By DAYO OMOOGUN
On Thursday 28th of October 2021 the Advisory Board for the Nigerian Prize for Science returned a verdict of ”No Winner” for the 2021 edition aptly themed “Innovation for Sustainable Food Security.”
The decision to retain the thematic focus which was originally for the year 2020 must be applauded by all well-meaning Nigerians in particular, at a time when the country is tagged with the unfortunate appellation of poverty capital of the world. It remains a fitting theme as food availability remains a very present challenge considering that the world is still reeling from the devastation, misery and economic dislocation which the COVID-19 pandemic left in its trail.
The verdict of “No winner” which followed the evaluation of 48 entries by the panel of three wise persons-Professors Patrick Ngoddy, Yusuf Abubakar and Oyebiodun Longe- leaves a sour taste on the mouth and is a serious cause for worry for everyone who understands that science holds a key place in modern development.
At this point, it is important to commend the panelists who refused to balk or bow to any sentiments or the popular Nigerian factor. As pointed out by the chairman of the Advisory Board in his remarks, read by Dr. Mrs Nike Akande on his behalf, it must have been a very difficult decision to make. Some other persons would have fallen for the common tendency in the Nigerian environment to “fulfil all righteousness” thereby picking the best of the not-so-good forgetting that even the best of the not-so-good remains not-so-good. We therefore must celebrate these non-compromisers for sticking to the standard. The no-winner outcome also presents the Advisory Board as well as the Sponsor- Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd as persons, biological and corporate, with high integrity who could have used their good offices to pull the strings which could have resulted in a totally different impression.
The set criteria which was restated in Professor Susu’s remarks does not sound beyond reach especially when the topic involvedis something that is so basic to living, such as food. Even to the uninitiated, it does not sound esoteric at all. So the outcome is quite concerning to say the least. What could be responsible for this embarrassing turn of events?
At a time like this it is not out of place to connect this failure to our faulty educational system- a system where a large percentage of secondary students across the nation offering science subjects have never seen a beaker or test tube or where higher institutions have poorly equipped science and engineering labs and workshops, where research grants are either grossly inadequate or diverted. The Good book says “if the foundation be destroyed what can the righteous do?” While this postulation might be correct to a large extent as most of the entries came from Nigerians the fact remains that the contest is open to all scientists from around the world thus making it even more worrisome.
It is shocking how Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory fell flat on its face in this case. Vroom is known to have taken the stand thathuman beings will be ready to do the “impossible” when the motivation is right. One would have thought that 100,000 dollars prize money would be enough to wake up the dead, so to speak,but the sum, an equivalent of about 50 million naira failed to motivate scientists from around the world into producing a world class research paper that could deliver Nigeria from food insecurity, famine, poverty, unemployment and poverty.
In a serious environment, this outcome should provoke a state of emergency in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and Innovation (FMSTI), Federal Ministry of Education, the National Universities Commission, University Senates across the nation and indeed the seat of power in Nigeria – the Aso Rock Villa. But that is only if we as a nation are serious about getting ahead in the STEM sector and creating a better and more enjoyable nation.
In examining the issue please permit me to narrow my gaze to Nigerian scientists? Does Nigeria have such an acute shortage of quality scientists? I don’t think so. Is this not the same Nigeria that has produced great science and tech wizards in several nations such as the United States and Canada? Could this be a reminder to investigate the circumstances that make Nigerian students in higher institutions in Western countries fare better than when they study in Nigerian Universities and to urgently provide remedies?
By this development, every scientist who falls within the eligible category should feel a sense of challenge and yours sincerely believes that with the traditional can-do spirit of the average Nigerian, this hurdle should not be difficult to scale.
Incidentally and on a heartwarming note, on the same day this announcement was made, news came that Dr. Uchechi, the son of Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, had become one of the first spinal surgeons in Maryland (USA) to conduct a successful navigated lumbar spinal fusion using a robot. That is a Nigerian.
On the same day, the sister of the popular Nigerian Musician, Burna Boy who recently won a Grammy, was reported to have designed the 2022 Range Rover. Nissi Ogulu reportedly designed the new 2022 Range Rover luxury car in conjunction with others. That is another Nigerian. So for sure so much good can come out of Nazareth (Nigeria).
At this point, looking at the future of the awards, will this resultnot dampen the morale of would-be contestants in subsequent editions of the contest? Again it is pertinent to ask what the sponsors would do if faced with such scenario in 2022. Will it be forced to lower the bar in order to save face? Will it stick to its standard and damn the consequences? What kind of image would that foist on the programme or the organizers for that matter? I am sure there are other questions that need to be answered before the next edition to ensure that this ugly scenario is not repeated.
In the meantime it is advisable that the next edition be advertised far and wide and early enough in order to spread the net as wide as possible in order to forestall a future occurrence. The advert and publicity material should emphasize that theprize is open to any scientist from anywhere in the world- the primary purpose which the prize seeks to fulfil is provision of implementable, scientific solutions to Nigeria‘s problems in various sectors of the economy and by the vision of the NLNG, the tribe, sex or nationality of such solution provider otherwise known as the Winner does not matter.