CONFERENCE ON BRIDGING THE DIGITAL AND SCIENTIFIC DIVIDES: FORGING PARTNERSHIPS WITH THE NIGERIAN DIASPORA HELD AT THE NICON HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA, JULY 25TH - 27TH, 2005
The conference on Bridging the Digital and Scientific Divides: Forging Partnerships with the Nigerian Diaspora was held at Nicon Hilton Hotel, Abuja, Nigeria from 25th - 27th July, 2005. Organized by the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS), Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, the conference had among others, four broad objectives, which included;
(i) raising the profile of the Nigerian Diaspora in Nigeria and the contributions they could make in Nigeria's development process.
(ii) creating awareness among Nigerian scientists and technology experts abroad on existing Government policies especially in the area of science and technology.
(iii) encouraging and fostering partnerships among Nigerian scientists and professional groups both from abroad and at home in the area of science and technology.
(iv) encouraging collaboration among the groups towards making science and technology the basis for attaining rapid national economic development.
2. Chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief U. J. Ekaette, CFR, mini the conference was declared open by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who gave a stimulating address on Nigeria and the Diaspora: Forging Constructive Relationships with the Nigerian Diaspora and the role the Nigerian Diaspora could play in Nigeria's development. The President advocated for the observance of a Nigerian Diaspora Day, suggesting July 25th every year as the day for the celebration of the Nigerian Diaspora.
3. Speeches were also delivered by the Ministers of Science and Technology, Education, Health, Works, Communication, Federal Capital Authority, Integration and Cooperation in Africa, Environment and the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science as well as the Coordinator of the NNVS.
4. The conference was attended by a little over 400 participants from the Nigerian Diaspora and within Nigeria, from the universities, the private sector, the government, in particular from Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and its agencies and key science and technology related ministries as well as professional groups and non-government organisations.
5. There were four plenary sessions which discussed a variety of issues bordering on relationships with the Nigerian Diaspora. These included among others:- opportunities for collaboration in education and health sectors, research and development in science and technology, their roles in the implementation of the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (NEEDS), foreign direct investment flow as well as capacity building and technology management.
6. After the first three plenary sessions, the conference broke into six technical tracks namely:-
(a) Biotechnology and Agriculture.
(b) Engineering, Infrastructure and Environment.
(c) Manufacturing and Technology Parks Incubation
(d) Information and Communication Technology.
(e) Health, Basic and Applied Sciences.
(f) Space Science and Nuclear Technology.
7. At the end of these deliberations, the conference made the following recommendations among others as listed under the identified sub-groups/tracks:-
A. Biotechnology and Agriculture
8. Nigeria should:-
(i) develop academic scholars programmes that will enable the Nigerian Diaspora to visit institutions where their expertise is required (between 2 weeks - 1 month). This should commence without delay and should be sustained.
(ii) establish a Biotechnology Innovation Fund (BIF) to support
Research and Development and training in biotechnology. The National Biotechnology Development Agency should manage the fund which should become accessible within one year.
(iii) develop a databank of all Nigerian experts in Biotechnology in the Diaspora and at home giving details of their skills and resources as well as existing gaps that can be addressed by the former. This should be completed within one year.
(iv) develop regular training workshops, seminars as well as visits by Nigerian scientists at home to relevant research laboratories abroad which are hosted by some Nigerian Diasporans. This should commence immediately and be sustained.
(v) upgrade the SHEDA Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), Biotechnology Advance Laboratory and other Biotech Laboratories as Centers of Excellence. These should host the Nigerian Diaspora and other researchers in Nigeria who are interested in Re-combinant DNA technology. This should be made functional within three years.
B. Engineering, Infrastructure and Environment
9. Nigeria should:-
(i) develop appropriate technology at affordable cost, small and medium scale industrial equipment, made in Nigeria vehicular system/parts, alternate energy sources and home made engineering products that will be competitive internationally.
(ii) expand and build on existing collaborations of research and development in critical infrastructure such as power/energy systems.
(iii) develop national competitive flagships projects to respond to national priorities through Research, Development, and Demonstration e.g. Electric Vehicle, solar house, fuel cell and Hydrogen energy application, Bridge Design and Environmental/Waste Management.
(iv) encourage involvement and collaboration of Nigerian Academy of Engineering, Nigeria Society of Engineers and Nigerian Academy of Science.
C. Manufacturing and Technology Parks/
10. Nigeria should:
(i) aim to become an industrialized nation with diversified economy within ten years.
(ii) create competence in technicians and artisans, and reactivate and empower the technical colleges. Similarly, the ITF, ETF and other relevant agencies should be empowered to collaborate and network effectively with technical colleges in meeting (i) above. The Technical profession should be made more attractive with appropriate recognition and remuneration to provide critical mid-level manpower.
(iii) revert to the original intentions of the establishment of universities and polytechnics by establishing programmes, enhancing facilities, encouraging practical apprenticeship and reforming the curricula to achieve world class professional competence for all professional certifications.
(iv) provide world standard infrastructure (e.g. near 100% electrical power supply, regular water supply etc) in place by appropriate bodies without the burden to the manufacturing companies.
(v) establish research laboratories and centers of excellence to be empowered to perform basic research, development and first level commercialization.
(vi) establish laboratories that will ensure that products are ISO and other relevant standards compliant as well as strengthen the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and other relevant institutions to perform appropriate credit checks and monitoring.
(vii) establish product-focused incubation centers to be developed/up-graded to provide market-ready enterprises.
(viii) put in place legislations that will drive increase in local content in all products manufactured in Nigeria.
(ix) promote, as a matter of urgency, the manufacturing of intermediate products for the capital goods industries (e.g., flat sheets, aluminum products, basic chemicals etc).
