Mohammed Hassan Abdullahi, Minister of State for Science and Technology, was onetime Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice and Secretary to the State Government (SSG) in Nasarawa State. In this interview with JOHNCHUKS ONUANYIM, the Minister spoke about the Ministry, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), national issues, with a submission that zoning in his party will provide for inclusiveness in governance
What is your Ministry doing to help the President in area of governance?
Essentially, like our mission statement provided, we are to pilot the affairs of the Ministry of Science and Technology, align it with the vision of Mr. President and then provide directions in terms of science, technology and innovation (STI). Essentially, it is to provide the bases for Nigeria’s technological advancement within the comity of nations.
Of course we are aware that from the advent of modern global community that what drives communities is actually Science, Technology and Innovations. So, our mandate essentially is to see what we can do to drive the process, to support the country’s quest for development of science, technology and innovation.
Well, over the years people have been talking about Science and Tech as a means of developing the country, the question is why are we not there?
It depends on what you mean by why are we not there because if you look at Nigeria in the 60s and Nigeria today, hopefully we have made some progress in terms of STI generally. Yes, we are probably not at that level where we can be compared to other countries – Brazil, India, Malaysia or Korea – that we probably started together.
But if you look at the trajectory in terms of growth, we are so much affected by political instability and it has negatively impacted on our ability as a nation to make progress in some of this spheres of life.
However, we have been able to make tremendous progress over time in terms of space technology, in terms of Biotechnology, in terms of all sorts of STI programs in the country.
Let me give one or two examples, it may not clearly be very visible in terms of tangible things because we are most research and development base. A typical example is in the area of biotechnology where the national bio-tech agency (NARDA) has been able to develop some seedling that could support our farmers in terms of more yields, in terms of capacity to withstand pressure from ants, etc. An example is the cotton seed.
The essence is to support the textile industry so that they can generate employment in that area. Yes, it may not be tangibly seen but we have made tremendous progress especially in R&D.
The challenge that we have is basically about commercialization. Now in other climes, outside the country what people do is that they look at your research findings, then they look at what they can do to capitalize it. So, once they see it as bankable they arrange with you and get the patent right, they get the franchise and they commercialize it.
Now that process support the industries that process generates employment, that process generates wealth and these are the things we are having as challenges in Nigeria.
No investor is willing to invest in findings of R&D. Now as government, as a Ministry all we do is to find the enabling environment, we are not into business, it is for the commercial venture capitalists, it is for the business men to say, we like this innovation, we want the patent, we want to invest in it and once they do that they develop a chain of activities in terms of the economy, in terms of employment, in terms of Industrialization, etc.
But we cannot wait for the government to do the policy, the government to do the research and the government to do the investment. Over time we understand that government is a bad investor when it comes to business.
So, the best thing is to support the environment in which the individual has to invest, that we have been able to do at a large extent.
Beyond creating enabling environment, are you saying that there is nothing the Ministry is doing to reach out to Banks and investors to invest in STI?
You see, what we do is having Science and Tech Expo every year. What we do in that Expo is essentially to do match making. We bring our researchers to the Expo, we bring the industry to the Expo and we bring the investors to the Expo.
Now, everybody would be there to exhibit what she or he has been able to develop in terms of R&D and it is for the commercial venture captains to look at the possibility of investing in such research findings.
The Ministry is there to midwife by bringing all the parties together, the essence is to ensure that they are encouraged – the industries, the banks, the researchers and a host of other people that are related to that venture to see that they develop to a level where they can commercialize and don’t forget that our eyes are always on the ball. The essence of that commercialization is:
- To create a functional industries in the country that is into production of goods and services,
- To generate employment to our teeming Youths and 3. To generate wealth for the person who is working there, the person who is like a middle man and the value chain itself. That is the essence of what we do. So, to some extent it is not the fault of the Ministry, our venture capitalists are shy on investing in research findings in Nigeria and that is basically one of our challenges.
Now, beyond the investment challenge as you have just enumerated, what other challenge or challenges is the Ministry facing?
