By EMMA UJA, Abuja Bureau Chief
The nation’s space programme is now in jeopardy, owing to power play which has consumed the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NIGCOMSAT Limited, from its parent body, the National Space Research and Development Agency , NASRDA with headquarters in Abuja.
The loan that was used in building the ill-fated NigComSat-1 which developed problems in the orbit is yet to be repaid with the interest pilling up even as the Chinese had replaced the object with NigGComSat 111.
Top officials of the agency were reluctant to speak with Saturday Vanguard on the matter as who volounteered information prefered anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
However, as the rivalry peaks, NIGCOMSAT is currently in the process of transforming itself from its original status as a private limited company to market the nation’s first satellite, NIGCOMSAT 1, bandwidth, into another space agency. The Bill for the establishment of the Nigerian Communications satellite Corporation is currently before the National Assembly.
NASRDA was established as a federal government agency in 2010 to build capacity in space technology development and management thereby strengthening human capital development required for the implementation of Nigeria’s space programmes.
It was, thus, mandated to build satellite technology in Nigeria for various applications and operationalise indigenous space systems to provide space services, build and launch the nation’s satellites and to promote the coordination of space application programmes, for the purpose of optimizing resources and to develop space technologies of direct relevance to the nation’s socio-economic development objectives.
With the successful launching of NIGCOMSAT 1 into orbit, NASRDA established NIGCOMSAT Ltd as a Special Purpose Vehicle, SPV, to market NIGCOMSAT 1. It was meant to be a commercial arm of NASRDA since the agency could go into commercial activities being a purely government body operating under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.
According to the Memorandum and Articles of Association, NIGCOMSAT was established in 2006 as limited liability company with a Share capital of N10 million, with NASRDA holding the majority stake of N7 million.
There were five shareholders in all, representing various space research centres.
NASRDA was represented by it’s then Director-General Prof. Robert Ajayi Boroffice, who signed for N4 million and Mr. Timasaniyu Ahmed Rufai who was the NICOMSAT -1 Project Manager singed for N3 million on behalf of Centre for Satellite Technology Development, the unit of NASRDA directly responsible for the satellite.
The other three centres were: National Centre for Remote Sensing, represented by its Director, Mr. Jerome Adekunle Ologun, N1 million; Centre for Basic Space Science represented by its Director, Prof. Pius Nwankwo Okeke, N 1 million; and Centre for Geodsey and Geodynamics represented by its Director, Dr. Joseph Akinyede, N1 million.
According to the memorandum of Association, NIGCOMSAT was established “to acquire and take-over the management, property, rights, privileges , assets and liabilities of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Project, NICOMSAT-1.
It was also “to carry on business for profit and pursuant thereto, to set up, establish, work, operate manage and maintain in-orbit communications satellites.”.
Upon the successful incorporation of NICOMSAT, Ahmed Rufai, then an Assistant Director at NASRDA was made its Managing Director.
Shortly thereafter, the relationship between Rufai and his bosses at NASRDA, nosedived and did not improve until Prof. Boroffice left office as the Director General of the agency.
Prof. Boroffice was succeeded by Dr. Seidu Mohammed but the relationship between NICOMSAT and its parent body was yet to improve.
With the mandate to market the bandwidth of the first satellite, NIGCOMSAT 1, which later developed some problems and de-orbited, NIGCOMSAT’s mandate was said to have lapsed and therefore should have reverted to its parent agency, NASRDA;but by then, it had acquired its own life.
The first step towards its autonomy from NASRDA was its removal from the Ministry of Science and Technology to the Federal Ministry of Communications which was orchestrated by high level lobby.
As learnt there have been a series of correspondences on the matter at the highest level as NASRDA was said to have sought the interpretation of the Solicitor-General, to the mandates of the two organizations but NIGCOMSAT reportedly remained adamant even when it was told that it cannot function as a separate government agency.
In accordance with the 25-year Space Road Map of NASRDA approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2005, the agency developed local capacity through the Know How Technology Transfer, KHTT, on Nigeria Sat-1, NigComSar-1, NigeriaSat2 and NigeriaSat-X satellites.
No fewer than 90 engineers and scientists were said to have been trained under this programme out of which those trained on NigComSat-1 were deployed to NigComSat ltd. Twenty five of the scientists and engineers would have been redeployed to NASRDA but NIGCOMSAT ltd reportedly refused to let them go.
It was planned that after the launch of NigComSat1R in December 2011, NASRDA would take over NigComSat Abuja Ground Control Station, Kashi Satellite Ground station, and NigComSat-1R spacecraft, but NIGCOMSAT Ltd which hitherto operated in the same premises has cordoned–off its section in the premises. It also erected a fence around the Ground Station, making it impossible for NASRDA engineers to gain access into the station.
Meanwhile NIGCOMSAT Ltd, it was learnt has not been remitting revenue into the treasury, as a profit organization is expected to. The organization was expected to generate revenue from which the $200 million loan from China EXIM Bank could be repaid. Investigations showed that there is no evidence that the loan is being serviced. Instead, NICOMSAT Ltd has been drawing public funds for its activities.
The Steve Oronsaye Committee on streamlining of federal government parastatals said in its report that “although the NIGCOMSAT is an incorporated entity, it (the committee) observed that the compaby receives full funding from government.” According to the committee, the organization received N6. 318 billion in 2010 and N8.536 billion in 2011. It has continued to be budgeted for ever since.
Informed sources said that the Federal Government space programme would be completely messed up should the National Assembly go ahead to give legal backing to the attempt to duplicate the spapce centre in the country.
The Managing Director of NICOMSAT Ltd, Timasaniyu Rufai could not be reached for his comments as he was said to be out of the country, but one of his officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained that the issue of duplication does not arise between the two organizations.
According to him, the ownership of NICOMSAT ltd had since changed and that the organization was now wholly owned by Ministry of Finance Incorporated.
He said that NIGCOMSAT Ltd had to be allocated public funds through the budget at a period it had no product to sell but that the organization made remittances into government coffers between 2007 and 2008, although he could say how much.
The oficial further said that, with the re-launch of NigComSat III last year, the organization started business on March 19, this year pointing out that it is too early for anyone to accuse it of not remitting proceeds to government since the year had not ended.