Nigeria Decides: How Nigeria’s presidential election could shape the future of Nigeria’s space sector

Source: ThisDay

With less than 24 hours to the presidential election in Nigeria, it is expedient to examine the manifesto of Nigeria’s top political parties with a keen interest in their policies towards the space sector.

Let me point out, ideologies and policies are beginning to take the centre stage of Nigeria’s presidential campaigns, unlike before, when ethnic, religious and political sentiments dominated campaign utterances.

The growth of an informed middle class and more productive use of social media in political dialogue, especially Twitter, may have ushered in new dynamics in Nigeria’s political process.

The political dialogues are generating traction with respect to pushing candidates to provide clear and precise answers to the many unanswered governance questions, as well as, the core leadership challenges across the nation.

Let me also state that the space sector is not a priority in Nigeria, considering that about 87 million Nigerians still live in absolute poverty and about 13 million children are not in school. One could expect healthcare, education, economic empowerment and infrastructural development to take the centre stage of each party’s manifesto. There is also an urgent need to address Nigeria’s power crisis and drastically reduce unemployment which is currently at an all-time high of 43.3%.

To be fair, I analyzed each party’s manifesto for the growth of science and technology in general, with a petty interest in plans for space research and development.

For this piece, I selected parties of the leading presidential candidates: the ruling All Progressives Congress (whose candidate is incumbent, President Muhammed Buhari), the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (whose candidate is Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar) and the Young Progressive Party (whose candidate is Prof Kingsley Moghalu). There is no formal criterion for arriving at the selection from a poll of 72 accredited political parties and presidential aspirants. I based the selection on my personal assessment. Feel free to highlight your opinion in the comment section if you think another presidential aspirant merits the top three spot.

So taking a step back to the core discourse, I examined the APC’s Next Level document. For the PDP, I assessed the Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again presentation. For Prof Kingsley Moghalu and the Youth Progressive Party, I examined the Build, Innovate, and Grow – My Vision for our Country document.

Let’s retrospect on the history of space science and technology in Nigeria starting from the establishment of the National Agency for Space Research and Development (NASRDA) in 1999.

Although, Nigeria’s interest in space dates back to 1976 when the then Head of State announced Nigeria’s ambition to join the elite league of nations with outer space programs at a joint session of the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the Organization of African Union. Preparatory policies followed between 1976 to 1980, leading to the establishment of a 10million naira National Remote Sensing Centre which started operation in 1996. A blueprint of what later became known as NASRDA was contained in the National Space Science and Technology Policy drafted by a nine-man committee.

The Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration of the People’s Democratic Party released initial funding of $93 million for the establishment of NASRDA. In 2001, the administration adopted the Space Policy.

NARSDA witnessed unwavering government support, since 2001, up to 2007 when the Obasanjo-led administration came to an end. The government funded the launch of three satellites, including the NIGCOMSAT-1R which was later launched in 2011 using proceeds of the insurance of the failed NIGCOMSAT-1.

President Obasanjo’s successor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who is also a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) continued in the footsteps of his predecessor. NASRDA received capital funding to launch NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X, totalling five satellites launched by Nigeria under the PDP administration.

Also, the Obasanjo-led administration incorporated the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Limited on April 4, 2006, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Communication.

In essence, Nigeria’s space programme witnessed massive government support during PDP’s 16-year administration, including establishing the principal space agency, financing Nigeria’s five satellites and incorporating NigComSat.

It is important to point out that PDP’s current presidential aspirant Atiku Abubakar played a crucial role in the history of Nigeria’s space programme between 1999 – 2007, during the time he served as a Vice President. He is likely to continue the same executive support for the space sector.

A similar analysis of the space sector under the APC administration reveals that the sector may not have made much progress in the past four years. The space sector witnessed two major milestones during this period; the signing of the Defense Space Administration Act in 2016 and the launch of the NigeriaEduSAT-1 in 2017.

In 2018, the media rumoured that Nigeria is set to acquire two more communication satellites from Chinese partners in a $550 million equity deal. The deal has not matured yet.

The PDP has a better record of support for Nigeria’s space programme than the incumbent APC, following the above review of Nigeria’s space history.

Let’s revisit the parties’ manifesto to review:

  1. Which party truly understands the place of science and technology such as space science in addressing the nation’s pressing challenges of insecurity, poverty and youth unemployment?
  2. Which party has feasible plans to revitalize government-owned science and research institutions?
  3. Which party has feasible plans to bolster private sector-driven innovation in S&T sector

On a general note, Prof Kingleys Moghalu’s Build, Innovate and Grow – My Vision for our Country document has a more coherent masterpiece on driving a private sector-led Science Technology economy. The document aptly underscores the place of Science and Tech in helping improve Nigeria’s economy. “We don’t seem to realize that even these
priorities require the application of science and technology to be truly productive”. Prof Kingsley highlighted the current poor performance of the nation’s S&T institutions, including the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, the National Space Research and Development Agency, the National Biotechnology Development Agency and numerous technology business incubator centres located across the country. He noted, “Clearly, with such an armada of STI institutions, the gap between their existence and a felt impact of STI in Nigeria’s national consciousness and in its economy, must be bridged as a matter of urgency”.

Prof Kingsley’s policy plan for driving growth in STI is summarized in this statement – “Institutions and markets must exist in order to enable technology and innovation to thrive. Institutions include those that protect and regulate private property. Markets mean environments that offer commercial applications for innovation, with the private sector, not governments playing the most important role except in the case of industries such as defence”.

Nigeria desperately needs well-funded private sector-led and academic research programs to provide long-term solutions to the nation’s setbacks. Atiku Abubakar’s “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again” plans to “promote research in science and technology
through the establishment of a National Research and Innovation Fund”. With government-owned STI institutions burning billions of naira in recurrent expenditures yearly without measurable impact, the private sector-focused Research and Innovation Fund will be of great economic value if properly operated.

Atiku’s plan to commercialize some government-owned entities could benefit the STI sector. For instance, full commercialization of NigComSat Ltd will remove redundancy and ensure the company performs fairly in a competitive market. NigComSat’s counterpart, NileSat, is publicly traded and generates huge annual revenue for the Egyptian economy.

The Atiku document makes shallow commitments to STI with generic statements about “developing and promoting Science and Technical Education to create skills for the new economy”.

The APC’s Next Level document lacks substance and coherence. The document represents a masterpiece of social welfare, a continuation of N-power and Trade Moni schemes. The APC document highlights include the following shallow statements that seem more like campaign promises than an economic plan.
“We will remodel 10,000 schools every year and retrain our teachers to impart science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics using coding, animation, robotics to re-interpret our curriculum.”
“Every Child Counts will make our students digitally literate in Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.”
“Provide USD500m innovation fund to tech and creative sector
to create 500,000 jobs.”
The document fails to emphasize the place of STI, research and the private sector in addressing the nation’s challenges.
Let me also point out that the Next Level- The Entrepreneur Bank, in its generic framework, is a mere duplication of the duties of the Bank of Industry, the Bank of Agriculture, CBN’s SME financing programs and other government-sponsored investment parastatals.

While experts recommend that the government reduces its involvement in business activities in the market to regulatory and providing a healthy environment, the Next Level plan seeks to actualize exactly the opposite.