NOTAP key to Nigeria’s technological advancement – Dr. Umaru Bindir

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Dr. Umaru Bindir is the Director Gen­eral of the National Office of Tech­nology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) based in Abuja. He recently noted in an interview that NOTAP was assigned re­sponsibility to ensure that technology coming into Nigeria are fair financially, technically, legally and that they conform with the stan­dard rules in the country.

According to him, agreements with some technology-based firms have saved the country about $500 billion over the years.

NOTAP as window for technological ad­vancement of Nigeria

This is a turning point for total transformation of our country to the next level. The key man­date of this institution is to ensure that we very carefully and strategically regulate the inflow of foreign technology into our country. We are a very vibrant country whose people like good roads, digital television and all the good things of life. Unfortunately, every single drop of that good life depends on science and technology and depends on you having people with supe­rior thinking ability and people who are very good in conceiving the impossible and groups that are very good in transforming knowledge into solutions.

Any country that does not have all that and still wants the good things of life must start run­ning around to other countries that have got things right.

NOTAP was assigned the duty to ensure that technologies coming into Nigeria are fair to Ni­geria financially, technically, legally, and that is our key mandate.

I am not happy to report that because of the dynamism of changes in technology, changes in our taste for good life, the goal of how much technology we require and where we are sourc­ing it seems to be increasing rather than reduc­ing.

So the question now is, why must Nigeria continue to depend on importation of technol­ogy instead of domesticating hers

Today, we are consuming technology so heavily from outside Nigeria and it is causing us so much and therefore it became another plat­form of strategy to check the internal system of what is happening. Why can’t we domesticate and also play a role in the provision of technol­ogy in our country? That is where the jobs are.

You can see a technology service provider coming to our country providing technology services, whether it is software based or hard ware based and still taking the jobs out; that is the jobs that we should target.

NOTAP therefore regulates of all the technol­ogy transfer agreement through regulations to ensure agreements are legal, fair to the country through patent within their life span, respect withholding tax payment before agreement would be approved.

It also requires that even the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) should not honour your ap­plication to buy foreign exchange, ensuring do­mestication of services by the financial institu­tions with maximum 3 per cent of turnover on franchise unless the document satisfies the legal requirements of this country.

By this regulation, in the last 10 years alone, this agency for the few agreements that came to NOTAP, we have been able to save the Nigerian economy huge amount of money that would have been flown out of Nigeria in foreign ex­change as capital flight to the rate of between N300 and N500 billion. If NOTAP were not there, this wouldn’t have been possible. This money is not with NOTAP but it still belongs to industry and it is their money but they wanted to take it out as dollars and we said no.

We are working closely with CBN most of the time and all the commercial banks and there­fore if they do not see the NOTAP certificate, they will not honour the applications of these companies, individuals, state governments or government agencies to remit money out.

Collaboration with research centres across the country

Nigeria has the largest number of universities in Africa and they represent factories that are expected to produce the critical mass of highly skilled manpower to manage our economy. These are the factories where people should come out and they know how to solve all the water problem, power, road, environmental problems. People should come out and be able to create jobs for themselves and for others. This can only happen if the scientific and technologi­cal energy of these universities are operating at the highest levels. Unfortunately, we cannot say yes with our own tertiary institutions. The indices are very easy to access. The University of Maiduguri, for example, or the University of Nigeria Nsukka or Obafemi Awolowo Uni­versity, Ile-Ife, is the same as the University of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States or Oxford University in the UK.

The difference is dictated by the energy of research, the energy of development, the under­standing and the energy to actually harness your own technology and commercialise it and move it into the industry, move it into the community and to our people.

Role of NOTAP in ensuring Nigeria ben­efits from all technology transfers

NOTAP recognises these differences and started at the initial level toregulate these agree­ments to say that all these industries and multi-national companies coming into Nigeria are products of foreign direct investments. They bring three key things, namely, money, supe­rior technology and management expertise. But the question you have to ask internally is, what do we get? You should have your own secrets under the table to say our own wealth creation, the knowledge in our young people, the entre­preneurship in our people is so vibrant that any­body who brings money into our country we will make money together and share and then you will see our wealth creation vibrant, and you will see our establishment of small and me­dium industries.

