Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Prof. Turner Isoun served as Minister of Science and Technology in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’’s administration. In this interview, he spoke on his regrets while in office among other things.
You recently joined the group of Nigerians calling for the review of electoral act. What are your reasons?
Yes! That is the only way we can achieve the desired result in our electoral system and also show the world that we are ready for democracy. You can’t be seen by the global community as a serious country when the electoral system that is used to produce the leaders are weak and can easily be manipulated by politicians for selfish gains.
Specifically, what do you want changed in the electoral act?
I am particularly concerned about the transmission of election results. It’s a shame that in 21st century, Nigeria is still using manual system to transmit election results from the polling centres. It ought not be so. Electronic transmission of election results is the way of 21st century electoral system and Nigeria has all it takes both in human capital and infrastructure to achieve that. Globally, credible electoral system is regarded as key to sustenance of democracy. We are not doing anybody a favour but ourselves. It will bring an end to unnecessary killings during elections.
What is the essence of technology in the electoral system?
Technology plays a critical role in the 21st century electoral system, globally. As regards Nigeria, it helps our electoral system to develop and produce credible officials. In that way, the world would see us as a serious country in the comity of nations. We have the right technology, people and platform to do that, particularly in the transmission of election results from over 100 thousands polling centres in Nigeria to a safe and secure server with limited human interaction. You don’t need to kill anybody to do that. With the way we are going, it’s obvious that Nigeria electoral system does not have a future and the implications could be disastrous. Democracy must evolve so that we could develop like other nations of the world.
Is technology not a threat to our electoral system as being seen and understood by politicians?
No!. It’s not a threat but an enhancement opportunity. It sanitises the system and promotes transparency, credibility and fairness. The credibility of our elections is not tampered at the polling centres but majorly at the collation point and the point of announcement. That’s where they are tampered with, either for good or bad. But if the results are transmitted from the polling stations to the secured server, the sanctity of the ballots would be maintained.
Your home state, Bayelsa, just conducted governorship election. What was your assessment or input as former Minister?
I am just a voter. I am not in a position to assess the outcome of the election because I am a scholar and not a politician. However, we have used every available opportunity to make it known to the political class that the way we are going would lead us to destruction. But obviously, they are not yet ready for Nigeria to move forward and strengthen its electoral system, which will automatically strengthen Nigeria’s democracy and good governance for Nigerians. Whenever they are ready, they would champion the legislative process and we would be there to support them to make it happen.
You served in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government as minister of science and technology. Can you assess the state of science and technology approach in Nigeria today?
I hardly compare myself with anybody, neither will I compare Obasanjo’s administration and what we have now. We are different people with unique characters, time, strength, opportunities and several other things. Besides, I served in former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, which operated in a different terrain, accomplished different tasks and responsibilities. The situation is totally different from what we have today. Howbeit, the bottom line is that we must make science and technology the driver of our socio-economic and political development. It has been proven beyond doubt that any country that refuses to give adequate attention to 21st century technology will be left behind. It’s then left for us to give adequate attention and required investment to it, so that we can join the rest of the world in the socio-economic and human capital development. Note, I am not condemning neither am I criticising but we have a responsibility to make Nigeria a great nation.
What are your regrets as former minister of science and technology?
Being a human being, I can’t satisfy all at all the time. However, I have one major regret which was that I couldn’t establish research fund for science and development in Nigeria. That would have gone a long way in helping research and development activities in Nigeria. I have made that suggestion to people that came after me several times but they have not done anything about it. But recently, I heard they have taken some steps in that regard.
2023 general elections will soon come. What’s the way for credible exercise?
It is to initiate laws that would change the indices and sanitise the electoral system. The world is moving faster than expected with the help of technology and it had obviously left us behind. Nobody will come from somewhere and fix this country for us. Nigerians will do it themselves. The way out of the quagmire is electronic voting, digital conveyance of results from the polling stations to a designated database.
You participated in the 6th annual conference of International Society of Comparative Education, Science and Technology in Nigeria held in Abuja recently. Of what importance is such conference to science and technology development in Nigeria?
It’s very important because it brought together, key policy makers and stakeholders in the science and technology development to discuss and chart a new approach for science and technology in Nigeria. Science and technology is the driver of 21st century global economy. Without technology, Nigeria will enjoy limited socio-economic and human capital development. Nigerians pray a lot but prayers would achieve no result if you fail to follow it up with work.
If you have the attention of President Buhari today, what will you tell him about science and technology.
I will tell him to increase investment in science and technology. There’s no way anybody can leave a legacy in today’s world without investing in science and technology. Agencies and parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology have done their best but there’s need for more.
How is life after office as minister?
I have been active in research and development. I am a scholar who desires a better Nigeria for unborn generations. However, I base in Abuja here. I do visit my home town, Odi, in Bayelsa State, from time to time. I built a house that is completely powered by renewable energy; so it’s always a delight to go home. Many people don’t know that renewable energy is the way forward. It’s cheaper and durable when compared to the current energy system being in Nigeria. My house in Odi is completely powered by renewable energy. It cost me N30 million to do that.
What is your role in Bayelsa education system?
At Bayelsa Educational Trust Fund, which I am the Chairman, we are doing so many things effortlessly without noise. First, we have demonstrated that there are enough powers given to the states government to be innovative and successful. But many states are not leveraging on that. In Bayelsa, we give grants, fellowship and create opportunities for people through the platform of Bayelsa Educational Trust Fund. For the past three years, we have been feeding school children in schools to encourage them to attend school, in addition to other tremendous success we have made.
Has that helped to improve academic performance of students in the state?
Yes! With evidences to show. It has had tremendous positive effect on the students and that could be seen in impressive academic performance of the students in both local, national and regional examinations.