NACETEM identifies barriers to innovation in Nigeria

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National Centre for Technology Management (NACETEM) has identified lack of technology information and qualified personnel as top innovation barriers for Nigerian firms.

NACETEM is an agency of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Science and Technology that provides critical knowledge support in the area of Science, Technology, Innovation (STI) management for sustainable development.

Dr Abiodun Egbetokun, Assistant Director of Research in NACETEM said the report was based on a survey jointly carried out by NACETEM and Centre for Innovation Indicators (CesTII).

CeSTII is South Africa’s policy research institute which performs national studies on R&D and innovation on behalf of the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology.

Egbetokun said the survey, done at the South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria, South Africa, reviewed the innovation performances of the two countries.

Egbetokun said uncertain demand, difficulty in finding cooperation partners were other challenges facing the firms.

He said the starting point to improving on the innovation challenges was to understand the nature of the problems in manufacturing and service firms.

“Our comparison tells us that funding-related issues are crucial in both Nigeria and South Africa in manufacturing and services alike.

“But, with such old data that we have in Nigeria, for instance, it is difficult to design the right interventions because what the data tells us may already be yesterday’s story.

“So, we need to be more serious about data collection and curation.

“This is one aspect where, with the right amount of resources, NACETEM is well positioned to deliver the goods,’’ he said.

He recalled that Data for the survey was drawn from the South African Business Innovation Survey (2008) and from the Nigerian Business Innovation Survey (2010).

“Both surveys were conducted using the OECD’s Oslo Manual, allowing for international comparability of data. GDP data was sourced from Statistics South Africa and Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics”.

Egbetokun said some innovation challenges were time-invariant, citing lack of funding as an example.

He said, “innovation is a costly affair, mostly because it is risky and no firm can precisely tell a prior whether it will succeed or fail.

“This remains true irrespective of how old the data that indicates that problem is.

” What needs to be done in this case is for government to underwrite some of the risks involved in innovation.’’

He recalled how most of the technologies underlying the iPhone were the results of heavy government investment in research and development.

“In effect, what Apple simply did was to couple these results into a new product.

“This is what the innovation economics call recombinant novelty. Such things cannot and do not occur where firms have to bear all the financial risks themselves.

Egbetokun said innovation thrives where there are redundancies – that is, slack resources that could be diverted into innovative efforts.

“That is why companies like Google allow employees to take up to 20 per cent of their paid work time off to work on personal projects,’’ he said.

Egbetokun said Gmail, for instance, came out of such redundancy.

“In Nigeria, firms have to struggle to provide their own electricity, water, security, haulage, etc.

“By the time they are done with all of these, they barely have any resources left to do much beyond their usual production runs.

“Moreover, our bureaucracy is a killer; from multiple taxation to lack of protection for strategic sectors. One can count several areas where simple interventions can make a lot of difference.

“Government simply needs to wake up to its responsibilities – it’s that simple,’’ he said.

In addition, he said it would take the country many years of intentional efforts to come out of dependence on importation of technology.

“We should start talking seriously about how to move from where we are to where we need to be by developing our local innovation.

“An innovative economy is not cheap but that does not mean it is unattainable; we only have to be willing to develop the requisite resources for it, beginning with a deliberate effort towards an educated citizenry.

“Today, we have too many children out of school, and too few of those in school learning any skill relevant to our development challenges in this century.

“How can we possibly become an innovative country like that?

“So, in addition to providing the kind of interventions, already highlighted above, we need to be more aggressive in human capital development,’’ he said.

NACETEM and CeSTII are responsible for the production of science, technology and innovation indicators.

The research carried out, focused on how the productive sector of the economy fared, particularly in relation to the creation and application of knowledge.

Lara Olaniyi

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