Public Forum Organised By Nigerian Academy Of Engineering
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI, GCFR, DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AT THE PUBLIC FORUM ORGANISED BY THE NIGERIAN ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING ON THE 12TH OF APRIL 2021
I am honoured to have been asked to be the grand host of the academy’s public forum today with the specific theme, “the Strategic Role of Engineering in Containing COVID-19 Pandemic”.
The theme headlines the important developmental conversations and postmortems that we must have in the aftermath of the pandemic. The pandemic is probably the single most consequential global occurrence in a century.
Its most enduring feature is how much it tested the resilience, and innovativeness of all aspects of our existence and in particular, medicine, science and technology.
This was a ravaging disease that not only killed hundreds of thousands but also practically shut down the global economy. International travel including cargo movement was suspended; this means that supply chains were disrupted for goods and services, in-person meetings, no matter how crucial the subject, had to be suspended, even non-covid, even emergency medical treatment was cancelled. The disease was spreading exponentially in many countries of the world.
For developing economies such as ours, we were faced with monumental challenges of providing enough laboratories for testing, ICUs, PPEs and at some point, ventilators. Then of course we had to buy or develop our own testing and possibly even vaccines.
So, it was to Science, Technology and Engineering that the world turned for immediate solutions and answers. I am sure that as engineers, you will agree with me that one of the most poignant lessons of the response to the pandemic is the critical interdependence of Science and Engineering.
On the 27th of February 2020, Nigeria confirmed its first case of COVID-19 at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos. The case was diagnosed by the Centre for Human and Zoonotic Virology (CHAZVY), College of Medicine University of Lagos/Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), part of the Laboratory Network of the NCDC. On the 1st of March 2020, a clinical specimen, specifically, a sputum specimen resuspended in 500µL of viral transport medium (VTM), was sent to African Centre of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Disease ACEGID, Redeemer’s University, Nigeria, and Centre for Human Virology and Genomics, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research for sequencing and molecular characterization.
Very rapidly, the African Centre of Excellence for the Genomics of Infectious Disease in collaboration with The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Centre for Human Virology and Genomics (CHVG), Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), the Centre for Human and Zoonotic Virology (CHAZVY), College of Medicine University of Lagos/ Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), the Lagos State Ministry of Health Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) Bio-Bank facility and partners reported the first genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 from Africa, from the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Nigeria!
It was a spectacular science and engineering achievement; the skills and processes of optical, electrical, mechanical, computer and chemical engineers were required to make this happen. There is no question that going forward this is the way it must be.
The Africa Centre has also developed an efficacious rapid test for COVID and has been working on a vaccine in collaboration with DIOSynVax (Digital Immune Optimised Synthetic Vaccines), Cambridge UK, using the diosynvax genomic-based technology.
There are also efforts going on therapeutics of various kinds. The development of vaccines, tests and therapeutics these days are aided by automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, so this is a strong point of synergy between science and engineering.
The large-scale production of therapeutics, vaccines, test kits and even laboratories are uniquely engineering challenges. All the supply chain, logistic issues in the storage, especially the ultra-refrigeration requirements and distribution of vaccines are clearly engineering issues, and we must commend the collaboration that has resulted so far in one of the most efficient distributions and delivery of vaccines anywhere in the world.
Our state-of-the-art NCDC National Public Health Reference Laboratory is an engineering feat run by all Nigerian scientists and technologists.
I think the pandemic has truly opened up the immense talents and creativity of Nigerian scientists and engineers and if the current momentum is supported, the next few years could be incredibly exciting.
First are the opportunities and adaptations now evident in MRNA technology. MRNA is the key ingredient in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The success of these MRNA vaccines against COVID-19, predicts a bright future for new vaccine therapies to meet new emerging threats.
Our genomic labs especially the ACeGD has already acquired an international reputation and they can in collaboration with scientists and technologists everywhere develop therapies for other diseases or disorders.
Second is the use of digital twin technology to plan, predict for control of epidemics, manufacturing of millions of generic drugs.
And third, the lockdowns have shown the huge potential for the creation of effective technologies for tele-work activities, including Telemedicine and Fintech.
I must say and this is not because I am the grand Patron of the academy that I say that we are proud of the Nigerian Academy of Engineers, your membership is made up of accomplished Nigerian engineers across all disciplines industry sectors of engineering in Nigeria and in the diaspora. This provides it with the depth and diversity of experience and competence to provide advice on virtually all areas of engineering in the country. This is an asset that the country must nurture and develop. The next few years belong to engineering, and the pandemic has shown us the immense potentials for innovation and collaboration.
Be sure that you have as partners, the Federal Government of Nigeria. This is why in February 2018, I issued Executive Order No. 5 (“EO5”) by which all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government were directed to engage indigenous professionals in the planning, design and execution of national security projects and maximize in-country capacity in all contracts and transactions with Science, Engineering and Technology components.
Executive Order No. 5 was inspired by the recognition of the vital role of Science, Technology and Engineering in national economic development, especially in promoting domestic goods and services. It is a statement of our strategic intent to harness domestic talents and develop indigenous capacities in Science, Technology and Engineering to promote national competitiveness and productivity across all sectors of the economy.
I urge you as the leading lights in engineering to do all you can to embrace this exciting new era.