New Telegraph

Funding research for enhanced telecoms sector

It is obvious that Nigeria is lagging in the local production of technology and telecommunications as it depends much on importation of virtually all it needs to survive in the sector. To bridge the gap, there is need for the concerned authorities and bodies to be committed to research for the development of the sector. ABOLAJI ADEBAYO writes

There is no doubt that Nigeria still depends much on importation of virtually all what it uses including technology and telecoms services. This is largely due to low level of local capacity to build the indigenous content with solid research outcomes to promote the telecoms sector. Though, there are various interventions to aid research in Nigeria, there is still a gap to be bridged to build the required local expertise in the creation of home grown technologies.

Research centres/institutes

Apart from research institutes purportedly set up by government at various level, there are also private set up research centres, though very few in the country. There are about 69 notable research institutes scattered across different parts of Nigeria. Many of those institutes focus on other sectors rather than telecommunications. Some of the research institutes are Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), established for industrial reaserch; Agricultural Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin; Animal Health Research Institutes; Animal Production, Fisheries and Oceanography Research Institutes; Arable Crops Research Institutes, Center for Energy Research and Development, Centre for Energy Research and Training; Centre for Management Development, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Ibadan; Federal Ministry of Agriculture Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST), Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Ibadan, among others.

Roles

The main purpose of these institutes in Nigeria is to carry out research. Thus, research institutes in Nigeria improve and increase the knowledge available about the specific research project as well as broaden the possibilities of how to utilise the knowledge to the best advantage. Although the research institutes in Nigeria are often overlooked to be focused on natural science, there are also many research institutes in the Art/ Humanities and Social Science as well, especially for sociological and historical research purposes. However, there are not enough researchers for the emerging technologies in the telecoms sector. Meanwhile, it should be noted that there is difference between research centres and research institutes in Nigeria. Though, they may perform the same functions, there is often a limitation. Research centres, unlike research institutes, are governed by universities, colleges and other organisational bodies where researches are carried out and necessary to facilitate learning. Research institutes in Nigeria are formidable institutions and are relatively autonomous, although they are often in resource-dependent relationships with these organisations, funding may come from government sources as well as significant external funding, but research institutes in Nigeria attempt to maintain their research freedom and usually claim not to be beholden to specific interests. Research institutes are crucial partners for supporting the innovation activities of businesses, especially SMEs. Research institutes in Nigeria provide important impulses for the development of new products and cooperate in nearly every stage of the innovation process.

Funding

In the developed countries, researches usually commence from the tertiary institutions before being spread to other beneficiaries and companies for development and use. However, though there are various challenges hampering thorough research in Nigeria such as inadequate infrastructure, dearth of skilled ICT personnel and absence of engagement with industry and government, funding remains the major one faced by the research centres especially in the universities and other tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Noting this factor that could further hinder the development of telecoms sector in Nigeria to grow its own technologies, the Commission said it had committed over N500 million new funds to the Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions across the country to facilitate research and in-to promote developments in the Nigerian telecommunications industry. The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who disclosed this at a two-day regional roundtable with academia, industry and other stakeholders, which ended in Kano at the weekend, said the funds had been committed to research grants to universities and tertiary institutions, including professorial chairs in the universities in salient areas to drive technology development. Danbatta said the Commission was now focused on supporting the academia in the commercialisation of the prototypes from these innovative researches as this is relevant to the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy’s policy towards achieving indigenous technology for sustainable development of our country. He said the roundtable, organised by the Commission, was to provide the necessary platform to support the commercialisation of locally- developed telecommunications innovations, which NCC has been sponsoring. “The Commission collaborates with the academia in maximising the contributions of tertiary institutions to innovations and sustainable development of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry as finance is needed to drive possible success of these endeavours,” he said. He added that the efforts have enabled the Commission to contribute to national efforts to ensure overall growth of the industry and create wealth for innovators, saying all these are fundamental to the objective of NCC’s R&D-oriented programmes. On the basis of these, he said ideas, inventions and improvements that emanate from the academia are required by the industry for improved efficiency and productivity. The NCC boss said appreciable impacts had been achieved since the Commission reinvigorated research grants for telecommunications-based research innovations from Nigerian academics, focusing on successful commercialisation of locally developed solutions to foster and deepen the uptake of indigenous technology by Nigerians.

Earlier funding

To support the universities to embark on the research for the required innovation in ICT, NCC gave research grants and professorial chair endowments to some universities. The agency, with its recognition of the academia as a central stakeholder in its commitment to linkages and local development sphere of the Nigeria’s telecommunications sector, awarded fresh research grants and endowed professorial chairs in some Nigerian universities in the sum of N233 million. From the total sum, N172.5 million was awarded to support 13 proposals found to have met the stipulated criteria in the advertised 2021 Request for Proposal (RfP) for Telecommunications- Based Research Innovations from Nigerian Tertiary Institutions (research grant) Programme. Additionally, three universities received N20 million each for endowments of professorial chair by the Commission. Speaking at the award ceremony, which took place at the Commission’s head office in Maitama, Abuja, Danbatta said the event demonstrated NCC’s strong resolve in advancing the impact of digital technologies on the national economy, using indigenous products and solutions. NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Ubale Maska, said the Commission had so far awarded 49 telecom-based research grants to the academia, out of which 10 prototypes were successfully developed and displayed to industry stakeholders. He said the R&D efforts of the Commission were aimed at actualising some of the eight-point Pillar Eight of National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030, focusing on Indigenous Content Development and Adoption.

Driving innovation

While universities and other tertiary institutions have been chosen to drive the innovation in the telecoms sector thorough research to develop local content production, experts said the institutions are expected to embark on revolutionary approach to produce high quality graduates for the Nigerian software industry in the shortest time. Industry analysts said much has not been done for the needed innovation in ICT and, especially, telecommunications, to be driven by the academic institutions. NCC stated that government has been making efforts towards advancement of technology through public private partnership with policies that would drive the required innovation in the ICT sector. Part of the efforts was the projection of about N924 billion investments to advance science, technology and innovation (STI) in Nigeria. This is according to the National Development Plan (NDP) 2021 to 2025, Volume 1. The document, which explained that STI are three intertwined concepts that underpin the development of products, processes and systems that ensure human progress and wellbeing, noted that science, technology and innovation in Nigeria continue to suffer from weak policy implementation and limited funding for research and development.

Implementation

Meanwhile, Danbata charged the beneficiary institutions to ensure proper implementation of the funds, noting that the implementation of the endowment was through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Commission and each beneficiary university just as the Commission recently included the signing of MoU as part of the implementation of the telecommunications-based research innovations. The EVC stated that with the latest awards and endowments, the Commission had committed millions of naira into Nigerian tertiary institutions for ICT focused research innovations. “This is in demonstration of commitment to driving the attainment of the goals of the Federal Government’s agenda on digital economy, as captured in the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS), 2020-2030,” he said.

Last line

There are still lapses in telecoms research since the sector is relatively new, it therefore needs more research to sustain its already recorded growth. Especially for the emerging technologies, Nigeria needs substantial commitment to research for the indigenous capacity to build its local technology to compete with other developed nations. It is believed that this could be achieved if tertiary institutions are well funded to carry out the research.

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