For over a decade after its establishment as an agency of the federal government under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology saddled with the mandate of “promoting, coordinating, and setting research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria” in 2001, the National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, remained one obscure government parastatal merely created among the numbers. However, from 2013, the vision, mission and mandate of the agency came to the fore, totally reinvigorated with the appointment of Professor Lucy Ogbadu as its Director-General in November 2013.
Before her appointment, Prof. Ogbadu was a pioneer and still today the most senior staff of NABDA, well equipped for the job with a B.Sc., M.Sc. and Ph. D degrees in Microbiology.
Ogbadu, as also a UNESCO certified Food Microbiologist and Biotechnologist with the wherewithal to execute her mandate, revamped the agency to a well-positioned, international partner in an era when the need for food security has taken centre stage in resolving crises.
Some of her outstanding achievements prior to her appointment as NABDA include serving as a member of the board of governors of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, ICGEB, in 2005, during which she succeeded in getting Nigeria back as a member-nation of the Nited Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO. She was equally credited with the initiative for the technology transfer of the Temporary Immersion Bioreactor System, TIBS, from Tecnoazucar (now Azutecnia) of Cuba into Nigeria for mass production of elite plantlets, which is now found in some research institutions in Nigeria. Ogbadu equally facilitated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between FINLAY of Cuba and Nigeria for Vaccine production.
She as well served the agency in such other capacities as the Director/Director of Research, Food and Industrial Biotechnology Department; Director, Bioentrepreneurship Department and Director, Research and Development Department.
Prof. Ogbadu’s professional foresight in 2014 to NABDA’s Molecular Biology Department, in which the Medical, Agriculture and Environmental Departments were subsumed, a situation she said was “at variance with the fact that application of molecular techniques can be found in all the other technical departments of such as Medical, Agriculture and Environmental,” to undergo tremendous restructuring, thereby creating new departments which were approved by the office of the Head of Service to meet the needs of modern biotechnology in application of molecular techniques.
The Director-General equally displayed her expertise and experience when she instigated the passage of the Biosafety Bill into law in April 2005, after 13 years of struggle, which now paved the way for the practice of modern biotechnology. Her inspiration towards the success of the passage of the bill was her professional grasp that “without a biosafety law in place Nigerian scientists could not venture into modern biotechnology practice.
Also in 2014, the Federal Executive Council passed the NABDA bill which had been i dormant since inception of the agency in 2001, with the bill presently before the National Assembly for passage into law. This spurred Ogbadu into charting a definite course of development to meet the global biotechnology trend, as she came up with the NABDA five-year Strategic Development Plan, which is largely responsible for the great achievements being recorded presently in the agency.
With the purposeful leadership in place, NABDA now boasts of state-of-the-art facilities for research in areas like DNA Fingerprinting Service and Research; Level 2 Biosafety Laboratory; Vaccine Research Laboratory; Aquaculture Recirculating and Breeding Facility; Aquaponics Facility for Vegetable
Proximate Analytical Laboratory; Refurbished Tissue Culture/TIBS Facility; Semen Banking Facility for Animal Genetic Resources Research; Microbiology Laboratory for Starter Culture Research; Upgraded Bioinformatics Training Facility, and Bioenergy Analytical Laboratory, with a promise that “it is expected that within the next one year plus, applaudable results will begin to come out from these facilities.”
Her resilience and vision for the soaring of the agency since assumption of office have led to signing of Memoranda of Understanding with other institutions, including collaboration with both local and foreign institutions between 2013 to date, such as Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State; Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa; BIONEER, Korea; MOLISE University, Italy; Kogi State University; MONSANTO; ITSIBIO; CLINOTECH; STIRLING University, Scotland, and Contec Nigeria Ltd which is still being worked on.
Her belief that a sane, conducive and aesthetic work environment contribute high morale boost in the state and enhances productivity, Professor Ogbadu embarked paving the entrance to agency with concrete embankment carrying DNA structure embossment on both flanks of the slope, while about 10 hectares expansive premises presently occupied by the body has been moderately landscaped with carpet grass, ornamental trees lining the major internal roads and administrative building frontage, trimmed with shrubs and floral writings.
