Space policy is the political decision-making process for, and application of, the public policy of a state (or association of states) regarding spaceflight and uses of outer space, both for civilian (scientific and commercial) and military purposes. International treaties, such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, attempt to maximise the peaceful uses of space and restrict the militarisation of space.
Many space-faring nations have developed their space programs off the back of their space policies, while some have simply started their program and developed a strategy to boot. The strategy works as a compass for guiding the objectives of a country’s space program while creating benchmarks with which the progress or otherwise of the plan is made.
Nigeria’s Space voyage
Nigeria was one of the African nations that were quick to recognise the importance of space science and technology towards national development. Nigeria declared its space ambition during an intergovernmental meeting of Economic Commission for Africa (ECOWAS) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) member countries in 1976. This interest did not materialise into any substantial action until 1987 when the National Council of Ministers approved the establishment of a National Centre for Remote Sensing. The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology constituted a National Committee on Space Applications.
By 1993, Nigeria established the Directorate of Science by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). The mandate of the directorate included space science and technology. NASENI later constituted a nine-person committee of experts that produced a draft national space science and technology policy. Based on the draft policy, the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) was established on May 5, 1999, with the explicit mandate to “vigorously pursue the attainment of space capabilities as an essential tool for the socio-economic development and the enhancement of the quality of life of Nigerians”.
The Nigerian space program is managed by the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA). The space policy was approved in May 2000.
How effective has the Space Policy been?
To further encourage economic participation in the space sector, the Space policy was operated on three wheels bordering on public-private partnership; this involves the short, medium, and long-term plans. Within the short-term plan, the government is responsible for all investments in space technology development. In the medium-term, the government implements the partial commercialisation of NASRDA’s products and services developed during the short-term economic development plan. In the long-term plan, the government partners with the private sector to implement the public-private partnership framework for the space program.
Consequently, within the short-term economic development plan, six research centres and two companies were established. The research centres are the Centre for Remote Sensing, Jos; Centre for Satellite Technology Development, Abuja; Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, Toro; Centre for Space Transport and Propulsion, Epe; Centre for Basic Space Science and Astronomy, Nsukka; and Centre for Space Science and Technology Education, Ile-Ife. The two companies are the Nigeria Communication Satellite (NigComSat) Limited and the GeoApps Plus Limited (previously called Nigeriasat Imageries and Consultancy Services Limited). NigComSat Limited was set up in April 2006 to market products from the Nigerian communication satellites. Similarly, GeoApps Plus Limited was established in September 2007 to market products from the Nigerian earth observation satellites.
In a bid to entertain more participation in Space activities, the National Space Research and Development Agency Act 2010 (NASRDA ACT) was enacted. This Act served as a regulation for space activities within Nigeria by both citizens and non‐citizens. The National Space Council (NSC) became Nigeria’s space regulator. NSC was responsible for issuing licenses to private innovators to participate heavily in the sector. This was towards enforcing the medium-term plan of the national space policy. The results were impressive as several companies joined the space sector and contributed to its continued growth.
This growth did not leave out NASRDA, as several kinds of research were conducted in satellite technology such as; Earth observation (EO) satellites, Communication satellites, Meteorological satellites, and Navigational satellites. However, the current focus of the space program involves development in Earth observation and communication satellites. Nigeria has since launched six satellites namely: NigeriaSat-1 (2003), NigComSat-1 (2007), NigeriaSat-2 (2011), NigeriaSat-X (2011), NigComSat-1R (2011) and NigeriaEduSat-1 (2017). The success of these programs should signify that the Nigeria Space Policy has been successful; however, as the country moves closer to its 2025 policy deadline, there is more left undone.
Lapses in the space program
By now, Nigeria should have started working on the final stages of its economic plan, wherein Government now focuses extensively on regulatory and supervisory roles, allowing for a more vibrant space economy. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
One of the cardinal objectives of the space policy was to establish a full-capacity rocket launch facility in Nigeria. What Nigeria has, despite having barely five years left of its policy’s lifestyle, is a rocket testing facility. While this is not just a Nigerian problem but an African endemic, Nigeria has as much potential as other top African space-faring nations and may miss out on the opportunity. Hinged on this is also the promise of launching Nigeria’s first astronaut by 2015. In 2016, Nigeria made a new commitment to sending an astronaut to space by 2030.
Despite the promise of being a prime satellite manufacturer in Africa, most of Nigeria’s satellites have been manufactured by non-Nigerian entities, with only a fraction of input from the Federal University of Technology Akure. This was one of the big promises and benchmark for the space policy, and Nigeria is defaulting.
The policy also promised to help reduce financial crimes and terrorism in Nigeria but is far behind in its promises. The inefficiency in helping to minimise crimes wholly steeps into the removal of trade barriers for private companies to participate in the sector.
The future of Nigeria’s Space Program and Policy
Identifying the failure of the space policy, while equally acknowledging its strides, NASRDA’s recently appointed Acting Director-General, Dr Francis Chizea reflected during an interview with Space in Africa on the successes and failures of the policy, promising a reform. He said: “We have not been able to achieve some of the goals, but we will review these to push us forward in the right direction. But everyone sets out a road map on what they want to achieve, but that does mean everything must be achieved. It’s giving yourself a very wide target”.
“Policies should be reviewed after five years. Currently, things are changing very fast, and there are also some sentences you would want to change or add. So looking at the space policy will entail reviewing all those things detailed in the 25 years road map for the implementation”.
“We have to be able to look at the policy once more and find out where we are in the implementation of that roadmap, and why we weren’t able to implement it to where it should be. We will as well examine and deliberate on how we can overcome all of these hindrances”.
Nigeria needs to pursue a space policy that no longer only stands out in Africa but competes with global space-faring nations. Perhaps in the future, a review of this policy will further strengthen Nigeria’s space industry, encouraging it to finally send its astronauts to space, launch rockets from home-soil and build more satellites locally. This progress or the lack of them will hinge on the benchmark that will be set by an overdue space policy document and the effectiveness with which it is pursued.