Beyond Nigeria’s Space Journey


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

“Nigeria’s Space Journey: Understanding its Past, Reshaping its Future” is a new book, authored by Dr. Adigun Ade Abiodun, a former United Nations expert on Space Applications and former Senior Special Assistant on Space Science and Technology to a former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR. The book, published in the United States with Library of Congress Control Number 2016920275 about a fortnight ago, is seen as ‘a candid and somewhat troubling assessment of Nigeria’s current state of space affairs,’ by Tom Alfoldi, Retired Geoscience Specialist at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing.

If the assessment is candid, why is it troubling? Could the troubling factor be traceable to the observation of Peter O. Adeniyi, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Geomatics, University of Lagos, who said Dr. Ade Adigun examines what Nigeria ‘could have done differently and makes profound suggestions on how to chart a progressive and sustainable space programme in Nigeria?

In the same vein, Frances Brown, a former editor of the Space Policy, United Kingdom, says ‘Nigeria has been involved in space activities since the late 1950s but thus far, and despite its rich material and human resources, it has failed to achieve its potential. Ade Abiodun provides a comprehensive and informative examination of his country’s space journey and of the many barriers thrown up against it…’ Why have the space activities of Nigeria failed? If they have failed as a result of the many barriers thrown up, are the barriers still there as at today or not? This question is pertinent in light of the recommendations made by the author.

Whatever is the answer, “Nigeria’s Space Journey: Understanding its Past, Reshaping its Future” raises more critical questions on the extent of seriousness of the government and people of Nigeria to develop on the basis of the principle of self-reliance. The failure raises the quality of political governance in Nigeria. It shows how corruption, incompetency and intellectual parochialism can ruin a whole nation. More importantly, it clearly shows the need to go beyond the affirmation of the failure to dealing with the general attitudinal disposition of Nigeria’s leaders, especially the so-called military-turned politicians and professional politicians. Nigeria’s problem is largely due to the poor quality of leaders that often parade themselves as holier-than-thou and more patriotic than the others. It is therefore good to also go beyond the issues that make the author’s assessment troubling in order to objectively reshape the future.

Before dealing with the issues and providing an exegesis of the book, it is useful to recall that Dr. Adigun had explicated the space enterprise within the context of Nigeria’s national interest in 2007 and had already pointed to some problems to which little attention was paid (vide his “Space Enterprise and Nigeria’s National Interests,” in Bola A. Akinterinwa, ed., Nigeria’s National Interests in a Globalising World: Further Reflections on Constructive and Beneficial Concentricism; Volume 2 on Foreign Policy Interests in the Innermost Circle, Ibadan, BIP, 2007, pp. 31-79).

For instance, he noted that ‘the first efforts of the federal government, through the National Council of Science and Technology, to build a remote sensing data receiving station in the 1974-76 period failed, because Nigerians who had the knowledge of the technology were not invited to participate in the project. In the absence of any demonstrable performance after two years of funding, the government of the day cancelled the budgeted funds of N10 million at a time when N1.00 was worth US$1.75.’

Three critical issues are involved in this statement: the purpose of wanting to build a remote sensing data receiving station; non-involvement of relevant specialists and experts; and the wastefulness of the N10 million invested. In terms of purpose, if the policy makers were very clear on the long term benefits of the project, they would probably have done the appropriate thing by not only getting those Nigerians with the requisite knowledge to drive the project, but would also have not discontinued with the project.

On the non-involvement of experts, the erroneous belief in Nigeria is that, a fresh university graduate is already a specialist, not to say an expert, and therefore a ‘Mr. know-it-all.’ This is particularly the mentality of hundreds of senior civil and public officials in Nigeria. Pieces of advice coming from outside of the public service, even if they are given by a Special Adviser or Special Assistant, are taken as if they are coming from foreigners and not as coming from other compatriots. In fact, they are seen from a competitive perspective, whereas, many people claim to be policy analysts, when they are simply commentators. This is most unfortunate.

