NOTAP regulates the space industry
He is a brilliant technocrat, dapper, modest and intellectually stimulating; he is Dr Umar Bindir – an engineer by profession, and he currently serves as the Director General and Chief Executive of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, NOTAP. In this interview, he espouses the roles of his organization in regulating the technology acquisition drive of the Nigerian nascent space industry.
- Sir, briefly describe the activities of NOTAP
NOTAP, the national office for technology acquisition and promotion, established since 1979 has been mandated by the government to serve as the technological transfer office of Nigeria. It is also an office that facilitates the commercialization of research technological output from our universities, polytechnics and colleges of education or research institutes. It is also the innovation key agent for the country because it is expected to serve as linkages between the academic systems and the industry. So in a generic manner, this is what the office does and it does it with only key unique role, we regulate technology transfer in Nigeria.
Q What activities are eligible for technology transfer under the auspices of NOTAP?
Industries operating in Nigeria, whether they are construction industries, oil and gas industries, banks, foods processing industries, they need technology to be efficient, Unfortunately, the technology required by most companies does not exist in Nigeria., so they have to run out, go and get the technology from Germany, UK Japan, United States of America, and European countries. All these marriages in the utilization of technology is done under an agreement or contract, so the contract will say give us this technology to use in Nigeria and we pay you so and so millions and billions. Now, what these companies in Nigeria do is that when they use this technology and provide goods and services, they have to pay for these technology using dollars, so they have to go to the CBN and buy foreign currencies, one of the requirements of the CBN is that they must bring NOTAP certificate, meaning that we have to see these technology and confirm that they are also doing partnerships with our institutions so that we can learn, we have to also ensure where they are using raw materials that they are actually using Nigerian raw materials as much as possible. This is the regulation process. This is how we regulate.
Q What exactly do you do in the space sector?
In the space sector, you know for sure, space is driven by high technology. Space is driven by software. Space is driven by partnerships with highly skill manpower coming from outside, all these are under technology transfer agreements. So for them to use their software, for consultants to come and help them, for them to be able to remit money and pay for the services, NOTAP has to ensure that they get a certificate from here. So again, we do exactly the same. We must make sure that they are learning, we must make sure that they are being trained; we must make sure that they are becoming good so that the future for the space industry in Nigeria will be that Nigerians will do it. So this is how we regulate the space industry, but that regulation alone is not what we do in the space industry. We also combed the innovation system, where we see there are applications that are relevant for the space industry we also exhibit them and promote them and ensure that they actually are mainstream in the main space programme of the country.
Q What are your activities in relation to satellite development especially in the areas of input or specification on spacecraft?
Well, all our activities with the space agency is to check the technology transfer agreement that they have entered into either with the people from the UK, China, US, Russia, or wherever they build and launch spacecrafts, it is done on agreement of technology transfer. So this is how we help them. So if the technology transfer does favour Nigeria very well, we actually will not approve it.
Q What are the challenges your organization have faced so far?
Well, there are a number of challenges, but the challenges is systematic; NOTAP cannot sit alone and then start crying up and down and be calling challenges. Most public institutions have got challenges, but specifically, the number one challenges facing us is that industry in Nigeria that are transferring technology in most cases are not aware of their own roles in the process of transferring technology. So in essence most of the technical partners from outside Nigeria literally just give the Nigerian partners an agreement and they sign them. They don’t bargain for Nigeria. They don’t bargain for technology. That is a big problem for NOTAP, because most people they enter into agreement and fairly it is only at the point of payment, when they come here we now see that they have signed something that is unfair. If we stop it, it is problem, if we allow them to go through it is problem. So we having gradually now to improve our advocacy and make sure that people understand and that problem now gradually dying down. Two, you see we regulate the flow of this technology in all sector, Oil and Gas, ICT, agriculture, everywhere and you start imagining that we need a reasonable numbers of experts, highly qualified people – engineers, lawyers, agriculture, veterinarians, process engineers,, unfortunately, in the public service, you don’t source people and employed them, you have to go through the way of how people are employed and you just do your best to build your capacity internally that is NOTAP now and that slow us down, but we are managing and we are improving gradually.
Q Do you have technology transfer acquisition fund domiciled in NOTAP?
