NASENI alone can bring Nigeria out of the wood
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By Hamisu Muhammad & Zakariyya Adaramola - Daily Trust Newspaper

Prof. M S Haruna

Since your assumption of office, can you tell us what you have done? 
The first thing that I was faced with was how to sustain the achievement and programmes of NASENI. Luckily for me I am not new to the system, in fact, I was second in command to the immediate past chief executive and there was no programme of NASENI that I was not a party to and because I also knew their importance, I decided to continue with them. But we have a lot of challenges on how to sustain them and we are looking at why NASENI was not able to reach its destination, despite its laudable programmes. So I had introduced some modifications and new approaches. The modification is to involve working with the private sector, from the beginning, of mainly research and development (R&D) activities. And we also adopt an approach of establishing industries from already developed technology that we have, and we are looking for partnership both within and outside Nigeria. We approached almost everybody, including the Dangote Group, demonstrating to them the technologies that we have and our finished products including our factory in Karshi.  We want to see somebody who is serious so that we can sell it to him. It was because of this that we converted it to a limited liability company. So that we can provide a statement of account to an investor in order for him to decide whether to invest in the company or not.

 What is the mandate of your agency?
 Mandate of NASENI covers areas relating to engineering and technology that can lead to production of tangible products that are needed in all spheres of human endeavours. The mandate of NASENI covers all other sectors from space technology to electrical engineering, production engineering, mechanical engineering and anything that can provide infrastructure for science or engineering. While every other people can do their R&D, NASENI’s mandate ensure that the activities must lead to the production of capital goods that are immediately needed in our markets, homes and public places. Let me add that for somebody to understand the mandate of NASENI, he needs to know that R&D activities are taking place in this country and yet the country is yet to develop and it is not even on the path of being an industrial economy. That missing link was what led to the establishment of NASENI some years back to copy the model of developed economies.  To emulate them, it is discovered that it was agencies like NASENI that catapulted these industrialised countries into where they are now. So  NASENI came about in order to bridge the gap between the sciences and technologies and the country’s economic yearnings, on the one hand, and the gap between the country’s determination to be self reliant and what is happening in other agencies and private sector’s R&D.

More than twenty years from now when the agency was established, can we say the agency has achieved its aims?
 The aims for the establishment of NASENI have not been achieved but the agency has maximised benefits of the little material resources it had and turned over a lot of R&D and finished products.  And we are the only agency of government that has put tangible products in the desirable areas of the economy and in the hands of common man. Despite constraints, it has intervened in sectors like power, agriculture, education, health, transportation, to mention just a few. We have been able to produce some products with small funds available.

 The agency has produced bicycle, tricycle and recently energy saving bulbs. Have you already commercialised these products? 
NASENI is the only agency of government that its establishment Act allows it to do R&D and produce prototype, set up manufacturing plants, and  go into full scale productions. It can sell the technologies to anyone, it can equally partner with any organisations or business concern or individuals. We can invest, partially or fully, in any venture that is science or engineering or technology oriented that will lead to tangible capital goods or services. We will prefer that a private sector investor should come and take our prototype and go to the market. If we didn’t go to the market with our solar panel manufacturing facility and our small hydro production, the country will still be doubting whether these are true or not. We have many prototypes in our shelf, willing entrepreneurs can pick them, partner with us, because we don’t have the needed funds to produce all of them. That’s how our solar energy saw the light of the day.  Our solar factory did not receive 100% funds from government to go and do it. We did not have the required funds to do it despite our know-how. Our production process was not the way we wanted it but we improved it even without enough funds. How did we achieve this? We were able to do this through users and dealers of solar energy who believed in us and have seen our competence and agreed to deposit their resources, in return for our products. Now our education scientific equipment manufacturing that have been in use in Nigeria and other West African countries and even Ethiopia and adopted by the African Union as a result of some scientific exhibition that we have attended before, is a factory on its own. The reason why the scientific equipment plants we have in Enugu and Minna have been able to sustain production is because of the political will and support we received from the government. In 1992, when it was established the then president sat on the board of NASENI and he did not miss any quarterly meeting. So as a result of this NASENI was able to move the developed products into the market without any hassle. Immediately after that, we did not get that political will and support from any president again. NASENI only had an opportunity again in 2013, under the former president Jonathan’s government. Jonathan understood what NASENI should be. Thankfully, the present government is treading that path, giving us our due right. R&D takes time to actualise, it needs continuous studies, experimentation and some other things. For example, you may even be given money on the 27th of December and be told that by 31st, whatever remains should go back to treasury. R&D is not done that way and that is why NASENI was envisaged to operate as an agency outside the civil service rules so that we don’t have to go to the budget office to look for money.    

 I thought NASENI gets its funds directly to run its programmes … (Cuts in)
No, not exactly.  The Act has specified that at its inception it was entitled to 1% of what accrued to the federation account. According to the law passed by the National Assembly NASENI should get its own 1% which was to be increased to 2% in 2002. 

 That was after 10 years?
Yes, after 10 years of our establishment. The second source of funds is industrial levy.  Because NASENI is to facilitate industrial development, it makes sense to collect levy from industries operating in  the country.  
So all these funds are not being received…

So whose fault is it?
It is not that it is our fault, we pushed and pushed but it’s like…Last year or 2012 I met the struggle where it was and I picked it up from there. A committee consisting of ministers of finance, science and others was set up and recommendations were made and submitted to the immediate past President.  One the recommendation said we should be given go ahead to collect all the levies but for political consideration, it was not implemented. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and NASENI set up a technical committee to facilitate the commencement but then the FIRS had no board; the minister of finance was the … 
Again, we are taking the case to President Buhari. A lot of politicking is needed in the issue of 2% from the federation account. Yes, when the revenue sharing formula was incorporated into the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria that was submitted. So the constitution shares the revenue without given NASENI its own share. It was presented before the previous board and we obtained interpretation by legal experts, including the former Attorney General of the Federation who explained to the board: stop saying there is conflict between the constitution and the funding of NASENI. We have our Act of National Assembly and so also is the constitution. 
There are other funding mechanisms that are not enshrined in the constitution and yet they are taking from the federation account.  The constitution did not recognize excess crude account; the constitution did not recognize some funds that led to the establishment of AMCON. And there about three or four of such funds that have emerged and were not there originally in the constitution.  Even the power sector fund was taken directly from the account. So, it depends on the political will of government. 

The Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission is reviewing the sharing system in the federation account. Are you in touch with them?
 Of course, we have presented the issue to them but not in details. The issue is before Mr President now so I won’t comment further on it. But the commission itself cannot change what is in the constitution; it can only make recommendations. However, there is no conflict between the NASENI Act on funding and what is stated in the constitution because both are Acts of the National Assembly. 

So you hope that this regime we address these issues?
It is our prayer and it is a crucial step government must take if we are committed to industrial revolution.  Otherwise industrial revolution or knowledge based economy will elude us.