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Nigeria’s satellites underutilised as FG agencies shun services

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Three Nigerian multi-million dollar satellites are floating in obit but earning little revenue for the country.

The satellites are meant to provide communications, data and images for government agencies and the private sector.

The hope was that the launch of the satellites would save the country billions in foreign exchange and earn huge revenues for the government as well.

However, many government agencies still patronise foreign satellites and, as a result, deny the country an estimated $20 billion (N720 billion) revenue annually, officials and experts in the space sector said.

It was learnt that government ministries and agencies were procuring satellite images and data from satellite companies abroad, spending three times what they would have spent on Nigeria’s satellites.

Nigeria first ventured into satellite space technology in 2001 with the establishment of National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).

However, NASRDA was split into two with the establishment of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT).

Investigations revealed that Nigeria may have spent about N85 billion on five satellites since 2003.

Nigeria launched its first earth observation satellite, NigeriaSat-1, on September 27, 2003. The satellite, launched by Kosmos-3M rocket from Russian Plesetsk spaceport, cost the nation $30 million.

NigeriaSat-1 was followed with the launch of a communication satellite, NigComSat-1, valued at $200 million, which was ordered and built in China in 2004. It was completed and launched on May, 13 2007.

Thought it failed in orbit in 2008 after running out of power due to an anomaly in its solar array, it was re-launched in 2011 as NIGCOMSAT1-R at no cost to the Federal Government.

Then came NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X satellites built at a cost of over £35 million. They were launched into orbit by Ukrainian Dnepr rocket from Yasny military base in Russia on August, 17, 2011.

However, officials said the two had been de-orbited because they had stayed their normal courses in orbit.

But despite all these satellites, agencies of government and private companies continue to spend money running into billions in capital flight, to procure satellite images which Nigerian satellites could supply, sources said.

Experts blamed the low patronage of the country’s satellites - two earth observation satellites and one communications satellite - to inter-agency bickering, inadequate on-the-ground-facilities and lack of backup respectively.

The agencies of government and private companies that use satellite image and data in their work have all been procuring such images and data from foreign satellites, Director, Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD), Dr Spencer Onuh, revealed.

"What do you want them to do when there is a failure? Let me tell you, NigComSat 1R is not enough for this country; it is not sufficient. There must be a backup. Many TV stations and even the national TV network will be very careful to transfer their services fully to NigComSat 1R because it is just one. The stations are set up for business, and they would not want anything to disrupt their services,” Dr Onu said.

He said it was not an issue of redundancy, adding that there was a need for market expansion.

Nigeria is a huge market and we are using other country’s satellites because of the fear of failure of NigComSat 1R but if NigComSat 2 and 3 are available, they become a backup for NigComSat 1R and can also open up the market opportunities even for some other countries in Africa, according to Onu.

He said: “Even private companies that own satellites don’t have only one. Some of them have five to six satellites, but mostly communication satellites which spin money. The return on investment is very fast but what happens in most advanced satellite countries is that these things are given out to the private sector to manage; they are not under government management and you can see the results.”

But a NIGCOMSAT official, Abdulraheem Isah Adajah, disagreed. Adajah who is the NIGCOMSAT’s General Manager, Satellite Applications, said it was not entirely true that Nigcomsat1-R was recording low patronage due to lack of backup.

According to him, inferiority complex and the mentality that ‘if it is Nigerian it can’t be good’ is the main reason.

He called on the Federal Executive Council to come up with a policy which would make it compulsory for government agencies to patronise Nigeria’s satellites.

Director/Chief Executive of Centre for Atmospheric Research, Anyigba, Kogi State, Professor Babatunde Rabiu, said the basic ground infrastructure that enabled space technology to thrive was lacking in Nigeria.

“You can’t do space research and development without power. Power is critical to space infrastructure,” he said.

He said Nigeria might not get its space programme right without stable power supply.

He also said the country still lacked the Assembling, Integration and Testing (AIT) facility, which is at the core of space technology.

“This is where satellite, after it has been built, is tested,” he explained.

It is very unfortunate that we still don’t have the facility here, even after almost 20 years of commencing our space programme, he added.

The expert in space technology however called for reintegration of all the country’s space programmes.

Another space expert and Professor of Surveying and Geoinformatics, Prof Lazarus Mustapha Ojigi, said the inter-agency bickering between NASRDA and NIGCOMSAT was having its toll on the Nigerian space programme.

He called on the two agencies to close ranks and work together for the country’s development.

He said that consumers had not benefited as they should from the country’s communications satellite because of lack of coordination.

Minister of Communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu, last month said the Federal Government would acquire two additional backup satellites for NIGCOMSAT1-R at the cost of $550 million.

The backup satellites which will be dubbed Nigcomsat 2 and 3 are expected to rake in N300bn annually for the country, according to the minister.

It will also reduce capital flight, create jobs, get more businesses in the ECOWAS sub-region and improve the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), he stated.

He disclosed that the government was already making frantic effort to secure a loan of $550 million from China NEXIM to get the satellites orbiting.

A top official of NIGCOMSAT said that Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) which used to be one of agencies that patronised NIGCOMSAT- 1R stopped using the communication satellite for its broadcast services because it has no backup.

“NTA used to be our customer, but later stopped patronising us. Maybe it is because we don’t have a backup satellite, maybe they have other reasons. But you know, no traveller will like to board a vehicle without a spare tyre. And this probably explains why many agencies and private establishments do not want to use our satellite”, he said.

Daily Trust

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