COVID-19 and the research imperative

The world is in a state of emergency on account the Coronavirus pandemic that has shut down, ‘isolated’ or ‘quarantined’ our normal way of life. From being a country of needless social gatherings and purposeful or frivolous religious congregations, Nigerians, like their counterparts in many other parts of the world, have been constrained by the brutal reality of the moment.

While the frontline medical and health professionals are doing an awesome and commendable job in keeping the rest of us safe and risking their own lives in the process, there is a lacuna in the response to COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. This lacuna borders on zero or insignificant allocation of resources, even if the resources would be drawn from the billions of Naira contributed by individuals and corporate bodies, to containing the pandemic.

It is an open sore that assails our national conscience that Nigeria does not value knowledge, education and research. Nothing should have stopped us from creating a National COVID-19 Research Fund (NCRF) from which our relevant researchers and institutions can draw funds with a view to finding home-grown solutions to the pandemic. However, researchers are complaining of dearth of funds as our national attitude to education and research remains ambivalent at best.

All over the world, universities are established to four reasons: to inspire and enable individuals to develop their capabilities to the highest potential levels throughout life, so that they grow intellectually, are well equipped for work, can contribute effectively to society and achieve personal fulfillment; to increase knowledge and understanding for their own sake and to foster their application to the benefit of the economy and society; to serve the needs of an adaptable, sustainable, knowledge-based economy at local, regional and national levels; and to play a major role in shaping a democratic, civilised and inclusive society.

These reasons impel the tripartite mandate of universities regarding teaching, research and community service. Research is still at the heart of this mandate. Research and Development (R&D) usually go together for the simple reason that one impels or heralds the other as there can be no development without research. To paraphrase a Yoruba proverb, desiring development without doing research is like opening your mouth for drops of palm wine below the palm tree without tapping the wine or climbing the tree; is it that free?

It is high time Nigerians looked inwards without expecting all solutions to come from outside the country. Nigeria is still where she is on account of having the same attitude to our values, education and research industry. Until we change this inferiority complex and defeatist mindset that products and solutions must be imported before we attach value to them, we will still be hovering around the same spot without making progress. As Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

Why should healthcare and education budgets be N46 Billion and 48 Billion respectively for 200 million people while our legilators’ budget is N125 Billion for 465 people? Specifically, how much have we dedicated to research on COVID-19? How can we solve problems without researching them? How can we research without necessary tools and facilities that require funds? These are questions begging for answers.

As Americans say that all politics is local, finding solutions to problems is also primarily local. There is a good example in Madagascar and its well-funded Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (MIAR). When the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world and the small country was threatened, Madagascar turned to her researchers and they in turn researched and produced Covid Organics (CVO) which is now in Nigeria.

We need to take research seriously in Nigeria, in spite of the commendable efforts of TETFUND through the National Research Fund. There are many sources of obtaining knowledge and solutions. These include tenacity (what we know through basic beliefs of our daily lives), authority (what we know through what experts and authorities tell us), intuition (what we know through reasoning) and research (what we know through the process of using well-defined methods to proffer solutions to human problems).

Research is the missing link in Nigeria as it is through it that we can solve many of our problems. There is therefore an urgent need to reinvent and re-energise our research industry to solve our problems. And we cannot solve our problems if we treat our researchers, such as those in the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), with contempt, whereas in some other parts of the world, they are indulged, respected and cherished, not insulted, starved and humiliated.