LOST IN SPACE… The Nigerian Space Project

I equate mastery, to ascendancy of expertise, several hours of training and meticulous reshaping of ideas, concepts, practice which lead to exceedingly good results. It is very impressive that Nigeria, is trying to forge ahead in the mastery of the other space, the OUTER space…

Like most people I was appalled by the defamatory use of language by the UK MEP Mr Bloom’s reference to Nigeria as ‘Bongo Bongo land’ in the daily mail article last week. I also assumed incorrectly that perhaps the Nigerian Space program was yet another government misadventure, however I cautioned myself and decided to understand the rubrics of a space mission and its potential benefits. The first response to Mr Bloom should perhaps acknowledge the fact that Nigeria’s first satellite NigeriaSat-1, was one of the pioneer satellite’s in the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC). A Nigerian Satellite was able to provide global relief data (under the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters) for both the Asian Tsunami (2004) and Katrina (2005). Nigeria has also provided revenue to the UK for over a decade by entering into a commercial relationship with Surrey Satellite Technology Limited , which has also fostered knowledge transfer.

DOES THIS MEAN NIGERIA IS SEARCHING FOR UFO’s?

Interestingly enough most of us are not aware about what space missions entail; the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASDRA) Act 2010 (ref 2) enshrined in Nigerian law outlines the blueprint for the Nigerian space agenda. The first Nigerian Satellite NigeriaSat-1 has completed its first mission and NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X are both in orbit as part of the DMC taking over from their predecessor. Nigeria has also signed the UN peaceful space operations protocol. The President Jonathan Administration in its Sure and Steady Transformation report (ref 3) highlights the achievements of the Ministry of Technology. The question the average Nigerian has is why the Nigerian government would invest in a project which requires 2% of the yearly annual budget. There are no direct commercial benefits to current NASDRA operations; however the socio economic impact is priceless. Please see table below for the outline of the NASDRA satellite missions to date:

CLICK ON THIS TO SEE A BREAKDOWN OF NASDRA SATELLITE MISSIONS TO DATE
Nigeria SAT info

The most pertinent question to me was how this knowledge gained by engineers who built Nigeria’s first satellite would filter down. The answer was there in the NASDRA Act: There are 7 development centres across Nigeria which according to the NASDRA ACT will ‘be responsible for harmonizing research and development in space technology, application or sustainable socio-economic development in Nigeria’. What I did not find however was if there was a guarantee of a job following study at the Univeristy of Ife Centre for Space (ref 5). Nevertheless it is a good building block and there are scholarship opportunities available. We cannot fault a well planned outlined scheme, supported by a comprehensive legal document. The Nigerian Space program was debated about in the 50s and the funding did not start till the late 90s, so there have been several years of planning. Seemingly we have advanced, but this process has not been painfree; however these are steps to attaining mastery in any sector.

PATH TO MASTERY
The evolution of the Nigeria space mission required a devolution of commercial and research elements. Both Ministry of Technology and Ministry of Communication technology take credit for the launch of NigComSat-1R as shown in the Sure and Steady Transformation report. NigComSat is now a separate body to NASDRA and are different line items on the Federal budget.
In 2007 Ahmed Rufai in charge of the NigComSat team claimed the satellite would pay for itself by selling bandwith to customers, after all this was the commercial arm of the Nigerian space program. It was clear there were different missions of NigComSat and NASDRA’s research as annotated in the footnote (ref 6).
Perhaps it was a good thing to separate communication from disaster monitoring and spatial mapping functions, a separation of the commercial from the social responsible arm. But now that the commercial arm has been separated how will the program fund itself? How true are the claims of aid, which we potentially need if we no longer have a viable commercial arm to fund our space project? The Chinese government funded the NigComSat project by lending an intial $200m loan from the China Exim Bank Nig Com SAT (it has been rumoured this loan was not serviced initial), and it has thereafter been funded by the Nigerian government.

