Sesan Peter Ayodeji, a professor of Machine and Process Design and Applied Ergonomics at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, FUTA, and his Research Associate, Emmanuel Olatunji Olatomilola, have been named joint winners of the 2022 edition of Nigeria’s Most Important Prize for Science, alongside Muhyideen Oyekunle, a Maize Breeder and Lecturer at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello
The Prize is the most prestigious in its category, and it is sponsored by Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG), a firm that produces liquefied natural gas (LNG).
At a press conference in Lagos, the Prize’s Advisory Board, led by Professor Barth Nnaji, delivered the judges’ conclusion based on the 2022 theme “Innovations in Sustainable Food Security.” This follows the failure of the 2021 cycle, which was based on the same theme, to produce a winner.
The $100,000 prize money was awarded to the two winning entries, “Gains in Grain Yield of Released Maize (Zea Mays L.) Cultivars under Drought and Well-Watered Conditions” by Muhydideen Oyekunle and Shehu Ado, and “Development of Process Plant for Plantain Flour” by Sesan Peter Ayodeji and Emmanuel Olatunji Olatomilola.
Professor Nnaji stated in response to the judges’ assessment that the work(s) addressed food security, which is a critical component of our national goal. “At the global level, Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seeks sustainable solutions to end all forms of hunger and achieve food security by 2030.” This means “increasing small-scale farmers’ productivity and incomes by supporting fair access to land, technology, and markets, resilient agricultural methods, and sustainable food production systems,” he noted.
Professor Nnaji stated that the selection of the judges shows a multi-disciplinary approach pertinent to the issue under consideration. “The advisory board is especially delighted that the judges upheld the objectives of the prize, which attempts to discover and promote excellence in employing scientific knowledge for the attainment of desired solutions,” he added.
The research of Muhyideen Oyekunle and Shehu Ado on “Gains in Grain Yield of Released Maize (Zea Mays L.) Cultivars in Drought and Well Watered Conditions” offers us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The maize seeds they chose through the breeding programme have been proven to be high yielding and water stress tolerant. In farmers’ fields, the hybrids they chose produce yields of 1.73-2.51 t/ha in stress areas and 5-6 t/ha in places with favourable rainfall distribution.
Sesan The work of Peter Ayodeji and Emmanuel Olatunji Olatomilola on “Development of Process Plant for Plantain Flour” is crucial for minimising farm product spoilage and packaging for distribution, as well as adding value to agricultural products. It is resourceful in scaling up from batch production to industrial scale continuous flour manufacturing pertinent to food products other than plantain.
He praised Nigeria LNG’s Board of Directors and Management for establishing, funding, and sustaining what is perhaps Africa’s largest Science Prize.
A panel of judges chaired by Professor Christian Ugwu Agbo made the decision on the winning entries. Professor Agbo is an agricultural professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Ms. Funke Opeke and Prof Mohammed Magaji are also on the panel. Ms. Opeke is a seasoned telecom executive and the founder/CEO of MainOne, while Professor Magaji is an Agronomy professor at Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto.
Mr. Andy Odeh, NLNG’s General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development, stated in his remarks on the verdict that the Science Prize is growing in strength, as seen by the 2022 verdict. He noted that the Advisory Board and NLNG are working behind the scenes to improve the prize’s effect and inclusiveness for the sake of society. He emphasised that science can provide solutions to the majority of the country’s problems and urged relevant stakeholders and the general public to continue supporting NLNG through the Nigeria Prize for Science in order to make scientific breakthroughs the most important enabler of development in Nigeria, adding that industry and public investors should consider the commercial value of the winning works.
While congratulating the winners on their accomplishment, Mr. Odeh urged all previous winners of the prize to collaborate and become a think-tank capable of generating and sustaining the flow of ideas, innovation, and scientific advice to the public and private sectors, adding that this will make scientific ideas and innovations beneficial to Nigerians, thereby helping to build a better Nigeria in line with NLNG’s vision.
He went on to say that the winning works have the potential to greatly improve the country’s food security by ensuring a stable, efficient, and sufficient food production system.
In addition to Professor Nnaji, members of the Advisory Board of the Nigeria Prize for Science include Chief Dr. Nike Akande, a two-time minister and former President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Professor Yusuf Abubakar, a professor of Animal Breeding and Quantitative Genetics and the Coordinator of Agriculture Group, R & D Standing Committee, at the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.
The Vice Chancellor, Professor Adenike Oladiji, commended the FUTA winners, characterising their achievement as noteworthy and a big boost for the University’s research endeavour, as well as another clear indicator of the institution’s academic members’ inventiveness and excellence.