Building the new NASENI

March 4, 2024

The Journey So Far, And What Lies Ahead: By Khalil S. Halilu

Six months ago, I was appointed by President Tinubu as the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), the agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria responsible for driving industrial innovation, and technology transfer, in Nigeria.

It has been a most interesting period, full of both expected and unexpected learnings and experiences. First and foremost, I have to say it is a great privilege for me to be serving in this role, a beneficiary of one of the President’s earliest appointments. I came to this job with a background in building and leading technology startups: I founded ShapShap, a logistics business (which won an ‘Innovator Prize’ at the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition, GITEX, in Dubai, in 2022); OyaOya, Africa’s first on-demand commodity marketplace, and The CANs Technology Hub, the first eco-friendly Tech Hub in West Africa.

Upon assumption of office, one of my priorities was staff welfare and development. From my experience, no organization can thrive beyond the capacity and motivation of its personnel. It was immediately clear to me that I needed to put the staff at the center of the re-engineering I wanted to achieve at NASENI. This led to the setting up of a Committee, staffed and led by our junior-level staff—we’re starting from the bottom, and working our way up—to come up with recommendations about improving their welfare, and kickstarting the journey of making NASENI a public sector employer of choice in Nigeria.

The Committee has since submitted its report, and I have wasted no time implementing most of the recommendations. One of the things they asked for was putting in place a functioning Staff Bus system, to help cut down on commuting costs to the office. We wasted no time implementing this. We have already implemented ninety percent of all the recommendations proposed.

Another major area of focus has been the NASENI brand. NASENI has never really thought about itself as a ‘brand’, even though we are playing in a space where branding, positioning, and public perception matter greatly. We needed to ask ourselves the question: What comes to mind when people think about NASENI? It was an easy question to answer: most people don’t even think of NASENI at all. Anecdotal evidence suggested many Nigerians had never heard of the agency, despite it being designed to be at the forefront of advancing Nigeria’s industrialization, as the only purpose-built Federal agency with the mandate to intervene in all fields of Science and Engineering Infrastructure.

Our work was therefore clearly cut out from the start. We needed to lay out a vision, a definition: this is who we are, what we do, what we would like to achieve—and how all of these fit into President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope agenda for Nigeria. This is how our Strategic Launchpad was born, the product of intense brainstorming and consultations. That Launchpad has four (4) Pillars, which spell out what we want to achieve, as follows: Enhance Nigeria’s Manufacturing Capacity; Reduce Nigeria’s Import Bill through R&D; Strategically Reposition NASENI; and Leverage the Comparative Advantages of Nigeria’s 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory.

The Launchpad also clarifies our nine focus areas: Engineering & Manufacturing; Renewable Energy & Sustainability; Health & Biotechnology; Agriculture & Food Sustainability; Transportation & Mobility; Education & Creative Industry; IT & Software; Construction & Smart Cities; and Defence & Aerospace.

So, the last six months have been about setting things right, clarifying the vision, and laying the foundation for the future. To put it in the simplest possible terms, in the short- and medium-term, I would like to, first of all, make NASENI—products, Institutes, companies, and people—a household name and brand in Nigeria. I am pleased to note we have started making this happen; in February we launched three sets of NASENI-branded products: a solar-powered irrigation system, electric motorcycles and tricycles, and an off-grid solar home system. We will ensure that these are available in the market at affordable prices. The more we can produce locally, the better positioned we are also to explore the export market and earn foreign exchange for Nigeria.

Secondly, I would like to see NASENI become the Go-To technology transfer Agency in Nigeria. What this means is that we should become, and be seen as, the primary driver of the transfer of cutting-edge technology from around the world, to Nigeria, where it can be deployed to impactful ends, creating commercially viable products, and jobs, and producing skilled talent.

It is clear to me that we cannot do it alone. We need to partner and collaborate in unprecedented ways, with serious players in the fields that we are active or seeking to be active in. Since I assumed office, I am pleased to say that I have done a lot of work in terms of signaling a willingness to partner, within and outside the Government.

At the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in Beijing, China, in October 2023, we signed landmark cooperation agreements—worth US$2 Billion if fully realized—with three Chinese companies, at a ceremony presided over by His Excellency Vice President Kashim Shettima, GCON. At COP-28 in Dubai, we co-signed, with the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), yet another major agreement with another Chinese company, to set up a US$150 million Lithium-Ion Battery manufacturing and processing factory in Nigeria. We are also partnering with an Indonesian firm to build a factory to produce coal-based fertilizer in Nigeria.

I know that people are often skeptical about MOUs, but I am determined to prove the naysayers wrong. Every great advancement starts with an agreement of some sort, and the most important thing is to keep pushing and building, to see these agreements as the requisite scaffolding that will allow us to deliver on our vision.

I am pleased to say that we closed 2023 by putting back on course a technical partnership that I inherited when I assumed office. That Partnership, known formally as Delta-2, is between Nigeria and the Czech Republic, and involves the joint selection and financing of a range of innovation projects combining expertise and talent from the two countries; with NASENI representing Nigeria, and the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR) as our bilateral partner. Delta-2 had suffered some delays and setbacks, which we quickly worked to resolve. We then went ahead to sign implementation agreements with the eleven selected beneficiaries, who will now receive the required funding, in a phased arrangement.

So, I can sum up my six months so far as EVC/CEO—September to February 2023—as a period of settling down, taking stock, clarifying the vision, giving staff a new sense of purpose, and charting what 2024 should look like. NASENI has several Engineering Development Institutes across the country, and I’ve been visiting them one by one, to meet our staff and learn more about their work and how I can better support them. I am excited by what this year holds for us at NASENI and for Nigeria as a whole.

We will continue to engage actively with our audiences and stakeholders, invest in our staff, promote our brand, and, most importantly, work very hard to put our products in the hands of consumers. We will seek and welcome feedback, learn from our mistakes, and support local innovation wherever we find it.

We will play our part in contributing to the industrialization of Nigeria. It will be a challenging journey, but we are fully prepared. I am reminded of the timeless words of John F. Kennedy, justifying the effort to invest resources in America’s space race: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” These powerful words are our guide as we proceed in what I believe will be the most momentous year in the three-decade history of NASENI.

Halilu is the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Abuja, Nigeria.–ZbK?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop

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