On Nigeria's Space Technology – One Write-Up, Two Interviews and An Essay

1 Comment » November 29th, 2008 posted by // Categories: Science & Technology



 

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QUESTION: You have consistently kicked against Nigcomsat Ltd. What really are you quarrelling with?
Titi Omo-Ettu:  I am quarrelling with letting civil servants do telecommunications business. I have walked the path and carried out several studies for government and the conclusion has been that we should not create government companies again. I was in a team that investigated the operations of NARSDA and Nigcomsat Ltd within the past 2 years. Where I thought I should see a physicist, I saw an engineer. Where I expected to see an electrical engineer I saw a civil engineer. Where I wanted to see a mechanical engineer, I saw a geographer. Haba!!. How can such a system work? We came out and advised Government on what we saw and we recommended that some things should be done to prevent calamities in future. Somehow no one listened. And you think I should not be angry? Tell me I should not be angry? You mean you are not angry?

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QUOTE

What does launching satellites have to do with lifting Africans out of poverty? Just ask Robert Boroffice. He’s the head of the space agency of Nigeria–yes, Nigeria–……”I’m very passionate about space technology, says Boroffice, 57, a former biology professor. “I see what it has done in India, and I want to do the same in Nigeria.” He is already working on plans for the first all-African satellite, with a launch window around 2025.

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http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1196408,00.html

May 2007

Orbiting Over Nigeria

Tuesday, May. 01, 2007

Robert Boroffice

Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP for TIME

 

What does launching satellites have to do with lifting Africans out of poverty? Just ask Robert Boroffice. He’s the head of the space agency of Nigeria–yes, Nigeria–and he is convinced that space programs can succeed where Earth-bound projects have failed. Though blessed with vast oil reserves, Africa’s most populous nation has been crippled by years of military rule and mismanagement. According to the World Bank, 70% of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.

But three years ago Nigeria became only the second country in sub-Saharan Africa (after South Africa) to launch its own satellite. NigeriaSat-1 took off from Russia but is controlled by Nigerian scientists and engineers from a ground station in Abuja. The satellite, which was built in Britain, is part of a network called the Disaster Monitoring Constellation. Its job includes keeping an orbiting eye on Nigeria’s vanishing forest resources and often vandalized oil pipelines. It also watches for impending disasters such as fires and floods and shares the information with a consortium that includes Algeria, China, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and Britain.

That’s only the start of Boroffice’s ambitious plans. A communications satellite designed to give even remote villagers access to the Internet is scheduled to be launched next year, and a second observation satellite is planned for 2009. To make the space program self-sustaining, Nigeria wants to sell excess bandwidth to other nations; a United Arab Emirates– based company reportedly has already signed a $250 million deal. “I’m very passionate about space technology, says Boroffice, 57, a former biology professor. “I see what it has done in India, and I want to do the same in Nigeria.” He is already working on plans for the first all-African satellite, with a launch window around 2025.

 

CULLED FROM CyberschuulNews 301108
Edition 316

 

In the following paragraphs, two interviews and one essay culled from different publications are presented to represent the three views which are being canvassed by interested parties.

 1.     EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Prof. Ajayi Borrofice
This piece is culled from Economic Confidential (http://www.economicconfidential.com/dec08interviewnasrda.htm)
Nigeria’s Space Technology is a Worthwhile Venture -DG NASRDA

If you take a drive along the Abuja Airport road, shortly before you get to Lugbe Housing Estate, a few hundreds of metres off the road by your right side, is an emblazoned sign that reads: OBASANJO SPACE CENTRE.

Thousands of commuters that ply this route daily may probably throw casual glances at the direction where a gatehouse is sited behind the signpost situated at Pyakasa, a suburb in Abuja , but their thoughts, perhaps, may be flitting if any on what goes on there.

