Time To Rethink Leadership Of Science, Technology & Innovation In Nigeria
“A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see.” – Leroy Eimes (author and leadership expert).
Science, technology, and innovation endeavours take time to yield dividends. It is not a 100-meter dash; it is actually a marathon! It is an investment that requires years of toiling and painstaking efforts before results begin to manifest. While some STI efforts produce tangible results, others do not, particularly those that focus on knowledge production. For this reason, the leader of such a venture must not only be knowledgeable about the industry but also have expertise with global appeal in science, technology, and innovation!
Science, technology, and innovation cut across the fabric of human life. There is no discipline, venture, or endeavour that is not driven by STI, directly or indirectly. It is more like the pillar that holds almost all facets of life. It explains supposed mysteries, shows how inventions/discoveries can be applied to make life easier, and indeed improves the quality of life with simple solutions to otherwise complex issues. Such is the significance of STI. For an area of life as critical as STI, should it be left in the hands of those who do not know or understand it?
I strongly believe that the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (FMSTI) needs a leader who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see and who sees before others see. The role of FMSTI is crucial to achieving sustainable development in Nigeria. And to accomplish this, it starts with leadership that inspires hope and understands the requirements to drive sustainable development with STI. The ministry has had several heads in the past. They did what they could within the resources and knowledge available to them. However, I am not sure most of them did enough to maximise the huge potential of STI.
Mr. President, in less than one month of assuming office, you have demonstrated your commitment to repositioning the country among the comity of nations with the appointment of technocrats into key positions. This step has given some of us ‘renewed hope’ that Nigeria is on the path to greatness. Your efforts so far are commendable! I am appealing that this commitment be extended to science, technology, and innovation endeavours. No nation can compete favourably in the global space without the effective deployment of STI. To this end, the governance structure of FMSTI must undergo some rethinking.
Your Excellency, in the appointments made thus far, we already have special advisers for energy, monetary policies, security, communication, strategy and others, but none for science, technology and innovation. For quite a while now, I cannot remember when we last had a special adviser to the president on science, technology and innovation. I think we need one. We need someone with knowledge and expertise in STI; someone who can hold their own when it comes to the goings-on in the STI space. Someone who is respected within the sector. This person will not only advise the president on steps to take in using STI to drive sustainable development but also help to curtail the excesses of political jobbers who know little or nothing about science and technology.
Next to the appointment of a special adviser on STI should be putting the right peg in the right hole by appointing someone who understands STI workings as the minister. In most cases, ministers come into the ministry and start learning the ropes instead of setting an agenda for development from the word go. This allows Tom, Dick and Harry to propose ideas that lead to a waste of resources. We cannot continue in this direction if we want to compete globally. Science, technology and innovation are serious businesses and must be treated as such with the right kind of leadership.
Your Excellency, leadership of renewed hope must trickle down to all sectors. In doing this, your efforts at changing the unsavoury narrative about our nation will quickly become noticeable, even to the blind. In fact, the echoes will reverberate very loudly, and even the deaf will be able to hear.
Developed nations of the world that we envy or look up to almost all the time put round pegs in round holes. They appoint people with the right knowledge (not book knowledge alone but experiential knowledge) of the industry they lead. For instance, the current Minister of Higher Education and Research in France is a physicist-turned-politician, Sylvie Retailleau. China has its current Minister of Science and Technology as an information engineer, Wang Zhigang. While I acknowledge that not all technocrats are necessarily good leaders, the probability of a technocrat doing well in the office is higher than appointing a non-technocrat. Your Excellency, the Lagos experience with you has shown that you have a knack for selecting the best to work with you. We believe you have started well. FMSTI needs capable hands to pilot its affairs. I, therefore, appeal that:
1. A technocrat with sound knowledge of STI and with significant experience in the field be appointed as a special adviser to the president on STI.
2. A minister with an understanding of STI – not just a politician – be appointed to lead the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
3. The combination of these will birth renewed hope in the ministry and help the various agencies under FMSTI to be proactive in using STI to drive enduring development.
Mr. President, you have renewed our hope and made us see that Nigeria can and will surely be great again. Please, give us renewed hope in the STI space through leadership that will change the way we do things. STI cannot be treated with kid’s gloves. It is critical to sustainable development.