About a week ago Dr Abimbola Alale, Managing Director (MD) of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT), announced that the company will launch into orbit two new satellites, NigComSat-2 and NigComSat-3.
Dr Alale informed that the two new satellites were expected to be launched in 2023 and 2025 respectively as replacements for NigComSat 1-R launched in 2011 with a life span of 15 years and accordingly would de-orbit in the next five years.
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This is a cheering news because of the significance we attach to space technology in advancing the quality of our lives and environment.
However, the announcement itself does not comport with extant rules of government business and the National Space Policy. For that matter, it is inconsistent with Mr President’s serial pronouncement regarding under whose orbit lies the authority for such programmes.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had during the 2021 National Space Council Meeting on June 24, 2021, re-emphasised the country’s commitment to the development of space technology and the critical roles of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) as the institution statutorily empowered to drive the programme in Nigeria.
The significance of this institutional arrangement cannot be overemphasised. Development of space science and technology remains the core mandate of NASRDA being the only government agency in Nigeria mandated to build and launch satellites for various applications; including earth observation, communication and navigation. This mandate forms the mission and strategic approach of the agency as the custodian of our space assets and resources to, among other things, bring about economic growth. Clearly, it is NASRDA’s mandate to oversee space activities in Nigeria, including satellite launches, space policies formulation and overall operational design among others. Everyone familiar with the Nigerian space programme knows this.
Hence it came as a shock when NIGCOMSAT arrogated to itself the duty of the announcement of a significant import. It is not surprising when the usual over-loud, over-quick laugh and storms of clapping which should have greeted such news to signify public approval gave way to a sullen silence instead. Without doubt, the mood at the occasion can be related to the doubts that arose in the minds of the audience, and rightly so. NIGCOMSAT MD’s announcement preempts the institutional construction that should guide such announcements and therefore provokes a serious question of the integrity and reliability of the information. As a Nigerian keenly interested in the Nigerian space development, I would rather that kind of information comes to the public from the appropriate source. Notwithstanding that the work of NASRDA bleeds into that of NIGCOMSAT, as public agencies, the values of accountability and effectiveness – the principal values that all MDAs must attempt to further should dictate actions so as to guarantee better regulatory competence and dynamism as well as operational consistency.
Furthermore, the fact there has been no corroborating statement from NASRDA gives cause for concern about the information.
At any rate, NIGCOMSAT Ltd is a satellite operating agency, a commercial platform in the Nigerian space development business, and for it to speak on the specific issue of satellite launching is inappropriate and could even be misleading. Much as we look forward to the development of satellites with excitement, the ambitious goal of developing local capabilities for effectively managing geopspatial data and for developing and launching into orbit a wholly Nigerian satellite remains non-negotiable. NIGCOMSAT is required to deliver commercial launch services, and it should by all means dedicate itself to doing a better job of that. But to veer of its orbit into a space for which it is attuned will not only create institutional distortions but stunt the programmes. It is important that both agencies form and operate a purposeful synergy through which each agency must, of necessity, send clear, sequenced and properly coordinated messages to the Nigerian public and the world at large. The race therefore should truly be for space not for fame.
Musa Wada lives in Abuja