A visit by the editorial team of the Economic Confidential into the premises of the National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA), housed behind the gates in an imposing edifice that is their headquarters, was a mind-boggling, revealing, and awesome experience. We were taken into the world of Space Technology by the erudite professor Robert Ajayi Boroffice, the Director General of NASRDA. Read along the excerpts of the interaction and be schooled:

QUESTION: The missing Nigerian Satellite in orbit has been confirmed to be irretrievably lost. What implication does that portends to your agency being the progenitor of Nigcomsat.

ANS: My agency feels very sad about it. We launched this satellite and we had known that the satellite will live out its life span of 15 years. But regrettably this mishap happened. We would not allow this situation to discourage us because this kind of thing does often happen in the space industry. We can quote very recent examples after the launch of our satellite last year. The Pan African Communication Satellite called ASCOM also launched and it failed. The News Sky which is owned by FCS-Americom was equally launched last year but failed. I can give you other examples, so it is something that happens very often in the space industry. The important thing is that once it is insured you can always be sure that you can get a replacement. What we suffer a bit is the discomfort and inconvenience our customers suffer for the period we have to transfer them or migrate to another Satellite. I think on our part, we don’t need to have too much negative impact on our enthusiasm and our vision. We only hope that the country itself would not be discouraged in investing in the Space Science, because if we don’t invest in it, we cannot meet up. This type of accidents is part of the whole industry because the type of data we generate now will help to further develop technology. We regret that this has happened. We hope that the Technical Commission will help us in building a strong and more reliable satellite. But I must say that the space environment is a very harsh environment. That is one of the phenomenon of nature we have to contend with in space.

QUESTION: The thrust of Economic Confidential Magazine is the justification of disbursement of funds from the Federation Account to all government agencies. How do you justify that you are prudent with the allocations to your agency so far

ANS: I think with all sincerity we have done well by putting our best. In the physical development in the very first generation of the buildings on these premises, which consists of the Gate house, the Administrative building, the Blue house, the Maintenance Department and the Satellite Development Complexes, one of them, including the roads and water reticulation and the lights; cost us about five hundred million naira (N500,000,000 ). When you know what I am talking about, you can capture it for your reports because it‘s more like magic, if you don’t see the reality of what is on ground. Apart from that, the satellites that we launched; which were two, the Nigeria Sat 1 is there, it is designed for a 5years live span. It has exceeded the 5 years and we have applied the data generated from it in many areas ranging from solving environmental problems, food production boost, security and healthcare delivery. We believe that we have utilized and also have capacity building providing data for universities lecturers and students programmes. I think we have done well in applying the funds allocated to my agency. If you look at the issue of Communication Satellite before it ran into this problem, many services are being rendered in the banking industry, health sector, educational sector, internet services and the oil sector. So, we did equally contribute a lot to the economy of this country. The Communication Satellite is generating revenue which we have used to pay back the loan. The Nigeria Satellite also is generating revenue. What we did is that we have what we called DMCII that is, Disaster Monitoring Constellation International Imaging with our partners in our office in London . This Company sells our data across the world. We are getting monies generated from it which is paid directly into the treasury. Also locally, we have a company we called Geo-Application Company Nigeria Limited. This we are operating within the country, again we are generating some funds by selling images, maps and other data which we also pay into the treasury. The availability of this alone cannot be quantified especially in the area of security where we are also providing data for the security intelligence which cannot be quantified also. Infact, we have over justified the use of our allocations.

QUESTION: Considering the myriad of problem in Nigeria in terms of infrastructure, roads, power outage and unemployment which is all earthly based. How does what you are doing in NASRDA benefit the common man.

