By Emmanuel Elebeke: When sometime in 2007, the Minister of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu, went to the Senate to demand approval to acquire two more new satellites, the argument was whether the venture will benefit Nigeria and its citizens.
The situation was made worse by the minister’s revelation of his intention to approach China-Exim to secure a loan of $550 million for the purpose. For a country undergoing recession, the National Assembly was not convinced that such a huge risk will take the country out of its economic woes.
NigComSat-1R taking off to the Orbit
On the streets, Nigerians queried the benefits of the one already in orbit before making another investment in not just one, but two more. Put differently, they were asking what it will profit a nation in recession to invest in two satellites and incur a whopping $550 million debt.
However, Shittu always defended his position: “Now, NigComSat is one of the government agencies, with a satellite in orbit. The potentials and possibilities of this satellite are endless; from Customs and Excise payments, to national database creation and management, to e-passports but these services are not fully utilised.
The Federal Government cannot enforce local hosting of data on the lone satellite because without a backup, the nation stands the risk of losing data on it, in event of crash. If we are able to get two more satellites, we will be able to put legislation in place that will compel government ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, to patronise this local service provider. When that is done, nobody will have an excuse to take Nigeria’s resources outside the country.
Even then, Shittu who appeared a lone voice in the wilderness began to gain support from strong industry stakeholders. The trio of Executive Vice- Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, the Director- General, National Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, Dr. Seidu Mohammed and the CEO of Centre for Satellite Technology Development, CSTD, Dr. Spencer Onuh, all backed his call for acquisition of the satellites.
The trio, at and event organised by CSTD in Abuja in 2017 backed up their support for Shittu with proclamations that investment in space technology is the way forward for the country to fast-track national development and avoid playing catch-up to other countries of the world.
Nigeria must take advantage of innovations in space technology to utilise space and the by-products of space technology to make significant strides in optimising the resources of socio-economic development and solve national problems in consonance with the global sustainable development agenda.
Now, the Federal Government appears to have bought the idea. This is afterShittu, last week reaffirmed his resolve to ensure successful launch of the proposed two additional satellites before May 29, 2019.
He made the pledge when he hosted the governing board of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NIGCOMSAT in Abuja. The minister said the Federal Government is ever committed to acquiring two additional satellites to reposition the Nigerian Communications Satellite, NIGCOMSAT Limited for better service delivery.
The minister had repeatedly announced government’s plan to launch two additional satellites as back-up satellite to NIGCOMSAT1R, as support satellite.
The idea is to boost customers’ confidence in the agency and to increase its patronage from local and external clients.
That is still the challenge we are working on. Before the end of this administration, we would be through with that. He said his ministry was able to discuss a number of substantial issues with the NIGCOMSAT team and also resolved to take certain major steps to encourage satellite business.
Shittu, however, vowed that the ministry would continue to work hard to come up with a new approach towards funding the project without unduly affecting other government needs.
He appealed to Nigerians to appreciate the national need in the N550m venture, saying that a back up satellite was very necessary for the country’s Communications needs.
It is unfortunate that a lot of people over the years, have not really appreciated what NIGCOMSAT is doing for the Nigerian economy, and as such, receives little or no patronage from the public and private organisations, who patronise foreign satellite for their services.
NIGCOMSAT, although a business, is such an important entity because it was set up to provide true intervention facilities for satellite communications. But because of the capital- intensive nature of bringing about such services, the potentials of the agency had not been optimally explored.