HOW WILL IT BE FUNDED?
2013 allocation in Federal Budget of N3.4bn (2/3rds of this amount on salaries) of NigComSat has caused disquiet among our leaders, because the pitched commercial revenue generator has proven to be a loss leader of the last eight years. The Oronsaye report in 2012 pointed out the fact our government overspends on personnel on a comparative global basis, and the overlayered structure of duplication leads to overspending. It also specifically recommended that NigComSat be privatised.
NASDRA will be funded by the N2.3bn according to the Budget proposal.

To govern all Space interests President Jonathan inaguarated the National Space Council on the 11th of June 2013, which has both the Minister of Science & Technology and the Minister of Communication Technology on the board. Perhaps this will lead to greater efficiency in the cost structure.
There are many things to applaud about the Nigerian Space Program, I titled my blog post ‘Lost in Space’, because I got lost researching the space mission. I am very proud of the level of expertise we are aiming for, seemingly reaching for the stars, but are we as a nation lost in terms of our priorities here on Earth? What comes first, a watertight agricultural program or a space project that maps the precise points to apply fertilizer? This could be another classic chicken and egg debate? However a people should be prioritised over a project, or am I simply a socio-capitalist…


REFERENCES

1. http://www.sstl.co.uk
2. http://www.nasrda.gov.ng/en/portal/ NASDRA ACT 2010 available from portal
3. Sure & Steady Transformation: Progress Report of Jonathan Goodluck’s Administration sureandsteadytransformation.gov.ng/…/Sure_and_Steady_Transformatio…
4. SSTL Executive Chairman, Sir Martin Sweeting, commented,”NigeriaSat-X is the product of Nigeria’s training and development programme here at Surrey. It is a great credit to NASRDA and their engineers that this satellite is performing well and its operations are progressing so quickly. These highly skilled engineers will not only help Nigeria to manage its resources, but also bootstrap its fledgling high tech economy alongside a growing nucleus of highly trained people.”
5. http://www.oauife.edu.ng/research/ – Centre for Space Research (CSR), Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Africa (ARCSSTE). African Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education
6. Understanding the Key Players in the Nigerian Space Industry gives a good breakdown of the differences between NASDRA and Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited

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2 thoughts on “LOST IN SPACE… The Nigerian Space Project

  1. Well I think (or rather hope) you are a socio-capitalist and I don’t think there’s any shame in that. Kudos for a well researched piece, I for one did not know half of all the information you shared here, thank you for that.

    However that lack of knowledge about Nigeria’s space programme from someone who considers himself very well and regularly informed on Nigerian issues exposes what I think is the underlying cause of the very low level of ‘programme ownership’ and engagement by Nigerians. The responsible agency (or ‘agencies’ as is apparent from this piece) have done a terribly poor job of educating and engaging with us on this very key programme. Or could it be a case of too many cooks not only spoiling the broth but also failing to even inform the intending diners of what meal they are having? I’ve always known that chaos and dysfunctionality reigns supreme in Nigeria’s public sector space and the symptoms are apparent here as well. I hope I’m wrong.

    If middle-class, well informed and educated Nigerians (never mind the subsistence farmer in Katsina-Ala who hopes to move up the agricultural value-chain or the average man on the streets of Calabar) are totally ignorant of the benefits of this relatively expensive programme to them and their aspirations then perish the thought of Nigerians supporting or feeling a sense of ownership of our ‘space odyssey’. The title for this blog post would end up being quite prophetic if anything, Nigeria would certainly get Lost in Space.

    All in all I think you have served up an appetising piece here that would surely stimulate further research by your readers, maybe a public relations role at NASDRA, NigComSat, Fed. Min of Communications Technology or Fed. Min of Science & Tech beckons? Pick your favourite ‘cook’. Amamuses, Uncle GEJ needs you!

    • I guess I always saw myself as a psuedo socialist, but I guess I’m a capitalist to the core as well. Thank you so much for your insightful comments on the post.
      I was shocked by the amount of information available on this topic, and would be interesting to see the space mission evolve over the years.
      Working in a tech team for the government is a definite NO NO!!!! lolll!!

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