ANS: There are certain services or products that do not affect the common man directly but rather it contributes by providing strategic plan for socio-economic development. But there are some of these services that affect the common man directly. Let me take on Healthcare. When the Communication Satellite was in place, we were running a programme called Tele- Medicine in which we have linked some Federal Medical Centres in the 6-geopolitical zones to two Teaching hospitals: University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan and University Teaching Hospital, Maiduguri . We also have a bus that serves as a link via Satellite. We are able to deploy these buses to the rural areas where they have provided a platform for people who could not have access to qualitative health care delivery to do so, because the medical centres and buses are linked directly to the Teaching Hospitals. So, you don’t need to carry them and travel a long distance to receive medical attention. Through the Satellite connection, they can be examined by a consultant at their locality. Diagnosed, given a prescription for any ailment bothering them. This is one of the major ways the common man can benefit from space technology. Now, indirectly we have a project we are looking at the FADAMA land available in Nigeria for rice cultivation. Using our satellite imageries we are able to proof that what land is suitable for FADAMA rice cultivation in the country is 2 million hectares. With the Satellite imageries we can increase it to 3.5 million hectares. If this information is made available to the various Ministries of Agriculture, that is Federal, the States and even Local government; it can then be available to farmers. If this is done then the aspiration to be self sufficient in rice production would have been met. Of course, you know rice is a staple food in Nigeria . In this area the common man can also benefit largely from it. In the area of construction of roads, you need maps from the satellite images to do that more effectively. The common man travels on the roads too.

QUESTION: It is widely been reported that over N40 billion was incurred in setting up Nigcomsat and the Satellite in orbit. Was there any insurance in place to ensure no loses is borne by your agency and Nigcomsat.

ANS: Honestly, I would have preferred that this Questionstion should have been directed to Nigcomsat. We have agreed that there will be management of information. The fact should emanate from one source and not so many in order to avoid contradictory information. Let me clarify you now. The Satellite that was de-orbited did not cost 43 or 46 billion naira as erroneously reported in the media [Not Economic Confidential]. We took 200 million US dollars loan from a Chinese bank, and the Federal Government provided 56 million US dollars for the project. But that catered for the ground station at the site not far from here. If you go there you will see it. Training 50 Space-engineers, paid for the insurance and the satellite launch. So it is a total package. The value of the insurance itself stands at about 112 million Euros. The satellite itself is not 40 something billion. But Nigerians like sensationalism where people quote big figures to mesmerize and get the attention of the public. I can assure you that the satellite was adequately insured not even by Nigerian Banks but by reputable international underwriters. At any time when we stake our claims we would not have any problems. And we are already addressing that issue now.

QUESTION: The outcome of the Akure 2nd Media Conference by NASRDA was adjudged robust and effective. Did you achieve your objective?

ANS: We achieved our objectives. Our goal was to interact with the media so that they can understand what NASRDA is doing and also know our problems. Because hitherto people think that when you are on space, you are in such a distant place and you are beyond reach. That it can only be done by one’s imagination. Since there’s a lot of problem here on earth, those that you mentioned at the beginning, why are we wasting our time and money going to space? We have been able to show that actually, space is just a platform for solving problems here on earth more effectively. And we have demonstrated it in researched projects that we have carried out. I think seen from that perspective, we have achieved our goal. Also we want to see the way that the media can see themselves as stake holders in the space industry. Because the media will also, need the products or the services of space engineering in their profession. We have been equally able to show that the media are also a stake holder as far as space industry is concerned. Based on these two dimensions I mentioned, I think the Media Conference at Akure met with our objectives.

QUESTION: I want to believe you know that you will not be here forever. And really, anything a man does, he wants posterity to adjudge them positively after he or she is gone. What are the transitional steps you are taking to ensure that the space adventure does not get into a state of comatose when you leave office?

ANS: We are trying to build capacity because the only way to sustain a Programme is to ensure that you have human capacity. We are developing infrastructure which you can see on the ground at the premises now, a very vital and important step for us towards ensuring sustainability. We also ensure that we have a long time Programme. We have a 25 year road map which we are incubating, of course there’s also a policy in place which would support the Programme’s consistency. If the Nigerian people want us to continue, it will continue. But it must involve investments into the Programme. I am sure the government realizes that this can contribute toward the development of the country. I am certain the government will continue to invest in space industry.

QUESTION: Having judiciously applied the funds allocated to you in order to achieve what is on ground, what kind of money do you need to achieve more.

