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University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria

Dr. Femi Olorunniji is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Molecular, Cell and Systems Biology at the University of Glasgow. He had his doctoral studies at the University of Glasgow on the catalytic mechanism of site-specific recombination. He has carried out further postdoctoral research in the field, and recently has worked on the development of recombinases as tools for DNA rearrangements and design of logic gates and genetic switches and is has edited and headed numerous science journals, in field. His current project involves collaboration between recombinase research groups at the University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh. Femi is currently a lecturer at the Liverpool John Moores University, England. (source: sb7.info). In an interview with UCJ, Unilorin, Femi enumerate the problems, challenges and way forward of science research, in Nigeria. He also shared his opinion on the future of science research in Nigeria, attributing great relevance to students as future scholars of Science Research in Nigeria. Q. Good day sir, please can You introduce Yourself? A. My name Femi Olorunniji. I was born in Ayetoro, Kogi. I did my BSc Biochemistry and Master Degree in Biochemistry here in University of Ilorin. I then went to Glasgow for my PhD in 2003. Then I was already a staff here in Unilorin, I then came back in 2007, and stayed for few more month, before I returned to Glasgow as a Research Scientist for several years and currently I am a lecturer at the Liverpool John Moores University in England. Q. Sir, what’s the initiative behind this research workshop? A. I was a student and lecturer here in Unilorin, before moving to the U.K. One of the reason I wasn’t pleased to stay here is the research facilities at our disposal, and I thought we could do more. The kind of thing I wanted too do was not available here, but over there there are opportunities. And I had the opportunity and I thought I could use that. As you can tell, I am from here and I maintain connections with the people here both lecturers and some of my students. Throughout  the years, I have had collaborations  with them on projects that are of world class standard. But, I thought it cost a lot to send people to the UK to get educated, why can’t we start doing what is called capacity building. What if we do it the other way round, and bring people from there to train people here. We have lots of nice building with some equipments but we need people to come up with good ideas and get world class research and teaching going on at Unilorin. Unilorin have been working hard to put the structures in place, yet the quality of research coming out from all these is still not reflecting the level of investment put into infrastructure in the University. Which is a difficult problem to tackle, because the way students are trained, is the way they practice. We do what we know. It is hard to give what you avn’t got.
We train others within the context of what we know and the people here are working very hard. The professors, the lecturers are working very hard and it is within the context of their own research. Which is what they can impact to students. But there are a lot more going on outside. People went out to get trained, they come back but they can’t do much because the infrastructure is not there. I have seen both worlds, I worked here and I have seen it there as well. The initiative behind what I have been doing for the past four years along with Prof. Marshall Stark, is to come here not only to provide direct hand training but to help the student change the way they perceive research. I am also a Journal Editor and I see people submit work, that they have put a lot into, but the quality don’t reflect the amount of investment into the work. So what we do is, can we help you look at your research in a different way. The thing that came out clearly is that, students see a problem and they want to solve everything. For example: I want to kill diabetes. No one person can kill diabetes. You may be able to help us understand one aspect of what is wrong with people with diabetes. One of the things we are trying to do is to help the student think beyond their immediate experience. You are not in America, U.K or Canada, but you are here in Nigeria, what can you do to reorient your approach towards scholarship and research, and become better at what you are doing, within the context of what is available to you. That’s all we are trying to do on this occasion. Q. What can you say about Science Research in Nigeria? A. The best way to summarise it, is to say, it has a potential to do better.  It is not very great at the moment. In this country, since the sixties or probably from the fifties, Nigeria has been sending people out to the UK especially America, to learn how to do science with the intention  of coming back to do established science teaching and research. Till 2017, we are still sending people out. For how long do we want to d that? But listening to younger people of your age group of learning, the enthusiasm and passion is there. So, the potential of things getting better is there, and that’s the positive aspect I would like to look at. I don’t want to say it is wobbling, because it is not; I don’t want to say it is fine because it is not; But I will say the potential is there to make it better. Because, Nigeria’s greatest assets is not Oil, is not Money, it’s Young people. They can do a lot, if they go through the right training and orientation. But in comparison to other countories, like India or Japan, which we started about the same time, there is still a long way to to go. But the potential for improved productivity is there. Q. What are the hindrances to such great potential? A. One big problem I hinted in the discussion earlier. In science research,  the ultimate factor is, what do you want to do? Science and research is about asking questions and solving problems.  You need to ask right questions, before you address it with right tools. My observation on how we do research in Nigeria is that, we buy equipment, we build buildings and assume that is all what we need. But the reality is, the first thing you need is; What do we want to do? Then you can ask, what tools do we need? No one goes out to buy tools first and then say okay, tools, what am I making today? That’s the logic. This is a strategic problem ongoing not only in University of Ilorin, but across Nigeria and a lots of developing countries as well; because of years of neglect in the past, we have come to assume our main problem is lack of facilities and equipment, that is true. But, before we start buying the equipments, the first question we should ask ourselves is; What do we need to do? What makes smart people is asking the right question. It is not how much money. It is not how much equipment you bought, but, how strategic and able are you at asking questions. You need to get the right question, before you know the right tools to get. The way forward is for researchers to start thinking In terms of Research Questions, Research Problems. What do you want to solve before buying equipments. Another problem is that we duplicate resources. Advanced countries don’t just buy equipments.
For example; If you have a piece of equipments in University of Ilorin, and a student in University of Ibadan request money to buy the same equipment, they will probably tell him to go and use the one in Unilorin, and the other University can use her money to buy what Unilorin hasn’t got. Most people just assume the problem is lack of equipments, and we have seen equipments bought for like ten years and productivity haven’t really gone up. People need inspiration on what problem do we need to solve. What makes a scientist is not what facilities he is got in his lab, but what ideas does he wants to pursue. There is a saying that, just build a house and people will come and live in it. But, science is not like that, you can’t just buy equipments and assume people will use it. The assumption is that, Nigeria has limited facilities, and you can’t do it because there are no facilities. Our main problem is based on the quality of research. What we discovered is that people need to  sharpen the research problem they want to address, otherwise Universities would keep buying equipments for the next ten years and nothing will  change. The proof of that is, there are a lots of equipments that have been bought and no one is using them for about five years. The fact is, we are buying things but we don’t know what we need and how to use what we have what. Q. Would you say University of Ilorin of Ilorin is setting the pace in science research for other Universities in Nigeria? A. My experience of Universities in Nigeria is pretty much limited to University of Ilorin. But one thing I can say is, things are improving here. In terms of the quality of research they produce, the reality is, there are some places producing better quality research than Ilorin, in my filed. The difference is that, in those places they are forming clear collaboration with foreign Universities and they have well defined research questions. Though there are only few places, but it’s not an identity to any University, but there are individuals doing quality research, in Ilorin as well. But there is a potential to do better. Q. Can you compare your experience of research in Ilorin and in Glasgow? A. Worlds apart, miles apart. The reason is, people in Glasgow are doing the key thing, which is “Identify the research you want to do and be focused on it,” whereas here, students are responding to the equipments available and are forced to adapt with the equipment. It’s miles apart, that’s the truth. But, there is the potential for improvement, because the young people are passionate and are looking at things from a different direction. Q. Do you have any advise for people out there? A. Never give up, and at the same time be balanced and realistic. People want to jump from nothing to perfection. In Nigeria we maximize everything. We maximize our ability, even when the reality is not the case. We set big ambition which is good, but we don’t access what we can realistically achieve. People should not give up, they should become more conservative, more realistic, about what they can actually achieve. Thank you for time. By: Tomori Uriel, Sanni Fatima UCJ, UNILORIN ©

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