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Researchers from Nigeria didn’t win the N36 million prize from the federal government for their work on COVID-19 and Lassa fever

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Researchers from Nigeria didn’t win the N36 million prize from the federal government for their work on COVID-19 and Lassa fever

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Nigerian scientists and researchers were not able to earn the sum of N36 million offered by the Federal Government as incentive for discovering cures for COVID-19 and Lassa Fever, checks by HEALTHYSPOT101 have shown.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, then Minister of Science and Technology (currently Minister of Innovation, Science, and Technology), made the announcement on February 13, 2020.

After more than three years, on Tuesday, November 21, 2023,HEALTHYSPOT101 discovered that no one had claimed the cash award.

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When announcing the financial incentive, Onu had remarked, “I challenge all Nigerian scientists to go out and find cures for coronavirus and Lassa fever.” Any researcher who does this will receive N36 million.

Nothing we set our minds to, we can’t accomplish. He also said that Nigeria would be making international contributions.

Even though the minister threatened Nigerian scientists with a financial reward, the coronavirus had only killed around a thousand people in China at the time.

In a meeting with Onu at the Ministry’s headquarters in Abuja on March 1, 2020—less than a month after the $100,000 award was announced—a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Maurice Iwu, presented what he characterized as a potential cure for COVID-19.

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Iwu’s research team at the Bioresources Institute of Nigeria, BION, is responsible for the potential cure.

Iwu urged the Federal Government and the people of Nigeria to help the research team develop its potential cure into a drug by pointing out that on February 27, 2020, the group signed a Non-Clinical Evaluation Agreement with the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, an agency of the US government. He stated the only issue preventing the development of the medication is cash.

After hearing Iwu’s presentation, Onu responded by suggesting that the research group share its findings with a government-created panel dedicated to vetting new treatments and medical advancements.

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The minister further said that the Federal Government’s N36 million cash award for any Nigerian who develops cures for coronavirus and Lassa Fever was intended to inspire researchers in Nigeria.

After the introduction of the financial incentive in April 2020, the minister announced in May 2020 that a committee had been formed to investigate claims by some Nigerians that they had discovered a treatment for COVID-19.

You may recall that on February 13, 2020, I issued a public challenge to Nigerian scientists, offering N36 million in exchange for a cure for the COVID-19 condition.

“Since then, several organizations and people have contacted to us claiming their research results and natural items may treat the COVID-19.

“Accordingly, a committee comprising Fellows of the Nigerian Academy of Science will help us review these claims,” Onu remarked on May14, 2020.

The grand prize money was never mentioned again after that.

Among the several attempts by Nigerian researchers and scientists to find a cure for COVID-19, Iwu’s has received the most attention.

As COVID-19 spread over the world, it became clear that Iwu and his team had failed to find a treatment; as a result, Nigeria had to rely on vaccinations manufactured elsewhere to contain the epidemic.

Researchers in Nigeria didn’t make much of an effort to win the N36 million by curing Lassa Fever, a more regional and arguably deadlier disease.

Seasonal Lassa Fever, which often strikes during the dry season in regions of Nigeria, still has no definitive treatment and kills the vast majority of those who contract it.

Unclaimed cash reward of N36 million

Nigerian researchers have been waiting three years to claim their N36 million prize money.

The HEALTHYSPOT101 was informed by reliable sources within the Federal Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology that no scientist had been awarded the monetary prize.

It appears that the offer has been superseded by events, as COVID-19 is no longer a public health problem and the Federal Government is no longer offering a monetary prize of N36 million. However, Lassa fever continues to be a major problem for public health officials in Nigeria.

The N36 million cash reward was also ignored after the departure of the minister who championed the idea, Ogbonnaya Onu, according to checks by HEALTHYSPOT101

The exit of the past administration, headed by Muhammadu Buhari, who was the President when the reward was announced, also shows that the topic has been overtaken by events, and relegated to history.

Three years on, HEALTHYSPOT101 found that many important government officials are still in the dark about the N36 million reward money.

Mr. Aurora Obed, Director of Press and Public Relations at the Federal Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Technology, said he was unaware of the N36 million cash prize when reached by HEALTHYSPOT101 on Tuesday, November 21.

I was not there therefore I have no idea what happened. Asked about his tenure in the Ministry, he told the HEALTHYSPOT101, “I am a new person there.

When the N36 million award was announced, Minister Onu said that the Nigerian Academy of Science will be in charge of reviewing applications from scientists and researchers.

In 1977, the Nigerian Academy of Science was established as the country’s preeminent independent scientific body, with the mission of promoting Nigeria’s scientific, technological, and innovative progress and using the country’s growing corpus of scientific knowledge to inform policy and strategic planning.

Prof. Mosto Onuoha, who was President of the Academy at the time the medal was given, told HEALTHYSPOT101 that the problem was not settled.

When asked if any scientists had been awarded the prize, he responded, “Not to my knowledge.” Not in my opinion. How many applications were received is unknown to me.

“I don’t think that matter was concluded, especially since the then minister (Ogbonnaya Onu) left office more than a year ago.”

In response to a follow-up question on whether or not the Academy cares that no Nigerian scientist has been able to win the prize, Onuoha indicated that the monetary award was not properly conceived.

It’s cause for alarm, but we don’t know the minister’s strategy. I was aware of the declaration because the minister repeated it multiple times.

But I can’t say for sure that everything was set up properly. You will need a deadline, a submission method, and, if at all possible, an advertisement. I can’t say that I ever encountered any of them. That announcement is what stays in my mind.

This is what the Emeritus Professor of Geology had to say: “The Academy of Science has an award, same like the NLNG Science award. The NLNG Science Prize contains clear guidelines, requirements, and deadlines.

Perhaps the minister thought that, in exchange for the N36 million award, you would transfer whatever you have to the Ministry.

If you look into it, you’ll find that either no one submitted, or if they did, the process was disorganized and unclear.

If somebody had claimed the N36 million award, we would have found out about it by now, thus I think your conclusion is correct.

“Why that is, I have no idea; it could be because of any of these things; or because no one thought he had done enough work to deserve the prize.”

He continued, “N36 million is not a very significant money, after all the NLNG Science Prize is even $100,000 USD – they (NLNG) may have upped it lately. When compared to N36 million, $100,000 is a huge sum.

The Academy awards both monetary prizes and the highest honor, the Gold Medal, because “money is important but not everything.”

 

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