ANS: I must commend the Federal government for supporting us and providing funds to launch 2 satellites within a short period of time and to have this type of infrastructure on ground. But there’s never a time where your money is enough because there are areas you want to do simultaneously which goes parri-passu. If you don’t have money you have to shut them down. For us to have consistency and a sustainable Programme in view of our term of 25 year roadmap, we would need 10 billion naira every year to be able to achieve that objective.

taken from http://www.economicconfidential.com/dec08interviewnasrda.htm

   2.    EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu
     Engr. Titi Omo-Ettu granted this interview to a CyberschuulNews correspondent

QUESTION: You have heard of the Nigerian Satellite Nigcomsat missing in Orbit. What do you think we should blame, the Nigerians or the Chinese and what do we do to those responsible for this?

ANSWER: My training requires that at times like this, I seek to find what is wrong and not who is wrong. It is what is wrong that should be immediately relevant so we can solve the problem, learn from it and prevent future occurrence. Finding who is wrong and what to do with them should be left for the management of Nigcomsat Ltd and The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. In any case we know what is wrong in this case. It is that we are making civil servants to do business. Simple. We have discussed that as a fundamental and we say it is not right to do so.

QUESTION: But if we cannot maintain a satellite, why invest in it?

ANSWER: That will not be the Question for now? There is nothing that has suggested that we are incapable of handling satellite maintenance to the best of my reasoning. Satellite communications is business and government has no business managing business. That is the fundamental issue here. Of course I am aware of many commentators who have been mixing the commercial effort of Nigeria in space which Nigcomsat-1 is with the result of indigenous research effort of Nigerian scientists which Nigcomsat-1 is not. If NARSDA has spent $340million to put an experimental satellite in orbit using entirely indigenous expertise and skill and it runs into problem, my take will be that we press on and not relent. But here we have bought something for $340million  and due to poor handling and lack of capacity we lost it. They are two different things.

QUESTION: What do you say to the cause of the problem as explained by the Minister of State for Science and Technology?

ANSWER: I will not analyse the Honourable Minister’s comment because he is only doing his job and that should not be subjected to heavy technical nor critical analysis. I will comment if I see the problem sheet of the scientists who are directly involved in this impasse. Get something clear; It should be perfectly understandable for the Minister’s address to be a doctored form of what really happened. I can tell you with 99% chance of certainty that what the Minister said is not exactly what happened. It cannot be. Even in business, nobody ever discusses what happened exactly with the public or with his customers when things go wrong but you try to tell them what they can believe and what cannot be easily controverted. But here now we are talking of a bureaucracy and we are dealing with a globalised subject. It makes it worse and you have little chance of getting away with anything. You will be amazed how far away from the truth is the version that reached the Honourable Minister and also as opposed to what he has told the public. Forget about the Minister, let’s talk about our Satellite.

QUESTION: Can a satellite really be missing?

ANSWER: Yes if you are tracking a satellite and you loose contact with it, then it is, technically speaking, missing for so long as you are not linked to it for intelligent communication. We are not talking of missing in the sense that somebody stole it and we want to invite EFCC or Okiro (Inspector General of Police) to come and investigate. Look, satellites get off track everyday just as mishaps happen in technology every time. It is just that engineering management is such that you do not let the users know this. There is nowhere in the world where equipment don’t fail. But there are enough engineering management techniques in place to make sure it is not revealed in the form of loss of service or distress to the customer. I am not surprised that this happened but I am surprised it happened rather too early. We put this stuff in space only last year. Haba!!

QUESTION: What are the possibilities of what might have happened?

ANSWER: I suspect insufficient skills on the part of those who are in charge whether they are Nigerians, Chinese or Eskimos. That is if actually something went wrong technically. Mark you it could also be the effect of the civil service environment in which the stuff is being managed which I consider to be an abnormal environment. It could even be fraud! I was in a civil service company so I know what I am talking about.

