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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Setting agenda for Nigerians in Diaspora

Features of the week:

Forging partnerships among Nigerians in diaspora in bridging the digital and scientific divides, may suffer some set backs due to non-fulfillment of government’s part of the bargain, reports REMMY NWEKE.

OBVIOUSLY in response to the calls by President Olusegun Obasanjo since assuming office on May 29, 1999, the Nigerian Information Technology Professionals in the Americas (NITPA), Association of Nigerian Physicians in America (ANPA) and Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) are jointly putting up a two-day meeting, to raise the curtain for the deployment of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in nation building.

Response
This response, according to the President of NITPA, Prof. Manny Aniebonam, was taken in preparation for this year’s Diaspora Day slated to hold in the nation’s capital, Abuja, by middle of the year.

ITREALMS Online recalled that at the conference on the “Bridging the Digital and Scientific Divides: Forging Partnership with the Nigerian Diaspora,” which held in Abuja between July 25 and 27, 2005, President Obasanjo in his message at the occasion, reportedly declared July 25 as the annual Diaspora Day.

It was organised by the Nigerian National Volunteer Service (NNVS), Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government, and Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST).

In realization of this, the conference being coordinated by NITPA along with two other core Nigerian entities decided to put up the two-day event to sensitize Nigerians on the importance of Diaspora Day.

As at Today
As at the time of this report, there are over 400,000 members of the Nigerians in Diaspora cutting across science and technology, residing and working in the United States (US).
This figure, as said by NITPA President, Prof. Aniebonam, comprise doctors, academics, engineers, ICT professionals, pharmacists, and nurses among others.

Dreams
The dreams of the initial conference to herald this historic move in the evolvement of Nigerians in Diaspora, was based on four broad areas, consisting of raising the profile of the Nigerians in Diaspora in the country and contributions they could make in Nigeria’s development process; creating awareness among Nigerian scientists and technology experts abroad on existing government policies especially in the area of science and technology; encouraging and fostering partnerships among Nigerian scientists and professional groups both at home and abroad in the area of science and technology; and collaborating with these groups towards making science and technology the basis for attaining rapid national economic development.

And after the first three plenary sessions, six technical issues were prominent on the list namely biotechnology and agriculture, engineering, infrastructure and environment, as well as manufacturing and technology parks cum incubation centers, ICT, health, basic and applied sciences and space science and nuclear technology.

Specifically on biotechnology and agriculture, the conference had requested that the government should facilitate the Nigerians in Diaspora’s visit, to selected institutions where their expertise is required ranging between two weeks and one month, just as they said this should begin immediately without delay and should be sustained.

In addition, government should establish a Biotechnology Innovation Fund (BIF) to support research, development and training in biotechnology, even as the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NIBDA) should manage the fund, to become accessible before the end of this year.

Equally, a databank of all Nigerian experts in biotechnology in the diaspora and at home should be composed with details of their skills and resources, as well as existing gaps that could be addressed by the former. Also this should be completed within one year, which is few months to the deadline.

On manufacturing and technology parks cum incubation centers, the conference had outlined this with the aim of Nigeria becoming an industrialized nation with diversified economy within 10 years, providing world standard infrastructure, such as near 100 per cent electrical power supply, regular water supply among others should be put in place by appropriate bodies without the burden to the manufacturing companies.

On ICT, they had demanded the establishment of a national or regional fiber-optic backbone and broad based infrastructure as the most urgent national priority; provide science, technology and ICT training at every level of education and integrate information system courses into the national curriculum to address the serious capacity deficiency in the industry.

Moreso initiate within a period of one year, the formulation and legislation of an integrated and sustainable national ICT policy to remove the current ad hoc efforts in the industry; and support local assembly and manufacture of ICT hardware to stem the current serious foreign exchange outflow through local and foreign direct investment and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) designation, with appropriate legislation to patronize use of such local products amidst several others.

Urgent attention
Barely five per cent of burning issues at the 2005 conference, demands and proposals put in place, could be said to have seen the light of the day.

Some of the things demanding urgent attention now are the efforts made in BIF, NIBDA and formation of databank for Nigerian experts in biotechnology, on top of the anticipated reverse of misconception on National Air Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) evolvement by giving credit to whom its due.

No doubt, the proposals are beautiful but one key element that could undermine the entire efforts is the non-recognition of individuals professionally, which may not be related to finances but a sort of patent.

Partnering with government
Adducing some reasons why government needs partnership, Prof. Aniebonam said that the 2005 Diaspora Day conference in Abuja was to define the framework for addressing all the issues contained in the communique, including the few listed above.

‘We are now meeting in Washington to lay down the operative modalities for effective execution. Granted, these things have been neglected for so long and will therefore take equally longer time and more efforts to address. Our approach now is to do it right with well mapped out strategy and carry everyone along. Gone are the days when we expect the government to do all it takes to develop our nation. A sustainable partnership between government, private sector in Nigeria, donor agencies, and Diaspora Nigerians is what is needed’ he asserted.

Two-day meet
As Nigerians in Diaspora meet in the next two days, some of these unaccomplished proposals would be uppermost in participants’ mind, if a successful nation building will eventually manifest; these questions must be resolved.

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