By Nkechi Odoma
There are multiple federal agencies and parastatals in Nigeria to the extent, many consider some of them duplicitous. This presumption is greased by the inactivity of most of these agencies, which are empowered by law, with clearly defined mandates, but have sank into obscurity because of succeeding weak leaderships.
That was the fate of the National Biotechnology Development Agency, (NABDA) until an amazon, a tested scientist/ academic, and a pioneer staff of the agency, Professor Mrs. Lucy Jumeyi Ogbadu was elevated to the position of Director General/Chief Executive Officer (DG/CEO) in November, 2013.
The Professor of Microbiology, a visionary of a rare breed, assessed the vast mandate of NABDA and the gulf in the unfulfilled dreams, as reflected in its mandate and vision. She immediately elected upon herself, to positively alter the equation in Biotechnology application and utilization in Nigeria.
And barely four years on the saddle, Ogbadu has advertised a clear difference and departure from the culture of previous indolent leaderships of the agency. She has not only increased the visibility of NABDA in the areas of agriculture, medical, environment and genomics; but opened the agency’s doors for multifarious partnerships with institutions and countries. NABDA has now initiated unprecedented researches and development in various fields to provide solutions to the ever-afflicting problems of Nigerians which biotechnology aims to resolve.
The DG/CEO’s knowledge and privileged position as a pioneering staff of the agency compelled a deep appreciation of the core mandate of NABDA, which is the “Promotion, coordination and deployment of cutting-edge biotechnology research & development, processes and products for the socio–economic well-being of the nation.”
And her desire to fully consummate the agency’s vision in “Promoting biotechnology activities that positively respond to national aspirations on food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery and sustainable environment,” Professor Ogbadu ventured into a scientific arena seemingly reserved for men. She has successfully proven that women are sometimes more competent than men, with her accomplishments at NABDA. This is in spite prejudices against leadership of women in Africa, which erects a psychological inferiority complex in them, coupled with some religious inhibitions.
The bio-technologist and innovator of towering credentials and the Vice President of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) has gripped the Biotechnological space for Nigerians beneficially in agriculture, medicine, the environment and genomics.
NABDA is in the process of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal University, Otuoke (FUO) for a Biotechnology Resources Centre in the varsity intended for use as hub in developing research and manpower in biotechnology to service the agency and Nigerians.
At the familiarity visit, the Director, Bioresources Development Centre, Odi, Mr. Habu Josiah who doubles as Coordinating Director of the Bioresources Development Centres in the six Geo – ecological Zones in Nigeria, also introduced to FUO its products, developed through biotechnology techniques , which have the potency to generate more jobs for Nigerians.
NABDA under Professor has delved into medical research on very disturbing and debilitating public ailments prevalent in Nigeria and Africa generally. The agency’s scientists in partnership with the private sector and Nigerian medical experts in diaspora have dabbled into research on finding a permanent cure for Sickle Cell Anaemia. It is also; set to produce drugs for the treatment of the age-long affliction of Nigerians by cancer.
These are novel technological thoughts in Nigeria and the agency is optimistic of positive indicators in the development of such medical remedies in the nearest future. The agency has devoted time, committed resources and energy to deliver this technological breakthrough to Nigerians, which she believes is a problem of the black people and only the same people can rescue themselves.
And her desperation to resurrect the hitherto suppressed potentials of NABDA, the DG also conscripted the agency into partnership with the African University of Science and Technology, which has reached impressive levels in producing drugs for the treatment of cancer ailments in patients. And all Nigerians are aware, cancer has remained an incurable ailment since its discovery.
In addition, Professor Ogbadu, famed as a workaholic has spread the agencies tentacles to Cuba, where it has signed a partnership agreement with that South American country for technology-transfer for the production of vaccines against other killer diseases, such as typhoid and the likes. And innovatively, Nigerian scientists are poised to produce vaccines that are “thermo-durable”, or “thermo-resistant” to ensure effective storage even without electricity.
She is concerned about the sudden stoppage of the production of human vaccines in Nigeria. She is on the neck of all stakeholders; with pleas to enable the agency revive this culture, which was very pronounced in the 1960’s.
It was based on this conviction and the competence of NABDA to achieve this feat that when she appeared for 2017 budget defence, she made a passionate plea to the House of Reps to assist the agency in reviving the Bioresource development centres, through allocation of funds for their development across the country . She hopes that with this done, the medicinal value crop species viable for vaccine production, lying waste in the laboratories for over 15 years would be utilized through cultivation to support the project of revitalization of vaccine production in Nigeria.
Having foresighted the severe shortfall in the production of fish for domestic consumption, NABDA has set out to bridge the gap. While Nigeria produces a mere 1.1 million metric tons of fish yearly, its consumption rate stands at about 3.2 million metric tons within the same period. Therefore, in conjunction with Bayero University Centre for Dryland Agriculture in Kano state, NABDA trained and graduated 38 females on capacity in fish spawning and breeding. And there are plans to extend more of such training to other viable areas in order to meet Nigeria’s domestic demands of fresh and clean fish for consumption.
Similarly, NABDA is also in partnership with a private agro- solution provider company, CONTEC Global Agro Limited (CGAL), and currently, various ways are being explored in the partnership to launch Nigeria as the hub of improved agro-inputs for better productivity of multiple crops in Nigeria. NABDA is digging into CGAL’s Tissue Culture Laboratories at Abuja to harness its Tissue Culture (TC) technology for multiplication of quality seeds and plants for food security.
And when Professor Ogbadu hosted the Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Education, Professor Manuel Heitor, in Abuja, talks were entered on the interest of Portuguese government to partner with NABDA to magnify technologies towards improving tropical agriculture. Portugal has offered to assist NABDA’s scientific officers in manpower training, as it explored various areas of competence of the Portuguese to profitably collaborate with Nigeria, through NABDA.
Therefore, the likes of Professor Ogbadu are the few Nigerians who share the same vision with President Muhammedu Buhari’s “Change agenda” and deserves the support of the private sector, wealthy individuals’ and governments at all levels to explore greater depths of biotechnology at NABDA, especially in funding. Scientific researchers are capital intensive, if the desired results must be achieved. Precisely, and despite the economic recession, allocating a paltry N2.2 billion to a viable, and profit-oriented agency like NABDA as done in 2016 budget for both its recurrent and capital expenditure is an unkind-cut and grossly insufficient to say the least.
The DG is patriotically driving the “change agenda” by blazing the trail in this uncommon field and the agency deserves a better funding support. Professor Ogbadu thinks talks and walks the Nigerian dream of a prosperous land and she deserves encouragement.
Odoma, is President of Africa Arise for Change Network and contributed this piece from Abuja.