QUESTION: Fraud like how?

ANSWER: Like some guys have prepared a solution which if applied under this confusion can earn a group of persons huge dollars of government money. It is not impossible. And you know governments that do not take good decisions spend huge money when things like this happen. And the civil servants know that flaw. They exploit it.

QUESTION: Any other possibilities?

ANSWER: A thousand and one other possibilities exist but that should not be our focus for now. Let us hope that the matter will be resolved and the malady called government owned telecommunications companies will be reviewed as a matter of fact. The evils that Presidents do live after them.

QUESTION: Are you not shocked?

ANSWER: No, I am not. I would have been shocked if NigComsat were a truly private company and this happened. But for a government owned company. It is normal. I was shocked when government established NigComsat Ltd. to do telecom business. And I said so in several fora, reports, essays and interviews. I am not saying anything new. You know that. Not only did I talk I did something about it.

QUESTION: It is understood that some of you people cautioned against this project. Is that true?

ANSWER: I am not aware of all those who opposed the project. But I know some who have offered opinion on several aspects of satellite technology from research and development to applications and commercialisation. I am also aware that my Association, The Nigerian Society of Engineers offered advice to Government on issues which we considered critical to the country and its well being. I think we did quite a deal all work. My mind tells me we did not get the level of response to the issues we advised on. If we did all these won’t happen on this scale.

QUESTION: NigComSat officials are pursuing the continuation of second and third satellite with asking the FG through the House to approve $500m. Is it worth it. If it is worth it, are the Chinese in the right place in terms of experience to handle it the project in view of the failed one.

ANSWER: You remember the Nigcomsat chaps once went to the National Assembly asking for $150million to enable them provide telecom service for N10 per minute and I remember giving you an interview at the time saying they were saying what they know little about. I don’t think the people in the assembly are as gullible as the folks in Nigcomsat take them to be. I am sure those legislators just ignored them at the time. Or did they get the $150million? If they did I would have been surprised. Our legislators are not morons, mark you.

QUESTION: You have consistently kicked against Nigcomsat Ltd. What really are you quarrelling with?
ANSWER: I am quarrelling with letting civil servants do telecommunications business. I have walked the path and carried out several studies for government and the conclusion has been that we should not create government companies again. I was in a team that investigated the operations of NARSDA and Nigcomsat Ltd within the past 2 years. Where I thought I should see a physicist, I saw an engineer. Where I expected to see an electrical engineer I saw a civil engineer. Where I wanted to see a mechanical engineer, I saw a geographer. Haba!!. How can such a system work? We came out and advised Government on what we saw and we recommended that some things should be done to prevent calamities in future. Somehow no one listened. And you think I should not be angry? Tell me I should not be angry? You mean you are not angry?

titi omo-ettu is a consultant and trainer in telecommunications

 

   3.   NIGCOMSAT-1 and its critics
              by              Segun Oruame
              (
Matters e-Rising)
               Culled from THE NATION, Nov. 24, 2008

In the last one week or so we have become the butt of cruel joke for a section of the international reading public over the problems of Nigerian communications satellite (NigComSat-1). I have read of how we have been able to successfully export our power failure dilemma to outer space. I have also read about how we unwittingly chose to use the Chinese to build a satellite craft in an industry they were still learning to master. And I also read through the sardonic joke on the inferiority of materials used for the satellite construction. And then I read the cruel joke of how the materials used were intended for Asia not the African tropics. The jokes came as published sacred facts on the pages of newspapers.

