Kayode Ojewale

One of the ways Nigerian institutions can contribute to the economy of the country and justify huge budgetary allocations on them is to undertake research to develop middle level scientific and technological platform capable of moving Nigeria from dependence on foreign machinery.

Such feats can speedily serve as a stepping stone towards arming our vast army of artisans with homemade technical implements which can compete relatively with those of the developed world. Most of the economies of the so-called Asian Tigers took off that way: starting with feeding local industries with simple tools and graduating into fully blown machinery suitable for export.
Thus Nigerian organizations can begin the quest for a breakthrough in the medical sector by, for instance, instituting graduate studies in herbal medicine. Recently, the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO) presented a move suggesting that this coming together of tradition and academia is not a far-fetched possibility.

Some higher institutions of learning have research and development centres where public research takes place. There are a number of research institutes in Nigeria with each having its own area of specialization. Some of these institutes are Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria (RRIN), National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Nigeria Institute of Science Laboratory Technology (NISLT), National Space Research and Development Agency (NSRDA) and National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) among others.

The federal government-owned industrial research institute, in a demonstration of its local content policy to drive the country’s industrialisation through its research, recently displayed an array of locally produced industrial enzymes. Some of the industrial enzymes unveiled by FIIRO were amylase, cellulase, protease and glucoamylase. Enzymes are generally proteinous substances produced by a living organism used to speed up (catalyse) a chemical reaction process. Non-proteinous enzymes are called ribozymes which are catalytic Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) molecules. The use of enzymes cuts across many industries like food, juice, agricultural, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries to control and speed up reactions in order to perfectly obtain a valuable and specific final product.

This great feat achieved will no doubt ease the local production proceses of industries which use enzymes as raw materials or as catalysts. This will not only boost Nigeria’s economy as local enzyme export gradually replaces foreign enzyme import, but it will strengthen our foreign exchange rate. The Director-General of FIIRO, Prof. Gloria Elemo, disclosed that the institute has developed over 250 Research and Development (R & D) technologies with 100 of them completely packaged and market-ready. This to me is one major achievement of the science and technology ministry through the institute as SMEs and large scale industries can now easily access these R & D technologies in Nigeria.

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Also, since one of the institute’s current areas of focus is in the research and development of Food and Agro-Allied processing technologies via adding values to the agro commodities, it has partnered with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) on local product exports and job creation. The partnership certainly will bring about SME export development if the strategic approaches of the two agencies are well deployed. This will ultimately boost the agricultural sector with a renewed approach to local herb research leading to more innovations and discoveries.

Few days ago, it was reported in the news that FIIRO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a herbal clinic in order to increase research and development in herbal medicine. It is also a step in the right direction by this federal government parastatal in promoting indigenously fabricated technologies. The introduction of Bachelor’s degree programme in traditional and herbal medicine in our higher institutions of learning will also go a long way to broaden the horizon of graduates in herbs research and development thereby contributing immensely to the institute’s industrial local content drive. Trainings, seminars, workshops and local industrial product exhibitions are all activities that should be organised on regular basis by this research institute to achieve its primary mandate and also build on its achievements.

Let me also clearly state here that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) have roles to play in ensuring that the approved locally made herbal medicines do not only meet international standards but must also be perfect substitutes for modern medicines in terms of efficacy.

The nation stands to gain in numerous ways from this revolution in the health sector. First we shall save lives. For, no longer will deaths result from consumption of toxic concoctions. Secondly, there would be a viable and scientific alternative to Western medicare. Thirdly, Nigeria will be saved from capital flight that takes place when our people spend hard currency for healthcare abroad. Fourthly, the labour market would dwindle as there would be employment for university trained traditional doctors and lecturers to teach them. The overall consequence is that we shall have a proud nation bolstered by a healthy citizenry with a heavy local content in the health sector.

Ojewale, an industrial chemist, writes from Idimu, Lagos via [email protected]