Passage of FRIN bill: What it implies for staff, students, geopolitical zones —Adepoju
For more than 60 years, one of Nigeria’s oldest research institutes, the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), has been without an enabling law until last month when the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (Establishment) Act 2018 was signed by then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. Executive Director of FRIN, Dr Adeshola Adepoju, told PAUL OMOROGBE what the new law means for the institute, staff and students of Federal College of Forestry, the country and the international community.
Road to the signing of the bill
This underscores the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari. You will be shocked that since inception of this organisation, there has been no clear-cut document that you can call a law governing this organisation other than the decree that was promulgated even after its existence in 1973. That decree encompassed all organisations in Nigeria that conduct research.
In 1975, there was a slight amendment because the agency moved from Science and Technology Ministry to Agric Ministry. In 1999 /2000 it was moved again from Agric to Federal Ministry of Environment, all owing to no distinct law as to where the agency should be domiciled and a clear mandate for the institute.
In 2012 was when the move to get a law for the organisation began. But it suffered a lot of setback and was reactivated when I came on board in 2015.
It was a bill sponsored in the House of Reps and at the same time in the Senate. The leadership of the Ministry of Environment led then by Aisha Mohammed, and the current minister, Mallam Ibrahim Jibril pursued the bill. The committees were chaired by Senator Oluremi Tinubu and Honourable Osita Chidoka. They sat, and eventually on August 17, 2018, it was signed into law that gave birth to the agency. This was a bill to now establish Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria. This means there was just a hanging policy, there was no law really until August 17. Now we have a clear assignment as to what the law wants us to do.
Implications for Federal College of Forestry
Now our colleges are designated as tertiary institutions. Before, nobody knew where they fell into. There was a time they were stopped from going for NYSC, because there was just a policy. But now the law has stated that they are tertiary institutions. And going from that, the staff now know what cadre system that each category of staff will run. Otherwise they belonged to the general pool as stated by policy.
The law has also said that all geopolitical zones of the country must have a college, like we have here in Ibadan. We have to do education and training on environmental and forestry issues. It then means that the dissemination of the activities of this agency can no longer be limited; because if all geopolitical zones have at least one college that trains on forestry and environment related issues. Apart from the indigenes of that geopolitical zone benefitting from the training, it also will aid the dissemination and sensitisation of what forestry and environment issues are all about to almost all the communities in the country.
And beyond that, it then means people will begin to adopt our technology, practices, research breakthroughs in terms of tree planting and shortening the gestation period of tree crops. We can’t thank this government enough because it is under this administration that Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria was given birth to.
What happens to FRIN staff?
For the staff (of FRIN), we are now like our sister agency, NISER; we are also going to be running a professorial cadre system for the researchers. All other professors now have clear-cut ascending progression for their cadre system.
The government has challenged us by giving us the enabling document to work. So, we have no excuse not to maximise the content of the law to make sure that all forestry and environmental issues challenging Nigeria are confronted head on.
Moving from that, now we can do business. We have a directive from government that this is how you go about doing the business, this is how much you can do and this is what you cannot do; and so many other things that are in the document. We can do business with international organisations now who, in the past, if they wanted to collaborate with us would ask, where is your law, to know what the law allows. Now we have a law. In the past we could be murmuring on what we could do, but now it is something we gave them a copy to take a look at to see what we have been empowered to do.
We will be doing ourselves a disservice if we do not rise to the challenge and reciprocate the gesture of the government by going out to do all we can to make sure Nigeria is taken out of whatever environmental challenges caused by deforestation and other related challenges.
How soon will we see the changes?
In anticipation of the law we had already began working on so many things just to hit the ground running. People complain of funding. Yes, I agree that funding is a challenge, but part of the responsibility of a manger is to think out of the box. Whether you have funding or not, why not exploit your profession to improvise create or do something? We are a ‘season agency’. If we don’t work at your season, even if you are given all the budget of the country out of season, you have already failed. So, you should think as a professional – whether you are funded or not – the funding will help do more. But you have no right to say that because you are not funded you are doing nothing. Then, you are not qualified to be a manager. As a manager do little with what you can improvise. When funding comes, it will be escalated.
The question of national demands
It is pertinent that people be aware that government created this agency to meet the national need, not only governmental, but national needs. Even those who want to go into private forestry or forestry farming, should they be confronted with the challenge of where to go to source for their seedlings? Or where to get the technology support to do the business? These are the enabling environment that government has been talking about. How do you ease business? Its not only about buying and selling. Easing the business environment is also when a citizen wants to do a particular business, is there any agency government is funding that can speak to the person? The President cannot go to each community to raise seedlings. We are there to solve that problem for him. That’s why we are being pad salaries – to solve communities’ problems relating to whatever challenges they are facing with whatever tree crop they have chosen to work with. We must be there to solve their problems. When we solve their problems, there will be a derived benefit in future, because it is when they are able to raise trees for fruit, the hardwood, or the leaves for medicinal purpose or the root, that will lead to someone being in business. But the primary assignment is for that person to be able to plant. This is also a way of easing business.