Recently, former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, formally declared his interest to contest for the presidency in the 2023 general elections. Also, governor of Ebonyi state, Engr. Dave Umahi is strongly touted to be interested in the contest. Though he hasn’t made his intention public, his acolytes believe that he will make a strong showing in the race. Added to this list is Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, incumbent Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation whose dream of leading Nigeria towards a saner direction has remained constant from his days in the All Peoples Party (APP), when he became the party’s flagbearer but freely relinquished it to Olu Falae for Nigeria’s good. The trio constitute what comes to me as the ‘Ebonyi Troika’. However, of these three great sons, Dr. Onu stands out. And, this is just a few of the why.
By freely relinquishing his presidential ticket for Chief Falae, Dr. Onu displayed a trait that is not commonly found among politicians here. His refusal to cling and hold on to the mandate meant that he was freely minded, willing and ready to offer himself for the greater good of Nigeria. It showed that his politics was, and is, not for personal glory. And, as minister, Dr. Onu has continued to think out, and implement, ways to ensure that Nigeria’s future becomes better for all her people. He leaves no one in doubt about his masterly grasp of the place of science and technology in the development and advancement of nations. Perhaps, his single-minded focus on the future of Nigerians has insulated him from the sort of controversies that has kept some of his peers in the news albeit negatively.
When Dr. Onu entered office as Minister in 2015, he made a shocking discovery to the effect that the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, which was approved by the Federal Executive Council in 1986, was the only available, and documented, policy on science and technology in Nigeria. The policy was reviewed a number of times, the last being in 2012 and the implementing organ, the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) could not meet in 30 years. Those who know the implication of this on the development of science and technology would appreciate the new direction Onu brought in 2016 when the NRIC, which has the President as chairman, met again after 30 years.
Between 2016 and 2021, the Council met five time to review Nigeria’s Science and technology policy leading to the development of five major policies that has helped to drive growth in the economhy. These include the National Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap 2017-2030; National Strategy for Competitiveness in Raw Materials and Products Development; Presidential Executive Order No. 5; Leather and Leather Products Policy and the Methanol Fuel Production Technology Policy. All the above policies were approved by the Federal Executive Council and are now being implemented across the country.
Impacts of these policies are not easily appreciated but statistics show that there has been massive improvement in non-oil exports from Nigeria. According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, “non-oil exports in Nigeria increased to 375013.81 NGN Million in June from 307275.91 NGN Million in May of 2021”. The Nigerian Export Promotion Council lists Nigeria’s major non-oil export products to include cocoa beans, sesame seeds, cashew nuts, urea, aluminum ingots, finished leather, soya bean meal, cocoa butter, processed frozen shrimp and crabs. This is direct impact of the policy on National Science, Technology and Innovation RoadMap 2017-2030. Commenting on this progress recently, Dr. Onu said “working closely with other MDAs under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, I am happy to inform you that our economy is really transiting as the economy is now diversified. Revenue from non-oil sources flowing into our treasury has exceeded that from crude oil.” Way to go?
The other policy, National Strategy for Competitiveness in Raw Materials and Products Development, aims at encouraging the attainment of high standards and value addition to increase productivity and competitiveness of products from Nigeria. This policy has forced an improvement on products out of Nigeria and making Made-in-Nigeria more competitive than before. But the most transformative of all policies from Dr. Onu’s table is the Presidential Executive Order Number 5, which has brought jobs, hitherto lost to foreigners, back to Nigeria. Details of the policy ensures that Nigerian professionals, contractors and manufacturers become the focus of economic activities in the country. With the policy “procurement policies are now in favour of goods produced in Nigeria. Our contractors now receive preferential treatment. Foreigners can only be employed where no Nigerian has such expertise. When that happens, Nigerian professionals have to understudy the foreign experts in order to acquire such expertise. Nigerian professionals have to lead in consultancies involving foreign companies. In all foreign contracts, all documents pertaining to design, operations and so on, must be in English language. Nigerian professionals in the Diaspora are encouraged to come home. All foreign professionals must be certified before they can practice in Nigeria”, said Dr. Onu.
As a consequence of this policy, the federal government recently disclosed that it rejected 90 per cent of applications by airline operators in the country to bring in foreigners to manage certain operations in the sector. Disclosing this, Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, said the rejection was to encourage the airlines to make use of manpower which exists locally. Sirika also said “this policy will be strengthened so that Nigerians will get jobs”. Dr. Onu added to that when he said “so far, very huge savings and increase in employment opportunities have already been reported. Many local manufacturers have benefited from procurement of their goods. The University of Transportation, Daura, Katsina State which is under construction, and the Wagon Assembly Plant at Kajola in Ifo Council Area of Ogun State, are all products of this Executive Order. Many of the things we use to rely on other countries to produce for us, are now done in Nigeria by Nigerians. These are just a few of the benefits so far from this Executive Order.”
What Dr. Onu exemplifies is pragmatism in governance. Many students of governance agree that it is not just about building roads and bridges but about enunciating and developing policies that would make building roads and bridges possible for all who are interested in doing so. The GSM revolution ushered in by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration was just but a policy statement. The right policy, purposefully, committedly and altruistically driven, like Dr. Onu does, moves a nation in the right direction. After all, the story of creation is all about thought. “Let there be light”, was a thought (policy) with which the creator ushered creation into being.