Nigeria, NigComSat - Beware of China’s Sri Lankan tea

Truths are sacred. In the satellite industry driven by factual precision, accuracy is not only sacred but strategic to informing the public stakeholders. The recent article by a former editor of The Punch on Saturday, and currently the editor of FRANKTALKNOW, an online blogger, Olabisi Deji-Folutile, on Nigeria’s satellite industry and the two principal publicly-owned drivers requires careful scrutiny. The article failed the truth-test. In an opinion article afflicted by lack of basic information on the structure and operations of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Ltd (NIGCOMSAT), Olabisi Deji-Folutile simply fell short of one of the basic tenets of journalism, which is the pursuit of truth. What is an editor’s interest in a matter she knows little or nothing about? This is the question that agitates the mind in trying to contextualize the basis of the article.

News stories and articles are meant to represent the highest ethos of journalism especially when they come from those who lay claim to its calling such as an editor of a revered newspaper. Sadly, it is not always the case that such expectations are met. Writing under the headline, “what is NIGCOMSAT business with buying and launching satellite?” Olabisi Deji-Folutile obfuscates the truth with deliberate, spurious and arrogant posturing, clearly intent on tarnishing the image of NIGCOMSAT LTD and bringing it to ridicule.

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The said article betrayed its intentions right from its opening paragraph when it referred to the Managing Director of NIGCOMSAT Ltd Dr. Abimbola Alale FASI, CFIP, as Director. This woozy start immediately calls to question the extent of the writer’s understanding of the issue she set out to address. Without such basic information at her fingertips, the writer indeed forfeits the right to treat an issue which she has no capacity to handle. For the avoidance of doubt, Dr. Alale ceased to be a Director since 2014 when she assumed the leadership of NIGCOMSAT Ltd, as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer.

“Regrettably in 2012, there was a deliberate misrepresentation of facts by NASRDA to the then President that the engineers that worked on NigeriaSatX (a remote sensing satellite) were the same engineers that worked on NigComSat-1R. For the purpose of peace and industrial harmony, NIGCOMSAT never responded to that fallacy.”

Equally disturbing is my respected editor’s attempt to downplay the humongous achievements of the Hon. Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Prof. Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami) which is being applauded in every sphere of the economy. Worthy of note is how he turned around an ailing ministry to a first class ministry, first amongst equals.

The present Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to every discerning mind is a flagship achievement of the Hon. Minister. This is not hidden. The facts, incontestable as they are, are available in the public domain. Nigeria has never had this level of digitalization as is the present state of things. There is no gainsaying that the digital economy has contributed immensely to the growth of the Nigerian Economy.

 On some of the salient issues raised, the writer of that article definitely needs some enlightenment on how international space agencies operate.

Telsat of Canada is a Satellite operator and satellite communications solutions provider. The company is the fourth largest fixed satellite service provider in the world. As at 2011, it had in its fleet 13 satellites with one under construction and operates 13 additional satellites for other entities. It has no launch capacity and therefore procures the launch services internationally.

The Canadian Space Research Agency is the Canadian government space agency responsible for Canada’s space program. It was established in March 1989 by the Canadian Space Agency ACT and sanctioned in December 1990. The mandate is to promote the peaceful use and development of space to advance the knowledge of space through science and to ensure that space science and technology provides social and economic benefits for Canadians. In fact, the Canadian Space Agency’s mission statement says that the agency is committed to leading the development and application of space knowledge for the benefits of Canadians and humanity.    

In the United States of America, Intelsat is the world’s largest provider of fixed satellite services operating a fleet of 52 satellites in prime Orbital slot or locations. Its launch services are provided by various companies, including International Launch Services (ILS), a U.S-Russian joint venture with exclusive rights to the worldwide sale of commercial Proton rocket launch services. There are several satellite manufacturers including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Space System/ Loral.

Meanwhile, the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA) is an executive branch agency of the United States government responsible for the nation’s civilian space and aeronautics and aerospace research. Since February 2006, NASA’s self- described mission statement is to ‘pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research’.  

Eutelsat is owned by the European community for the telecommunications need and broadcasting needs as well the Mediterranean regions. It operates an intra-European system that provides services such as telephone, VSAT business networks (known as SMS), television distribution and broadcast services (23 channels in 10 different languages), radio distribution and mobile voice and radio determination satellite services.

The Eutelsat made a remarkable progress towards its goal of having a complete fleet of launch vehicles in service, competing in all sectors of the launch market. It has also in its fleet three major rocket designs, Ariane 5, Soyuz-2 and Vega. Rocket launches are carried out by Arianespace which has 23 shareholders representing the industry that manufactures the Ariane 5 as well as CNES, at the spaceport in French Guiana. A variety of manufacturers are used including EAD, Thales Alenia Space, Astrium Satellites.

On the flip side, the European Space Research Agency Mission Statement provides that ESA’s purpose shall be to ‘provide for, and to promote exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation amongst European states in space research and technology and their space applications with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications system’.

“Aside the national grid that supplies power, why can NASRDA not power its complex despite huge yearly budgetary allocation? Launching a satellite is a serious business. Can NASRDA with all sincerity of purpose, organize the launch of a satellite?”

Other responsibility on the shoulder of the European Research Space Agency is to implement a long-term European space policy by recommending space objectives to the member-states and by concerting the policies of the member-states with respect to other national and international organisations and institutions.

