Nigeria: Back in Space…

Some seven weeks after the flawless launch of China’s unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft into a low earth orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in China, Nigeria’s Nigcomsat-1R was yesterday successfully launched into space from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. - Digital satellite to be Launched at DaarSat, Nigeria

Meanwhile, back on earth, the success will bring considerable reprieve to the Nigcomsat Limited, the government agency charged with responsibility of operating and managing Nigerian communications satellites. The successful launch will also bring some relief to the embattled Goodluck Jonathan presidency which is being confronted with a laundry list of earthly problems.

Ahead of yesterday’s launch, during a visit to Nigcomsat Limited’s headquarters in Abuja which hosts the organisation’s tracking, command and control base, LEADERSHIP observed a palpable air of excited anticipation. Ground-based antennas for satellite tracking, telemetry and control bristled, peering into the heavens. Smartly clad Chinese personnel, mission/project partners, strutted their stuff. Giving some insight into the benefits of the satellite, Managing Director, Nigcomsat Limited, Engr.Timasaniyu Ahmed Rufai told LEADERSHIP that the launch is expected to boost Nigeria’s Global Competitive Index (GDI) ranking even as the services it will provide for telecommunications, broadcast, broadband internet, among others and will greatly enhance Nigeria’s race to achieve the Vision 20:2020 goals. Nigcomsat 1R is a replacement satellite of Nigcomsat 1 which malfunctioned and was subsequently de-orbited on November 10, 2008.

It was built by China Great Wall Industries Corporation (CGWIC). The replacement satellite launched yesterday is at no cost to Nigeria.

At home in his element, gangling Rufai told LEADERSHIP that, “the satellite will provide Ku-band, C-band, Ka-band and Navigation payloads capability. The Ku-band payload will have 14 operational channels, 2 fixed beams over Western and Eastern Africa. The C-band payload will have 4 channels with coverage of Western Africa. The Ka-band payload will have 8 channels providing communications using 3 fixed spot beams over Europe, South Africa and Nigeria for trunking services and broadcasting.

“The Navigation payload shall receive 2 uplink signals at C-band covering Nigeria and Europe, and transmit 2 downlink signals at L-band, L1 and L5, using a global coverage. The spacecraft is designed such that each Radio Frequency (RF) channel shall meet the specified requirements, work well throughout its Service Life including eclipse conditions and also work well with allowance for degradation, wear-out and radiation damage”.

According to the Rufai, Nigcomsat has over 200 trained and equipped engineers and a well established ground control station at Abuja, Nigeria and a backup station at Kashi, China for the spacecraft tracking & control, Payloads Management and technology customisations and domestication.

He further told LEADERSHIP that “our strategic plan is centred on using our assets, the staff, the satellite and complementary ground infrastructures as an extraordinary vehicle to drive the National ICT revolution in pursuit of self-reliance and required skills for engineering and technology domestication of secured satellite bandwidth and telecommunication services for defence, security outfits and other strategic telecommunications and broadcast needs of the nation.”

LEADERSHIP also gleaned that Nigcomsat Limited seeks to partner with all stakeholders to complement existing terrestrial telecommunication infrastructures to promote universal access through innovative, affordable, high speed broadband telecommunication services to enhance ICT usage, ICT skills and increase IDI (ICT development index) of Nigerian citizens. “This will ultimately diversify monolithic national revenue, create jobs, and improve security and socio-economic development of Nigeria,” Rufai drawled.

Nigcomsat Limited was incorporated as a limited liability company in April 2006 and is responsible for the operation and management of Nigerian communications satellites starting with Nigcomsat-1 which was launched in May 2007 but de-orbited after 18 months. A replacement satellite, Nigcomsat -1R, launched yesterday, has the same features but with a few modifications as Nigcomsat-1. Nigcomsat-1R, becomes the second Nigerian communication satellite, is to be placed into a geosynchronous orbit, a term that means it matches the speed of earth’s rotation. This feature makes it appear to hover over a particular area over earth. It has a launch mass of 5,100 kg with an expected service life-span of 15 years. In effect, by 2026, Nigeria will need to replace it in the same orbital slot.