I think the biggest challenge that we are facing is from Nigerians, which is that they are averse to home grown technology and if we don’t patronize our local tech products and we continue to patronize foreign tech products, there is no way we can make progress.
So, our major challenge is attitudinal issue we have with Nigerians when it comes to products that are home grown.
Once they see a product – for instance INNOSON motors- that is 70 per cent local content in terms of production, a typical Nigeria will tell you no!, no! l don’t need INNOSON, bring Mercedes Benz.
So, that attitude must change, we must begin with pride to patronize our own products, that way we can make progress.
That is why the President made a case that the Nigerian Army, where possible, must patronize INNOSON in terms of procurement of combat vehicles and at the moment we are doing that. The Federal government is ready to encourage home grown technology.
Now, in the Nigerian Leather Institute in Zaria, we produce booths for Nigerian Army and para-military organisation and because of Executive Order 5, Nigerian Army is now beginning to patronize these products so that we can support local production of goods and services.
So, if we are able to change our attitude and if we are able to comply with the Executive Order of number 5 that emphasizes on local content in terms of service, contract and procurement, then it would not be difficult for us to reach where we want to be in the STI.
Your party, APC is going through a transformation stage giving the registration/ revalidation exercise, which some persons have criticized. How would you access the process?
For my own personal assessments and with due respect to other people’s assessments, the exercise is going very smoothly.
From the angle of my own state, it’s going on very smoothly and every stakeholder is carried along and it should be expected that programme such as this is likely to get some controversies in some states where they are factionalised.
However, I think that the stakeholders must be able to adopt the spirit of give and take, you mustn’t get everything you want, you must be able to accommodate other tendencies within your own state.
So, I think it is necessary that members develop this attitude of accommodating other tendencies that are not likely to be in tune with their own beliefs. But by and large the story is largely successful.
To what extent do you think that the exercise would strengthen the party?
Well, I think that is even the essence of the registration itself. To ensure that it opens its doors to new members because on daily bases you see defections from other parties to APC. Now it poses a challenge to them because they don’t even have membership, it is closed.
So, that is why the opening of registration exercise indeed is very noble, to accommodate other people who are just coming into the part.
Now, the advantage you have is that it is like a fresh start so that it can accommodate all tendencies.
So, this will enable the party to grow from strength to strength, accommodating both the old and new in a unified struggle to contend this balance of power at the National and State level. I think it is strengthening the party generally and I hope that we succeed. I
spoke to a former chieftain of the party who said he was there when the constitution of APC was drafted and that zoning was implied. As a chieftain of the party what is your take on this zoning of Presidency that is causing some kind of disagreements between the North and South?
Well, at the moment I am not privy to the high level discussions in terms of zoning in the party. However, on personal grounds zoning creates some level of accommodation, zoning enables some inclusiveness, zoning allows every region to have a shot at the highest office of the land.
So, with all due respect I think zoning will be very accommodating, it will create unity, it will create understanding within the party.
But in terms of discussion as whether there was some arrangements previously, l wasn’t privy to that, I was never part of such discussions and I wouldn’t know anything about that. I think the person who spoke to you might have information that I don’t have and I guess he knows what he is talking about.
In the next four months the APC would be going for an elective National Convention. What kinds of leadership would you be suggesting for the party?
I think we need a party Chairman that has a listening ear that would be able to talk to all tendencies within the party; that would be a peace maker yet being firm; that would be able to ensure that the party’s principles and its objectives are devoid of rancours. I want a party Chairman who tells truth to power.
That is the kind of party Chairman that I want. So, in essence we need a broad minded, creative diplomat as much as a firm person as a party Chairman going forward.
The Caretaker Committee is almost seven months in office, what do you think of the members and their leadership of the party?
You know the difficulty of governance is that from the outside you look at it as a very simple venture but once you are inside you get confronted with practical realities of the challenges within a system.
Now, I think the Caretaker Committee initially underestimated the challenges within the party and having come face to face with the realities now, they require some level of tinkering in the initial timetable.
So, I can understand the justifications in terms of the tinkering of the timetable because of enormity of the challenges that they are facing. So, I think it is to sincerely look at the issues and confront them once and for all before the National Convention. So, I support what the Caretaker Committee is doing at the moment.
