It is glaring that our beloved country Nigeria is facing challenging times, even as most countries of the world struggle to recover after the pandemic.
In Nigeria, identifying our challenges is not a problem, the herculean task is how to solve them!
Ask anyone our top seven (7) challenges in Nigeria, their list will likely show these:
(i) Insecurity (ii) Poverty/Unemployment (iii) Poor Healthcare System (iv) Poor Quality of Education (v) Inadequate Infrastructure & Electricity Supply (vi) Lack of Good Drinking Water (vii) Environmental Issues.
Although, many may tie everything to leadership, professionals have a role to play towards building a self reliant nation. This determines how relevant such profession is, not necessarily how the society tag them.
Interestingly, the Chemistry profession, if paid adequate attention to, can provide the needed solutions to these challenges!
Let’s get a clear understanding of the scope and opportunities of Chemistry as to better appreciate her relevance.
Generally, Chemistry is the study of the composition and properties of matter. It seems to explain what air, water, soil, plants, food, mineral ores, metals are made up of including nanoparticles and biochemical reactions in humans and other organisms.
Crude oil, gold and other solid minerals extraction/mining and refining, photosynthesis all involve Chemistry applications.
Chemistry is therefore, the bedrock of every sector of the economy: agriculture (agrochemistry), petroleum & energy (organic/petroleum chemistry), mines & steel (mineral chemistry, material science), ICT (material science), environment (environmental chemistry), health (biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry), water resources (water chemistry), education (chemistry education), commerce & industry (industrial chemistry), engineering & works (chemical engineering), textiles (polymer chemistry), etc.
Any Nation That Pays No Attention To Chemistry Cannot Be Self Reliant!
Let’s now take a closer look at how chemists are involved in fixing Nigeria’s big challenges!
(i) Tackling Insecurity: Nigerian Chemists in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) are at the forefront of Chemical Safety and Security awareness and enforcement. Forensic, analytical and nano-chemists are very useful in crime detection and intelligence gathering. It is clear that the war against insurgency can be better won through military intelligence (tactics) than physical combat.
(ii) In tackling Poverty and Unemployment:
Chemists formulate fertilizers and pest control agents for food production. Food processing also requires chemistry application.
In a country where virtually every finished product ranging from sophisticated textiles to wooden toothpick, is being imported, establishment of chemical and allied industries becomes a top priority.
Unless chemists engage in extraction, mining and refining of solid minerals like gold, tin, iron, etc. harnessing our abundant natural resources to create wealth will be a mirage!
(iii) Effective Healthcare Systems:
Vaccines and drugs development, radiological and medical tests reagents, oxygen, disinfectants, sedatives, medical equipment, first aid materials, eye glasses, are all products of chemistry.
If you remove Chemistry applications from the health sector, all that will be left is preliminary health diagnosis with no solution!
(iv) Chemistry Education:
Chemistry is central to Science Education, which is the foundation of industrial development. Our children must get it right from the beginning especially in acquiring practical knowledge. Our high school students should be exposed to practical training for making of basic chemical products like soaps and detergents, dye, paints; water treatment processes, glass blowing, electrochemical and electrical processes at an early stage.
(v) Infrastructure and Energy Supply:
Roads and bridges construction require cement, paints, metals, concrete, ceramics, rugs. roofing sheets, etc. are chemically based. Renewal energy sources, petrochemicals, petroleum and gas refining processes and production are deeply rooted in Chemistry.
(vi) Environmental and Water Resource Management:
Pollution control and enforcement of environmental regulations can only be effective with sound environmental analysis of air, water and soil samples, compared with standards and baseline data. Green Chemistry application also minimizes wastes generation, greenhouse gases, global warming and climate change. Chemical processes like recycling, bioremediation, battery technology are key elements in pollution abatement.
Provision of good water for drinking, domestic, laboratory and industrial processes pose serious challenge to developing countries like ours. Water treatment processes and packaging are primarily the job of chemists.
Unless, Chemists fully take up their responsibilities and are duly recognized by relevant authorities, nothing works!
Right Placement For Chemists Graduates, Now!
Ideally, chemistry graduates ought to be the ones with the brightest employment prospects in Nigeria yet only few chemists are engaged where they are truly required.
Let’s take a closer look at specific job opportunities for chemists in Nigeria:
(a) Government Ministries:
Federal/State Ministries of Science & Technology, Environment, Agriculture, Water Resources, Health, Mines & Steels Development, Education, Commerce & Industry, Interior and Defense.
