Q&A | Young researchers key to driving scientific innovation for Nigeria`s sustainable economic development – Abiodun Egbetokun
The Nigerian Young Academy (NYA) was established in 2010 focused on raising the profile of young researchers in Nigeria and promoting the application of scientific research and technology for national development. Can you shed more light on the objectives of the Academy?
The NYA serves as a platform for interaction among young researchers under the age of 45 in Nigeria. It is led by an elected team of executive members, but the highest decision making body is the General Assembly (GA) which meets annually. Currently, we have nearly 50 members from across the Nigerian federation and cutting across different disciplines including science, public health, technology, and engineering. We take pride in the calibre of our fellowship which we maintain by placing a strong emphasis on research excellence and integrity: our members have a good track record of high-quality research, dissemination of scientific information and building strong collaborations.
However, as a relatively new institution, we are consistently evolving – considering the dynamism of the global scientific landscape. For instance, until 2017, any aspiring member of the academy must be less than 40 years at the point of entry. Now, we admit researchers at the threshold of 45 years including women.
As part of efforts to build the capacities of our fellows, we organise scientific events and workshops on topical issues regularly such as plagiarism and career development for young female scientists. Moreover, we have held annual conferences in different part of Nigeria including Owerri (Imo state), Awka (Anambra state), Ibadan (Oyo state), Ilorin (Kwara state), Minna (Niger state), and Lagos state, among others. Our aim is to maintain these strong traditions, while remaining open to new possibilities. Given the NYA is young (just 10 years old), there is still a long way to go, and in moving forward, we remain open to partnerships and collaborations.
How can you describe the role of young researchers in fostering research and scientific innovation to drive sustainable economic development in Nigeria?
As a country, Nigeria is endowed with a large number of young researchers. In 2009, a Survey of Research and Experimental Development in Nigeria showed that about 53% of Nigerian researchers were between the ages of 26 and 45, while 32% were between 46 and 55. And we regularly read in the media about the scientific and technological exploits of young Nigerians both at home and abroad. Hence, at the academy, we strive to contribute to national development in every way that we can. For example, Nigeria was recently certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation, one of our fellows works as the National Coordinator of the Poliovirus Laboratory Containment initiative. Consequently, the NYA is a key stakeholder in the process that took us to that level.
This suggests that young researchers, scientists, and engineers bear a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s sustainable development. However, the research environment is unfriendly in several respects, ranging from politicised appointment and promotion systems to poor infrastructure and funding. These factors, when combined together, disproportionately affect young researchers and inhibit their contributions to national development.
In light of the coronavirus crisis, how is the NYA supporting Nigeria’s COVID-19 response?
The NYA is consistently striving to provide scientific support to Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, both directly and indirectly. At the moment, one of our fellows are serving on the Federal Ministry of Health’s Ministerial Expert Committee on COVID-19. And since Nigeria reported its first case of COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, the NYA has been engaging the public through its COVID-19 messaging campaign. The campaign aims to influence government actions; it uses infographic information in local Nigerian languages to create awareness about the novel coronavirus among the public.
Till date, we have also issued two public statements, which were taken up to the highest levels of the Nigerian society. We believe that providing sound evidence to the policymakers and public will help in informing appropriate government response and combat COVID-19 disinformation. Additionally, we are hosting a series of webinars on national preparedness for pandemics, and we publish monthly newsletters.
We are now in the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you plan to help address key issues to do with research, education, economy etc?
Our members are mostly in higher education and research sectors; they are actively involved in drug discovery research, COVID-19 case management, public health response and preparedness as well as the economic and behavioural impact of the pandemic. Thus, by definition we are frontline actors in the recovery from COVID-19. As hinted earlier on, we have commenced a series of virtual events which we intend to sustain as a means to support Nigeria`s post COVID-19 recovery. This August, we are convening a webinar that will address how to undertake impactful research despite the COVID-19 pandemic. We will also continue to engage with decision makers and the public to offer policy advice and create awareness.
Editor`s note: This interview was edited for length and clarity. The Nigerian Young Academy`s next webinar is scheduled for 27 August, 2020; register here if interested.