Wednesday, September 13, 2023 4:06 pm
By Babatunde Raji Fashola
I would like to start by thanking Professor Ibiyemi Ibilola Olatunji-Bello, Mni, the Vice Chancellor of LASU, the custodians and managers of the LASU Research and Innovation for considering me still worthy of speaking at this fair, and in the capacity of Keynote Speaker.
As some of you might recall, I was the keynote speaker at the inaugural fair in 2019 as a guest of LASU, when Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun, SAN birthed this fair.
It is to the credit of Professor Olatunji-Bello that she has found value in the work of her predecessor and chosen to improve upon it.
For those who lament the absence of institutions and continuity of governance, LASU holds out a bright torch of example for all to see.
Professor Bello and her team are showing that you do not have to delegitimize your predecessor to legitimize your tenure.
I must acknowledge that from modest beginnings from the first fair in 2019, inspiring progress has been made to date.
From a one-day event, it has morphed into a two-day event, and has been graced by many prominent speakers, who have watered the seeds sown at the first fair with their knowledge and time.
I venture to predict that in the years to come, the LASU research and innovation fair will become an Arabà, àpà ò ní ka mò.
In order to set the context to what I intend to suggest in my keynote for this year’s fair and the sub-themes please permit me to recap, albeit by way of summary, some thoughts, I shared in my keynote at the inaugural fair in 2019.
I started by defining research and innovation as the processes of “…careful study of a subject” and “…the introduction of new things” respectively.
I explained how in politics research helped the APC to win a Presidential election and depose an incumbent President for the first time in Nigerian electoral history.
I discussed how research helped in finding solutions to human problems in our Government in Lagos state such as the decongestion and clean-up of Oshodi, the fixing of toll prices for the Lekki Link Bridge without acrimony, the management of traffic at gridlock areas in some parts of Lagos.
I concluded by pointing at possible sources of funding to support research and deploy innovation, such as endowments and taxation, research legislation in other jurisdictions, and what TETFUND can do for research in our country, the role of alumni and funding and of course, what charities and not for profit organizations can do.
With this background, I think I can now approach the theme for this year’s fair, which is “Harnessing Sustainable Research and Innovation in Nigerian Universities towards National Growth and Development.”
I am sure that many of us will be familiar with the phrase “The town and the gown.” These are the words used to describe the rest of us outside the university arena, as being in the town, while the gown refers to those in the university, the scholars and all.
The expectation is that the town benefits immensely from what the gown does, because the latter is the place of learning and studying, and the vehicle for delivering new things, ideas and solutions; in other words, the place for research and innovation.
The commitment of LASU to research and innovation, and the theme of this year towards a “national growth and development” again, demonstrates to me that LASU’s leadership, and followership have properly defined their role in our society. This is most commendable.
To start with, research is a major economic undertaking contributing to GDP growth and development of countries who commit to it, and providing jobs
|Country||Research Contribution to GDP (% GDP)||Employment in Research|
|United States||2.8||1.7 million|
|United Kingdom||1.7||670 thousand|
We could see at a glance that research and national growth and development are very connected.
The promotion of research and realization of the benefits are deliberate and not accidental things.
The LASU fair is a deliberate step, one in the series of many that must be made in order to optimize the benefit of research.
In order to connect us to the importance of research, let me share with you some examples of how research has impacted our lives positively in ways that we probably have not paid enough attention to.
|Category||Example of how Research has impacted|
|Health||The development of the polio vaccine in 1955, which led to the eradication of polio in most parts of the world.|
|Food||The development of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, which helped to increase crop yields and reduce hunger.|
|Energy||The development of solar cells in the 1950s, which has led to the development of solar power as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.|
|Water||The development of desalination technologies in the 1960s, which has made it possible to produce drinking water from seawater.|
|Environment||The development of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which led to the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances.|
|Transportation||The development of the hybrid car in the 1990s, which has helped to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.|
|Communication||The development of the internet in the 1960s, which has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other.|
|Education||The development of the Khan Academy in 2006, which has made free, world-class education available to anyone with an internet connection.|
|Entertainment||The development of the video game industry in the 1970s, which has created new forms of entertainment that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.|
The question to ask then is how many of these products of research we mostly use, are made in Nigeria?
How much dollars do we spend in importing them and how is this affecting the value of the naira against the dollar.
What would our national growth and development indices look like if we could produce half of these things not to talk of inventing new ones.
Indeed, research and innovation have been key to the survival of the human race and I would like to cite a few more examples of how inventors have impacted humanity positively and laid the foundations for multi-billion dollars industries in the process.
Medical research and technology have increased the average life expectancy by five years since 1980 while disability rates have declined by 25 percent from 1982 to 2000. In fact, disability-free life expectancy has increased over time.
Between 1980 and 2010, advances in medical technology helped reduce the number of days spent in hospitals and this has continued to improve.
Can we imagine life imagine life without glasses? The first wearable eye glasses were invented around 1284 in Italy by Salvino D’Armate. In 2018 alone, over 130 Billion dollars was spent on corrective eyewear and it is estimated that by 2025, this figure will reach 210.8 billion U.S. dollars.
Similarly, what would the quality of life be without syringes? The Irish physician Francis Rynd in 1844 invented the hollow needle and used it to make the first recorded subcutaneous injection.
Quite impactfully, immunization prevents four Million deaths a year according to the World Health Organization while on the economic side the return on investment for immunization has been estimated to be $44 for every dollar invested, including broader social and economic benefits.
