COVID-19: ASURI Laments Gross Underfunding, Sidelining of Research Institutes

COVID-19: ASURI Laments Gross Underfunding, Sidelining of Research Institutes

…Wants Chunk of Financial Donations to COVID-19 for Research Institutes …Alleges Staff of over 150 RDIs Self Fund Research Projects from Meagre Salaries …Blames Aides for Delay of Presidential Assent to the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) Bill …Wants Govt to Look Inwards for COVID-19 Cure The Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI),

…Wants Chunk of Financial Donations to COVID-19 for Research Institutes

…Alleges Staff of over 150 RDIs Self Fund Research Projects from Meagre Salaries

…Blames Aides for Delay of Presidential Assent to the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) Bill

…Wants Govt to Look Inwards for COVID-19 Cure

The Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions (ASURI), has accused successive administration of gross underfunding of research institutes across the country thereby rendering the health related institutes prostrate to lead the drive for indigenous cure to COVID-19.

The union appealed to the Federal Government to devote a minimum of one fifth of the monetary donations, contributed by the private sector-led Coalition Against Corona Virus (CACOVID-19) and foreign organisations towards combating the coronavirus pandemic to funding health-related research institutions.

While also lamenting the sidelining of the research institutes in the drive against COVID-19, ASURI noted the lack of representation in the Presidential Task Force (PTF) constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari which they claim consists largely of “politicians and public administrators.”

This is coming against disturbing assertion by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) that it has no funds to conduct any clinical trials on drugs for COVID-19 submitted by some herbal scholars and agencies more than a month ago.

“It’s also a very expensive process. We do not have the funds to engage in clinical trials. They are just dumping the drugs on us thinking we have the funds to conduct clinical trials. They also do not have the resources to conduct the trials. It involves a lot of funds,” says Prof Babatunde Lawal Salako, director general, NIMR.

In a memorandum addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, ASURI, which represents the interests of researchers in all federal research institutions, agencies and allied institutions, prayed the government to commit at least 20 per cent of all monetary receipts from home and abroad towards funding the nation’s research institutes whose mandates relate to medical, pharmaceutical and herbal research.

The five-page correspondence titled, “Memorandum to the Federal Government on the Coronavirus Pandemic,” signed by the union’s Secretary General, Dr. Theophilus Ndubuaku, says: “We propose (therefore) that the Federal Government devotes a minimum of 20 per cent of total monetary donations and support it is receiving towards finding solution to the pandemic to the funding of research by all the nation’s research institutes whose mandate relate to medical, pharmaceutical and herbal research.

“Anything short of this would amount to putting all the fingers in one’s mouth without saving for the rainy days in terms of adequate preparation, because after Covid-19, there will be other diseases and even before this pandemic the Nigerian health sector was in shambles and the medical research sector in comatose.”

The researchers’ union notes in its memorandum that while in other parts of the world, researchers and scientists are in the forefront of the search for an end to the pandemic, it is only politicians and political administrators who are being heard in Nigeria, adding that the official relegation of the mandate research institutes is an ill wind that will blow the nation no good.

The memorandum, addressed to the SGF in his capacity as the chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Coronavirus, mentioned five Nigerian research institutes which should be relevant in the present global emergency, noting however that they are sidelined.

“We are only reading about meaningful research on coronavirus in foreign countries even though we have capable hands in the four research institutes in Nigeria whose mandates relate to medical research, namely: National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), National Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research (NITR) and Nigerian Natural Medicine Development Agency (NNMDA).

Others according to ASURI, are the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI) which has Bioresources Development Centres (BIODEC) and Technology Incubation Centres (TIC) in over 30 states in the country.

It adds: “It is worthy of note that one of Nigeria’s mandate research institutes, the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), which has the capacity to bail us out, had been conducting studies on coronavirus even before its outbreak. Besides, NIMR had a couple of its own corona test kits acquired through collaborative efforts with foreign donors while the government was still scrambling to put things together.

“Ironically, we are aware that recently in Lagos, NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control) rejected the test results from NIMR presented by a coronavirus case and insisted on their own test, resulting in delay in admitting the patient who consequently infected his wife at home. This scenario highlights the level of disconnect between the Nigerian government functionaries and mandate research institutions.”

Condemning what he describes as the “continuous sidelining of relevant Nigerian research institutes by the Federal Government functionaries in the global battle to save human lives from the invisible Covid-19 enemy,” he reiterated the havoc done to the nation’s economy through prolonged neglect of the research sector.

“The abject neglect of the nation’s Research and Development Institutes (RDIs) sector by successive administrations has brought upon the nation the myriad of social-economic problems as high unemployment rate, mass poverty and hunger, resulting in insecurity, insurgency, assassinations, ritual killings, cybercrime, kidnapping, prostitution, human trafficking and slavery, emigration, maternal and child mortality and life expectancy of 54.5 years (lowest in West Africa),” ASURI said.

According to the union’s scribe, Nigeria operates close to zero budgetary allocation to research. “In most of the over 150 Nigerian Research and Development Institutions (RDIs) and centres, research and training activities are self-funded by researchers because they must acquire higher degrees and produce research publications before they can be promoted at every stage of their careers,” adding that,: “Consequently Nigerian career researchers are the poorest cadre of public servants as they must devote over half of their salaries for research if they must advance in their profession.”


ASURI commended President Buhari for his understanding of the “imperative, urgency and commitment to technological revolution in Nigeria” but blamed the delay in getting presidential assent for the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) Bill on his aides.