In order to create more room for staff office accommodation for efficient performance, one wing of the new administrative building was made ready for occupation, with the DG and admin staff moving in early in 2015. In addition, Ogbadu’s administration saw the need to check the encroachment of some portions of NABDA’s previously porous 76 hectares premises, as it embarked on fencing the premises with work expected to be completed in 2017.
Being conscious of the role of Internet facility to a research establishment like NABDA, the Ogbadu administration sought the services of efficient internet service provider and got every building connected to Internet managed by a newly created ICT unit and every staff now registered with institutional email address. This, however, did not stop the agency from acquiring the essential electronic agricultural library (TEEAL) facility, which is a digital collection of research journals for agriculture and related sciences. This will make it easier for NABDA researchers and other stakeholders to access thousands of full-text PDF articles through the platform without internet.
With the glaring achievements by the DG and her management team, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, WIPO, through the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, has designated NABDA as the first out of 11 proposed TISCs in Nigeria. The centre, which was commissioned by a Director from Geneva office of WIPO in June, serves to avail scientists and their countries with the appropriate information platform to enable them derive maximum benefit from their research efforts.
To check indiscriminate and fraudulent acquisition of staff identification card, NABDA under Ogbadu acquired its own security machine with which the Admin Department now issues staff identification cards. This was by the creation of a maintenance unit aimed at putting the engineers and other technical staff at their best for utmost productivity and minimising jobs that were previously outsourced. Staff of this unit now handle minor repairs on electricity, plumbing, door locks, etc. and equally take full charge of the agency’s procurement/contract drawings and documentation.
It is under the new Director-General, since its creation, that NABDA’s hitherto moribund Bioresources Development Centres, BIODECs, now blossomed into 26 platforms spread across the entire country, from the pioneer BIODEC at Odi to eight more by early 2013.
These centres, all of which have been accorded Self Accounting status, now engage in grassroots empowerment through bio-entrepreneurship. Through her vision, NABDA is also set to develop the seven zonal centres of excellence in the universities to serve as platforms for hi-tech research by university scientists within the geopolitical zones, an obligation that could not be met due to paucity of funds before her coming in. Her approach to TETFUND resulted in securing N125million released directly to the centre in Kebbi for completion of the building as well as refurbishing the centre with state-of-the-art equipment for modern biotechnology research.
Not stopping there, the DG has vowed to similarly revamp all the other centres. “I have met with the NUC Executive Secretary with a view to pushing further for all the remaining centres to benefit similarly,” she said.
Meanwhile, about one year after she took over the affairs of NABDA, the agency became a mecca of some sort for students, mostly from the FCT and northern parts of the country, reaching as far as Taraba State, receiving on the average students from two institutions every month on excursion.
Ogbadu hinted recently that in accordance with the domestication guidelines developed from the Cartagena Protocol drawn from the treaty signed by Nigeria under the Convention on Biological Diversity, NABDA had started Confined Field trials of genetically modified crops. She noted that it started with Bt Cotton and presently into the second year of trial, adding that “we have equally applied to NBMA to start Confined Field Trial of Herbicide Tolerant soya beans(HT soya bean) bringing National Cereals Research Institute, Badeggi on board with us.”
On coordination and promotion of Biotechnology, she informed that, “In keeping with NABDA’s mandate of Promotion of Biotechnology in Nigeria, we have brought together research experts from Universities and research institutes to form a functional network that can address national goals beginning with Animal Genetic Research Network and Livestock Genomics Network. Other Networks will come on board soon,” while adding that a bioethanol production plant established through Public Private Partnership in Ogbomoso had been commissioned.
It was gathered that this pilot plant produces 1000 litres of bioethanol/day from agricultural feedstock.
Through the establishment of an impactful public information outfit of ‘Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology,’ OFAB, the agency has achieved a higher level of public awareness on especially agricultural biotechnology across the country.
As a thoroughbred professional, Professor Ogbadu has not been limited to representing the Honourable Minister of Science and Technology at various fora at which she has given good account of her professional acumen, as she has also at several occasions ably represented Nigeria at various fora outside the shores of the country on biotechnology, with a view to positioning Nigeria to participate fully in modern biotechnology.
Following her very credible and well-documented outings at international fora, as well as her antecedents, as a mark of recognition for Nigeria, Africa and the erudite professor herself, the board of governors of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology unanimously elected Professor Lucy Ogbadu as its Vice President.
Igbojuonu Nwaigbo, wrote in from Aba, Abia State