By Elemdi Akowe

The CCOVID-19 pandemic may have brought the world to its knees, but it has also actualised a situation in which ultimately, each nation swims or sinks depending on the capacity of its people to think out ways and means of checking the lethal scourge of the novel coronavirus. This was clearly depicted in the coincidence of a Madagascar herbal treatment, taking the stage already dominated by breakthroughs in the scientific research world of vaccine and drug therapies.  Such explorative initiatives did not make the headlines in Nigeria, despite undisputed abundance of medicinal flora and a less appreciated but internationally accredited array of scientists and researchers.  But that absurd disdain for local assets was not going to persist.

Even as we lost face by following the lead of the Madagascans in coming up with a potent herbal anti-dote, our scientists and academicians as well as the herbalists did not sit back in despair. Several of them made their presence and products known if only for the record. It was however in the academic field that the most profound developments for now and the future national prowess in the critical aspects of public health and related research and innovation boosted patriotic fervor.

As a prolific researcher,  the Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, TETFUND, Professor Elias Suleman Bogoro’s professional instincts were promptly alerted by COVID-19, refreshing his well-considered conviction that “research on problem solving suitable for our Nigerian content and environmental growth are the best option for industrial development,” which he fine-tuned for current relevance with “COVID-19 has emptied our classrooms but shouldn’t empty our minds.”

Those words were to counsel Nigerian students and lecturers alike to make the most of the lockdown period by engaging in research, reminding them that the nation was counting on local content inventions and ideas to fast-track national development and self-reliance with particular reference to businesses, technologies, governance and job creation.

Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, significant progress was being recorded in rectifying the retrogressive disconnect between research agencies and academic institutions on one hand and between the academic community and the industrial and private sector on the other. The momentum of this desirable change received a jolt of policy thrust and financial muscle from the TETFUND, whose executive secretary had become the leading solicitor, advocate and focused promoter of the neglected research-to-innovation strategy for national development.

Since his triumphant recall-by-popular-demand of staff, Professor Bogoro has forged ahead in upgrading TEFUND’s Education Support Services, which he set up earlier, with more research-oriented initiatives by securing greater support from the Federal Government, through the education ministry, a venture that became fortuitous by the time COVID-19 spread to Nigeria.

In particular, TETFUND earned presidential backing for funding six medical simulation, research and training facilities, covering zones of the country, which should include molecular science laboratories capable of testing and diagnostics for COVID-19, Lassa fever and similar viral diseases.

It is also envisaging the research leading to a breakthrough in the World Health Organization’s quest for certified vaccine against COVID-19, infectious diseases and other deadly diseases as  a step towards consolidating the new research and development strategy in tertiary institutions to reverse the trend of medical tourism and attendant capital flight. The institution-based research is aimed at research capacity building in Tertiary Education Institutions.

The idea is to identify specific entry points from where research by medical experts in universities, colleges of medicine, teaching hospitals, research institutes and centers of excellence can be initiated and funded to boost the new research and development drive in tertiary institutions which has led to the local production of sanitizers, prototype ventilators and PPE in universities.

For a more comprehensive facilitation and enhancement of excellence in science-based disciplines, TETFUND also secured presidential approval to establish two centers of excellence in each of the six zones of the country, to be hosted by first, second and third generation universities, this year. Additionally, TETFUND has just approved six COVID-19 Research grants to the tune of over N200 million in support of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19.

Professor Bogoro’s  tireless advocacy, impact-seeking motivation and reputation for prudence and patriotism has greatly enhanced the priority rating of Research and Development in our tertiary institutions, rapidly transforming TETFUND into the leading hub for channeling substantial funding into strategic national development initiatives as highlighted in presidential approval for boosting the TETFUND National Research Fund, NRF, to the unprecedented amount of N5 billion for the 2019 NRF Call for Proposals, initially through concept notes. Private institutions and the private sector were invited as research partners in many of the grant applications in keeping with international best practices and objectives of the policy.

The outcome saw to the evaluation, recommendation and approval of 128 research grant applications, with the endorsement of Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, whose confidence in Professor Bogoro’s credibility, competence and capacity manifested marvelously in the triumphant reinstatement of the professor as Executive Secretary of TETFUND in January, 2019, three years after he was inexplicably hounded out.

In a related development, Professor Bogoro has further expanded TETFUND’s scope of progressive partnerships by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to boost research and development in pursuit of national development. The partnership is expected to create and maintain synergy between research agencies and academic institutions as research institutes share their research and findings to enhance academic excellence and outputs in the academic institutions.

Less than two years after his re-instatement, Professor Bogoro’s commitment and capacity to reinvigorate and expand the nation’s research and development resources by strengthening and deploying the mandate and potentials of TETFUND is beyond contention. The impact of his stewardship in elevating strategic scientific research activities to their rightful ranking in development policy formulation, academic curriculum and blueprint for industrialization has no doubt also enhanced TETFUND’s profile and added value to its performance in salvaging the education sector. It vindicates the respect and international recognition he has earned, especially as a leader on the pioneer Council of the Think Tank for Translating Research to Innovations, Strategies, Evidence for Policy and National Development created by the University of Ibadan Research Foundation.

His patriotism is also reflected by his choice of remaining in Nigeria to contribute his quota to the strenuous national salvage operation, rather than relishing his comfort zones across the globe  as consultant and management adviser of international, national and regional projects supported by the World Bank, UNDP, USAID, DFID, IPCR, OSIWA, NDI, FHI, NACA, and IFES, among others. By God’s grace Professor Bogoro’s uncommon patriotic commitment to the national cause shall benefit generations and shall be a reference point to others in the service of nation and humanity.

*Akowe writes from Ilorin, Kwara State


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