From Uche Usim, Abuja and Olabisi Olaleye
For Dr Dan-Azumi Mohammed Ibrahim, the Director General, National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), developing indigenous capacity in science and technology for local utilisation and export should be the target of theNigerians.
He also insists researchers and inventors should protect their inventions via patent rights as no investor can come in if such protection was not in place.
Born on October 1,1960 in Hardawa, Misau L.G.A in Bauchi State, Ibrahim attended Government Secondary School, Bauchi and the University of Maiduguri, where he obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture. He later obtained a Masters Degree in Soil Microbiology from the University of Newcastle Upontyne, UK and a PhD (Soil Fertility) from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi in 2004.
He started his working career as a lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Soil Science at the University of Maiduguri, and later joined the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) where he rose to the rank of Deputy Director. He joined NOTAP from RMRDC in September 2010 as Acting Director, Technology Promotion and Commercialisation Department and was elevated to the position of Director on December 1, 2014.
He has undergone many capacity development programmes and has many scientific publications to his credit. He has also handled many assignments for the Federal Government and International Organisations. He is currently a consultant to UNIDO on Establishment of Neem-Based Bio-Pesticide in West Africa and member of International Experts on the development and implementation of ECOWAS Policy on Science and Technology (ECOPOST).
In this interview with Daily Sun, he speaks more about NOTAP and his job.
Bridging the innovation-commercialisation gap
Before any research development effort goes for commercialisation, you have to protect it. That protection is through patent. So, inventors should protect their inventions. That means you have the monopoly of your intellectual property. If you do not protect it, somebody can take it and make money. A researcher cannot commercialise his research and development efforts. The private sector, before they come in, must be sure that nobody has any right over it. Second, some of those research and development efforts must address a need. So, the question now is that, are they really demand driven? You have to take a research and development as a means of solving problems. Like the case of Ebola outbreak or HIV AIDS. If you come out with a research development that cures HIV AIDS, I’m telling you it is ready for commercialisation, because there are people that are HIV positive and they can pay any price to get cured. But where you go and try to see how you can reinvent the wheel, then there is a problem because, already, people have gone far in where you’re trying to reinvent the wheel.
Second, the funding of research and development as well as our institutions are not too good. So, what is coming out is not something that can compete favourably with what is outside. So, we cannot reinvent the wheel and as such we need to allow those technologies to come into the country and we use our human magnets to understand and modify them. By the time you modify it, you can make it Nigerian technology and make money out of it.
We have to reduce the porosity of our borders. So many cheap and inferior products come into the system. If we continue to allow them, those products that are produced in the country may not compete favourably with those ones abroad. And unless you begin to patronise what is produced in Nigeria, we can’t grow. If we patronise what is produced in Nigeria, the producers would be able to expand, refine and improve. That is the process of development.
We were making fantastic foreign exchange earning. So, we even had the leverage and luxury to import toothpick. But the reality is that recession has come in and it is giving us the opportunity. So, right now, it’s not everything that we can afford to import. You cannot tell anyone not go and buy foreign products in the market, if you can afford it go and buy. But where it is expensive, you cannot afford it and you have an alternative that is cheaper and is solving the problem, why not embrace it?
Let me give you a good example; if not for recession, you think Lake Rice would have been popular? Look at Oshodi too, in the last 10 years, if you knew how notorious Oshodi was and compare it to today, you would see a huge difference. Now you can pass Oshodi without knowing it. It tells you we can do it if we are really ready to do it.
I believe in this country. We have capable people. We have a favourable environment, but we need to have a goal and everybody must key in. Every individual in the country must be patriotic. Now, I don’t eat foreign rice. I eat local rice. That’s how we move.
Gaps in research development in universities
As I said, because of poor funding as part of their strategies to survive, researchers undertake basic research that would just enable them to produce, publish papers and get promoted. But if you look at the economic value of what they have done, it is nothing. And for you to take a credible research and development that can translate into products and services, you need very good funding. Once the funding is not there, you cannot do it. So, we have to improve on funding. Like any other sector, the issue of funding is there. The education sector is also poorly funded but there are sources of funding across the globe, which you as a Nigerian can compete and access funds at global level to do a credible research that can translate into good products and services.
NOTAP, as far as we are concerned, we’ll bring in experts from outside to train Nigerian researchers on how to write all those kinds of bankable research and development proposals so that they can access funds. Interestingly, they have started to access funds. Most importantly, there must be a linkage between industries and the researchers. If industry wants to undertake a research, they would say remove quartz from the calcium carbonate we have in Nigeria; we have the institutions, we have research institutions, a researcher can undertake that. By the time he finishes that research, he is able to solve that problem and it is almost ready for commercialisation. He applies that same research to convert the calcium carbonate into the specification the industries need and he can make fantastic income out of that. They industry will be happy. It will conserve its foreign exchange of importing calcium carbonate into the system. So many small industries will begin to spring up because we have pockets of calcium carbonate deposits in this country to meet the demand of the industries.
