Nigeria can still garner a wide range of socio-economic dividends, if the country and its leaders demonstrate considerable commitment to its investment in the space programme. These were the words of a space scientist and deputy director, Space Research and Innovation, Africa Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in English (ARCSSTEE), Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, Dr. Bolarinwa Balogun.
Dr. Balogun spoke at a recent WhatsApp interactive programme monitored from his base in Ile-Ife.
Several countries are currently running robust space programmes through which such nations and their peoples have reaped substantial benefits in different spheres of life.
Dr Balogun, at the exciting session, harped on the many advantages that a robust space programme could have on the human condition.
The cerebral scholar averred that these days, space technology has a great impact on many terrestrial activities, including aviation, climate changes, agriculture, telecommunications, security, health and others.
“Space is almost everything these days,” he asserted. “He who controls the space controls the land or surface. From space, one stands in a better position to see what people on the surface cannot see. The field of view is vast and the view is impressive. Space science and technology is useful in internal and external security architecture. Space assets, like the meteorological satellites, give information that helps in precision farming and weather forecast. Space telescopes, like the Hubble, allow clearer and better viewing of the external objects and phenomena that may have destructive impacts on the earth. Satellites help to reveal sea surface and global temperature that can help in the understanding of systems that deal with food security and sea-level rise that can lead to flooding. A robust national space programme therefore portends far greater benefits for the country that has it.”
Balogun informed the participants, which comprised dozens of eminent professionals in several fields across different continents, that activities towards having a Nigerian Space Programme started in the mid-1980s. He informed that some scientists in the academia including the Late Professor V.O.S. Olunloyo (University of Lagos), Professor E.E. Balogun (Obafemi Awolowo University), Dr. Ade Adigun (ex-Chair, United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS)), among others, were about the first set of experts to mull the idea.
“In 1976, the Federal Government of Nigeria made its first investment of N10 million into the space industry, being one of the first countries in Africa to join the ranks of space-faring nations. It currently maintains one of the biggest space programmes on the continent. The structured investment received a boost during a joint session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Organisation of African Unity in 1976, where Nigeriafirst expressed its ambition to join the elite league of nations with outer space programmes.”
Balogun explained that the country eventually established the National Centre for Remote Sensing (NCRS), which started operations in 1996. Other institutes involved in the development of space science, technology, research and education in Nigeria are the UNECA Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Surveys (RECTAS), UN-, Ife; African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in English (ARCSSTEE), Ife, which was founded in 1998, and the Department or Consultancy Units in some universities, such as the University of Lagos, Federal University of Technology, Minna, and the University of Ibadan, among others.
The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) was established in 1999, he explained.
“The mission of NASRDA is to basically use space-related research and development outcomes to improve the national socio-economic development and enhance the quality of life of Nigerians, and mankind in general. Professor Boroffice was to become the pioneer Director General of NASRDA and managed the Agency from 1999 to December 2008.”
He noted that two major satellites were launched in space through foreign collaborative efforts by the Boroffice-led body.
“The first satellite, an optical Earth Observation satellite called NigeriaSat1 was launched in 2003, while the second, a communication satellite, was launched in 2007. The Nigeria Communication Satellite (NigComsat1) was built in and launched by China Great Wall Incorporation Company (CGWIC) between 2005 and 2007 with Ground control and receiving stations both in Kashigar, China and Abuja in Nigeria. Other ground control stations were also built for the purposes of managing the Earth Observation space assets, in a way that brings back maximum benefits to the country.”
Asked why it has been difficult for the country to place space programme development at the top of its to-do list, Balogun explained that finance had always been a major reason.
“It is difficult for anyone to think that space programme in Nigeria will be prioritised under the current economic conditions,” he admitted. “However, it still depends on what we want as a people and country. If we see and understand that almost all the terrestrial problems could be solved by answers provided in space, we will invest stupendously in the space programme.”
He, noted, though that some people, due to ignorance or low education, might quarrel with any plans to commit substantial resources to a space programme, as “we have not solved the problems on earth.”
He cited India is one country with a large population of the poor that has invested a lot in her national space programme. “The benefits are there for the country to enjoy today, with a lot of returns on investments,” Balogun said.
The scientist said his interest in space was informed by his discovery of the infinite opportunities and possibilities that space offers. “Space is limitless. It is an infinite extension. It will always present uncountable areas for unimaginable fields of research. Future spin-offs from space will make living more exciting for mankind,” he submitted.
Speaking on what the future portends for Nigeria’s space programme, Balogun said Nigeria itself would determine where its space programme would be.
“If the country sees space programme as being very strategic to her development and gives it the required attention and support, then the programme can be hoped to fulfil its mission in a few years,” he noted. “An example is to consider the NASRDA’s plan to get a Nigerian into space by 2025. It is a lofty idea, but are the resources available to actualize it? Intensive funding is required to begin to fabricate parts and build satellites locally. Fund is needed to build launch pads, build rockets that can carry payloads into space. It is all about money in the space industry. But in Nigeria, we will also need to consider the Nigerian factors or factors in Nigeria to make the funds released to accomplish purpose.
“All the investments in the Nigeria Space Programme are still not up to a tip of the iceberg in the space world or space industry. To have a Nigerian in space is a long walk that requires a national determination or goal and necessary financial commitment. There is a pending goal of putting a Nigerian in space. But beyond the letters, there is a need for action.”
Space programmes in the world, he noted, are very expensive ventures that require time to mature to the point that they will add evidential value to the people and the environment.