How Nigeria can tap from transferred technology

We have a challenge. We have not positioned ourselves very well with our wealth creation and wealth absorption strategies to actually take this advantage. When somebody is bringing technology you allow him with a bid to capture it and get out of misery of poverty. You can gen­erate employment and learn how to develop that equipment. We lag around because immediately they come, our policies will hit. For us to have this, it means you have the superior intellectuals, people who understand technology, the research and development of infrastructure. The funding of research and development must be strong so that any technology that comes into Nigeria will be domesticated but again, there are challenges in that.

If someone comes as a manager and knows how to manage, deploy raw materials, you are hiding and saying, let him come in and then you pop out and absorb that managerial know how. These three indices are what actually makes a country pop out. Other countries strategised on these three indices. Our own industry is not linked to our own knowledge system. The indi­ces for measuring the efficiency of knowledge system include coming up with intellectual property, trademarks that are recognised all over the world and having products packaged, identi­fied and well respected.

If you do not see Nigerian branded products packaged properly, bought by the Japanese, it shows we still have a lot to do. If you do not see it recognised in South Africa, then we still have a lot to do. All these regulation packages are what have guided NOTAP to mount its own interventions into Nigeria.

Why NOTAP insists on compliance with its mandate on regulation of foreign compa­nies

NOTAP’s mandate is to regulate foreign technology coming into Nigeria. Unless you are connecting the import of technology into local energy technology evolution, you will not make progress. Research and development in Nigeria are not linked to the industry comprising every aspect of the economy, the big industry, the me­dium industries, small industries, cottage and even individual industries. The linkage is not very concrete.

This is the problem. Nigerians are very hardworking and the knowledge the Nigerian researcher is pumping out into the open air is beyond what you can think of. This knowledge has to transform into solutions.

Nigerians have been recognised to have fan­tastic science evolution capacity and capability. We have about 129 universities and our aim is to establish this office in all the universities. We have 125 polytechnics and monothecnics, over 300 research institutions and our aim is to estab­lish in all of them.

We should move into these facilities to give the knowledge to the universities. This is how you convert your technology, this is how you get intellectual property and get protected.

We have over 700 requirements and have es­tablished over 30 but now the rate is very slow and certainly it has an implication on funding.

We have access to the patent databases in the world, we know how you can check and ensure that what you are working on as a researcher is not what someone has done already. This is what we educate the university so that when they restructure their research programme they will restructure it well and what comes out of it will become something very fantastic.

Some industries have survived for 100 years in Nigeria and you cannot clearly see the small and medium enterprises below them that are feeding from them. I say to these industries, this is not acceptable; you must participate in evolv­ing the kind of knowledge that can connect to industry so we started what we call NOTAP In­dustry Technology Transfer Services.

In 2009, based on the friendship and partner­ship with industries, we generated over 200 of these scholarships and these scholarships are such that when we give a young person, he goes into the industry and develops his PhD project so that as you are constantly working with in­dustry you will know how the industry thinks.

When we entered into the manufacturing industry, we discovered a secret. Nigeria has been consuming products from these industries for over 50 years. Our children know the prod­ucts, they know the beginning but they do not know the middle. I said to companies, we have to work with you and we have to go back to the bottom where we were planting seeds for intel­lectuals and then we formed a project called the technology story board.

The Federal Government came up with Alm­ajiri schools targeted at ensuring northerners all go to school.

NOTAP’s understanding of technology de­cides to support the president and his team to push this to the next level. If you can capture a child in the Almajiri school and bring him down, this is his prime time when he can actu­ally be utilised so we migrated from this level to this level. We standardised it by adding a digital Koran with capacity to capture any information.

To do this, we are working with another group of Nigerians who understand how to do computer programmes and how to write appli­cations on things that people can download on the internet.

We are working on one side with the highest level of young people who are excited so they will take a video of an Islamic scholar, write a computer programme, put it on the internet so that a young person can download it. By this, we are generating new jobs for Nigerians.

Our target is to make sure that this complete set can actually go to a Nigerian child at the rate of probably below N5,000. If we have not had the experience of how industry behaves, how superior technology behaves, we would not have come up to this level. This invention has been patented in Nigeria and now we are work­ing very hard to ensure that we produce an in­dustrial product.

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