Regarding the invested funds, it simply reminds one of the time when the economy was quite good, when there was good governance. Today, good governance appears to have been thrown to the garbage of history. Good governance, if there is today, would have allowed for consideration of objectivity of purpose and protection of the national interest at all times. From the accounts of Ade Adigun in his book, the quest for honest protection of the national interest was far-fetched. This explains Nigeria’s political and economic dilemma as being witnessed with the reckless looting of the public treasury by those who are precisely required to protect it.

Another example given by Dr. Abiodun is also thought-provoking. As he put it: ‘against all sound scientific advice of our own experts, Nigeria chose the wrong technology and tool and invested in a tethered Aerostat balloon, supposedly to meet the daily communications needs of Nigerians. The national uproar that followed signalled the demise of the project, and on May 17, 1983, the then Federal Minister of Communication informed the nation that the project had been terminated at a cost of US$30 against Nigeria.’ The indisputable point about the foregoing is that good feasibility study of projects is hardly carried out by experts relevant to the projects being embarked upon.

This observation is still valid in the context of a third example given by Dr. Abiodun. In 1976, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture ‘initiated the Nigerian Radar Project (NIRAD), which required the use of radar to monitor the total land area of Nigeria, with a view to producing vegetation and land-use maps of the country. However, radar technology for earth observation was at its teething stage at that time, and the maps produced were inaccurate.’ Again, there was no expert, if there was, would the advice have been heeded?

The foregoing failures did not prevent exploring new avenues for development. Nigerians, with effect from October 9, 1999 and particularly, the Federal Executive Council, on July 4, 2002 began to make strenuous efforts on the journey to the outer space. It is as from this point that the new book, “Nigeria’s Space Journey: Understanding its Past, Reshaping its Future” should be reviewed, explained and understood, particularly within the context of the dedication.

The book is dedicated to ‘the youth of Nigeria, its future generations, and their compatriots in Africa and in the emerging economies of the world, in my (Abiodun’s) belief that as He did and continues to do for me, God will guide them, even when they cannot see the path ahead. I hope that this book will inspire them to strive to make a difference and the agents of change, wherever they are in the world.’

Put differently, the writing of the book is partly aimed at inspiring the Nigerian youth to seek to be more patriotic, become agents of change in order to make a difference. More significantly, the book is also more of a plaidoyer to God, a request for divine intervention in the case of Nigeria, especially when Dr. Abiodun pleaded with God to guide the Nigerian youth wherever they may be located ‘even when they cannot see the path ahead.’

Going beyond Nigeria’s Space Journey
The book, in terms of formatting, is published in a 10″x7″ academic giant size. It is printed on a whitish paper of about 80mg thick, with double line spacing. The characters are quite legible and therefore friendly to read. Referencing style is that of footnoting. Pagination wise, it has 404 pages with running heads and index professionally well done.

In terms of content analysis, the book is chapterised into 16, which are divided into six main parts, excluding the preliminary pages. In the foreword written by Brett Biddington, the Principal, Biddington Research Pty Ltd, Canberra, Australia, one major challenge confronted by the author was the determination of the audience for which the book is written: is it the political leaders, government officials, Nigerians or Africans, or the developing world as a whole? Biddington has it that the book ‘speaks to all of these groups and indeed to anybody who seeks a better understanding of Africa’s space journey.

In appreciating the book, Biddington noted thus: ‘I know of no other Nigerian, or African indeed, who could have written a book such as this…’ The perception of Retired Professor of Physics and Satellite Meteorolgy at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ekundayo E. Balogun, is not different: ‘No one in Nigeria, and perhaps in Africa, can speak more authoritatively on the subject of space activities in Africa than Dr. Ade Abiodun. He created awareness in Africa, especially in Nigeria, of the benefits derivable from space exploration. He encouraged the use of the products of remote sensing, communication facilities, the study of Atmospheric Sciences, and Astronomy… It is precisely as a result of these observations that the book is worth examining.

