FROM unesdocs.unesco.org

Address by Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO,
on the occasion of the Dialogue session
on the Role of Monarchs
in the Development of Science and Technology
in Nigeria
UNESCO, 20 March 2007
Your Imperial Majesty, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, the Ooni of Ife, Olubuse II,
Your Royal Majesty, Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano,
Your Royal Majesty, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Obi of Onitsha, Agbogidi,
Your Excellency, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi,
Mr President of the General Conference,
Mr Chairman of the Executive Board,
Honourable Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure and honour to welcome you to UNESCO Headquarters for
this special session on the Role of Monarchs in the Development of Science and
Technology in Nigeria.
Let me begin by extending a very warm welcome to our royal guests from Nigeria.
We are privileged to have with us today the traditional rulers of the three most
important kingdoms in the country.
I would also like to welcome and thank our other distinguished participants. Among
us this morning is the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, Professor
Akinyemi, the Ambassdors of Nigeria to France and UNESCO, as well as the
President of UNESCO’s General Conference and the Chairman of the Executive
Board. Such high-level engagement is testimony to the strength of our cooperation
with Nigeria, and the importance of the subject before us.
DG/2007/027 – Original: English
Your Majesties, UNESCO is greatly honoured by your visit. This Organization
supports and deeply admires the pioneering role that you are playing in Nigeria’s
development. Through your engagement in decision-making at national and local
levels, and your commitment to social cohesion, mutual understanding and cultural
diversity, you are helping to lead Nigeria towards lasting peace and prosperity.
Your recent decision to focus on promoting science and technology is of particular
importance, especially within the context of the recommendations made by the
African Union during its 8th Summit in Addis Ababa in January.
The theme chosen for this Summit was “Science, Technology and Scientific
Research for Development”. This is symbolic of the growing recognition in Africa of
the importance of science and technology to sustainable development and
economic growth. It is also evidence of the commitment that now exists, at the
highest political level, to achieve progress in this area.
The Summit, which I had the honour to attend, has given major new impetus to
efforts to strengthen scientific capacity on the continent. Among the many important
actions taken, was the decision to declare 2007 as the launching year of building
constituencies and champions for science, technology and innovation in Africa.
Your Majesties’ new initiative to promote science and technology in Nigeria is one
of the first answers to this call by the African Union.
Let me say that UNESCO looks forward to collaborating with you closely in this
endeavour. We already have a Special Plan of Cooperation with Nigeria. At the
centre of this is an ambitious programme to reform and revitalize the National
Science and Innovation System. This programme has led to such achievements as:
the creation of a Science and Technology Forum for Parliamentarians; the
establishment of a high-level science governance structure chaired by the President
of Nigeria; as well as the proposal to create a 5 billion US dollar Endowment Fund
for the establishment of a Nigerian National Science Foundation.
I believe that your new initiative can help to build on and expand this progress,
especially in terms of mobilizing Nigeria’s rich cultural and linguistic diversity in
support of the development of science and technology.
DG/2007/027 – Page 2
Your Majesties, I understand that the common theme in your new initiative is to
encourage the use of Nigeria’s main mother tongues in the teaching of science –
namely Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. This is an approach that UNESCO welcomes and
UNESCO attaches great importance to the preservation and development of
mother tongues. As I emphasized in my message on International Mother
Language Day this year, the mother tongue is both part of our identity, and the
means by which we learn about others and the world around us.
Languages, that is, are not only an essential component of human nature and, as
such, a fundamental part of culture and society.
Languages are also of strategic importance to meeting international development
objectives, including the MDGs.
The ability to participate in public life, gain access to education and information, and
engage in dialogue is to a great extent dependent on language skills.
Inasmuch as languages enfold and convey local knowledge and practices, their
protection is also central to the sound management of natural resources and
environmental sustainability.
By promoting science teaching in mother tongues, therefore, you are helping to
preserve Nigeria’s linguistic and cultural diversity, to expand access to scientific
knowledge, and also to draw on indigenous resources. You are above all working to
raise awareness at all levels of society of the importance of science and technology
to national development.
In this regard, I wish to again congratulate Nigeria for having ratified the 2003
Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This will
provide invaluable support to your efforts to promote linguistic diversity, and to
integrate traditional knowledge in the building of local innovation systems.
DG/2007/027 – Page 3
Your Majesties,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to turn now to two areas where I believe there could be particularly fruitful
cooperation between UNESCO and Africa’s monarchs in promoting science and
The first concerns the role of science in building peace. The experience of the Cold
War, and more recently our search for peace in the Middle East, shows that
scientific pursuits, such as the exchange of scientific knowledge and education of
young scientists, can be essential in creating links between people, institutions,
societies and cultures. There is great potential to use science, and in particular
collaboration in scientific research, to build bridges between communities and
ethnic groups.
The involvement of monarchs, who are traditionally responsible for peace building,
could significantly strengthen our action in this area. The Abuja Declaration –
adopted last year by the African Regional Conference on the Dialogue among
Civilisations, Cultures and Peoples – already provides direction on how we should
move forward.
The second area where we could cooperate is in strengthening the relationship
between formal and indigenous knowledge systems.
To address this challenge, UNESCO created the Local and Indigenous Knowledge
Systems or LINKS programme. This looks at how scientific and indigenous
knowledge can be brought together in critical fields such as resource management
and sustainable development. It also underlines the important role that traditional
knowledge can play alongside science in the formal education system. This has
become a fundamental issue for science policymakers in many parts of the world.
The LINKS programme further draws attention to the significance of local
knowledge in fulfilling basic needs and achieving international development goals. It
highlights the importance of sustaining traditional knowledge systems – including
traditional languages – to combating poverty, disease and environmental
DG/2007/027 – Page 4
degradation. It also raises awareness of the contribution of women to development,
as holders of a large part of traditional knowledge.
Here again, open and respectful dialogue is crucial. Through their capacity to reach
out to people, traditional rulers can play an invaluable role in fostering mutual
understanding and exchange among scientific and indigenous knowledge holders.
In conclusion, Your Majesties, allow me to express once more my deep
appreciation for your visit. It offers the opportunity to forge new partnerships and
identify fresh areas for cooperation between UNESCO and Nigeria. It is also an
occasion to reflect more broadly on the unique role that Africa’s monarchs can play
in the development of the continent. I hope that your commitment to science and
technology will serve as an inspiration for others. Today’s discussion is certainly the
beginning of a much wider debate. I wish you great success in your work, and look
forward to the outcomes of your deliberations.
Thank you.

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