Dr. Dan-Azumi Mohammed Ibrahim is the Director-General, National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP). He spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on the challenge of depending largely on imported technologies, among other germane industry issues.
It appears many people don’t know the functions of NOTAP in the economy. Can you explain the functions of the agency?
NOTAP has several functions. Among the major roles of NOTAP is to regulate the inflow of foreign technology into the country, but we also have the responsibility to encourage and promote the development of locally generated technologies.
To put it in a single language for everybody to understand, if a Nigerian wants to establish a manufacturing outfit, and he looks within the four corners of this country and doesn’t get a competent technical party to help realise his dreams, the only thing is to go outside the country. If he goes outside the country and get a competent technical partner, there will be an agreement, which clearly states the responsibilities of the two parties. It’s that agreement that NOTAP registers. If the agreement is registered, we still have to subject that agreement into extensive evaluation.
On that, there are three major perspectives: legal, economic and, more importantly, technical perspectives. From the legal perspective, we ensure that all that were disclosed within the agreements are following the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In most cases, those agreements are crafted from outside and thrown to Nigerians to take them the way they are with no regards for the law guiding such establishment in the country. If we discover any discrepancies, we advises, that particular Nigerian to renegotiate or modify them in line with the law or expunged them.
In terms of economic perspective, whoever renders services to you, would have to pay since you are engaging the services of a technical partner from outside, which means we have to pay with foreign exchange. We work strictly under the guidelines of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). We look at the complexity of the technology consumed by the Nigerian and viz-a-viz the amount of money the technical partners want us to pay. When we feel a Nigerian is short-changed, we advise.
On the technical perspective, what we do is look for competent technical partners because the competencies don’t exist in the country. But for us to move as a nation, we try to ensure that within the scope of those agreements, there’s an area of capacity building, which will ensure that Nigeriaeventually absorbe and domesticate those technologies. If those technologies are not fully domesticated in this country, the law gives us the right not to register any agreement.
But when the three major perspectives are met and you are coming for the first time, we take what’s called pre-registration visit to the industry/office. Sometimes, we visit them because some of those entities only exist on papers, they don’t exist physically, so we try to guide against exploitation of Nigerians because it is another way of capital flight.
Between 2015-2019, during my first term, we save the country about N70.63 billion that would have gone outside the country. So, when we established that yes, you met the three perspectives, we register and issue you a certificate. It is one of the documents that you take to the bank to enable you to pay the technical partner.
Also, looking at available information at our disposal, we realise that more than 90 per cent of the technologies that power the Nigerian economy are imported across all sectors.
Now as a nation, we have to come up with our strategies to see how we gradually reduce the shackles of dependency on imported technologies. Where are the sources of the technologies? These include the universities, research establishments?among others. These are supposed to be institutions where credible research and development take place, so that we gradually reduce the level of dependency.
Like any other sector, the educational sector is not well funded, research and development are worse, very weak. Largely, some inventions remain on the shelf for a long period because there’s no synergy between the industry and academia.
One of the importance of this forum, the NOTAP Industry Technology Transfer Fellowship (NITTF) scheme sponsors recognition programme, is to see how we bring academia and the industry together so that they can fund research development in the universities and ensure development that is relevant to them are looked into, so that by the time they are concluded, they are ready for commercialisation because the need is there.
We started this programme in 2015, the industries have sponsored about five candidates, who have finished Master’s degrees and are going for Ph.D. These are the critical levels of manpower we have to develop in this nation. After that, we have an additional 10 serving and over 23 candidates at the Ph.D level that are sponsored by the private sector.
Gradually, we are bringing the private sector into academia, with the hope that our researches will now be a force to reckon with.
How does NOTAP protect the local industry?
One weakness we have also realised with our researchers is that sometimes, they can hit jackpot, but they are encouraged to tell the world what they have done and as such, they go ahead and publish.
Once you’ve published your innovation, and it’s in the public domain, anybody can take it and make use of it. So, a huge gap is created and it becomes very difficult for researchers to protect their intellectual assets. So, NOTAP saw a gap and partnered with World Intellectual Property Organisation to see how we begin to inculcate the need for our researchers to protect their intellectual assets.
On this, what we do is that any Nigerian can come to us or visit our website, downloads the forms, fill it, and we provide guidance on any matter that bothers on protecting their intellectual properties.
In our office, we have staffs, who have been trained to provide guides on how researchers can navigate those terrains and get their innovations registered.
In 2019, 65 per cent of the Patent Certificate released by the Patent Registry went through NOTAP. So, it’s a contribution and now people have started to understand the need for them to protect their innovations.
Why do we have this forum with these sets of people?
What we have come to realise is that we need to bring the private sector and academia together. The private sector operators are sponsoring research and development at universities from their funding. We need to encourage them to give them an award, to broadcast to them that company A did this, company B did that to the world. We believe this would encourage other companies to do the same.
The essence of this forum is to recognize the industries that have participated in our plans. More companies will now participate. Go to the developed world, there are more synergies between the industry and academia. The industries are there so are the schools, so there’s a seamless transfer of knowledge and technology from the university to the academia.
The majority of the industry here is foreign base, their interest is to come here and make money, with little or no focus to develop the country. Now we must sit down and come up with strategies.
We know NOTAP is under Science and Technology Ministry, what’s the relationship between NOTAP and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy?
We have a lot in common. The common in our call is to develop our country and we have been working with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, particularly on local content. We worked together with NITDA on local content when we give 10 approvals today between seven to eight software and that’s where a lot of money in Nigeria is paying a lot on software licenses. What can we do to reduce these shackles? So we came up with the Local Vendor Policy. This policy tells us that for any software agreement that comes to us, before we register it, there must be a Nigerian IT company involved in the deployment of that software and the maintenance of the software. The strategy is that if you involve intelligent Nigerians in the deployment and maintenance, whether the Original Equipment Manufacturers like it, all this part will be captured by Nigerians.
Normally, software licensing is usually a one-off payment, but after every year, there is another caveat that continuously milks the system, you still have to pay 12-23 per cent of the licensing fee to the owner of the software after every year. So, we insist if a Nigerian IT company is involved in the deployment of that software and maintenance of the software, 40 per cent of that of that eight years should be paid should be in Nigerian company as compensation.
So, when we review the performance of that policy, we’re glad to say we have seen huge quantum of Nigerians, whose capacity, in terms of software application and development have hit the world and the 40 per cent they are getting, they have been able to acquire some infrastructure that will enable them to translate what they have learnt into product and services.
Go to CWG, if you know them some eight years back and compared it to now, you will be marveled at the development that has happened to them. They have put up massive infrastructure. I am glad to tell you that Nigerians have started exporting software abroad, especially in Africa, which is the strategy. So, we just need to be proactive in our strategies.
Are there challenges confronting the operations of NOTAP?
Challenges are everywhere but as long as we are alive, we should be able to overcome these challenges and we don’t look at challenges as a hindrance, it’s for one to become more focused. I’m happy when we took over, the first administration tried, but the environment was not conducive then, but that is fast changing, I’m happy now we can put it in place. Our headquarters is 95 per cent complete. Our major issue now is that for a long time, all staffs are retiring but no provisions for the younger ones to come in and if care is not taken, we would have a succession plan issue. The experienced ones are gone and there are no younger ones to take over. We appeal maybe if we can get some funding to employ competent young talented Nigerians that would be able to take over from us when we leave.