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Exclusive: Nigeria’s Space Project Wobbles

Seventeen years after Nigeria joined the league of space players through the launch of a satellite into orbit, investigations have revealed that the space project has been wobbling. 

On November 11, 2008, NigCom Sat-1 failed in orbit after running out of power due to an anomaly in its solar array. That was about a year after it was launched and five years after the launch of NigeriaSat-1, which life span actually ended in September 2008. In 2011 NigeriaSat -2 and NigeriaSat-X were also launched with the space machines expiring in August 2018. However, since NigeriaSat-2 and Nigeria Sat-X went out of service, Nigeria no longer has any earth observation satellite in orbit. 

But the leadership of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), the agency saddled with the responsibility of space management in the country, would not want the Presidency to know that what is remaining at the Obasanjo Space Centre is an empty shell (including a Ground Station that has never downloaded a single image since construction). 

The only satellite available in orbit is the telecommunication satellite, NigComSat 1R, the NigComSat -1 replacement that was launched in 2011 with a 15-year life span. The question to ask the sister organization managing the NigComSat -1R is: has the satellite lived up to its billing with 9 years gone out of its 15 years life span? The contract for the satellites that recently expired, NigeriaSat-2 and Sat-X, without launch and insurance costs, was valued at 30 million British Pounds. It was gathered that N5.75 billion was released between 2009 and 2010 to the space agency. According to Luis Gomes, the satellite’s project manager and the head of Earth observation at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited(SSTL), “ NigeriaSat-2 is the most powerful optical Earth Observation Satellite ever produced in Britain. In terms of resolution, capacity and its different modes of operation. 

I don’t think Britain has ever done anything like this”, he stressed. Dr. Seidu O. Mohammed, the head of NASRDA in 2011 said; “NigeriaSat-2 will significantly boost African capabilities for remote sensing applications, specifically for natural resources management”. Investigations by New National Star revealed that NigeriaSat-2 can acquire images that resolve details on the ground that are just 2.5m across. 

In addition, it could be used to map its land, plan urban development and be used for disaster monitoring constellations. Although the total cost of the project is still held in secrecy, about N6 billion was alleged to have been released in 2009-2010 for the project. Also, the Assembly Integration Testing and Design Centre (AIT&DC) meant to be built on NASRDA Campus in Abuja is said to be one of the leaking pipes in the agency. Although the AIT&DC building is now invested by snakes and rodents, about N2.142billion was released between 2009-2013 and funds have continued to be released till date to the Agency. 

The Ground Receiving Station (GRS) built by the Agency stopped functioning in 2016 even before NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X expired. Even if data downloading is effected from the Ground Station, Automated Data Processing is unavailable. NASRDA was established in 1999 and its authority was further strengthened by the National Space Research and Development Agency Act, 2010 which recommends the establishment of a 13-member National Space Council with the President and Vice President as Chairman and vice-Chairman respectively because of the sensitive nature of the agency. It also has five (5) Ministers and others as members of the Council. The Space Council has always been in a cooler. It has never been inaugurated. According to the NASRDA Act, it must have at least 4 sittings in a year. 

The minister, therefore, assumes the power of the Council in all matters relating to the Agency (NASRDA) without recourse to the non-existing council. Specifically, Part 2, Section 6 of the Act states,“The Agency shall (a) encourage capability building in space science technology development and management, thereby strengthening human resources development required for the implementation of the national space programme; (b)develop satellite technology for various applications and operationalize indigenous space systems for providing space services and shall be the government agency charged with the responsibility for building and launching satellites; (c) enhance the development and entrenchment of research, development and production tradition in the Agency, so as to achieve a high output and make the desired impact on national economic and social development; (d) promote the coordination of space application programmes, for the purpose of optimizing resources and develop space technologies of direct relevance to national objectives; (e) develop national strategies for the exploration of the outer space and make these part of the overall national development strategies, and implement strategies for promoting private sector participation in the space industry,”among other functions of the Agency. Efforts by New National Star to speak with the spokesmen of both the Agency and the Ministry of Science and Technology were not successful. Alhaji Abdulganiyu Aminu, Director, Public Communications, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology declined to comment. 

Dr. Felix Ale, Head Corporate Communications, NASRDA did not pick our calls and refused to reply to questions sent to his telephone numbers. However, reacting to enquiries from the Guardian newspapers, Dr. Ale said;” we are not moribund. We have been doing a lot especially in providing strategic information to the military on the location of insurgents and militants. We are also helping in the fight against corruption by providing basic information. Also, we just completed our space museum”. A concerned staff of the Agency told this newspaper that the Planetarium currently being celebrated by the current leadership of the Agency was started during the tenure of Prof. Ajayi Boroffice, now a Senator lamented that rather than generating data for the country, they now download data from a third party and present same to government agencies as their data… More alarming is the employment scandal in the Agency. 

This needs thorough investigation if the agency is to survive. The ratio of Technical to non-technical staff for an Agency that is supposed to be at the high-end of technology is said to be about 15:85! The wage bill of the Agency is said to be in the range of 3-4billion Naira annually. We also authoritatively learnt that the agency may find it difficult to pay the salary of staff in November and December 2020. This, the source said is mainly due to the employment scandal. “For now, Nigeria can’t really be said to be in Space anymore. The Agency has been mismanaged and needs immediate touch lighting to rescue it,” a staff who sought anonymity lamented.

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