The federal government has said that it will go ahead to build and launch two new satellites, despite an alleged loss of about $10 billion to foreign geospatial information sourcing firms due to what insiders term as lack of awareness on the space potential of Nigeria.
Nigeria, it would be recalled, already has two satellites in the orbit, Nigeria Sat 1 and Nigeria Sat X, the second built exclusively by Nigerian scientists.
Announcing government’s decision, Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications, recently said that the government would build and launch the two satellites with an expected $550 million from China’s Export-Import Bank.
The money, he explained, covered 85 percent of the cost of the project, while investors and government in Nigeria would fund the rest 15 percent of the cost.
Inside sources at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) told one of our Tech Correspondent, that one of the proposed satellites has eavesdropping capabilities.
According to him, “The satellite can capture signals from all telecommunication installation in areas it is tasked to cover. What this means is that things like voice calls, video calls, e-mails can be captured.”
The minister, so far, has not been able to shed more light on this, except his public pronouncement on the plans to procure the new satellites.
Apart from the controversial capability attributed to one of the new satellites, there are also other matters bordering on the propriety of the procurement of the two new space facilities at a time Nigeria is experiencing tough economic situation, when it was alleged that the two previously built and launched satellites are being under-utilised.
Until it was rested some six years ago, Nigeria Sat 1, the predecessor of Nigeria Sat 2 and Nigeria Sat X, reportedly generated about N1 billion annually.
The amount was said to have come mostly from other countries like South America that needed spatial imaging capacity of the satellite.
But, with the installation of Nigeria Sat 2 and Nigeria Sat X, there had been complaints that the facilities were being under-utilised by ministries, department and agencies (MDAs) in the exploitation of geospatial images and information in Nigeria.
Our Tech Correspondent reliably gathered, for instance, that through a growing list of brokers from offshore space images acquisition firms, MDAs acquire geospatial information on agriculture, town planning, oil prospecting, water resource, road constructions, mining and maritime needed for operation in the country paying huge money into accounts of the offshore firms.
Thus, the government-owned satellites, Nigeria Sat 2 and Nigeria Sat X, had been denied the necessary patronages needed to sustain it, despite their capability to generate most of the required information.
“In some of these instances, the offshore firms channel the requests to us, here, in
Nigeria, because Nigeria Sat 1 and Nigeria Sat-X have better capabilities in garnering the needed information”, a source said.
The source, an officer with National Administration of Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Nigeria’s satellite agency and space information repository body, disclosed that Nigeria loses $10 billion to foreign satellite companies annually due to space images demand from MDAs and corporate bodies in the country.
Apart from the huge revenue loss, Independent gathered that NASRDA also loses the repository rights to these images as they are then domiciled offshore.
Stephen Adeyemi, Deputy Director, Ministry of Science and Technology, the supervisory body of NASRDA, while not denying the figure, nor confirming it, attributed the trend to ignorance, stating that the agency had embarked on moves to get the MDAs and others concerned to see the potential in Nigerian satellite.
He also stressed that the move to procure new satellites should be seen as a way to launch Nigeria into the league of nations with space technology capabilities.
It would be noted that Nigeria Sat 2 and Nigeria Sat-X are improvements on their predecessor, Nigeria Sat 1.
For instance, where the Nigeria sat-1 could only capture images of 32 meters in size and above, Nigeriasat-2 could see images of 2.5 meters in black and white. Nigeria Sat-X can capture images not less than 22 meters and in colours.
The satellite is meant to provide a bridge between Nigeria Sat-1 and Nigeria Sat-2. This means that Nigeria’s satellite project is useful in security, delineating electoral constituency, agriculture, climate change, mitigation of disaster and environmental monitoring.
The Nigerian satellites have more uses. For instance, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NASRDA for the coverage of elections.
In the agreement, NASRDA would provide high resolution imagery covering the entire country. The imagery is meant to show new settlements in Nigeria; population density; locality list of Nigeria; digital terrain model of Nigeria showing among other things, road network, lowland, highland, drainage pattern, swampy areas, Niger Delta areas, arid and semi-arid areas.