The federal government is currently making effort to save the nation a whopping sum of $20 billion lost in capital flight annually through patronising foreign satellites.
This was disclosed by the director, Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD), Dr Spencer Onuh, in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP at the weekend.
With the establishment of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in 2001, Nigeria ventured into satellite space technology.
LEADERSHIP checks revealed that the country may have spent over N83 billion on the launch of five satellites since then.
Nigeria launched its first earth observation satellite, NigeriaSat-1, on September 27, 2003. The satellite launched by Kosmos-3M rocket from Russian Plesetsk spaceport cost the nation $30 million.
NigeriaSat-1 was followed with a communication satellite, NigComSat-1, valued at $200 million, which was ordered and built in China in 2004. It was completed and launched on May, 13 2007.
NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X are Nigeria’s third and fourth satellites built at a cost of over £35 million. They were launched into the orbit by Ukrainian Dnepr rocket from a Yasny military base in Russia on August, 17, 2011.
The country launched its fifth satellite, the NigComSat-1R in 2011 at no cost to the federal government when the NigComSat-1 failed in orbit after running out of power due to an anomaly in its solar array.
The new Nigerian communications satellite was delivered in the fourth quarter of 2011 and subsequently launched into orbit by China in Xichang on December 19, 2011.
In all of this, the nation continue to spend money runing into billions which is in capital flight since the funds were spent on foreign companies.
Shedding light on the nation’s massive capital flight in satellite technology to other developed countries, Onu pointed out that the absence of a backup satellite was responsible for the trend, saying one communication satellite is not enough for the country.
He said, “NigComSat 1R is not enough for this country; it is not sufficient. A number of foreign TVs, even our own national television, are careful to transfer their services fully to NigComSat 1R because it is just one. What do you do when there is a failure? The television stations are set up for businesses, the mobile phone companies are for businesses, they want their money. If I am making a call, it is not my business to know whether the satellite is working or not. The service must be given because I paid for it”.
He also said the federal government was taking steps to acquire two additional back up satellites at the cost of $550million, Nigcomsat 2 and 3, for the Nigcomsat 1R to reduce capital flight, create jobs, get more businesses in the ECOWAS sub region and improve the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
His words: “It is not an issue of redundancy, there is a need for market expansion. Nigeria is a huge market and we are using other country satellites because of the fear of failure of NigComSat 1R but if NigComSat 2 and 3 are available, they become a backup for NigComSat 1R and also open up the market opportunities even to the ECOWAS sub-region for us. It is a money spinner. It is not going to gulp money without bringing out any other thing.
“It is going to generate a huge revenue base in hard currency which the country seriously need now. It will lead to some measure of employment as well when this is done. So, it is a very good proposal. Even private companies that own satellites don’t have only one. Some of them have five to six satellites, but mostly communication satellites which spin money. The return on investment is very fast but what happens in most advanced satellite countries is that these things are given out to private sectors to manage; they are not under government management and you can see the results”.
Onuh further said Nigerian engineers in the agency were acquiring more scientific knowledge because they are involved in the process of putting the satellite together, adding that the nation would launch its partly indigenous satellite at the third quarter of 2017.
“We have gone far. We can’t say it is 100 per cent indigenous. It is going to be launched very soon but it is between NARSDA, Federal University of Technology (FUT) Akure and the University in Japan. The minister with some officials were there about four weeks ago. It has been completed and it willbe launched from the international space station by hand. So, the group from Japanese Space Agency will take it to the international space station and launch it from there. It is a very simple satellite that can capture images”, he added.
In a recent survey by Philip Consulting, Nigeria spent close to $1.3 billion monthly on internet services.
The amount could have been substantially saved if the NigComSat-1R services are properly deployed in the country but over the years, the satellite services have been neglected even by the government who spent a lot of money to launch it.
The recent digital switch over of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) did not also take advantage of the satellite.