Elizabeth Obot, a medical doctor and the Commissioner of Science and Technology, discusses the drive to harness technology for development
NewsAfrica: What is the policy thrust of the government on applying science and technology in the development of the state?
Obot: Indeed, industrialisation is one of the cardinal pillars of His Excellency, Governor Emmanuel Udom. Because of this, a number of industries will be established in this state. It is also on board that by the time these industries take off, there will be enough skilled work force in strategic places. That is why the governor is interested in training and retraining of youths.
What are the programmes in place to realise this objective of the government?
One of the first things the governor said when he took the mantle of leadership was that he would train 1,000 Akwa Ibom youths for Oracle Data Base and, in keeping with his promise, the training commenced. We invited the resource persons to the state to train them with all the facilities at their disposal. This training is in the area of ICT. There were about 215 youths trained initially. After the training, we gave them certificates and e-vouchers, which have 25 per cent discount. Because Oracle is a professional course, if one does not write its associated exams, it’s as good as nothing; that is why we gave them the vouchers to enable them do the needful. We realised that even after the training, we did not impart them very well, so His Excellency decided that we should get them certified, which we did. To that extent, we have gone ahead and paid for their examination fees. In addition, we have given each of them a laptop to make their job easier.
This to me is no mean feat. We didn’t even stop there; we have gone ahead and paid for their revision courses so that at the end of the day, these youths have certificates in their hands and are able to work anywhere in the world. The whole idea is that they should be marketable globally and not necessarily just in Akwa Ibom.
Besides this, we just finished training some youths, in conjunction with the Nigerian Communications Commission. It was for one day. When it comes to training, the governor is passionate about it. The response from the beneficiaries was really overwhelming. We are also working on having a robust ICT firm. It’s something that has never happened in this part of the country before. It will be a private sector driven project. We have finished all the preliminary works including the MoU; we have also found the company that will drive the dreams into reality. Soon, we will have a fair in which we will showcase our young inventors and innovators in the fields of science and tech as well as engineering.
As a result of the project, anything that is worth marketing globally will be done in order to show the world that we have what it takes to be reckoned with. An e-centre is also being worked out to begin examinations in the state. This is an innovation we are starting in line with the need to ensure that Oracle training, which is not readily available anywhere, is brought to Akwa Ibom State. There will also be all kinds of ICT training in that centre in order to keep with the technological pace of the moment. This will help us to fight against capital flight because instead of travelling out of the state for such training, it will now be done within and many other states will even send their people to be trained here. We have put a call to the Director-General of Digital Bridge Institute for further training of our youths and they are coming into Uyo for that purpose.
Already, we are putting the structures in place for the training. By the time we start all this, it will be clear that ICT has come to stay in the state.
What about other aspects of science and technology?
It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Science and Technology to establish a science park. By the time I came on board, I discovered that there was a science park that was not completed but nearing completion. Therefore when I came, the contractor handling the project wrote to His Excellency to express their commitment and willingness to complete the project in 18 months. The governor therefore invited them for a meeting. As I speak, there is a plan to revalidate that contract so that it can be completed soon.
The only constraint is that there is paucity of funds hampering so many things. I can however assure you that we have it in mind to complete the project.
Is there a conscious effort being made to encourage students to take to science more than other areas?
In the first place, we don’t even have enough science teachers in the state. The few available are not willing to go to the hinterland and rural areas to teach. Because of this science teachers are like hot cakes in Akwa Ibom. As a result of this, we want to introduce e-leaming. We want to have a state-wide inter-connectivity infrastructure where the entire state will be connected with inter fibre optic nerve and micro-wave cables. Once we do this, the internet will no longer be a problem. If we say we will establish science centres here and there, where are the internet facilities to power them?
By the time we finish working on the infrastructure there will be a network-oper- ating centre for the internet service provider (ISP) all over the state. This will help our reading culture in all other areas beside science subjects. What this simply means is that even if there is any school that does not have a science teacher, such school can be connected to the centre. By that arrangement, the problem associated with the dearth of science teachers would have been taken care of. This is the thinking of the government. In any case, the Ministry of Education is taking care of that; ours is mere support. In 2016, we will rejuvenate our annual Science Week, which has been in near- comatose state this year because of paucity of funds. Already, text messages have gone out to teachers to prepare students towards it. It might also interest you to know that the e-library is now under our care. Since we took over, the place has taken a newer and better shape.