In part one, “Space in Human Lives,” comprising two chapters on human exploration of outer space and relevance of Space in Nigeria, the author raised the issue of nuclear race, which, without any scintilla of doubt, was and still is a major threat to global peace and security. In fact, the genesis of the current nuclear race is traceable to this section of the book. As explained by Dr. Abiodun, the former USSR disregarded the Protocol on the use of Space. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the Earth’s first artificial satellite named Sputnik-1. Dr. Abiodun has it that, ‘Although the launching of Sputnik-1 was a planned part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), the Soviet Union launched it using a military intercontinental ballistic missile. This was against the protocol that all military satellite designs and deployments to collect data during the IGY’ (p.16 of the book).

More significantly, Dr. Abiodun also has it that, ‘Many of the basic motivations that catapulted humankind into space in 1957 are still the same today, namely the yearnings for discovery, for knowledge generation and for the development of those skills needed to address a variety of problems here on earth.’ Thus these motivations led to the Space Race and to the Space Race Era. Additionally, ‘Most nations also saw the emerging Space race as a precursor to the domination of the world from outer space.’

In the same vein, the way the Space Race is seen is not in any way different from the rationale for nuclear race, which is deterrence or the need to prevent being cut unawares in the area of military defence and developmental challenges.

This first chapter of Part 1 also witnessed a distinction between and among Space-faring nations, Space-capable nations, Space-aspiring nations, Space-aiming nations and Space users or Supplicant nations, as well as the analysis of the impact of Space products and Services on the development and well-being of the people of each Space-aspiring nations.

The relevance of Space to Nigeria is the focus of Chapter 2: reduction in the loss of human lives on roads – thanks to the GPS (Global Positioning System); quick recovery of vehicles stolen; enhancement of the quality of human health; contribution to the sustainability of the nation’s fisheries resources; provision of improved weather surveillance; provision of search and rescue support for those in distress situations; and use of Space applications to build a culture of peace in Nigeria and Africa, as a whole, especially in terms of the use of satellites to monitor the adherence of signatories to multilateral and bilateral treaties that are associated with tactical and strategic military developments. The 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the 1972 First Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT-1) are good points of illustration.

And perhaps, more interestingly, Dr. Abiodun underscored the use of satellites for peace in Africa: identification of sources of conflicts before they develop into crises; location of buried landmines and de-mining them; monitor and identify mobile units and units and terrorists that transfer firearms across national borders; track the movements of refugees; arrest the depletion of Africa’s living and non-living resources, etc.

Following the analysis of the importance of the Outer Space and relevance to Nigeria, in Part 1, Part 2, comprising chapters 3 to 8, explicated the various Space efforts made in Nigeria: Balewa-Kennedy Space Connection, University of Ibadan tracked Explorer-1; Kano Station tracked USA’s Manned Missions (Mercury and Gemini), etc.

Besides, the point was made that the Earth’s atmosphere is made up of five layers: troposphere from which all weather information come; stratosphere, which contains the ozone layer and where the air is not breathable without assistance and where commercial jet planes cruise near the bottom; thermosphere, which is the hottest layer of the atmosphere and where the auroras are located; and the exosphere which is the uppermost layer, ‘where the atmosphere thins out and merges with interplanetary space. Air pressure is lowest in this layer.’

Additionally, On July 6, 1967, Nigeria acceded to the United Nations Space Treaty, that is The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,’ which according to Dr. Abiodun, ‘is the most important of all United Nations legal instruments on Outer Space.’ Nigeria and Intelsat Limited, an intergovernmental consortium providing communications satellite services, signed an agreement to provide external communication links between Nigeria and the rest of the world.

The agreement entered into force on September 12, 1973. It was after the signing that Nigeria established her first Satellite Earth Station at Lanlate, between Abeokuta and Ibadan, which linked the country with the world via Intelsat Satellite VA-F11. Also in 1973, Nigeria not only was admitted as a member of the COPUOUS (United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) but also acceded to The Rescue of (Astronauts) Agreement.

