Recently, Dr Abimbola Alale announced at a stakeholder forum in Lagos that the parastatal, Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT), where she currently serves as Managing Director and CEO, will launch into orbit two new satellites, NigComSat-2 and NigComSat-3. Dr Alale informed that the two new satellites are expected to be launched in 2023 and 2025 respectively replacing NigComSat 1-R launched in 2011 with a lifespan of 15 years and, therefore, will be de-orbited over the next five years.
This is good news because of the importance we attach to space technology in improving the quality of our lives and our environment. However, the very announcement of the CEO of NIGCOMSAT Ltd does not correspond to existing rules of government affairs and national space policy. Moreover, this is inconsistent with the President’s serial statements regarding the orbit of authority for such programs.
For a recent case, it should be recalled that President Muhammadu had, during the 2021 National Space Council meeting held on Thursday, June 24, 2021, reaffirmed the country’s commitment to the development of space technology and critical roles of national space research and development. (NASRDA) as the institution empowered by law to direct the space program in Nigeria. The importance of this institutional arrangement cannot be overstated. The development of space science and technology remains the primary mandate of the National Space Research and Development Agency, being the only government agency in Nigeria mandated to build and launch satellites for various applications; especially for Earth observation, communication and navigation purposes. This mandate constitutes the mission and the strategic approach of the agency as custodian of our space assets and resources to, among other things, foster economic growth. Obviously, NASRDA’s mandate is to oversee space activities in Nigeria, including satellite launches, space policy formulation, and overall operational design, among others. Anyone familiar with the Nigerian space program knows this.
It is therefore a shock when NIGCOMSAT Ltd arrogated to itself the duty to announce a significant importation. It’s no surprise that the usual laughter too loud and too fast and the storms of applause that should have greeted such news to signify audience approval instead gave way to brooding silence. Without a doubt, the mood on occasion can be linked to the doubts that arose in the minds of the public, and rightly so. The announcement of NIGCOMSAT MD pre-empts the institutional construction that should guide such announcements and therefore raises a serious question of the integrity and reliability of the information. As a person, Nigerian with a keen interest in Nigerian spatial development, I would prefer this kind of information to reach the public from the appropriate source. Although the work of NASRDA bleeds into that of NIGCOMSAT, as public agencies, the values ââof accountability and efficiency – the main values ââthat all MDAs should strive to pursue should dictate actions in order to ensure better competence. and regulatory dynamism as well as operational consistency. . Further, the fact that there has been no corroborating statement from NASRDA raises concerns about the information.
Either way, NIGCOMSAT Ltd is a satellite operating agency, a trading platform in the Nigerian space development sector and talking about the specific issue of satellite launch is inappropriate and could even be misleading. While we eagerly await the development of satellites, the ambitious goal of developing local capabilities to effectively manage geospatial data and to develop and launch an all-Nigerian satellite into orbit remains non-negotiable. NIGCOMSAT is obligated to provide commercial launch services, and it should by all means devote itself to doing a better job, which it has done commendably. But veering from orbit into a space to which it listens will not only create institutional distortions but will delay programs. It is important that the two agencies form and exploit a determined 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 should therefore really be for space and not for glory!