.

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Let’s go to ranking requirements and the holding of research grants by academic staff?

Prof Bogoro: The holding of research grants for too long we have said we are looking at numbers of publications and you are clapping for some that move fast to become a professor. But at some point we asked ourselves, what are these guys professing? If there are no problem-solving things coming out of their heads, they are not applying those thing out there is the fields, whether it’s about the environment, food security and climate change, if you are not doing that then there is no progress. So, we realize that we have to prioritize even the contents’ components, and research is easily the number one. Academic staff training for post-Doc, those that have PhDs. We have benchwork sponsorship post-Doc for one full year. And most of the time, it is for those that did their PhD locally, we want to expose them outside Nigeria, to go and see other climes, and come back to help the students they will supervise and teach. We also have manuscript development, which we are emphasizing. Only recently, we approved the production of 43 basic indigenous textbooks. The largest at any time in this country. We have never had that number. Of course, there are other research-based textbook for more advanced teaching, but you still need the basic so that the foundation will be well-established. Because it is what matters.

Could this part of the quiet revolution that we heard is taking place at TETFund?

Prof Bogoro: For too long Nigerian research works have been around theory. That is why they are not attractive to the industry. And the industry is not even supposed to partner with us, we the need the academics. We have seen lecturers conducting research for promotion and elevation in their careers because they say ‘they either publish or perish.’ Some academics want to publish as many papers but they are bereft of innovation, creativity, and too narrow because they are operating around a very small area of your discipline. Then what are they professing? We have many of our colleagues that way, and it is just not good. You see some of the youths of these days, they get Bachelor’s degree in an area, and they go to practice innovation, enterprise in areas far away from their training in the universities and polytechnics. That is how it should be. You must apply yourself to learn more beyond the narrow confines of your training. So, whoever you are if you are innovative and enterprising, people come and look for you. But for too long, we were too theoretical, and I think that is part of the problem.

The inauguration of the economy, more than half or two-third of the members are academics. Others are: members of the industry. The private sector, which we invited, the Innoson, Dangote and Seplat, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and several others, of this world are all members of the Committee.

Today, the Nigerian Defence infrastructure has recognized R&D strongly. You go to DICON, you will be surprised to see what they have been doing. And it cuts across the three arms of the military. I said a number of IEDs detectors and demobilizers by way of technology are been produced by a number of R&D units or institutions of the military, of which DICON is the number. AFID, is also there. We have invited all of them to be members of our R&D Committee. We have the Defence R&D Bureau (DRDB), which came on board about three years ago. Surprisingly, performances of military research institutes are quite encouraging and easily access research grants. If research were just for the sake of research, I am not excited. Let research be for problem-solving and I call it problem-solving research.

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What have you spent so far in the last one year in this direction?

Prof Bogoro: I am not scared to tell you some figures. But the fact is that it is an expensive venture. But graciously, the Board of Trustees of TETFund approved virtually everything. In fact, last year, 500 million naira was set aside to pursue the drive for the institutionalization of R&D, especially the constitution and inauguration of the R&D standing committee. And in the 2020 budget, 1 billion was made available. This Committee, as I am talking to you are moving round this country. They are moving to meet the big gun industries in the private sector. The most competitive economies, the greatest of technologies, it is all about knowledge. It is about science, technology and innovation, largely, and of course leadership that shows the right way, and gives the right example going forward.

Do you envisage any challenge in achieving your goals?

Prof Bogoro: Not at all. We are encouraged by the support of the Hon Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu as well as the commitment and backing of President Muhammadu Buhari in this direction. I am glad to inform you that President Muhammad Buhari has graciously taken significant steps in providing a framework for the development of science and technology by mainstreaming it into the country’s national development strategies. This can be viewed with the lens of 50 per cent increment in the National Research Fund(NRF) of TETFund in the 2020 approved budget. As you may be aware, the Board of Trustees of TETFund having realised the position of content development, especially the place of research and development in global ranking of tertiary institutions, recommended the increment of the NRF. Currently, the NRF is the foremost and largest funding window for research and development in Nigeria.

Some of the private universities are talking about getting a special intervention to ensure that they perform optimally. Are you walking towards that?

Prof Bogoro: In TetFund, we remain within our budgets. I will never give allocation for an intervention project when there is no money for it. I can be jailed for that. And that is the discipline we have maintained at TETFund. We do not announce figures that are fake. If I sign an allocation for TETFund, there is money for it. So, those people that are asking for money for special intervention are asking for you for money that were not approved by Mr. President, under our budget. So, you want me to go and start issuing allocation for money outside the approved budgetary framework? Then, I will go to jail.

By Economic Confidential

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