No. Actually, Nigeria itself does not have a specific fund for the acquisition of technology; we are now trying to establish that. In NOTAP, the only resources that we get are the services that we give in the process of registration. There is a meager contribution that industry does contribute. We raise approximately in the range of 90 to 100 million naira every year. But actually to monitor technology transfer agreements effectively we need something like half a billion naira and we don’t get a penny. So somehow we are just managing with that. That is a challenge, which is a huge challenge. Otherwise there are some agreements that we cannot monitor, we cannot go and see the facility and confirm that the people are coming, they are giving the technology and you just have to approve and give the certificate because we are constrained, but most of the capacity, tools of trade, that is used, space, as you can see here, we don’t have space for our office. We need space for the unique kind of documents that we have so that we can establish a library. We also participate as an intellectual propriety organization in the sciences and so we need a space for patent documentation and information center to give people information and we don’t have. We need to showcase technology and innovation processes whereby we can demonstrate innovations for students to learn, we need a museum here and we don’t have. Unfortunately we are not as funded as we require. This year alone, my total budget is 3.7 million naira and that is very far from what is required, but certainly we have to continue doing what we are doing best. If the system recognize that we are useful, then we hope certainly that our future will improve.
Q How do you assist the local industries in the area of technology acquisition?
For local industries, we help them in a number of ways and as you can see outside there, we are just doing an exhibition there. We are facilitating to technology to come out and then for people who are interested to come and see, and then the marriage will flow. Secondly, we also provide services, patent services where private inventors, formal inventors from the system will bring their document here, we do all the patent examination, we do the entire patent search, and we even pay for their filing and give them their patent in their hand. Third, we also help them to introduce their technology to small and medium enterprises whereby we know the royalty formulation, we can collect feasibility, and we can help them with business plan and roll out the business. So we have a number of services for SMEs in Nigeria.
Q We have seen your certificate issued for technology transfer agreement between Nigeria and China Great Wall Industries Corporation before the launch of NigComSat, however, the satellite was later declared missing in the media after which we don’t hear from you again. What is your take on that?
Yeah, you see the satellite was not missing. The satellite was de-orbited. De-orbited because it have problems with its own power supply, but it has a back-up battery, it it remains in orbit with the backup battery. The backup if it dies, the satellite may collide with other people’s satellites and that may bring embarrassment and people may start thinking that our experts don’t know what they are doing, that we venture into something that we couldn’t manage and the whole world will laugh at us. So it is better to utilize that power to pull the satellite out of orbit and drop it somewhere so that it does not do a lot of damage and that is what happened.
It is a normal occurrence in the space system. The agreement when it came in here, we registered it because everything was fairly clear to us when the registration was done here. That they were getting assistance from China, fantastic facility over there. The engineering they were using is current. They have actually launched and all of us enjoyed the paraphernalia of owning a satellite. The satellite was in orbit for just over a year. So we enjoy that two. So far they have transfer this technology as they have a good component of training in that agreement and today, I’m happy to report that they have a lots of young people ranging from 50 to one hundred engineers. They are trained and we can see the skills, and some of them engineers are demonstrating that they were capable in electronic and hardware knowledge. This is all a spin off from that adventure. So the next satellite to be launched, again the agreement have come here and we have kept it. There are training component, there is R & D component, the expertise and the company they were using, we checked them on the internet, they are very solid and once again, we have no reason to say no to them, and again, we will monitor, we will go to their sites to see their facilities, we will check where they are launched, if they launched it successfully, we see where they are monitoring it. So that is what we do.
Q What about the NigeriaSat-2 satellite? Have you also certified the technology transfer agreement?
Well, actually the NigeriaSat-2 satellite, they have not come yet. I think it is part of t he initial agreement and that they will pay fort a number of services and they have actually spoken with us and so we told them what to do. They brought the draft agreement here, we worked with them and we told them the areas that are not particularly acceptable in term of capacity building, R & D component and I think they are amending it and they will bring it and if it satisfy what we asked for we will registered the technology transfer agreement.
Q How do you see the future of technology in Nigeria?
I think it is very bright. In the sense that everybody is talking about it. The president is talking about it. Everybody wants good roads, everybody wants food, everybody wants good healthcare, we are in love with telephones systems and digital technology as well. We cannot attained any of these effectively if we are not deploying science and technology at the highest level, and therefore, all these needs are the proclamation and reformation by our leaders and definitely an embodiments of the desire to acquire technology. On our side, as an institution that is involved in the process of technology acquisition, we are more committed than ever before, as you see we are bringing ourselves together closer to the private sector, so that we rub shoulder, we can learn from each other, so that we can be stronger. I look at the future of technology development for Nigeria to be very feasible and there are a number of things that we have to change and those things are gradually going to come up.