The fallout of the Federal Government’s failure to build on the progress made in the country’s space project since 2011 came to the fore on May 5, 2021 when the Director-General of the National Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, Halilu Shaba, said in Abuja that inadequate satellite coverage hinders monitoring of bandits, terrorists and other criminals.
The story of Nigeria’s satellite journey is quite a sad one. On March 24, 2009, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, NigComSat, Limited and China Great Wall Industry Corporation, CGWIC, signed a contract for the in-orbit delivery of the NigComSat-1R satellite. It was a replacement for the failed NigComSat-1 which was launched on May 13, 2007.
Subsequently, on December 19, 2011, NigComSat-1R, paid for with the insurance policy on the de-orbited NigComSat-1 according to former President Goodluck Jonathan, was successfully launched into orbit by China in Xichang. The satellite was designed to function in the areas of communications, internet services, health, agriculture, environmental protection and national security before completing its 15-year lifespan.
It was also hoped that other businesses such as digital mobile operators and telecommunication companies that need satellite services would patronise the NigComSat-1R. But unfortunately, many of those businesses, and even government agencies like the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, have shunned the satellite, occasioning acute low patronage. Experts say that our satellite is lying almost idle in space waiting to die by 2026.
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In its efforts to switch over from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting, the NBC decided to patronise Eutelsat for the multi-million dollar digital migration, instead of using NigComSat-1R. The explanation given by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was that the NigComSat-1R has no backup. But former Minister of Communications, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, had promised that the Federal Government would purchase two additional satellites for NIGCOMSAT at the cost of $550 million.
It is sad that for almost 10 years after the launch of NigComSat-1R, Nigeria has chosen to patronise other countries’ satellites instead of launching the needed backup. Now, the country needs the satellite to combat terrorism. Andrew Oginni, a US-based Nigerian expert, says NigComSat-1R remains a critical national asset which government can leverage for ICT growth. It can also help deepen broadband penetration in Nigeria and entire Africa, if properly utilised.
Before the 2019 elections, the Managing Director of Nigerian Communications Satellite, Abimbola Alale, had said apart from rendering services to the universities, banks, security agencies, and the Republic of Gabon for the tracking of its rail system, NigComSat-1R facilities could also be deployed to perfect the country’s e-voting system ahead of the 2019 general elections. Unfortunately, that never happened.
The Federal Government must do everything possible to put the NigComSat-1R to maximum use in the national interest.