This takes me to the subject of the possible fields of research that we can target – medical, industrial, agricultural, animal, environment, space, Forest, ocean, etc.
The field is almost limitless, including human behaviour, crime, fashion, business, wealth, distribution, housing, education, and health care needs that can inform business decisions.
The other side of course is that of health and well-being concerns that prevalently challenge people of African descent with sickle cell, and fibroids.
The good news is that Nigeria has expressed intentions to undertake research in some areas like medicine, through the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), and industry, through the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), and Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) to mention a few.
What remains in my view is the will and commitment to translate the intention into results that impact national growth and development.
Let me share the story of the NIMR with you because I know a little of it. The annual budget over the years averages N250,000,000 for recurrent expenditure alone. This is not going to sustain any ground breaking research.
This led to the establishment of a foundation in which I serve seeking to raise money for NIMR, a government agency.
But the facility is there in Yaba; the manpower and skills are there, and the NIMR has done a lot of good work in the past in many areas.
At the onset of the Ebola and Covid epidemics, NIMR was involved.
FIIRO in the Eighties was a pack leader in inventions and innovations; notable in research that impacted Agriculture with respect to food processing.
This is an area of urgent and compelling need today, not only to support our local food security drive by reducing post-harvest losses but also by supporting our Agro export capacity to boost foreign exchange earning needed to relieve the pressure on the Naira.
Perhaps unknown to the larger public, our universities are already connected to some of these institutions in some way. During my visit to NIMR on 25th July 2023, I was pleasantly surprised to meet scores of Nigerian undergraduate students undertaking some form of internship in one research laboratory or the other.
The next big step I would suggest to the LASU Governing Council to move the Research and Innovation fair forward is to establish working relationships by agreement with Institutions like NIMR, FIIRO and others.
This should be followed with the establishment of a Research Academy in the university where these institutes can help to develop research capacities of students and also attract members of the public who seek to invest in funding specific research.
There are 40 million MSMES in our country and if half of them employed one person each , we would create 20 million jobs. What is the single thing that MSMES need to employ one person each on a wage of not less than N50,000 at starting point. Is it power or funding ?
I think I have made the point, if ever anyone was in doubt, that research and innovation impact national growth and development.
Given the diverse areas of human undertaking where the possibilities for research and innovation lie, perhaps the question to ask is this: Which areas of research should we give priority to?
I again express my gratitude to the planning and organising team of this year’s fair. They have pointed the direction of some possible priorities in their choice of sub-themes for discussion and I believe the three eminent scholars invited to address these themes will respond better than I could possibly endeavour.
However, in the light of our urgent developmental needs and the intention expressed by our country in setting up FIIRO, NIMR, FRIN and other research institutions, we must immediately translate intention to action by committing resources that are commensurate to these institutions.
This will accelerate research relating to industry, medicine and forestry respectively.
I would like to see these actions start in the 2024 budget, followed by advocacy of the benefits of research.
I have earlier spoken about the benefits of agricultural research, and only need to mention its impact on our quality of nutrition and development of our human capital. Another frontier for research is inherent in the question I have often asked: Why are we importing supplements for malnutrition when we have soyabeans, potatoes, vegetables and maize ?
Other areas will include perhaps how to improve rural policing and security in areas where houses are far away from one another and create a model different from the urban policing model, to protect our farmers from attacks.
Research into shared values will probably elicit a creed around which our diversity can anchor a national identity for national growth and development.
Before I conclude, let me say a word or two about the 3 (THREE) sub-themes, without attempting to steal the thunder of the eminent professors assigned to address them.
With respect to the first theme about “Translating Research Output into Sustainable Development,” I think that what has happened with respect to Information Technology with the creation of Technology Hubs, provides an example of the pathway to follow.
Beyond the Traditional Institutions, centres of learning such as LASU must urgently think about establishing or enabling research hubs and incubator centres around universities.
This can attract venture capitalists to provide the funding that converts research output to sustainable development.
With regards to the second theme which is “Digitalising Research for 21stCentury Challenges,” my thoughts are as plain as the theme suggests. In a Digital age, no one stands a chance without compliance.
Electronics and computers are accelerating the speed and time at which undertakings can be executed and taking advantage of the power of automation, is only eminent common sense.
Our research undertakings must therefore comply in aid of accelerated national growth and development.
The final sub-theme is about the “Role of Intellectual Property Rights in the Socio-Economic Development of Nigeria.’
My thoughts are that intellectual property is only a sub-theme of talent reward.
The global economy is opening at a pace unprecedented in the history of mankind to reward human talent.
From music to sports, Arts to Dance, fashion and cooking, never has the global economy placed such a premium on talent.
Athletes, singers, photographers, skilled performers are now much better recognised than the conventional professions of the last few centuries.
Nigeria has an abundance of these talents and skills and it would be a great leap forward in job creation, youth employment and projection of global power, if we quickly enunciate policies, legislations and programmes that protect and reward talent.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is so much to say about research, innovators, national growth and development.
However, as keynote speaker, my role is to unveil the possibilities and offer perhaps the starters.
The main course and what follows will be shortly dealt with.
I thank Professor Olatunji-Bello for the opportunity.
Thank you all for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN CON, delivered this keynote Speech at the 5th LASU Research and Innovation Fair on the Theme, “Harnessing Sustainable Research And Innovation in Nigerian Universities Towards National Growth and Development ”