By Mamman Mohammed
“The best way to predict the future is to build it.” Abraham Lincoln.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, the American agronomist, and Nobel Peace Prize award winner, whose groundbreaking research projects developed successive generations of wheat varieties with very high yields, is regarded as the major breakthrough that saved the World from imminent hunger in the 1950s and is still with great impact on today’s global food security.
Over the years, the achievements of governments in Nigeria have been measured by physical structures, some executed with a quality that stands the test of time, while others seek rehabilitation even before their completion. This, however, has not made it common or fashionable for governments to invest in non-physical yet prosperous programmes with futuristic benefits to a state and its people. For developing economies such as ours, It is good to combine infrastructural development with investment in the future, rather than having symbolic glory as the sole attraction. The dexterity to shape the future of a people or nation comes with vision, conviction, and sacrifice.
Agriculture has been the mainstay of Nigerians yet, there have not been sufficient or corresponding research activities at both the federal and state levels to stimulate efficiency and enhance productivity, hence, agricultural practice in the country has remained in slow mode with poor yields, year in, and year out. The farmers have forcefully and consistently remained at a subsistence level, making the country vulnerable to food insufficiency and insecurity.
Similarly, the culture of sponsoring research work on diseases that are peculiar to specific areas or communities is totally lacking. Unfortunately, most often, we rely on research conducted in Europe and America several years back, sometimes outdated, and in contrast to our biological culture because such research is conducted on persons with varying biological cultures in temperate climates against the humid atmospheric conditions in Africa and Nigeria.
This explains why we have continued to battle common diseases like Malaria that have been with us for centuries and the application of medicines from such research has resulted in resistance with huge casualties. Today, Malaria remains a major cause of high mortality and morbidity in Nigeria.
Although there are several research institutions established by the federal government, it is however a sad common knowledge that these institutions have always complained of, and attributed their non-performance to poor funding. This is quite understandable as we now import palm oil from Malaysia, a country said to have picked its first palm seedlings from Nigeria.
Regrettably, unlike other institutions that are replicated and owned by the state governments, research institutions have not had the patronage of the sub-national governments. They have been avoided like a plague, because it is both capital intensive and takes time to see their fruits, often many years after the tenure of the governments that establish such institutions which is in contrast with the politician’s agenda to showcase his achievements.
Against all odds, a piece of gladdening good news has emerged from Northeast Nigeria. Yobe state Governor, Hon. Mai Mala Buni CON, has singled himself out to make a difference and tread the path avoided by others. He has not only established a Biomedical Research and Training Center, but exhibited strong commitment and political will to build a world-class Research and Training Center through partnership with internationally renowned Research Institutions for medical research, including Kidney failure, a huge medical challenge that has bedeviled some parts of the state along the banks of River Yobe, the river which the state derived its name from, as well as training of scientists to promote science and healthcare delivery generally.
According to Buni, the advantage of the research center in the state is to have home-based research with samples from the indigenous communities. He said the presence of the research center provides the opportunity for various research on other variables such as environment, culture, and food.
The Yobe state government today provides free dialysis treatment to its citizens, while many more patients from the neighbouring states troop into the state to seek medical services but, the quest for a permanent solution to this menace is both important, necessary, and close to the heart of Governor Mai Mala Buni. He argued that the remote causes of the rampant kidney failure in the state must be established, and checked.
Therefore, in 2021, the state government under the leadership of Governor Buni established a Biomedical Research and Training Center at the state-owned University. The center has trained over 140 Medical Doctors, University lecturers, and scientists in research and fabrications. Four others have been sponsored by the state government for advanced studies in famous Research Institutions in the United Kingdom.
Interestingly, the Biomedical Research and Training Center in collaboration with the State University Teaching Hospital is now engaged in medical research activities, especially in Malaria and Renal diseases. The center has fabricated a machine that aids in the diagnosis of diseases. The machine has been tested and is in use locally, while efforts are in place to fabricate more for sales to medical institutions in the country.
Governor Buni had recently under took a tour of four reputable research institutions in the United Kingdom with indisputable research and training records. The mission was to seek collaboration and partnership in research between the Research Institutions and the Yobe state government.
First, was a visit to the famous University of York. The erudite Professor of Imaging and Cytometry, Peter O’Toole, was on ground to receive Governor Buni and his team, comprising the Secretary to the State Government, Baba Malam Wali, who directs the implementation of government policies and programmes, the Commissioner of Health, Dr. Muhammad Lawan Gana, who administers and supervises the health sector, Dr. Kalli Yusuf Gazali, Registrar of the Yobe State University, custodian of the state Biomedical Research and Training Center, and Dr. Goni Baba Waru, the Chief Medical Director of the State Teaching Hospital, a partner to the Biomedical Research Center.
Of course, the link man, Dr. Mahmoud Bukar Maina, an Honourary Special Adviser to the Governor on Science, Research and Innovation, lecturer at Sussex University, United Kingdom, and a very proud son of the state who initiated the Biomedical Research Center, was all over the place to ensure the success of the visit and very fruitful collaboration between the Yobe state government and the institutions.
After inspection of the state-of-the-art facilities at York University, Governor Buni CON, assured the University of the readiness of his government to collaborate to make the Yobe State Biomedical Center a research hub in Africa.
He said “Yobe State is committed to joint funding opportunities, equipment upgrades, and capacity building for students, teachers, doctors, and scientists to promote study and research for service delivery in healthcare services. We are also ready for a joint collaboration for research in Renal and sickle cell diseases, to find the root causes, support patients, and possible eradication”.
