*How Nigerian scientists conducted groundbreaking genome sequence of coronavirus
*President commends Nigerian scientists, researchers, others for rising up to challenges, proffering solution to pandemic
Henceforth the Federal Government will allocate half a percent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and innovation in a determined effort to enhance the country’s economic growth and development.
President Muhammadu Buhari made the disclosure in a speech delivered today on his behalf by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN at the opening of the 2021 Technology and Innovation Expo themed “Science, Technology and Innovation for Economic Recovery and Sustainability Amidst COVID-19 challenges”.
Speaking about the efforts of his administration in the past few years especially in budgetary allocation to the sector, the President said the measures adopted over the years have helped to increase research and innovation with the aim of achieving sustainable development.
According to him, “We are happy that this has been achieved in line with the decision taken by the African Union’s Executive Council in 2006 to establish a target for all member States of 1% of GDP investment in Research and Development (R&D) in order to improve innovation, productivity and economic growth.
“We are aware that only a few African countries have met this target, but as a result of the challenges of this critical sector of the economy, we will allocate a minimum of 0.5% of our GDP to research and innovation as a way to fast track meaningful development.”
Commending the heroic contribution of Nigerian researchers and scientists in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, President Buhari said “the COVID-19 Pandemic has asked tough questions of our national capabilities in the area of research and innovation. I am gratified to report that we are competently answering these questions through the commendable efforts of our researchers and scientists.”
Recalling how the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria, the President stated that “what is less well known is that shortly after the patient was identified, a sample of the virus was sent to the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), at Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State.”
Continuing, he stated that “there, a team led by Professor Christian Happi, analysed the sample and was able within 48 hours to share the very first genome sequence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from Africa with the global science community.
“This finding was shared faster than what was being done in some developed countries. More importantly, it was also much faster than sending it to a laboratory overseas. That last bit is very important as it is ground-breaking.”
Stressing the significance of the scientific breakthroughs, President Buhari said “not so long ago (before then), test samples had to be flown out of the country for examination. This is no longer the case because thanks to the efforts of our medical scientists and agencies like the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) we now have the capacity to process samples internally. Last December, the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) launched a new set of COVID-19 test kits that can produce results in 57 minutes. The new kit was designed by Joseph Shaibu, a molecular virologist at NIMR.
“These are a few examples of how Nigerian researchers, scientists and technologists are answering the demand of the present moment and providing solutions to our problems.
“As a Government, we are committed to providing an enabling environment for the Science and Technology Sector in order to unlock the enormous potential for innovation, wealth creation and economic growth.”
Speaking about the collaboration with the States to improve broadband penetration and connectivity, the President said “we are currently working to bridge the digital divide by increasing access to broadband with our National Broadband Plan which was launched this year.”
“The plan is aimed at achieving 90% broadband penetration by 2025. The plan will give special attention to the unserved and underserved areas when deploying telecom services. To achieve this, the Federal Government has also engaged with the State Governors at the National Economic Council on right of way charges for laying of broadband infrastructure such as fibre optic cables, this reduces the initial cost for broadband service providers to lay the infrastructure needed to provide broadband services, many states have already complied and reduced the rates to as low as 140 naira per meter, while some states have completely removed the charges.
“We are pursuing this cause because we recognize that internet access and broadband penetration are pillars of the innovation economy,” the President added.
The President expressed confidence that “through hard work and determination and by effectively harnessing our potential in science, technology and innovation, we will overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and build a nation that meets the aspirations of all our citizens and earns the respect of the world.”
He referenced the issuance of Executive Order No. 5 (“EO5”) in February 2018, as another demonstration of support and confidence in the Science and Technology sector by the administration especially in promoting domestic goods and services.
Earlier in his remarks, the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, acknowledged the support of the President and the commitment of the administration in enhancing the growth of Science and Technology in the country.
He expressed confidence that with improved funding for the sector, Nigerian researchers will proffer home-grown solutions to some of the challenges affecting the country.
Shortly after presenting awards to winners of the 774 Young Nigerian Scientists Presidential Award (774-YONSPA), the Vice President embarked on a tour of the exhibition pavilion in company of Ministers of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu; Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Pauline Tallen; Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mohammed Abdullahi; the Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, Dr Emmanuel Akabe, among other guests.
The 774-YONSPA award winners include Edeani Izuchukwu Godswill from Enugu State who won the first prize; Akinwande Oluwatomisin from Ondo State won the second prize, while Etukudoh Emmanuel Imeh from the FCT won the third prize.