In our last discourse, we looked at the organisational structure, and some of the functions of NOTAP (the National Office). This was after my first post on the history of the Federal agency, and the support it could provide for Nigerian inventors and innovators towards maximising their full economic and technological potentials.
Today, I’ll be concluding our discourse by focusing on the research and development activities of the National Office, the commercialisation of R&D results, and how it can significantly help to grow and develop the Nigerian economy.
NOTAP, Commercialisation of R&D Results and the Nigerian Economy
The Federal and State governments in the country have begun to make efforts towards the diversification of the economy. Our oil mono-economy over decades has largely resulted in the challenge of growth without development that we face today. The technology sector is one of those sectors that provide huge potentials as one of the ways of diversifying the Nigerian economy. It remains a largely unexplored opportunity in a country brimming with ideas, innovations and entrepreneurship. The technology sector in the country is worth trillions of naira. And considering the multiplier effect a significant exploration of its potentials would have on job opportunities and wealth creation in a country of over 165 million people, it is a goldmine.
This is the time we greatly need to fully explore technology to grow our industries. From agriculture to power, transport to health, education to trade and commerce, an investment in technological development is an investment in the right sector. With an efficient process, home-grown technological solutions can also be explored to solving our peculiar challenges, such as power for instance. Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) are bound to grow exponentially once there is a concerted drive towards empowering Nigerian inventors, innovators and researchers with the needed technical and financial support.
As a Federal agency, the National Office is to contribute towards the growth of the national economy. As statutorily mandated, this is to be achieved by acquiring, developing and promoting technologies in the country. With the identification and selection of viable research results in an efficient manner by the National Office, feasibility studies can be conducted to test their technological and commercial potentials. Where viable, the concrete results can be commercialised and grown into globally competitive indigenous technology companies and brands.
With the commercialisation of R&D results by the National Office, the hitherto challenge would be significantly reduced. This commercialisation process, if well managed, would involve the exploration of the technological inventions and innovations from viable research and development activities in our public or private research institutions. The goal of this exploration would be to set up viable pilot plants to demonstrate production processes. These commercial and industrial pilot plants are to be set up to produce goods and services that create value for both local and international markets. It could then be marketed to investors as tested technological products or services. The National Office has the structure and expertise to manage these phases to ensure best international standards and practice.
The National Office, pursuant to its statutory mandate, is expected to provide assistance in helping to commercialise identified and selected inventions and innovations. It facilitates the process, and manages the partnership between the research institutions and the industry. After a critical analysis of how economically viable and environmentally safe they are, each can then proceed to the production stage. With access to the research institutions, it maintains a databank of various inventions or innovations sector by sector. This databank will also contain information about the source of the invention, such as the research institution(s), researcher(s), field of expertise, and the development phase of each invention or innovation.
Commercialising inventions can be very expensive. Very capital intensive. Due to this financial factor, the National Office is prepared to fund the invention ‘until commercialization of the venture is completed.’ But to be eligible for funding, the invention must have been adjudged commercially viable by the agency. When commercialised, to adequately finance the project, sponsors and financiers are then sort. The sponsor, with or without other financial partners, is required to contribute a percentage of the total funds needed.
In looking at the role of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) in its support for inventions and innovations towards indigenous technological advancement in Nigeria, I started by mentioning the need for global competitiveness. I went on to state that to achieve this, Nigeria must efficiently harness its inventions and innovations if developing indigenous technologies is a goal. The huge potentials of undiscovered and unsupported Nigerian inventors and innovators were also identified. I then identified the National Office as a Federal agency that could just be in the best position to revolutionalise technology in Nigeria for national growth and development. The history and the organisational structure of the agency were discussed, including its main functions such as monitoring foreign transfer of technology into Nigeria, and promoting and developing indigenous technology.
Finally, the discourse would have been lame without looking at the process of commercialising R&D results, and turning them into viable Nigerian technology companies and brands with adequate funding. These were also discussed in the course of the article.
By way of recommendation, let me draw attention to certain issues. To encourage domestic enterprises to acquire foreign technologies that are suitable to the local environment is one of the National Office’s mandates. With just about 7 years away from Vision 2020:20, I strongly believe that acquiring foreign technologies for our domestic enterprises should be more of a temporary strategy, than the ultimate goal. To truly develop indigenous technologies, we must not neglect the need to focus on the need to have home-made technologies as the long-term solution to our industrial growth and development challenges. Otherwise, the Nigerian government would be reducing the National Office to a middleman overseeing a lopsided technological relationship between foreign technology companies, and local enterprises.
Also, it appears the National Office is currently carrying out the National Policy on Technology Development. This is because the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy by the Ministerial Committee on ICT Policy Harmonization of January 2012 is still a draft. I think this may explain the emphasis of the current policy which encourages the importation of foreign technology. But the draft policy discourages this development, rightly emphasising more on capacity building and local content in relation to the development of ICT in Nigeria.
Interestingly, published on the National Office’s website as part of its history are the words:
NOTAP was therefore established as one of the main instruments to carry out the National Policy on Technology Development. Part of this policy stipulates the encouragement of the flow of technology into the country in order to strengthen industrial development and encourage domestic enterprises to acquire foreign technologies that are suitable to the local environment.
As harmless as the above words may seem, it is a policy that is founded on dependency on foreign technologies to drive our local businesses and industries. The danger can be better appreciated when one considers this policy from the long-term angle. In 20 years from now, is it desirable and healthy for Nigeria to keep relying on the flow of foreign technologies into the country to drive its local industries? I believe it’s not. So what are we doing with such policy over a decade into the 21st century? I think it’s high time we made the new Policy draft the extant one. This is bound to have a multiplier-effect on the Nigerian economy – a spring of local technological brands into the global market, creation of employment opportunities, growth of SMEs, stronger foreign exchange for the country, etc.
On challenges of ICT in National Development, the draft National Policy on Information Technology states that:
The importance of strengthening ICT human capital development should be accorded the necessary priority. Attention should be given to developing competitive indigenous human capital and knowledge-based products and services in targeted areas of ICT (software, hardware, networks, card technologies, security/biometrics, web and digital content development, etc).
On local content development, the draft Policy is clear when it stated that ICT local content (including software and hardware) is grossly underdeveloped in Nigeria:
This has resulted in over-dependence on foreign importation of software and hardware and diminished opportunity for capacity building in ICT content creation.
As a result of this over-dependence on foreign technology, Nigeria’s foreign exchange has continued to be negatively affected. I think it’s high time we started walking the talk. And the time is now.