Profile of Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology


By Elebeke Emeka

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu was born on 1st December 1951, to the family of His Royal Highness, Late Eze David Aba Onu, Eze Adu of Uburu in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State in Nigeria. He obtained grade one with distinction in his West African School Certificate examination at Izzi High School, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. Dr Onu also obtained distinctions in Physics and Chemistry at the Higher School Certificate examination at the College of Immaculate Conception, CIC, Enugu, graduating as the best overall student.

Onu, technology, minister
Dr Ogbonnaya Onu

By 1976, he graduated with a first-class honours degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos. He later obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Chemical Engineering (without passing through a Masters degree) at the reputable University of California, Berkeley, California, USA, in 1980, where he did extensive work on coal liquefaction and production of synthetic fuels under mild conditions.

He showed that it was possible under relatively mild conditions to produce synthetic fuels comparable with crude oil. While in the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Onu was the President of the African Students Union; Member, Graduate Assembly of the University of California at Berkeley and also President of the Nigerian Association of Northern California, Inc. Back home, he served as President General of his alma-mater, Izzi High School, Abakaliki, Old Boys Association.

On coming back from overseas, he taught as a seminary and at the University of Port Harcourt as the pioneer Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

As a pioneer staff in the Faculty of Engineering and the first Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, he helped nurture the department from scratch to a position of repute. As a member of the Governing Council of the University, he worked with others to provide leadership in its search for excellence.

Dr Onu is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers, Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Engineering.

In 1991, Dr Onu was elected the first Governor of old Abia State. He was the first Chairman, Conference of Nigerian elected Governors. During his tenure as Governor, he emphasized the use of technology as an important instrument for national development by starting the processes for the establishment of a Technology Village, as well as introducing computers into selected public schools.

As Governor, he abolished the State of Origin Syndrome in Abia State and led the way in appointing non-indigenes of the State into top positions of responsibility in his Administration.

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Using the Abia Dream as a philosophy to mobilize the people of the State to achieve excellence in all spheres of human endeavour, Dr Onu founded the Abia State Polytechnic at Aba. He also established the College of Technical Education in Arochukwu and attracted the the the Michael Okpara Federal University of Agriculture at Umudike, near Umuahia.

In addition, Dr Onu established the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State as well as the National Ambassador Newspapers, which then won several awards as the best State-owned Newspaper in Nigeria.

In 1999, he emerged the first Presidential Flagbearer of the then All Peoples Party, APP, which was later known as the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. A true democrat and committed party loyalist, Dr Onu demonstrated rare political discipline and consistency, by remaining one of the very few founding leaders of the opposition ANPP who remained in the party since its inception in 1998 until it merged into a new political party in 2013.

In September 2010, he was elected the National Chairman of the party.

In 2010, as National Chairman of the defunct ANPP, he initiated discussions with the leadership of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria {ACN} on how all the major opposition political parties could work together to effect change in the politics of the country.

Later he also initiated meetings with the National Chairmen of all major opposition political parties. All these efforts and many others finally resulted in the merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC), and groups from the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), and the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP).

Hence on July 31, 2013, the All Progressives Congress (APC), came into existence. Dr Onu and other party leaders willingly gave up their positions as INEC withdrew the registration of ACN, ANPP and CPC. On November 26, 2013, the new PDP, broke away from the ruling political party and joined the APC. This helped make the APC, the largest opposition political party in the history of the country.

Possible Reasons Buhari returned him as minister of Science and Technology

The return of Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, former minister of Science and Technology, on the ministerial list couldn’t have come as a surprise.

This is because the former ministry under his watch in the last three and half years made some giant and unprecedented strides.

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Until he assumption of office on November 2015, the ministry was more or less unpopular and its activities were unknown to most Nigerians but with his style of leadership, he was able to create the needed awareness that brought the ministry to limelight by increasing awareness on the importance of science and technology to nation-building.

TechExpo

One of the steps taken by the minister was to initiate the annual Science and Technology Exhibition, titled: TechExpo in 2017, where innovators and inventors gather to network with potential investors and share knowledge.

Economic Diversification

The minister was also able to create the impression that the federal government’s policy on economic diversification will only work when science and technology is adopted to drive the system. He made it clear that the nation’s economy has been vulnerable to shocks because of it’s over-reliance on one commodity (oil), which was responsible for the several recessions the country had gone through, hence the need for diversification.

Commercialization

Under his watch, some of the research findings by some agencies under the ministry were commercialised through the support of the federal government. For instance: an agency under the ministry, the National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA developed a drug in the natural medicine designed to test women who had breast cancer.

NABDA equally came up with an insect-resistant Cow Pea and Cotton in 2018 through biotechnology now ready for commercialization. The new varieties introduced are expected to increase farmers yield and spur the revival of textile and other agro-allied industry.

Another agency under the ministry, SHETSCO also developed the cure for epilepsy, which is currently undergoing certification with NAFDAC. Also, the ministry was able to spearhead the commercialization of another research findings by FIIRI in Oshodi into a nutritious biscuit by a leading company in Jos, NASCO for young people to help them solve the problem of malnutrition. Another one is the sickle cell anaemia remedy. We believe that this is a new approach commercialised by May and Baker. Once we commercialise, we will save money and create jobs.

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He strongly opposed the over-dependence on imported goods and advocated for the revival of local manufacturers and patronage of local goods to encourage increased production, as well as reducing capital flight. The idea is to cub the incessant naira crash against the dollar and to make sure that our economy does no longer depend on commodities.

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Executive Order5

The ministry under Dr Onu was able to influence the President into signing two executive Order 5  to boost local content and to move the economy from a commodity-based to knowledge-based economy.

Patents

Similarly, the minister spearheaded the increase in the number of patents in the country from 6 in November 2015 to 58 as at December 2018. This he achieved by encouraging innovators to protect the intellectual property of their patents. He also charged NOTAP to remove all encumbrances to ensure a seamless process.

Revitalization of NRIC

Until Dr Onu became minister of Science and technology, was moribund but he vowed to resuscitate the Council which was one of the major achievements recorded under his administration. Therefore, taking 30 years for NRIC to sit for the first time.

According to him, the inaction of the council may be the reason nothing seemed to have worked in the ministry in the past after 18 ministers. The Council is expected to drive economic development as in other climes.

ERGP

IT is worthy of note that the aggressive awareness embarked upon by the minister led to the infusion of science and technology in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP of the federal government, as a critical component of achieving stable economic growth.

As the centre of all economic activities, experts believe that if the Plan is implemented faithfully, Nigeria will be in the next 30-50 years attain unprecedented development.

Nurturing future scientists

The minister instituted a national contest on science, engineering and mathematics. The aim is to produce Nobel Laureates in Physics, Engineering, medicine and mathematics in future.

The programme has been carried out every year to each 774 LGAs in collaboration with some partners who conduct examination for all innovators in each LGA and select the brightest candidates for scholarships and monitory rewards. This is also meant to help young people encourage young people to go into science and technology.

They also go to all geo-political zones to select best brains and give them start-ups to encourage them. The ministry also encourages SMEs and when we have new technology, it will be patented and train them to start and grow. We are making progress, but it takes time to manifest.

Vanguard





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