13 September 2017

Nigeria: Space Business Should Attract More Government Attention - Onuh

interview

The Centre for Satellite Technology Development, CSTD, is one of the activity centres in the National Space Research and Development Agency, NARSDA.

It is mandated to design and manufacture all kinds of satellites. The centre is credited to have a hand in all satellites that have been built for Nigeria ranging from Nigeria Sat 1, Nigeria Sat 2, Nigeria Sat 3, NigComSat 1, NigComSat R, which are the products of Nigerian engineers.

Despite these feats, there are still opinions that the country is yet to reap the desired benefits of space technology.

In this interview, the Director and Chief Executive of the Centre, Dr. Spencer Onuh, speaks on the imperative of deregulating the space sector Excerpts:

Let's begin with the Earth observation satellite you have consistently harped on. Why do we need it when we have launched more than three satellites?

Nigeria went into the acquisition of Earth Observation Satellite for sustainable development but is not being fully utilised at 15 percent because awareness is poor compared to the communication satellite, which has gone viral (65%) due to the deregulation of the telecommunication sector by the Obasanjo administration.

When you hear about all satellites that have been built by Nigeria, Nigeria Sat 1, Nigeria Sat 2, Nigeria Sat 3, NigComSat 1, NigComSat R, these are the products of our engineers. These are two different types of satellites.

Why the disparity in usage?

Communication satellites have gone viral because of the deregulation of the sector, whereby anybody, anywhere can do whatever transaction he wishes to do like mobile banking, go to ATM, internet banking, broadband, radio, TV and DSTV, can access it. All these depend on Communication satellite and Nigerians leverage on it to improve their businesses and life.

For the Earth observation satellite, Nigeria went into it for sustainable development. It is not being fully utilised because awareness is poor. Take agriculture for instance, we are still living at the primitive level and struggling to feed the growing and explosive population.

So the Earth Observation satellite can enhance farming?

Yes. The satellites have the ability of assisting the farmer significantly in which areas are best for farming. I am not talking about precision farming but about scientific aspects of agriculture.

In terms of town planning, cities like Abuja should be planned with images from our satellites.

There are a lot of talk about IGR, how do you generate revenue when you do not have correct data? With the use of our earth observation satellite, we can map out the whole city in a way we can know the number of houses, roads, type of buildings available, so that when you want to charge tenement rate, you will not be deceived.

Even in terms of security, border monitoring, we need metrological satellite to aid security agencies.

So with the Earth observation satellite, are we where we should be?

No, we are not because there is no political will to explore the potentials in the space technology. The former minister came here and made promises that government is going to prioritise the building of satellite fabrication centre called Assembling Integration Testing centre, AIT but that has not been done. This current minister has also visited and made similar promise. We hope this time the minister will fulfil his promise.

Why is AIT necessary?

It is necessary because it will serve as the centre where all kinds of satellites would be fabricated from scratch to finish. All the satellites launched by Nigeria were not build here because we did not have the AIT. But with the centre in place, I can tell you that there is no type of satellite we will not built here. We have the capacity and man power but what we lack is the infrastructure.

Beyond building satellites locally, the centre will also serve other African countries who may wish to come here to build and launch their satellites. In fact, the AIT will be the hub of satellite launch in Africa. This will also serve as major revenue earner for government.

What should government do?

Government should challenge us by providing all needed infrastructure and create the enabling environment for the private sector to come in like what was done in the deregulation of the telecom sector, which has paid off in the maximal use of the communication satellite. The space sector should be fully liberalised to allow private sector come in, that is the global best practice.

We cannot continue to run a space sector with annual budget. That is not the best. All the nations that have advanced in the space sector do not run it with annual budget but with special intervention fund in collaboration with the private sector. The sector is very capital intensive and so, it will be unreasonable to think that Nigeria can succeed in space technology when the sector is run with budgetary allocation.

We have not being challenged enough. Government should challenge us and they will see what we will do.

What is CSTD Week about?

We organised the CSTD Week to see how best we can explore the immense opportunities that abound in the space sector. As the theme suggests: Integration of Space Technology in Nigeria: A Spectrum of Opportunities, it a gathering of all stakeholders from the space agencies, academia and research institutions to brainstorm on how best to synergise and explore the huge benefits in the sector for the economy.

NASA Chief recently said, there is more going on in space now than he has ever seen in his career, do you share this view?

Yes, I agree with him. There are more going on now in the sector that we can leverage on and develop this economy in every aspect including agriculture, security, town planning, communication, climate change and weather forecast, medicine, digitization and many more.

Do we really need N550m to build two more Communication satellites?

Yes, we do. As it is now, we do not have enough satellite. We need more satellite and back up satellites. The more satellites we have the better for us. As you know, every satellite has a life span. Earth Observation satellite has a life span of 6 to 8 years, while Communication satellites have 9 to 12 years.

In three year time, our communication satellite will expire in the orbit and that means we will need a replacement.

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