The Value in Research and Development

In order to save the lives of those who had become infected with the deadly Ebola virus, the Nigerian government reached out to the United States of America to share its experimental drug, Zmapp. Zmapp was developed by the United States military and has thus far proven effective in the fight against the dreaded Ebola virus. Similarly, the Nigerian government reached out to the world and in particular, the United States for help in fighting insurgency and locating the missing Chibok girls. Whilst the girls are yet to be rescued, their location was established, and now, more targeted tactics can be deployed to rescuing them. A high incidence of cybercrime has been linked to Nigeria and once again, we remain dependent on the rest of the world for solutions. With the deepening of financial transactions through electronic channels, the evolution and cross-border spread of strange deadly diseases, increasing insurgency by Boko Haram and stiffening competition from Asian manufacturers; the need for significant increase in basic and applied local research cannot be overemphasized. 

One does not always have to reinvent the wheel, but it is worrisome that we have become primarily dependent on external stakeholders for solutions to our internal problems. This article posits that one reason for Nigeria’s increasing dependence on external actors is the lack of indigenous scientific knowledge, local technology and locally manufactured equipment to deal with our challenges. Research in Nigeria has been largely ignored by both the public and private sectors. Both prefer readymade imported solutions, and as a result, have failed to create a knowledge-based society which can enjoy all the associated benefits. 

Around the world there is a big development gap between countries that are knowledge and research based and those which are not. Typically, OECD countries with the largest economies in the world, allocate between 1.5% and 4% of their GDP on research, while developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa allocate an average of 0.3% of their significantly smaller GDP on research. Developed countries are cognizant of the benefits of research and the positive effect research has on economic development, industrial growth, job creation and poverty reduction. As a result of research, they focus on areas relevant to the continued growth and development of their economies.

Funding research is a collective responsibility for all stakeholders in communities. However, the federal government is meant to be the primary funder of basic research whilst companies focus on applied research, which translates knowledge into products and services. As remarked by the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, “… without government intervention, the private market would not adequately supply certain types of research.” This highlights the fact that basic fundamental research is the source of most innovation, which countries leverage for their industrial and economic growth.

Countries view research as an important tool for global positioning and industrial development. China, South Korea, Singapore and India, have experienced rapid development because of their investments (public and private) in research. This has resulted in more sophisticated local companies that compete favorably in global markets and with more established western competitors. Chinese companies Huawei and Lenovo are examples of companies that benefited from investment in local applied research and development to successfully become global leaders. South Korea has become the second market leader in microchips found in all modern devices because of its significant investments in promoting scientific research. In other words, many companies in rapidly developing and developed countries are moving beyond basic and applied research to the development stage, which translates prototypes created in the applied stage to commercial products.

It is imperative that the developing world learns from developed and rapidly developing countries, and pay special attention to the importance of investing in research. Less than 2% of all global researchers located in Africa and they cumulatively contribute an estimated 1% to the annual global output in scientific knowledge. This is grossly inadequate given the population, resources and the many challenges of the continent. Local research should be encouraged and viewed as the solution to local problems and a catalyst to economic development. Collaboration and partnerships are great but one must locally research the peculiarities of one’s own geography and/or circumstances to effectively develop cutting-edge solutions.

Historically, the federal government has been active in promoting research in Nigeria. It set up different institutions such as the Nigerian Council for Science and Technology (NCST) in 1970, National Science and Technology Development Agency in 1977 and the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in 1980, amongst others. These institutions were mandated to coordinate research in Nigeria in order to foster economic development. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that there are 26 semi-autonomous public research institutions in Nigeria, covering a wide range of research areas including agriculture and medical research. These institutions are primarily funded by the government although alternative revenue streams exist via partnerships with international organizations and institutions that provide research grants. In terms of scientific output, there has been a steady decline in the ranking and output of Nigerian universities. Currently no Nigerian university ranks among the world’s top 1000 universities. This is significant because universities and other institutions of learning provide the platform for innovation and research. Between 1998 and 2007, universities in China, Korea and Japan filed for 13,353, 5,272 and 5,506 patents respectively whilst their Nigerian counterparts filed less than 100 over the same period.

Some indicators that highlight the dearth of research in Nigeria include the budgetary allocation of government, scientific outputs (scientific articles and patents) from Nigeria and total domestic manufacturing. According to a World Bank’s 2011 report, Nigeria ranked 88th in the world, allocating 0.22% of its GDP to research. As a consequence, the different research institutions are inadequately funded – a funding level that reduces the quality and quality of the institutions output. As a result, they are unable to contribute to wider economic development thus defeating the purpose with which they were initially set-up. The lack of research has severe implications for Nigeria as a country. How is Nigeria going to continue to cope with the new challenges that a more interconnected world poses? After seeing first-hand the impact of globalization in the spread of Ebola, are we going to continue to wait for others to develop vaccines that we might need? Or are we going to become proactive in ensuring that we put things in place that enable us develop our own solutions and contribute positively to global advancement? 

There has to be a renewed emphasis on promoting local research if the country is to achieve the economic development, diversification and industrialization that it seeks. This will reduce the costs of doing business and increase the quality of products manufactured in Nigeria, which itself increases competitiveness and the industrialization of the Nigerian economy.