Some people believe that the level of insecurity in Nigeria is very high. Are you worried as a Minister?
Well, I want to give an answer that my colleague, Chibuke Amaechi gave to Seun Okinbaloye of Channels Television, when he was asked about security and he said ‘I am Minister of Transportation. I am not Minister for Security.” I think this question would be rightly answered by my colleagues the Ministers of Defence and Police Affairs. I don’t want to go beyond my brief as they say in law.
What would be your take on where Nigeria is and where you expect Nigeria to be?
Well, I told you that in relation to STI – Science, Technology and Innovation – our major problem is attitudinal; our major problem is not embracing services and goods made in Nigeria.
Our trust for foreign goods and services is a major challenge. Now, it is the same thing that applies in politics. We don’t define politics in terms of national interest – whether you are APC, whether you are PDP, whether you are APGA, whatever party you are. What is Nigeria’s national Interest?
Whatever we do in terms of differences, we must be able to align our thoughts, our thinking, our attitude towards national interest. If you look at the USA today, whatever happens there is consistency in their national policy, whether its Democrats or Republicans.
They will always protect capitalism anywhere in the world. They always protect free trade; they always protect national security, the same kind of mindset and attitude they have about China, Russia.
Whether it is the Democrats or Republicans that are in government, it remains the same. Now, in Nigeria for instance a simple support, a national cohesive harmonised support for the Nigeria Defence Forces is not there.
Whether you are in PDP, whether you are APC or any other party, you have the obligation to support Nigeria Defence Forces in their fight against insecurity, in their fights against banditry, in their fights against insurgency, etc.
But what do we have, because today I am not in power, once there is a major victory against the Army, I hail it, I propagate it on the social media.
It is so sickening because these members of the Armed Forces are being killed on daily bases. They are not from PDP, they are not from APC, they are Nigerians and they are fighting for you and me, for us to be able to sleep well. So, the major problem we have is that in Nigeria we don’t have that alignment in terms of harmony for National interest.
Once I am not in power I pray for bad thing to happen to your government, this should not be the case. We have an obligation to support Nigerian Army for instance and in terms of Foreign Policy we also have obligation to harmonise.
For example, recently Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed as WTO Director General and I like what the President did. Irrespective of what political party she represents, irrespective of what part of the country she comes from, her religion does not matter, the President was convinced that among the two candidates she was better materially for the country and he never bothered, he never wavered and he said look, we are supporting her.
The African Union came to oppose her everybody came to oppose her but he focused on her that should be our national interest. Whatever party you come from, let us focus for our country to move forward.
The President did the same thing. Don’t forget to mention Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. He did the same thing to Amina Mohammed.
So, the fact that you are in another party or served another government does not erase the fact that you are a Nigerian. So, Nigerians have a duty to have this alignment of solidarity to national interest. It is very important and that is very likely.
The 2023 election is around the corner and do you see an APC presidential candidate from the South defeating a PDP presidential candidate from the North?
Resoundingly so. A resounding defeat will come the way of the other party. But I will further state that the PDP bringing their presidential candidate from the North is still in the realm of speculations. These are all hypothesis, right. So, my advice to you who are my friends in the fourth estate of the realm is that when we reach the bridge we will see how we can cross it
What is your assessment of governance in your state, Nasarawa State?
Well, to be fair to the government of Nasarawa State they are doing the best to consolidate on the initial gains of the previous government but you know sometimes this security issues are challenges that you don’t foresee sometimes.
They just erupt out of circumstances beyond ones control but within the circumstance of what I have been able to come up, security wise, l think the government has been able to deal with those issues drastically and effectively.
Again, when it comes to the delivery of services in terms of welfare of the people, from what I read in the papers and from the briefings we get from the governors when we go for stakeholders meeting, I think he is doing tremendously well.
With all due respect to what anybody will say, I think I respect the fact that he is trying his best with the economic downturn, low IGR to sustain the government and of course from federal allocation too, but in spite of that I think he is doing his best.