In Nigeria, NIGCOMSAT Ltd is principally a satellite operator and service provider. The vision of the company is synonymous with the intent of the Federal Government as captured within the Federal Executive Council Conclusions of November 10, 2003, that is, to provide a commercial vehicle to implement and sustain the NigComSat-1 project. 

There is no indigenous capacity. The launch of NigComSat-1 and NigComSat-1R was provided by CLTC of China, while NigeriaSat series of the National Space Research Development Agency (NASRDA) were launched in Russia.

NASRDA as a space research agency, is focused on the development of indigenous capacity in the area of space technology. In this case, the core functions of the space agency are research and development; to administer the national space policy and in so doing conduct research and developmental activities towards creating indigenous technological competence in space related fields, which includes satellite technology.

Against this backdrop, there should be no hesitation on the part of Olabisi Deji-Folu in understanding the separate, unambiguous roles of the two Agencies. But this is not the crux of the matter.

Can we trust NASRDA of today to launch a satellite? Yes, NigComSat-1 was launched by NASRDA during the tenure of Prof. Robert Ajayi Borrofice. However, NigComSat-1R which was launched as a replacement for NigComSat-1 was purely a NIGCOMSAT Ltd affair under the then Minister of Communications and Technology, Mrs Omobola Johnson. From the design to the signing of the launch of NigComSat-1R, the project supervision and to conclusion, I really cannot remember the presence of a NASRDA staff either as a supervisor, project coordinator and so on. So how do you claim ownership of a project that you did not contribute in any way to its development and launch? NIGCOMSAT Ltd ceased to be part of NASRDA since the establishment and registration of NIGCOMSAT Ltd, which effectively transferred the project to a newly created entity called NIGCOMSAT Ltd. 

Regrettably in 2012, there was a deliberate misrepresentation of facts by NASRDA to the then President that the engineers that worked on NigeriaSatX (a remote sensing satellite) were the same engineers that worked on NigComSat-1R. For the purpose of peace and industrial harmony, NIGCOMSAT never responded to that fallacy     

As at today, I have some pertinent questions for NASRDA. Aside the national grid that supplies power, why can NASRDA not power its complex despite huge yearly budgetary allocation?

Launching a satellite is a serious business. Can NASRDA with all sincerity of purpose, organize the launch of a satellite?

What happened to the space road map? What happened to the Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) complex, a critical component of satellite launch?

 NigeriaSat1, 2 and NigeriaSatX have long expired and there has been no replacement, why is NASRDA not making a case for the trio?

It may interest you to know that NIGCOMSAT Quality Policy is ‘committed to the provision of satellite communications solutions in line with our client’s requirements’. Beside this, the services are delivered with commitment to the requirements of the ISO 900:2015 standards and our customers, both internally and externally, while ensuring responsibility and commitment towards continual improvement for the effectiveness of the quality management system’.

In addition to that, NIGCOMSAT Ltd has a centre known as the Direct-To-Home (DTH) which provides Television and Radio transmission stations in the country. The national television, NTA for a very long while now has transmitted its content on NigComSat-1R.

NIGCOMSAT Ltd parades notable engineers that are contributing to the growth of the Nigerian economy through enormous knowledge gained from the Technological-Know-How Transfer.

The Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) is a technology brought to the African continent by NIGCOMSAT Ltd to promote and improve safety in the aviation and non-aviation sectors. In September 2020, the NigComSat-1R L-band transponder started a trial of first SBAS provision Open service signal broadcast over Africa and Indian Ocean.

In January 2021, NIGCOMSAT Ltd conducted series of five flight demos at Lome International Airport in Togo. The trial was to show in real configuration the efficiency of SBAS technology which pursues autonomous provision of SBAS service over the continent to augment the performances of satellite navigation constellations of GPS and Galileo.

These tests were carried out utilizing ASCENA’s calibrated aircraft; ATR42-300, which was equipped by Pildo labs with specific sensors and embarked on 5 rotations over Lome airport.

The demonstration showed ability of the system to allow landing on the two ends of the use of Instrument of landing System (ILS). It demonstrated the benefits of safety-Of-Life of SBAS services in terms of flight safety, efficiency and environment protection.

The second demonstration took place on June 2, 2021. It was a helicopter demonstration flight between DOULA and Kirbi. The demonstration flight was conducted along a low-level, two-way route linking the two Point in space (PinS) approaches to the Doula airport and a point near the oil platforms located on the Kirbi Coast, both in Cameroun. The aim of the experience was to demonstrate the ability of the SBAS system to improve the safety of satellite navigation for helicopters through increased GNSS performance validating the benefits of future aeronautical SBAS services.

The recent demonstration took place in Congo Brazzaville in July 2021. It was designed to deliver Precise Point Positioning (PPP) in non-aviation sector to show centimeter level accuracy.

The extensive explanation above is to address the knowledge gaps and facilitate a credible representation on the activities of NIGCOMSAT in many ways.

Therefore, back to the vexed question, ‘What is NIGCOMSAT’s business with buying and launching satellite’? Our contributions towards the Nigerian economy cannot be viewed from the comfort of the newsroom. Instead, we advise a closer working relationship with NIGCOMSAT which will avail you credible and timely information on our activities.   

Therefore, the answer is very simple. NIGCOMSAT in line with international best practice procures and not launches. It procures to serve the Nigerian people as enunciated in its mandate.

Dear editor, journalism is a profession with values that cannot afford the dishonor of an unbalanced reportage or commentary. The society demands more from this profession than the debauchery that undergirds our dealing with serious, sensitive matters!

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