The successful launch of Nigcomsat 1R yesterday, on borrowed Chinese wings, once again draws attention to the imperative of domesticating science, engineering and technology on the home front to drive genuine development. There is more.

A Flawed Search?

When former President Bill Clinton of the US and ex British Prime Minister Tony Blair closed ranks to launch the rough draft of the human genome almost a decade ago, it was thought that Nigeria, nay Africa’s top policy think tanks and leaders got the message: ” Real political power,” at regional and global levels is concentrated in countries leading in various fields of science and technology. On the African continent, four countries – Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya, by a loose consensus appear positioned to lead an African scientific Uhuru.

With little question, Nigeria and Africa needs to inject more resources into research and development activities. Few nations on the continent have allocated the minimal 0.2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product agreed upon over two decades ago under auspices of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) besides other related positions of other fora.

From President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2012 budget proposal sent to thye National Assembly, the allocation to the science sector does not indicate any serious appreciation of the fundamentality of science, engineering and technology to human development.

Commonly, in analyzing larger African issues that centre on economic, scientific, technological and political emancipation, Nigeria, without prejudice to the other southern behemoth, holds an important continental position. Experts do not find this surprising. They hold that Nigeria is both the demographic and natural resource centre of gravity of the continent. By implication, Africa’s house of science ought then to have its main laboratory in Nigeria. What is the reality?

Since the establishment of the Yaba College of Technology in 1932, to facilitate the country’s demystification and domestication of science, engineering and technology, commensurate attitudinal and socio-industrial changes are yet to reward the effort. Perhaps, the heightening awareness of this reality informed the conceptualization of the “Technology Summit” by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), with inputs from the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMS&T). More recently, this platform which is modeled after the highly successful National Economic Summit has been taken over by FMS&T and re-named National Science, Engineering and Technology Summit. To-date, all these have fizzled out.

Notwithstanding the summit’s distinctive profile as a qualitative advocacy platform to spearhead the emergent re-focusing of SET-based national development, it indisputable relevance flies in the face of the studied indifference its previous and subsequent blue prints have met with.

According to Professor Gordian Ezekwe, the late scientific genius who anchored defunct Biafra’s house of science – and later, Nigeria’s, “Socio-historical speculations have identified the process of taming the state, in its broadest, including the evolution of instruments, attitudes and traditions that nurture this process, as an important, pre-condition for the growth of a science-based culture in different parts of the world.”

Creative science, according to Ezekwe who headed the strategic Ministry of Science and Technology, takes root where there is a democratic control of the state apparatus, where a responsive and sensitive state assumes the role of a creative facilitator. On a more optimistic note, Ezekwe noted that, “recent trend toward political pluralism therefore augurs well for Africa.

When Professor Philip Emeagwali, Nigerian-born, US-based computer expert was asked in a recent interview whether he will return to his country and continue his work, his response is fundamentally instructive. While he held it would have been the ideal scenario, he stated Nigeria’s current culture does not support an environment that sustains exploration, or explorers of knowledge. Emeagwali’s position is amplified by the current puzzling crisis in the country’s University education system where President Goodluck Jonathan-led government has essentially declined to make meaningful concessions to the academicians who have been endlessly protesting skewed funding and antiquated equipment of Universities.

The imperative of science, engineering and technology in the future of Nigeria and Africa are not in question. A World Bank study dramatizes the situation even better.

The study revealed that it took the United Kingdom, the first industrial nation, 58 years (1780-1838) to double her per capita income. In contrast, with vast improvement in technology it took some Asian countries much less time.

