Engr. Dr. Mohammed Jibrin is the Director General, National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI), in this exclusive interview with LINUS ALEKE, Jibrin calls for more investment in research and innovation while lamenting inability of Nigerian higher institutions to advance knowledge in timber technology with the view to creating jobs for teeming unemployed youths in the country.
What is the core mandate of National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI)?
The mandate of National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI) is to pursue the commercialization of research development results that are proactive, target driven, and are specifically needed for the economic development of the country, including all other initiatives, so that they can be taken to the market. As you can see, we have over 140 universities in the country, some of which are specialized universities like universities of agriculture, universities of science and technology, universities of petroleum resources or universities of education and so on. In addition, we have over 300 research and development institutions and most of their outputs are been harnessed for the production of goods and services that would make Nigeria globally competitive in terms of best practices. We are witnessing a situation where a number of products that are results of research and development are being imported into the country when our talents in the academia had done a lot of studies that if tailored towards commercialization through incubation or other routes, new goods or process can emerge that will create jobs, create wealth, reduce poverty and improve the overall well being of citizens in the country. In a nutshell, the overall aim of technology incubation programme is to accelerate the industrial development of our dear nation.
To what extent have you been able to achieve these lofty mandates of your agency?
We have been able to achieve a lot from our mandate; of course it is in accordance with our mandate that we established technology incubation centers across the country. Centers where the actual commercialization takes place through incubation as the root, so far so good, we have 32 technology incubation centers across the federation. in addition, we have seven international centers, the only states of the federation where we are yet to establish technology incubation center are Yobe, Jigawa, Ebonyi and Rivers but we are already in discussions with Yobe and River state governments and before the end of the year, I am optimistic that we are going to establish new centers in those two states. What that implies is that we are going to carry over the remaining two states to 2017; however we will establish the centers in the remaining two states before the end of first quota of 2017. As I said earlier, our mandate is to ensure the commercialization of research results and innovations. And in pursuance of that mandate, we had been able to nurture enterprises that have been able to stamp their feet and contribute to the growth of the nation’s economy.
What are the major challenges confronting National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI)?
Most Chief Executive Officers of government establishment would ordinarily say that inadequate funding is their major challenge even though in reality we are underfunded but I must affirm that while others are crying of inadequate funding, we at National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI) are working hard to change the narrative from fiscal capital to intellectual capital. Most nations had moved from analogue to digital, market economy to knowledge economy and that is why we are leading the way in government to move from resource based economy to knowledge based economy. So by implication, our intellectual base is the capital and we are harnessing it. Like I pointed out earlier, we are trying to link talents, technology and technical abilities of students and intellectuals. I think that we are progressing but the only thing is that it should be at a faster rate. So whatever comes up, I believe that it would be an added advantage. Moreover, another challenge is the inability of the private sector to key in. Technology incubation programme should not be left for government alone to implement, indeed world over, private people are establishing their own personal ‘Silicon Valley’ therefore, I am glad to note with interest a gentle man in Lagos who was quoted in the news as saying that he is building a private silicon valley around Lekki area in Lagos state. That is the first of its kind in this part of the world I believe. So technology parks, clusters, common facilities centers that are driven by knowledge that are sustainable by design should be encouraged to be provided by private centers so that a strong collaboration will now exist between government industries, as well as the academia. While government would be expected to provide the policy guidelines, and political will, the academia would provide the knowledge, while the industries would stand in to absorb the products.
In what ways are you collaborating with industries to achieve your goal?
Actually in the technology incubation centers, it is really the mini industries that we deal with because that is where the start-ups are initiated. R and B initiative and other local initiatives are now connected to new businesses and these new businesses are nurtured. Spine-offs by definition are the R and B coming from the universities, so knowledge driven companies are called spine-offs. Therefore, we have the start-ups and spine-offs emerging. Meanwhile our students are nurtured for three or four years at the incubation centers before they are graduated from the scheme. But by the time they graduate, they are able to establish their own factories with the knowledge they had acquired from the centers. Nonetheless, we constantly continue to monitor; benchmark and evaluate them to ensure that they operate in line with global best practices. We are collaborating with industries and with the inputs coming from the academia, knowledge, innovation, and value addition are injected. More so, the only area we need to do more is in the area of harnessing our raw material into finish products. Take for instance timber; when you talk of timber in the country, two states, Kaduna and Taraba have the highest quality of timber in terms of global ranking but I have not seen any polytechnic or university offering even a diploma or degree in timber technology. You could imagine if we have local knowledge from timber, the aforestation aspect, the gluing aspect, the knelling aspect, the furniture aspect, and the roofing aspect. The timber structure that would come out of it, indeed they are enough to create hundreds of thousands of jobs which is enough to attract foreigners to come to Nigeria to look for job.