Nigeria – a sub-Saharan country situated on the Gulf of Guinea, it is a country that faces a high poverty rate, with 110 million Nigerians living in poverty, frequent Boko Haram attacks and a life expectancy of just over 50 years. It is also the most populous country in whole of Africa, a land abundant with natural resources and riches and one that is on the rise in every possible aspect regarded by the international community.
Two years ago, Nigeria managed to overtake South Africa as Africa’s largest economy, but things are not as rosy as this information would suggest. While the state itself is doing better and better (although there have been indications that there’s going to be a recession next year), the people are not doing as well. It is expected, though, that the increasing economic statistics of the state will soon rub off onto the average populace, pulling them from the gripping poverty that encases all types of population.
One thing that stands out, though, in this whole picture is the fact that Nigeria has its own space program. While many people from Western countries might not even be aware of this fact, Nigeria already has four artificial satellites in Earth’s orbit. They are used for various practical reasons, from military and naval surveillance, over environmental and disease control, to communications.
But, how has Nigeria come about its space program with its limited economy and constant social strife? Where has the government (and the program is government funded) found the money for it and why hasn’t it invested it somewhere else? The reasons for this are complex.
With a life expectancy of 54.5 years, it seems that not a lot of senior citizens are alive and well in Nigeria. However bad this might seem, it still has an advantage hidden if you look at it long enough. There are a lot of young people in this country and they have become the driving force of Nigeria. They are resourceful, they’ll always manage to improve things and their youthful thinking and drive pushes projects forward.
Also, this decreases the burden on the national pension fund, as there are not a lot of people living on retirement. It can be said, therefore, that there is an abundance of fresh and innovative ideas, as well as a passion for improvement, and not a lot of traditionalists that would fear changes.
Access to technology
Once the first Nigerian satellite was in orbit, it immediately brought technological improvement to the country. It allowed the government to use it for tracking environmental disasters, demographic planning and tracking diseases such as outbreaks of malaria and meningitis, common to the area. The other satellites enabled military surveillance and better communications. It is the last benefit that has improved the way in which the Nigerians see the world.
Better communications and, above all, good and stable internet access has allowed young (and not so young) Nigerians a better view of the world around them. They now have access to good education and are able to find work in various fields online. A lot of young Nigerians are turning to freelancing for numerous reasons (one being that they have no other way to find work). While this will not improve the statistics (freelancers are usually not counted as having any income, thus they are still considered to be amongst the poor population), this helps alleviate some of the poverty problem and helps the Nigerians and their families to survive and even thrive.
Also, another benefit of this is that a lot of people here realize the importance of the space program and they fully back the government to keep spending money on it, even though there are still some who say that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
When all is said and done, Nigerians are a practical people. They are used to finding creative, but practical, solutions to most of their problems. One of those creative solutions was to instigate a space program, in order to help with the rising problems. And, so far, it seems that the philosophy is working.
As the general director of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency, S. O. Mohammed, says: “The space program in Nigeria has always been focused on how to bring practical solutions to Nigerian’s problems. […] What we need to look at is using the space program to look at how we can create typical Nigerian solutions to most of our problems.”
And, this plan seems to have worked. Right now, the four satellites are monitoring the best soils to cultivate rice, the issues with the global warming, what growth can be expected of the cities, the movement of Boko Haram and various other things. It is a great example of using advanced technology to try and fix the biggest problems facing the country, instead of focusing on space exploration while ignoring the troubles of the common man.
These are the reasons why S. O. Mohammad is adamant that the program has to continue. According to NASRDA’s director, there are plans afoot to completely design a new satellite by 2018 and to launch one from the Nigerian soil (the orbiting satellites were launched from Russia and China) by 2030. After that, the first African in space and a Nigerian on the Moon. While Nigeria is facing economic hardships, the government seems bent on supporting the program, no matter what.
With $20 million for this fiscal year (it might not be billions that NASA has, but for a devastated economy that’s definitely something), the program is set to continue, although under-funded. Hopefully, once the economic situation improves, so will the NASRDA’s funding.