For example, it took Japan 34 years (1885-1919); Indonesia – 17 years (1968-1985); South Korea – 11years (1966-1977) and China-10years (1977-1987). Whereas it took the West three generations to demystify and domesticate the technology of coal and iron, the so-called ‘Asian Tigers took less than one generation to master microchips technology and achieve international prosperity prestige.

Besides the World Bank effort, several related studies equally validate the unquestionable relevance of science and its cousins. It was the 1987 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, Professor Robert Solow, whose award winning work sought to analytically quantify the contribution of technology, a derivative of science, to economic growth. By examining the relationship between output and technology, Solow attempted to measure the contribution of technological change to economic growth in the United States over a 40-year period (1909-1949). Solow’s analysis revealed that while output per man doubled within this period, only 12.5 percent of this increase was due to the use of more capital. The remaining 87.5 percent was attributable to technological advancement.

In his own contribution former president of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences, Professor Anya O. Anya left nobody in doubt as to his fundamental grasp of both the history and implication of the mastery of science. His words: “The analytical Cartesian mode of thought coupled with the determinism of Newton’s mechanics and Darwin’s evolutionary ethos provided the world view which fostered a new development paradigm.”

And more….”This world view is the intellectual and cultural anchor of the phenomenon which we call the industrial revolution of the 19th century which established the western dominance of the world economic scene.” In all, these thoughts point to the indisputable fact that science, engineering and technology are the languages with which to express humanity’s dreams.

Unquestionably, the gulf between genuine sovereignty and prosperity on one hand and dependency and mass poverty on the other is to be found in the level of a country’s science, engineering and technology (SET). In this connection, analysts hold that bountiful endowments in human and material resources are meaningless unless advances in SET are demystified domesticated and applied to solve the country’s industrial, socio-economic and infrastructural problems. Nigeria is yet to work this path and this has linkages to her current developmental woes.

Light At Tunnel’s End?

Nigeria, since political independence, has had elaborate development plans. Analysts note that inspite of the rolling plans, austerity measure of the 1970s; Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) of the 1980; deregulated and guided-deregulated economy of the 1990’s, several economic and technology summits and over 40 research institutes, the Nigerian economy and house of science are still in shambles.

This situation obtain, observes say, because besides spectacular failures in both development and political leadership, Nigeria has grossly neglected the productive arm of economics, technology which is the child of a vibrant temple of science.

Can the existing scenario be turned around? Can Nigeria chart a new SET direction and lead Africa out of the present technological quagmire? Can she develop an indigenous capacity, marshal the necessary political will and organisation to stop boosting its communication satellites on borrowed wings and even facilitate putting a robotic explorer on Mars? Big questions! But there appears to be some positive movements in this direction.

Recently, a memorandum on a new policy on Science, Technology and Innovation was rolled out. The document, signed by the Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Science and Technology Prof. Mohammed Abubakar was presented to the National Council on Science and Technology on May 13 in Lagos.

At press time, the memo has been adopted by the council with the expectation to reinforce the provision and utilisation of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) infrastructure for the attainment of macro-economic and socio objectives as elaborated in the vision 20:2020. The council comprises the minister and commissioners of science and technology, federal and states permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals under the ministry.

It explained that the new policy, with the inclusion of “Innovation”, aims at reforming and optimizing Science and Technology (S&T) for enterprise development, wealth and job creation and enhanced global competitiveness.

The document appropriately recalled that to enable Nigeria benefit adequately from the application of Science and Technology (S&T), a national policy was first formulated in 1986. It further revealed that the policy was reviewed in 1997 and 2003, but both review processes were inconclusive as they lacked necessary legal support.

Clearly, this is an important initiative but it must be followed through. The government and policy drivers of Nigeria’s science, engineering and technology sector ought to become really far more serious in translating memos to action. By 2026 when Nigcomsat 1R will be due for replacement, Nigeria may then have the indigenous capacity to build and launch its own Nigcomsat 2 in home-grown laboratories and on local wings.


Source: All Africa.Com – 20 Dec 2011