            These are not good times for the promoters of Nigerian and African communication satellites and these are certainly not the best times for fledgling Chinese satellite industry bolstering with its success at export of communication satellite crafts. What went wrong with NIGCOMSAT-1? Chinese inferior technology or as it were an inefficient Chinese technical crew? The technical management of NIGCOMSAT-1 was still fully in the hands of the Chinese as at the time its solar panel malfunctioned and its battery tank began to run down dangerously. If NIGCOMSAT-1 failed because the Chinese built it perhaps they secretly built the Intelsat 802 owned by global satellite giant Intelsat was built by Lockheed Martin (formerly GE Astro Space), one of the west’s strongest satellite manufacturers. Perhaps also, it was the Chinese that built Thaicom 3 in 2006 and not Alcatel Alenia Space, reputed as one of the best in the industry. Thaicom 3 ended up so fast in the graveyard orbit after power problems lead to its total loss that if it were NIGCOMSAT-1, critics would have asked that President Obasanjo be arrested for waste of public fund as most reports have been doing since the ‘NAIGCOMSAT – orgy’ began.

The western media didn’t ask that Alcatel Alenia Space be probed neither did they make a sordid joke out of the affair. They took an informed view and wrote informed reports on an event in an industry where mishaps are part and parcel of the risk to seek glory and advanced the socio-economic realities of the people using satellite built by the same Alcatel Alenia Space also went bust in 2007, about a year after the Thaicom 3 fiasco, no one made a joke out of the fiery risk that satellite technology represents. Everyone went to work around the questions: what happened and how do we do it right? Because in this business, they ultimately do it right! It wasn’t the Chinese that built Hotbird 3 owned and operated by Eutelsat which had its solar array damaged in October 2006. It wasn’t also the Chinese that built PAS-6 communication satellite owned by PanAnSat lost which was lost in 2004 due to heavy loss of power. PAS-6 was built no less a giant than SpaceSystems/Loral(SS/L). How did we come to this pass where we are quick to write reports lacking depth and content to feed the public with balderdash? How quick do we adopt non-factual views and forget so easily that we carry a sacrosanct mandate that demands we research our information before we publish. Often as purveyor of news, we listen to ‘experts’ who are rusted but we are not conscious of this because we are no better than blank slates before these so-called experts enjoying their day as they try to impress their expertise on us.

            I just went through a revealing session with one so-called expert on African telecommunication landscape here in Cape Town, South Africa where I an writing this piece. His audacity is unnerving on his ‘astute sense of ignorance’ on a subject matter the west is happy to celebrate him for. As he walked away from me, I saw the shame through his legs: the confidence gone. Why should a journalist who reports technology within social context know less than an expert buried in the western narrow perspective that Africa is all poverty and corruption: and that the west holds the supreme prescriptive remedy for Africa’s challenges. Unfortunately, the NIGCOMSAT-1 issue is a tragic reflection of the laziness and intellectual bankruptcy within the media. It is also a reflection of the failure of the state to identify its strategic national priorities and give them the deserving defense in terms of offering clear-cut information in real-time when needed and to people ‘who must know.’ Here I mean the media, the body of ICT reporters. If the media had known; perhaps, if they had been well informed on the strategic nature of NIGCOMSAT-1 they would have been better placed to report on it in more positive manner. They would go the way of the Indian media in reporting India’s recent achievements in space. India crashed its billion naira craft into the moon recently and nobody is laughing over why it couldn’t keep the craft in tact there on the moon.

            Critics who think the poverty level in Nigeria and Africa should keep Nigeria and Africa from space technology need to reflect on this fact: the population of people living under poverty line, in extreme squalor in India is more than 600 million for this Asian giant of over one billion people. That figure of 600 million is more than three times the population of the whole of Nigeria and well near the entire population of Africa. Should the presence of poverty make us not to seek long term growth or seek not to sit in glory with other nations in the area of technology? We must learn from our failings and move on. We must insist on building our own human capacity in space and other technologies; indeed in other human endeavors. And most importantly we must fight corruption, set our goals and pursue them with the zeal of the Chinese and the intellectually stimulating patience of the Indians. If you think the New World Order is not rising in Asia, ponder why the west is asking the Chinese to fund the IMF to rescue western economic institutions.

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One Response to “On Nigeria's Space Technology – One Write-Up, Two Interviews and An Essay”

  1. EGON says:

    Thank you.

    EGON

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