Nigeria’s New National Space Council: Matters Arising



By Makinde Collins

“We must evolve clear cut initiatives that will not only fast track our industrialization process but one that will also see us within the shortest possible period to be able to build our own motor vehicles, our own boats and our own aircraft and of course launch our own satellite manufactured in Nigeria, from a launch site in Nigeria on a launch vehicle made in Nigeria,” these were the words of President Goodluck Jonathan last week’s Tuesday as he formally inaugurated a 13-member National Space Council (NSC), headed by him as Chairman and Vice President Namadi Sambo as Vice-Chairman.

The Federal Government rolled out plans to use space technology to enhance national security, communication, industrialisation and sustained socio-economic development is a welcome initiative and Nigerians must rally round the government.

Since the Russians launched SPUTNIK into the orbit in 1957, space exploration and the exploitation of space resources have become dominant factors in communication, national security, natural resources management, prediction, navigation and management of natural disasters.

The spin-offs of space exploration are generating new products, new ideas and solutions in medicine, manufacturing industry, agriculture, microwave engineering, food technology and material science. Thus space technology can impact on the socio-economic development of any nation when integrated into the development strategy.

However, It is well commendable that the Federal Government is tapping into this by  targeting industrial breakthrough in space technology in  its bid to stimulate socioeconomic development as well as enhanced security measures.

One must commend the President for coming up with this initiative, considering the fact that the critical need to properly structure and drive our national space programme cannot be over-emphasized given the critical place of space technology in the areas of national security, communications, industrialization and sustained socioeconomic development.

There is need for aggressive awareness campaign on the importance of space technology in the country.

On May 24, Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, said that the Federal Government needed $244 million to install electronic surveillance round the country’s borders.

He said the amount, if available, would be enough to provide security around the country’s borders. This is a welcome measure that ought to have been taken much earlier by the Federal Government, but National Space Council (NSC) must pay attention to Global Positioning System (GPS).

GPS, according to Wikipedia, is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.

The system provides critical capabilities to military, civil and commercial users around the world. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver.

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Currently GPS is the most popular navigation system in the world, but it has some shortcomings. GPS was created by the Defence ministry of the USA and America can switch it off or make signal worse for some regions if they decide that it is necessary to secure their interests. In this case they don’t inform users. Such decision can paralyse all navigation services if a country uses only one system. To avoid it, countries should have an opportunity to use different navigation systems. Now there are some navigation systems in the world. For example Russia and Europe are developing their own navigation systems GLONAS and Galileo, respectively.

Russia which is one of the main partners of China in BRICS is ready to cooperate with different countries to provide better services for them. If Nigeria uses both GPS and GLONAS it will have a guaranty that the national navigation system is operational in any possible situation in the region.

Even American experts admit that GLONAS receivers can provide better precision, than GPS. Russian system GLONAS can be used on free of charge base for civil purposes and GLONAS devices can receive signals both from GPS and GLONAS.

Russia can grant access to civil navigation signals of GLONAS without any restriction. For further cooperation Russia can provide all necessary data to help organize manufacture of GLONAS/GPS devices in Nigeria as well as conduct training of national experts and specialists in navigation sphere.

Nigeria needs relevant satellites and sensor platforms and applications to tackle its problems and President Jonathan reposed the council with the responsibility of coming up with an action plan that will enable the country utilize space technology to accelerate industrial development quickly, so that Nigeria will not only venture into space but also manufacture boats, aircraft and other things.

Due to the low level of awareness and misconceptions many have viewed Nigeria going to space as needless venture, but it will interest you to know that Nigerian engineers and scientists trained in the past 14 years in the space programme rank among the best in Africa.

Irrespective of the fact that Nigeria is a developing country and lack competent manpower in space research and development, a few modest achievements have been recorded by the country through international collaborations with space technology developed countries and companies all over the world.

Nigeria has good experience of cooperation in this sphere with Russia and China which launched NigeriaSat-2, NigeriaSat-X and NigComSat-1R.

If Nigeria continues to cooperate with these countries it can help Nigeria to increase the number of satellites during a short period of time. Nigeria signed an agreement with Russia and China about cooperation in mutual space development. This agreement can help Nigeria to train its experts, to design, to launch, to operate and to utilise satellites together with Russia.

Nigeria, therefore, needs to embrace and incorporate the use of satellite technology-based solutions. However, in order to incorporate the use of satellite for disaster management, there is a need to increase awareness, build national capacity and develop satellite applications.

Nigerian authorities should activate cooperation with international partners in space technology that will help to develop the economy of the country and to attract new investments in the country.

•Collins is Lagos-based public analyst. Email: [email protected]

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