Parts 3 to 6 essentially dealt with reawakening of Nigeria, Nigeria’s space priorities, contributions to the resolution of global concerns, and the way forward. In all the various parts and chapters, the most important challenge to which every patriotic Nigerian should respond is why government is incapable of knowing what Nigeria’s problem is all about and why Nigeria’s declared national interest is not always protected and when it is protected, it is always done with a dose of ethnic chauvinism to the detriment of the national interest. Let us look at some case studies for illustration purposes, by first of all asking why is it that space efforts are thriving well in many other African countries but are not thriving well in Nigeria?

First, ‘because General Murtala Mohammed was committed to use Nigeria’s oil wealth to provide a functional telecommunication infrastructure for Nigerians “in the shortest possible time”, he was misled, for whatever reason(s) by those in charge of the project (vide p.66). Part of the problem also was that the group of advisers around him somehow perceived anything above the ground level to be in space.’ Hence, they settled for tethered aerostat balloons… The experts argued that the aerostat balloons had never been deployed anywhere in the world as an operational communications system; that balloon-based systems were developed and installed, normally, only for short-term emergency use, particularly during military engagements and in line of major disasters. Of particular concern to these Nigerian experts, was the fact that aerostat balloons were very vulnerable to all kinds of adversities and that because of their aerodynamic instability, such a system was not practicable as an operational national communications tool in and for Nigeria.’

Even though ‘UNIFE experts and engineers affirmed that the proposed balloon project had a very high probability of failure, and might actually fail within three months of its installation… the Federal Commissioner for Communications and its Department of Posts and Telegraph (P and T) at the Federal Ministry of Communications eventually got the green light from the highest level on the land; the Commissioner went ahead and committed the country to the launching of five such balloons for the nation’s telephony, broadcasting, telex, radio surveillance, and maritime and mobile communications services.

‘The first of these balloons was installed near Ile-Ife on the way to Ondo, and just as the UNIFE experts had predicted, it collapsed within two weeks.’ At a press conference held in commemoration of the World International Telecommunications Day on May 17, 1983, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications of the day announced the termination of the aerostat balloon contract. He gave no reason(s) for the cancellation of the project and he also foreclosed any questions on his announcement. Nigeria paid a penalty of over $US200 million on the project.’

Second, the case of the announcement of Nigeria/United Kingdom Collaboration in Space: Signing of Contract Agreement, Monday, November 7, 2000,’ is more interesting but more detrimental to Nigeria’s interest. In the words of Ade Abiodun, the ‘agreement was one-sided that it overwhelmingly favoured SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Limited), and that several of its provisions/clauses were detrimental to the interest of Nigeria.

The agreement was also a package that hindered technology transfer from SSTL to Nigeria. Several of its clauses portrayed a master (SSTL) to servant (FMST/Nigeria) relationship. The agreement clearly showed that the SSTL had exploited to the fullest the naivety, inexperience, incompetence, and lack of knowledge of the subject matter on the part of the Nigerian government officials, who negotiated the contract signed on November 7, 2000 between FMST/NASRDA (Federal Ministry of Science and Technology/National Space Research and Development Agency) and SSTL’ (vide p. 99 et s).

What is noteworthy about the development is that the Minister of Communications reportedly gave the impression that the committee reviewing the project, following Dr. Abiodun’s official report to the National Security Adviser, who requested for it, had consensus of opinions in their final report to the president. But typical of a true patriot, Dr. Abiodun insisted on his minority opinion. The end of the story is not far-fetched: failure, which is better read directly in the book.

In sum, Nigeria has everything but produces nothing. As Ade Abiodun put it, ‘blame it on underfunding, lack of accountability, bad governance and many other factors, the fact is that, in the past three or more decades, the science and technology neglects … have stifled the nation’s development and its effort to invest in its own future.’