. At least that is the way one of Nigeria’s first and oldest Engineer, Victor Adetunji Haffner saw it. At 91 years plus, Engr Haffner will stun you with his agility, intimidating response to issues as well as his thoroughly educated, articulate and an amazing memory to recalls pre independent events accurately. In this interview with EMMANUEL Elebeke, he shed light on how the first Nigeria Satellite was launched, How Nigeria managed America’s first satellite and why NigComSat should focus more on space research.
He also lamented on how the military dragged the nation’s communication sector backwards Excerpts.
You are one of the few Nigerian engineers mentioned in a foreign compilation of Who is who in Africa. The book referred to you as one of those that pioneered Satellite communications in Africa. How did you get your name in that book?
It is a long story. But it began with my sojourn in London, with a friend and class mate in Government Grammar school, Lagos, late Justice Fatai Williams.
After our school in Nigeria, we went to London, trained there and were interviewed and appointed in London. However, five months after the interview, I was offered a job as an Aeronautical engineer with the Nigerian Airport Authority in Lagos. So I left London to Nigeria to resume duty.
One day, in the line of duty, an expatriate came for an inspection in my office in Lagos and asked me how I was getting on with my training as a trainee and I answered that I was not a trainee but rather training other engineers under me. My response stunned him and the next morning, he came back and assigned me to go and rewire the whole of telecommunication sites in the country.
He also said I should go to Sokoto to install a radio station for the police. I took two younger engineers and went to do what he asked me to do. My exploits must have been recorded, so I was transferred to Kaduna, amid a heavy send forth.
However, a week before my departure the Chief engineer countered the transfer and said that I must remain in Lagos.
From then on, I became a roving engineer, shuttling between the three station we had then in Lagos: Ikorodu, Marina and Ikeja stations.
At a point, I attended a conference in London and when I came back the government said we have to take over from cable and wireless limited, in charge of Nigeria external telecommunications services in 1964. That is what you see today as NITEL. That is Nigeria external telecommunication, with the condition that government will take over 53 percent equity.
After the takeover, we gave the contract of the office building to Costain Nigeria. I was the managing Director of the company until September 1975, when Murtalla Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo came in and kicked me out, dissolving the federal civil service. These pioneer stints got me the recognition you see in United Nations who is who in Africa.
Sounds like that was the genesis of Nigeria Satellite?
Yes, it is, until the military struck and spoilt every thing. In 1961, I went for a Satellite seminar in Tokyo. In 1963, I was in Washington for another one. That is when communication Satellite Corporation, Texas was established.
At that seminar, the question before the assembly was how to put the Satellite in the orbit. When I say, orbit, I mean geo-stationery orbit. The Americans, after thorough research, discovered that the only way to launch a better Satellite was to put it right into the Geo stationary Orbit.
Incidentally, Nigeria was found to be located 29 degrees local angle to the orbit, about 46,000 miles away which means that the orbit was very low to Nigeria.
Right there, we had to liaise with them and they had to bring a boat, the dome with a complete set of network command and a recording station. They actually launched the Satellite in Texas, America but was controlled in our office in marina, Lagos, Nigeria. Although Russia first launched a satellite, it was however not in the Geo-stationery orbit. So the American Satellite was the first that went to the geo stationary orbit single channel.
I could still remember that the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa used it to speak with the Prime minister of Britain after the launch.
When you are now talking about Satellite communication, the whole thing started with the external telecommunication until Buhari came and called it NITEL.
Does that site still hold as the best place to launch a satellite today? Yes of course. The best way to launch a Satellite is to get it into the geo stationary orbit like America did. We are more American in international relation than any other country and in the same way, I expect us to go by the way of the Americans and not China. If Nigeria had the expertise to control American satellite, why was China contracted to launch our Satellites?
In fact, the military ruined this country. The Engineers that came under the military were quacks. You should ask the military why the Nigerian engineers did not take it up from where I stopped in 1975.
Now we wouldn’t be talking of the involvement of China into our Satellite system, which is actually a mistake because we lost huge amount of money in billions that put Nigeria in debt.
But Sir, apart from the way NigComSat1 went, which of course is not peculiar to Nigeria alone, China has been building satellites for other country and could get it right with the replacement that is about to be launched soon.
If they get it right, what are we going to use the satellite for? We hear it is going to be commercial, but nobody seems to realise that NigComSat is not a commercial entity. Nigeria’s Commercial entity in this regard is the ministry of communications and now the only agent of the ministry, Mtel and NITEL have been merged. What has NigcomSat got now. Who is going to patronize it?
I was the Chairman of the administrative council in 1974. It can be found in the United Nations Who is Who in Africa. I know what I am talking about.
It sounds strange if you are suggesting we should not have a satellite of our own?
What do you want to do with it? If government have privatized communication, then you cannot control it. You cannot control what you have privatized. It is unarguable.
One thing people must understand is that there is difference between space research and space commercial. What federal government need to do now is to go into space research and not commercial satellite.
You are coming from the pre colonial era when telephony was still a luxury, to whom would you give the credit of the industry achievement to?
Nobody but development. After all, Edison invented the lamp with a single copper wire. What people are doing now is expansion from what Edison did.
The essence of Privatization is to provide broadband facility for people to pass their messages.
Then, it was analogue but now it is digital. No body can take the credit. The industry started small and has continued to expand till today. It is continuous thing.
We are in a universe where everything is moving. The sun light is 11 million miles from us and is moving round the earth. What I want you to understand is that, where NigComSat is now, America started it about 60 years ago. There is nothing new under the sun.