The Ecological Fund was instituted to support ecological causes of macro ecologic magnitude in the country such as erosion control, desertification, flooding and the likes. By macro ecological phenomenon, we mean those ecological challenges that can be seen and felt while the micro ecologic aspect has to do with those of lesser magnitude but not less very important though that includes research amongst others in this context.
It is then little wonder that ecological research in this country like other aspects of research has remained in its infancy, teething, tittering, wobbling and fumbling due to infrastructural inadequacies. The beauty of ecological research is that it co-opts other areas of study through collaboration in its scientific inquiry thereby making it easy for new findings or knowledge to be unearthed. The academic society for ecologists in the country too is yet to find its feet, just like some other learned societies.
There voice is yet to be strongly heard and reckoned with as in other climes. This perhaps explains why the statutory role of the Ecological Fund was allegedly subverted by using it as a platform for channelling funds to supportive states of the central government for purposes other than ecology without any ecologist batting an eyelid. As wholesome as this allegation may be, it only means that ecology as a subject has suffered its pride of place in the scheme of things with non to the rescue in the country. It pointedly means that the Ecological Fund is a mere appendage that can be used to suit the powers that be. If this is happening under the watch of a biologist overseeing all affairs then we ought to remind ourselves about our core environmental conservation values as Nigerians and as Africans for sustainable development.
Various aspects of ecology are in dire need of research in our universities and research institutes in the country today, however the major impediments are funding and lack of equipment. Now more than ever is the time to restructure the Ecological Fund to accommodate research support in the universities. The institution may perhaps have worked in the past with the academia on solving the macro ecologic issues but now is the time to focus on research. In essence, this means the Ecological Fund must collaborate with universities to create its own centres of excellence where it can support with equipments, grants and manpower development. What the fund must realize is that most universities do not offer Ecology as an undergraduate degree but as course units while it is offered as a program at graduate level. This applies to the University of Ibadan in the Department of Zoology where Ecology and Environmental Biology specialization is obtainable at Master’s and doctoral levels of study. Other variants can be found in other universities across the country.
The bane of ecological research in the country is the challenge of equipment. Complete equipment like the Inductively Coupled Plasma- Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) capable of multi element analysis costs about $175,000 (28.7 million naira) while the graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometer (GF-AAS) is about $100,000 (16.4 million naira) excluding running costs, installation and a standby generator, given our clime. Although these are among several pieces of equipment of ’moderate’ costs in ecological research and affordable to some lesser endowed countries, the ICP-MS is hard to come by even at Ibadan. This is scandalous for the biggest economy on the African continent. So, if these are not available, then how do we begin to dream of a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer that is up to 250 million naira in our currency. The list of equipments for ecological research is endless, but each lab requires according to its current research interest. With an ICP-MS and other like equipment, we can set our standards for guideline limitations in the foods we eat, the water we drink and the pollutants that are entering our ecosystem to complement international standards as is found even in other developing countries.
I believe the Ecological Fund Office has the capacity to procure these equipments for universities teaching and doing research in ecology and that should begin with the University of Ibadan where I teach and do research. If we aspire to be great, then our research too must be good and up-to-date with the latest facilities. Yet the Ecological Fund is there and is allegedly serving as a political conduit pipe. Any other day, we get to hear of billions of naira being frittered away on frivolities without it channelled to productive ventures like ecological research. There were the unaccounted $20 billion oil accruals, $10 billion on private jet hiring and the 225 million naira bullet-proof cars and so on that bogs the mind about resource use. This should bother anyone interested in putting Nigeria on the global map of ecological research.
Again, this is about research that benefits us as a nation which no other country will come and do it for us except our well motivated and equipment-supported ecologists. Ironically, this applies to other disciplines as well. On the continent, many labs in South African universities can boast of the ICP-MS and other sophisticated equipment to conduct their research, ecology inclusive. We must compare ourselves with the developed world if we aspire to be at the cutting edge of research, and so while on a fellowship in Michigan, I found many labs that could boast of all the equipments they needed for their research, this is not to talk of Harvard. The good thing about some of these equipments is that they find use across various disciplines such as the biological, physical and engineering sciences thereby generating an income as it is put to use for outsiders as well.
In conclusion, the Ecological Fund must as a matter of urgency expand its mandate either by legislation or executive order to include funding of ecological research and equipments in Nigerian Universities and research institutes as this will improve the quality of life of the citizenry.
Ecology and Environmental Biology Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Ibadan.
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