So, the regulators have a responsibility. You can imagine, if I had not put my feet down and told the MD of PZ that look, you’re importing calcium carbonate from China, when we have that here. Why don’t you get it here? And I said next time if you come for approval to import it, we won’t give you that approval. He looked inwards and started sourcing it from one company and he bought N140 million worth of calcium carbonate. That company will now expand. More people will be employed.
So, we have opportunities and there is no state or local government that is not endowed with one mineral or natural resource or the other. All what we need is technology to refine it.
We can’t rely solely on crude oil. In fact, let the oil dry up and I can tell you, Nigerians are very smart people. I’ve seen a very young boy from Katsina, who has now developed the operating system of a computer, which Microsoft and others are doing. If care is not taking, these foreign bluechip companies will poach him. Honestly, we just need to have a direction and I can tell you, the future is very bright.
Where does your agency fit into this equation?
That single intervention and my interface with MD PZ that if he doesn’t patronise a Nigerian company to source his calcium carbonate and other raw materials that we have here, that next time he won’t get an approval, actually went a long way to change things. They have adjusted.
Again, I said to him that you do not undertake your research and development efforts within the country but you do it outside because the facilities are not good. So, I said as part of your corporate social responsibility, what would you do to improve on this? Guess what? They committed a sum of N150 million and upgraded three laboratories of universities. Now, they have the universities undertake their research and development programmes.
Any researcher that came up with innovation, he comes to our office. We do not issue patent but we facilitate it. We help him to fill the forms, write the claims and we take it to the patent registry. We only call him to collect the patent. We pay the fees. That is why the woman from FIRO said this year they have collected 15 more patents. We paid for them and that is the beginning of commercialisation. If you do not protect what you have, nobody would put money into it.
What NOTAP does
We regulate the inflow of foreign technology into Nigeria. Let me give you a background. Before the 70s, the developing countries complained at the United Nations, that those multi nationals that come to their country to do technology transfer, they give very stringent conditions that do not allow the country to develop. But, because at the UN level, there are some interests, the multinationals have influence so the developing countries could not do anything. So, they advised the developing countries to go to their respective countries to establish a framework that would help them regulate the activities of those people. It is on that basis that NOTAP was established. If a Nigerian entrepreneur wants to establish a manufacturing outfit, and does not have a competent technical partner in Nigeria, the only option is to go outside the country and get a technical partner. In the process, they enter into agreement. It is that agreement that we register in NOTAP. But before we register it, we must subject it to evaluation and there are three major perspectives: the technical perspective, legal perspective and the economic perspective.
Under the legal perspective, we ensure that all those clauses are in tandem with the laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria. At times, there are agreements crafted and thrown on Nigerians and we swallow them the way they are with little or no regards to laws that are guiding the operations of those institutions in this country. So, where we see there are variance, we advise Nigerians to either modify it or totally expunge it.
Second, the economic perspective! If you provide me with services I have to pay money. The question now is, the money that Nigerians pay, is it commensurate with the technology that is coming in? Where it is not, we advise accordingly. And perhaps, the most important thing is that within the scope of the agreement, we always ensure that there are areas of training so that gradually, most of those technologies are localised in Nigeria and boost local content. It was through this process that we realised that over 90 per cent of the technologies that power the Nigerian economy were imported. Sure we cannot continue like that because we will kill the system. But the trend is gradually changing.
Now, in the ICT sector, we realised that more than 70 per cent of what we register as technology are on ICT. So, we came with what we call a local vendor programme. We can allow those softwares to come into the country but we insist before we register it that there must be a Nigerian computer firm that will be part of the deployment of that software. If a Nigerian is involved in the deployment of a software from outside into the country, whether you like it or not, he would learn something in the process.
So, gradually, the technologies are being imparted on Nigerians.
Still part of the local vendor programme, we say normally if you buy software, you buy it in lump sum, and so we say after one year, you pay what we call annual technical support. It’s about 12-23 per cent of the total cost of the software.
So, we say, 40 per cent of that amount should go to Nigerian computer software fund. The computer warehouse group is here. They are the beneficiaries of this. After six years of deploying the local vendor programme, if you go there, you would see the facilities of computer warehouse group. They have provided infrastructure, they have trained very young Nigerians on software development and they have even started exporting software outside this country. So, the regulators have a responsibility. If you insist, you have to do these things for the benefit of the system, they must sit up. But if don’t regulate very well, you’ll have problems. But if the regulators are firm, I’m telling you the country will move faster.
Challenges are normal. I do not consider funding as a major challenge but it is a challenge. We do not have enough staff, we don’t have enough offices but notwithstanding, we are doing our best.
I’m from Bauchi State. I graduated from the University of Maiduguri. I got my second degree from the United Kingdom. I did my Phd at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi State. I lectured in the university for about 10 years. I worked with the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, where I reached the post of a Deputy Director before I moved to NOTAP in 2010.
I got into NOTAP at a management level. So, I’ve been part and parcel of most of the programmes in the agency. So, when the past chief executive left, I took over. It is a continuity.