(x) promote local design and fabrication of equipment and parts.
(xi) meet, within a period of two years, the investment requirements of UNESCO in Science and Technology for developing countries.
D. Information and Communication Technology
11. Nigeria should:-
(i) establish a national or regional fiber-optic backbone and broadband infrastructure as the most urgent national priority.
(ii) provide science, technology and ICT training at every level of education and integrate information system courses into the national curriculum to address the serious capacity deficiency in the industry.
(iii) initiate within a period of one year the formulation and legislation of an integrated and sustainable national ICT policy to remove the current ad hoc efforts in the industry.
(iv) encourage the local assembly and manufacture of ICT hardware to stem the current serious foreign exchange outflow through local and foreign direct investment and SME designation, with appropriate legislation to patronize use of such local products.
E. Health, Basic and Applied Sciences
12. The Nigerian Diaspora should:-
(i) provide intellectual capacity and explore possibility of establishing state of the art medical institutions with capacity of regional diagnostic equipment utilization and maintenance.
(ii) support research and development of local therapeutics, vaccine development and research into African medicinal plants to treat conditions such as sickle cell disease and arthritis.
(iii) provide training support and medical capacity building in our institutions through short term sabbaticals as well as encourage and support exchange programmes, workshops and seminars.
(iv) use intellectual expertise and capacity of medical/public health specialists to fight such infectious/communicable diseases as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and chronic diseases such as arthritis, hypertension, diabetes and sickle cell.
(v) assist with improving healthcare delivery infrastructure and implementation of humanitarian medical missions (such as those delivered by the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas - ANPA and Medical Association of Nigerian Specialists and General Practitioners (MANSAG) sustained by the involvement of local healthcare workers.
(vi) organize a conference on sickle cell disease in 2006 by the NNVS/Federal Ministry of Health, Nigerian organizations such as Nigerian society of Hematology and other NGOs working on sickle cell disease in collaboration with Nigerian organizations in Diaspora and international agencies with interest in the disease.
F. Space Science and Nuclear Technology
13. Nigeria should:
(i) publicize the efforts of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in order to correct certain misconceptions and to enlighten all stakeholders of the socio-economic importance of space programmes.
(ii) accentuate the involvement of the Nigerian Diaspora nuclear technology experts in the provision of expert services in technology evaluation and contract negotiations with international nuclear technology and other services providers to enhance government activities in these areas.
(iii) create an organisation such as the National Science Foundation to work with bodies such as the Nigerian Academy of Science, the Nigerian Academy of Engineering and the National Universities Commission in order to facilitate research in basic sciences.
(iv) embed systems engineering and human machine systems disciplines in the nuclear and space programmes of Nigeria.
(v) develop and implement Youth Technology Awareness and outreach programmes in space and nuclear technology through NASRDA and Nuclear Energy Research Centers so as to get the youths interested in these disciplines early in life.
(vi) provide appropriate financial remunerations for nuclear/space experts.
Capacity Building and Technology Mangement
14. The conference recommended :-
(i) the development of academic programmes that will enable Nigerians in the Diaspora to visit Institutions where their expertise is required.
(ii) development of robust programmes for exchange of scholars and researchers to drive an intensive capacity building programme in national priority projects, including training workshops in conjunction with the Nigerian Diaspora.
(iii) encouragement of the establishment of integrated capacity building partnerships encompassing human, infrastructural and institutional dimensions geared towards raising knowledge economy in areas for which Nigerians have comparative advantage.
15. On The Diaspora
(i) the Nigerian Diaspora should be encouraged to liaise with appropriate government agencies and institutions to provide services required by the country.
(ii) technical advisory committees or boards on Nigeria's Science and Technology should be broadened to include eminent Nigerian scientists in the Diaspora.
16. Collectively, the conference emphasized the strong need to
(i) establish a databank of Nigerians in the Diaspora including those in the science and technology sector whose contributions are key to the successful implementation of the recommendations of the conference.
(ii) set up a special Fund/Funding Institutions to provide required financial backing to science and technology projects especially in Research and Development.
(iii) empower the Nigerian Academies of Science and Engineering to become primary intellectual advisers to government on science and technology on issues of national development.
(iv) ensure that Science and Technology should be well funded, backed by appropriate policy instrument/legislation and recognized as the engine of economic/national development.
17. The conference also;
(i) commended the President for his vision and unwavering commitment to engage the Nigerian Diaspora in national development.
(ii) commended government's efforts at improving health care delivery and noted the need to improve health care infrastructure in Nigeria.
(iii) commended various medical missions to Nigeria and stressed the need to encourage other Nigerians in the Diaspora to participate in future missions.
(iv) commended the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology for the depth of its policy on science and technology.
18. The conference reiterated the paramount importance of providing world standard infrastructure in particular near 100% electrical power, by appropriate public - private and private - public partners if the digital and scientific divides are to be effectively bridged.
19. There was unanimity in the resolution that this conference would not be just another conference. The participants strongly recommended the establishment of a mechanism for the implementation of the recommendations enumerated above. Consequently, most of the recommendations made were backed by time frame for their realization.
20. Conference resolved that July 25th of every year should be declared the Nigerian Diaspora Day as suggested by the President with an annual event to celebrate and strengthen the partnership between Nigerians at home and those in the Diaspora. This will offer the opportunity to review and evaluate the acheivments recorded and set agenda for the future.
21. The conference commended the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS) for successfully hosting the meeting and recommended that the NNVS should be supported, well funded and empowered to enable it work with all stakeholders to facilitate the implementation of conference recommendations as well as its efforts to mobilize the Nigerian Diaspora to be involved in Nigeria's development process.
Done in Abuja, Nigeria this
28th day of July 2005