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Fast-tracking Scientific, National Development: The NAS Story

Abdulsalam Mahmud FASLN

Monday, 22 June 2020

It is over four decades, and still counting. This is after it was birthed. But how did it came to being? “The Academy emerged largely from the Science Association of Nigeria (SAN). A Committee comprising eminent Fellows of SAN was set-up. The Committee, after carrying out its delegated assignment, reported back to SAN. In reporting back, the Committee selected about 42 eminent scientists at that time, who they taught should be foundation-members of NAS. So, NAS was set up, and the Academy was inaugurated on the 8 of January, 1977,” said Prof. David Okali.

The above-mentioned distinguished Nigerian scholar recalled the formation of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) in a documentary to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Academy in 2017. He further noted that NAS has come a long way in reshaping the face and future of scientific development in the country.

Historic Birth

Established in 1977 and incorporated in 1986, NAS is the foremost independent scientific body dedicated to the development and advancement of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in Nigeria.

This is for the socioeconomic development of the country. It functions to bring scientific knowledge to positively guide policies/strategic direction of the country. Its over-arching vision is to improve the quality of life for the Nigerian society through the promotion and application of science and technology.

Core Mission

Executive Secretary of NAS, Dr. Oladoyin Odubanjo, in a chat with this reporter at the Academy’s building at University of Lagos (UNILAG), explained that the fundamental mission of the Academy is to strengthen the nation’s ability to deliver the fruits of science to the society by the acquisition, growth, and dissemination of sound scientific knowledge, together with the facilitation of its use in the solution of major national problems.

These, he said, NAS does by providing advice on specific problems of a scientific or technological nature presented to it by the government and its agencies, as well as by private organizations.

He added: “It is also by bringing to the attention of the government and its agencies problems of national interest that science and technology can help to solve. Again, it is by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of scientific endeavour and achievement in Nigeria through: organization of conferences, seminars, workshops and symposia, publication of journals and reports, recognition of outstanding contributions to science in Nigeria through awards and prizes, development of a working relationship with other national and international scientific bodies and academies, as well as the organization of panel studies to advice on pertinent scientific issues.”

Remarkable Feats

Over the years, NAS has been involved in the development of a training manual on getting research into policy and practice. It has also participated in the organization of an international conference on climate change in Lagos, even as it has implemented a project on linking agriculture and nutrition.

Others are: the organization of a national consensus building workshop on the prevention of maternal and child mortality in Nigeria, convening of a roundtable meeting to discuss the issues related to the Ebola Virus epidemic that affected the country and the entire West African region, implementing an intervention program to address the social and reproductive health issues of the youth in Ekiti and Nasarawa States of Nigeria in 2017, and the hosting of all African academies and other scientists at an international conference on STI education and manpower development in Africa.

The incumbent President of the Academy, Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha, in a telephone interview with this reporter, further disclosed that after the Ebola crisis in 2014, their Academy conducted a review on the pandemic with a view to preparing for the next one (like the case of COVID-19).

He said their strategic interventions have impacted directly and indirectly on the country, especially in the area of medicine. “There have been quite a lot of laws and ethics formulated by the Health Ministry. This was due to some of our advocacy. For instance, we now have laws on blood transfusion and regulations, to curb the spread of HIV/AID scourge. We once partnered and collaborated with the Education Relief Foundation (based in Geneva, Switzerland) on Balanced and Inclusive Education, which was fruitful. In fact, we were at the fore front of the advocacy and campaign which resulted in the creation of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology itself, together with the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), among other government agencies,” he added.

Disturbing Challenges

Onuoha, a Professor of Petroleum Geology, however said aside lack of funding support by government which has been the Academy’s biggest challenge, lack of adequate media publicity on the milestones and unprecedented accomplishments recorded by NAS is another knotty issue.

Science Communication

To effectively communicate the activities of the Academy and also highlight the significance of science to national development, Dr. Odubanjo, explained that NAS has been strengthening its engagement with journalists as they report science in Nigeria.

“In partnership with Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, we have been holding regular roundtables on “Science Reporting in Nigeria”. The roundtable serves to train journalists on the role of science reporting to socio-economic development. Again, we get our Fellows to grant interviews to journalists who called, seeking to get expert perspectives on scientific issues so as to enlighten the public. Since we place great premium on clear communication, we have over the years, ensured that our books and other vital publications are written in simple and readable language for the layman,” he said.

Practical Achievements

Relating the missions of NAS to everyday life of ordinary Nigerians, Prof. Onuoha, said their Academy has been providing evidence-based scientific advice to government, corporations and other institutions on relevant issues.

According to him, their pieces of advice have gone a long way to shape the formulation of policies and launching of socio-economic programmes that have directly impacted on the lives of teeming populace.

“For instance, it is our input that jolted the government to roll out new regulations about blood transfusions so as to curb the transmission of HIV/AID through the blood system. We have also worked with various state governments to promote girl child education and girl child sexuality, among other things. We also worked and have actively encourage studying of science by students at lower level like primary and secondary schools, so that they can aspire to become great scientists. Talking of how we have impacted on science education, our Academy has been working with frontline scientific organisations to promote science literacy in the country. We hold regularly host academic programmes that greatly impart scientific knowledge on teacher and students in secondary schools, across the country. This is aside the fact that our Fellows also select and mentor students with deep passion for science,” he said.

Meditating on Beach

Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha, NAS President

Covid 19

Fellows of NAS at a public lecture and induction of new Fellows in 2017

Yet, ‘Unkown’ Academy

Two academic researchers teaching at the University of Jos (UNIJOS), and University of Fountain University Osogbo, in Osun State, who separately spoke to this reporter, frankly said NAS, despite its ‘superlative’ achievements over the years, is still ‘unpopular’ and relatively unknown, especially among young scientists in most Nigerian universities.

The lecturers, who individually craved anonymity, however, underscored the need for massive and robust publicity on NAS’ activities, through the media.

According to Prof. Ahmed Adedeji: “it may be unforgivable about our generation that we had this Academy established since 1977, and we are yet to take the lead in handling our own matters and providing adequate solutions to our plight, that science solved in many other developed nations.”

Adedeji, a Professor of Pharmacology at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State, equally stated that the Academy would do better when it begins to adopt a systematic enlisting or merit-based admission procedure into the Academy.

“One which is driven by innovation and solutions that are impactful and life transforming, and not only by subjective recommendations of its present members and Fellows,” he added.

The pharmacology professor, who is also the Head of Future of Medicine, Science, Technology and Innovation Group (FoMSTIG) at OOU, then said: “The Academy may benefit from enhancing quality of training of science education of our postgraduate students and teachers. Promote it with the fundings received from government, non-governmental agencies, and philanthropists.”

This special feature is jointly owned by ASLN Fellows, Abdulsalam Mahmud (Journalist) and Royhaan Folarin (Scientist)

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