According to the governor, the government has upgraded the temporary Research center at the University to promote conducive teaching and research activities, while a N160 million contract has been awarded for the construction of a dedicated site for the Biomedical Research and Training Center, and suggested for exchange visits between teachers and students of the Universities of York and Yobe state University to improve their knowledge on the peculiarities in the UK and Nigeria/Africa.
Prof. O’Toole said the 1963 University is renowned for medical research and academic excellence with four research centres in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan. He expressed optimism that the partnership with the Yobe state government would allow the state to host the University’s fifth research center in Africa.
Prof. Neil Pearce, the internationally celebrated Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, at the London School of Hygiene, who received Governor Buni and his team, commended Yobe state government for the interest in Research and training.
He said the efforts of the state Biomedical Research Center in generating data on Renal disease in the state would be used to establish the causative agents which would push for finding a solution. “We have conducted similar studies in Malawi and Kenya in Africa, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, and India, we will work with you too, to establish the cause of the disease” Prof. Neil assured.
He said though research on such diseases is very expensive, the collaboration would look for international funding to assist the research.
Prof. Ben Caplin, a Professor of Nephrology and Renal Medicine at the University College London, and a specialist in population-based clinical and laboratory studies, also commended Governor Buni for his interest in finding a solution to this problem facing the communities, it is important to establish the causes of the renal failure in the affected communities.
“The only solution to this problem is to find out the possible causes and mitigate the causes as a solution to the disease to save this population and indeed the future generation” Prof. Ben said.
Buni explained that the state government is very worried over the rate of deaths from the disease which calls for quick and active intervention to save the people, assuring that his administration is prepared for every partnership and collaboration that would provide a solution to this menace. “I am optimistic that our partnership would find a solution to the disease to save our people and others from the neighboring states along the banks of the river Yobe”.
At the Crick Research Institute, London, the largest Research Institute in Europe, named after the famous Francis Crick, the Nobel award winner who discovered DNA in humans, Governor Buni was received by Prof. Jonathan Stoye, Principal Group Leader, International Activities of the Institute, who said the commitment of the Yobe state government to developing its Biomedical Research and Training Center is a great investment to the state and country.
“Your willingness to collaborate with the Crick Research institutions is a great treasure for the future of your state. The wisdom of establishing the center at the State University and linking it with the Teaching Hospital would promote medical research, training, and improvement in medical service delivery. I have seen the passion in you, and the commitment to get it right through your search for collaboration with renowned Research institutions as the right step. I would like to congratulate you personally for what you have done for your state. I assure you of our willingness to partner with you to do more” Prof. Stoye assured.
He said the Yobe Biomedical Centre can be used for research and training in diagnosis and drug discovery, vaccine development, the study of human biology, diseases, and health care development.
Gov. Buni expressed the readiness of the state to develop the Biomedical Research and Training Center into a world-class center. “I and my team are here to establish more areas of collaboration that would fast-track the development of the center.
“One of our major challenges today is renal disease and Malaria. We will most sincerely appreciate your kind consideration for a strong partnership and collaboration to overcome this very unfortunate and huge challenge” Governor Buni emphasized.
The governor described his tour of the institutions as very successful “We have had very fruitful discussions that raise our hope to finding solutions to this health menace, as well as to promote research and training in the state. We will soon sign the Memoranda of Understanding to define our levels of commitment to the partnerships.
“Although it is capital intensive, we are determined to collectively search for international funders to support our partnerships for a lasting solution to this problem, and promote scientific research and training in Yobe state. We are committed to creating a research and training hub to attract researchers and scientists from across Nigeria and Africa” Governor Buni noted.
The presence of the state commissioner of Health, Dr. Muhammad Lawan Gana, the Chief Medical Director of the State University Teaching Hospital Dr. Babagana Waru, and the Registrar of Yobe State University custodians of the Biomedical Research and Training Center, Dr Kalli Yusuf Gazali, on the Governor’s entourage, had effectively guided discussions on the proposed partnership, and what the state required for its research center to grow.
According to Dr. Waru, the existing synergy between the research center and the teaching hospital has translated into effective and efficient data collection.
To Dr. Mahmoud Bukar Maina, the Chief host, and bridge between the Yobe state government and the UK institutions, the benefits of the partnership are to have the required machinery and the expertise from these World-renowned researchers and scientists who are willing to assist in the research programmes.
“When you have combined support from Crick Research Institute, York University, the London School of Hygiene, University of Sussex, and the London University, conducting research in particular or various fields, you are sure of the results of the outcomes.
“I want to thank the Yobe state government, and particularly, His Excellency Governor Mai Mala Buni CON, for his personal commitment to invest in the future of the state and improve healthcare delivery in the state” Dr Mahmoud opined.
Satisfied with the discussions, Governor Buni, wasted no time in reassuring that the state government would sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Research institutions as soon as possible.
“I am satisfied with the fruitful discussions which have raised our hope of finding solutions to this health menace, and the promotion of research and training in the state.
“We are ready to sign the MoU to define our commitments in the partnerships. We are determined to partner and find international funders to support us in finding a permanent solution to this menace, and attract economic gains to the state through research activities at the Biomedical Research and Training Center” Buni said.
He reiterated the commitment of his administration to having a Biomedical Research and Training Center that will serve the state, the country, and some African countries.
For the people on the banks of river Yobe, the efforts of the Yobe state government under the leadership of Governor Mai Mala Buni in finding a solution to this age-long medical challenge will certainly be a lifetime achievement never to be forgotten.
As custodians of wisdom would say, we should not be great to begin, we should rather begin to be great. In Yobe state, this wisdom has found a root in the glory of humanity.
Mamman is the DG, Press and Media Affairs to Yobe State Governor