According to ASURI, “there seems to be a lacuna between the zeal of the President and the functionaries in the Presidency that have not been able to march President Buhari’s zeal with appropriate action which has thus far stalled assent to the bill.”

The union noted that Mr. President inaugurated the National Research and Innovation Council on the 6th of January 2016, barely six months after he assumed office on May 29, 2015. It says: “Following the pronouncement of the President on technological revolution and his body language, ASURI followed up with the National Assembly which thereafter passed the NRIC Bill which was sponsored by Senator David Umaru and co-sponsored by 60 other Senators. The sheer number of sponsors of this Bill underlines its importance.

“However, the Bill, which was returned to the National Assembly by Mr. President, citing some grey areas, was promptly rectified by the Eighth Assembly before the end of its tenure and re-transmitted to the Villa.” The NRIC Bill provides for the institutional research and training funding mechanism and infrastructural development for RDIs in Nigeria.

Looking Inwards for COVID-19 Cure

Like the recent case in Madagascar, the union urge the Federal Government to look inwards in finding the cure for coronavirus. Also citing the example of China, the union says acupuncture, which it described as the flagship of Chinese healthcare, as well as the Asian country’s successful herbal and mineral supplements, are home-grown initiatives.

To support its recommendation of looking inwards, ASURI reminds the Federal Government of claims by the Ooni of Ife and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State. “Claims by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, that there is herbal treatment for the virus and the publicized claim by Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, that he used black seed and honey therapy to reverse his status from positive to negative within six days, are being downplayed by government functionaries.’’

“In spite of claims that there is no proven cure for Covid-19, it is noteworthy that such herbal roots as garlic, ginger and other herbs have, over the years, been used to treat respiratory infections such as flu, pneumonia, common cold and influenza. That there is no vaccine yet, for Covid-19 does not stop us from testing proven local palliative therapies. We call on the Federal Government to look inward as the whole world struggles to find a cure for Coronavirus. We have resources and the human capacity to do so,” ASURI said.

Pax Herbal CVD Plus

Pax Herbal Clinic & Research Laboratories, Ewu, Edo state, one of the groups that have submitted COVID-19 herbal drugs to NIMR for clinical trials, says, it has developed a novel drug, called CVD PLUS specifically for the treatment of COVID-19.

“Pax CVD PLUS contains herbs and active phytoconstituents with documented scientific evidence based on clinical reports of their efficacy and safety.  These herbs have been used in several therapeutic formulations of Paxherbals over the past 25 years for the treatment of hepatitis C Tuberculosis, HIV/A1DS. Bronchitis, Pneumonia and Malaria.

“Some bloactivc constituents of CVD PLUS are potential antiviral agents and immunomodulatory agents that can stimulate antibody production against Coronavirus related diseases. However, since herbal medicines are mostly crude, subsequent development requires some level of high-tech for extraction, purification and much screening with advanced facilities, The key focus is safety, sustainability, efficacy, standardization and availability.

“We are grateful to the Director-General of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD). Dr Peter Adigwe, the Director-General of Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Prof, Tunde Salako and the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof Catherine Adeyeye for their interest, support and encouragement so far. Each of them has appointed their experts to work with Paxherbals on this special project. Paxherbals is also working with scientists from the University of Benin, University of Lagos and Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Edo State.

“We are happy to note that NAFDAC is ready to speed up the drug regulation, evaluation and approval process of CVD PLUS. The Nigerian law does not permit the use of any drug or medicine by the public unless it has passed through some basic processes of standardization and scientific evaluation, in line with global practices. Anyone or any organization who claims to have a cure for any disease is expected to submit the product for critical screening and scientific analysis. No sentiments. No cultural bias. No subjectivism

“In the meantime, Paxherbals hereby recommend the following NAFDAC approved Pax products for the management of many of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.1 Paxherbal Bitters. 2, Paxherbal Bitter tea. 3. Paxherbal Health tea.

“We thank the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria for their words of encouragement and expression of confidence in Paxhcrbal. May God continue to bless and protect us all,” says Rev Fr Anselm Adodo, director of the Centre.

Anti-Intellectual Govt & Innovation

But a Communications Consultant and Member, ThisDay Editorial Board, Dr Chidi Amuta do not belief that the government can goad the research institutes and herbal scholars to find  a local cure for CONVID-19.

“Local research and innovation effort is not likely to get the support of an anti-intellectual government.  We are more likely to look towards the Chinese or await handouts from the US and EU.

“Part of what facilitated the quick recovery in Wuhan was the integration of orthodox medicine with Chinese traditional medicine. To achieve that kind of result, you need an intellectually curious political class and a bold knowledgeable administration. We need a new generation to lead innovation in Nigeria. The civil service mentality of the Nigerian deep state will take us nowhere.

“Covid-19 will pass. In its wake, there will be a new breed of Covid-19 billionaires. There is likely to be a committee to investigate the Covid-19 disbursements. Then another panel to study the report of the investigations etc. Thousands will have died needless deaths and livelihoods ruined,” he argues.. 

Amuta queries the rational for the constitution of PTF: “Is there a non-political scientist in the PTF? In the UK, Oxford is leading the search for a vaccine. In the US, major universities and research centres are collaborating with medical corporations on testing and therapeutic drugs for Covid-19. The modelling projections on which US governments are acting on Covid-19 are designed by Johns Hopkins University and other leading academies. Our FG is writing big cheques for states headed by politicians. How much has gone to our universities and research institutes?”

Photo: Laboratory at the NIMR

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