(b) Government Departments/Agencies:
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), National Foods, Drugs Administration & Control (NAFDAC), National Environmental Standards & Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Oil Spills Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA), National Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).
State Environmental Protection Agencies (SEPAs), State Waste Management Agencies (WMAs), Nigerian Refineries & Petrochemical Companies, Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), Ajakouta Steel Mills, Nigerian Printing & Minting Company and several others.
(c) Research Institutions:
Raw Materials Research & Development Council (RMRDC), National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Industrial Development (NIPRID), Federal Institute for Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Project Research & Development Agency (PRODA), etc.
(d) Military & Security Agencies:
The.Military (Army, Navy and Air Force) and other Security Agencies including: The Police, Nigerian Security & Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Department of State Security (DSS), Economc and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), etc. all need Forensic, Nuclear/Atomic Chemists for intelligence gathering, chemical weapons detection or production.
(e) The Academia:
Educational institutions, at the moment, is the greatest employer of Chemists. Over 300 tertiary institutions and thousands of Secondary Schools (both public and private) absorb chemists as lecturers, teachers and laboratory technologists.
We cannot boost of having adequate Chemistry teachers in our schools, either. More institutions need chemists, still.
(f) The Chemical Industry:
The beauty of Chemistry in growing the economy is optimized in a functional chemical industry where chemists engage in the production of chemical products ranging from plastics, cosmetics (soaps, creams, perfumes, powder), foam, paints, glass/pet bottles, roofing materials, leather and textiles, food & beverages, cement, drugs, wines, etc.
(g) Chemicals Marketing & Laboratory Services:
There is a huge market for industrial and laboratory chemicals, science and medical equipment/reagents for graduate chemists. Incidentally, most investors in the chemical marketing sector, are non-chemists. Given proper orientation and investment capital, young chemists will thrive in local trade, importation and production of chemicals.
(h) Consultancy Services:
More experienced chemists need to dominate the consulting space as public analysts (foods, drugs, water, etc.), environmental consultants, industrial (product development) consultants, oil and gas consultants (corrosion, catalysis, bioremediation experts), etc.
(i) ICT, Media, Sports, Make-up Artistry:
Chemists are quite relevant in the emerging digital economy. Material scientists (chemists) are engaged in the production of silicon chips, plastic casing and other computer accessories. Computational chemistry and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, science (chemical) communications, journalism and publishing open new doors for ‘digital chemists’.
Most sporting facilities including: balls, booths, bats, jerseys, whistles and first aid materials as well as make-up products for beauticians are mainly chemical based products.
New Generation Chemists: Taking The Bold Step!
Since 1946 when Stephen Oluwole Awokoya (late Prof.) bagged his B.Sc. Chemistry from University of London, being the first graduate chemist, Nigeria has produced generations of chemists with various specialties.
It’s 50 years after Chemical Society of Nigeria (CSN) was formed since 1971 and 28 years since the establishment of Institute of Chartered Chemists of Nigeria (ICCON) in 1993; no doubt chemists have contributed immensely to the development of several sectors in Nigeria.
However the country is still facing challenges towards realizing economic stability. Here is where new generation chemists need to arise by taking the following bold steps!
i. Becoming Duly Registered (Chartered Chemists):
Unless all chemists are licensed (duly registered by ICCON (statutory government regulatory body), there cannot be effective monitoring and accountability in the profession. Over 50,000 chemists graduates have been trained in the past 50 years but less than 10% of chemists are chartered (officially registered as practising chemists in Nigeria). If 50% of chemists graduates do so, we will become a formidable force to reckon with among top Nigerian professionals!
ii. Taking Chemistry From Laboratory to Market Place!
Beyond exciting chemical research breakthroughs in our ivory towers, Nigerian chemists in the 21st century should endeavour to commercialize products developed from researches with economic values. ICCON is working out modalities with relevant stakeholders including CSN, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to achieve this objective
iii. Effective Bonding-Strategic Alliance:
Chemists are encouraged to network among themselves and other related professionals to tackle big Nigeria’s challenges. For instance, ICCON/CSN are presently partnering with relevant Security authorities to curb growing insecurity problem in Nigeria particularly on Chemical Safety and Security.
We can achieve more where we team up with like minded professionals even at micro economic level for instance, two, three, five or more chemists can pool their intellectual and financial resources together to develop and commercialize a given chemical product say ‘medicinal soap’, table water, food spices/preservative or work together as ‘environmental consultants’, etc.
If we can all these right, in no distant time, chemistry profession, will not only be popular as a central science but become a major key player in fixing Nigeria’s challenges; repositioning the country as the industrial hub and economic power in Africa.
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