SPEECH BY BABS OMOTOWA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NIGERIA LNG LIMITED, AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE NEWLY CONSTITUTED ADVISORY BOARD FOR THE NIGERIA PRIZE FOR SCIENCE.
Permit me to welcome you on behalf of the Board and management of Nigeria LNG Limited to the inauguration of the new Advisory Board for The Nigeria Prize for Science.
Science and events revolving around it are usually not big attractions, yet any country that wishes to develop must support and appreciate science and scientists. We therefore would like to thank you for taking out time to attend this event.
We welcome members of the new advisory board. We feel honoured and humbled that you accepted to serve on the board and to help us build a better Nigeria. We are particularly excited by the technical depth and range of expertise, backgrounds and competence that you bring to this role. This is what it should be; Africa’s biggest science prize deserves no less.
Our gratitude also goes to the Nigerian Academy of Science for nurturing this prize to prominence. We are grateful to many of their officials who served either as committee members or judgesincluding: Prof. Umaru Shehu, Prof.Emmanuel Emovon, Prof. Ifedayo Oladapo, Prof. Grace Olaniyan-Taylor, Prof. Ette, Prof. Awele Maduemezia, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Prof.Alexander Animalu, Prof. Gabriel Ogunmola, Prof. David Okali, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, and Prof. Oyewale Tomori. We also post-humously recognise the contributions of the late Professor Ifedayo Oladipo. May hissoul rest in peace.
We alsowish to specially thank Prof. Umaru Shehu who was the pioneer Chairman of the Science Committee in 2004. His dedication, wise counsel, forthrightness, thoroughness, humour and humility were the hallmarks of our interactions. To us and many others, you are a living legend.
I would also like to thank Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, the godfather and guardian angel of the Nigerian Prize for Literature. He has generously lent us his considerable prestige and the prize has benefited from his immense statureand core values. Prof. Banjo has incidentally also had a long association with scientists as a teacher and eminent university administrator at Nigeria’s oldest university.
The journey to establish a world class prize to honour and celebrate science and scientists, first started in this hotel, in November 2003 when we met with 12 writers led by Prof. Theo Vincent and 12 scientists from the Nigerian Academy of Science led by Prof. Gabriel Ogunmola to develop guidelines for two major prizes to celebrate science and literature.
In accepting the outcome of those interactions, one of my predecessors, Dr. Andrew Jamieson, in February 2004, had this to say:
“Nigeria is a developing country with aspirations for joining the ranks of developed nations. Only science and technology can make these dreams come true. And creating awareness, competitions, rewarding and recognising excellence in science and technology will enable us realize this dream and provide meaningful existence for the citizenry.”
13-years after, these goals remain the same,even if the ride had been bumpy but the Science Prize has also produced a number of laureates.
However, truth be told, the Science Prize has not realised its full potentials in its 12 years of existence. In that time, there have only been five (5) winners. The quality and quantity of entriessuggest that all is not well with our science and scientists. Immediate and remote causes include poor infrastructure, poor funding, and falling standards of education.
The situation was so direthat NLNG decided on another type of intervention – building and equipping engineering laboratories in six universities in Nigeria. In 2014, we flagged off a University Support Programme (USP) to help develop engineering education capacity in the country. NLNG is spending $12 million ($2 million each) on the construction or rehabilitation of engineering laboratories, equipped with cutting-edge equipment in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University Of Ibadan, University of Ilorin, University of Port-Harcourt, University of Maiduguri and University of Nigeria, Nsukka.These laboratories will be world-class and therefore well positioned to enable research at par with peers across the world.
The situation, although improving, will take some time to turn around. However, considering the urgency of some of the challenges facing the country, we have, following a stakeholder forum in Abuja in 2013, decided that while still encouraging scientific education and research, the prize will be refocused on providing immediate applicable solutions to pressing national problems. We anticipate that the prize will become an effective tool for finding innovative solutions to difficult problems facing the country.
The prize money will still remain $100,000 but the fundamental idea behind this change is to identify societal problems that need solving, and encourage as wide a range of people as possible to try to solve them, thus providing incentives for success. Similar examples include:
USA’s Complete Reauthorization Act, for prize competitions to spur innovations and solve tough problems.
Grainger Foundation’s $1 million to developbest ways to remove arsenic from drinking water from underground sources in developing nations, such as Bangladesh.
We are encouraged in our new trajectory by the quality and dynamism of the new advisory board, members of which I am glad to introduce to you.
Besides being the first winner of the Nigeria Prize for Science, Prof. Akpoveta Susu, was former Stanford University, former University of Notre Dame as Assistant Professor, former Ife and former University of Lagos Chemical Engineering lecturer.
Professor Bart Nnaji, distinguished professor of mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Engineering professor at Pittsburgh William Kepler Whiteford, Director of U.S. National Science Foundation, Centre for e-Design, tenured professor of Computer Integrated Manufacturing and Robotics at University of Pennsylvania, and former Minister of Power. At 32, he was Nigeria’s first Science and Technology Minister.
Professor Michael Adikwu was also a Nigeria Prize for Science laureate. Currently, Vice Chancellor of University of Abuja, he has won research grants from The Royal Society of Chemistry of Great Britain; The Third World Academy of Sciences; The International Foundation for Science, Sweden; The Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Abuja and The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, Abuja.Elected Fellow of the prestigious Nigerian Academy of Science in 2009, he later served as the National Project Coordinator for Science and Technology Education Post-Basic (STEP-B) Project in the Federal Ministry of Education, Abuja
Dr. Akande, alumni of University of North London and Harvard University, was a two-time Minister of Industry. She served as Chairman of the NEPAD Business Group Nigeria and is currently the President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Prof. Elijah Dika Meshelia nuclear physicist, is Carnegie Corp fellow, Nigeria Academy of Science Fellow, Member German Physical Society, Energy Commission Nigeria, European Physical Society, American Physical Society and Editor African Review of Physics.
Our new Advisory Board members are the very eminent Nigerians on whose shoulders we have placed the mantle of rejuvenating the Nigeria Prize for Science. We are confident that they will be able to solve our national problems through science and put Nigeria on the world’s science map.