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‘Nigeria must usher Africa into era of space colonization’

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Mohammed

Dr. Seidu Onailo Mohammed in few weeks will deliver his inaugural lecture at Kaduna State University, as Professor of Aerospace Survey and Earth Observation. In a chat with J.K. OBATALA, he urged NASRDA to start thinking of how Nigeria can lead Africa to colonise the Moon.

You have retired, after 11 years, as NASRDA’s director general. What are you going to miss most about the job?
It is my colleagues; their smiles and their team spirit. We had always worked like a team. I miss them. For sure, I will always cherish every moment of it, for the rest of my life.

Looking back, what is your most outstanding accomplishment?
Well, in the interest of time, I will just highlight a few, starting with capacity development. When I took over, in 2008, there were only about six Ph. D. holders at NASRDA. Today, there are almost 200. Masters’ degrees, have grown, from about 30 to over 600.

I have to point out this before going ahead that NASRDA provided the only available data for climate signature over the Nigerian territory.

Nigeria was spending lots of money, training personnel abroad. With this in mind, NASRDA commissioned, in 2019, the first Institute for Space Science and Engineering in Africa. It is affiliated with the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja…

Also, EduSat-1, launched in 2017 was a great confidence-builder, for Nigerian engineers. The satellite was a collaboration, involving NASRDA and the Federal University of Technology, Akure, as well as Ghana, Mongolia, Bangladesh and Japan’s Kyushu Institute of Technology.

EduSat has a novel feature. When it is passing over Nigeria, school children can tune in, via amateur radio, and hear the country’s national anthem. We want to encourage them to be patriotic.

There was a jurisdictional dispute between NASRDA and the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency (NGSA), after the Abuja earthquake. Can you shed some light on this?
No, there was no controversy, at all! The problem with black man is that we are too territorial. Technologies are breaking down boundaries every day. Yes, NGSA started earlier, using conventional methodologies, to assess geological situations.

But today, satellites have enhanced our capabilities. Do not forget, NASRDA has the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics (C.G.G.) at Toro, Bauchi State. It is supplying the U.S. Space Agency, NASA, with reliable data, on the African crustal plate. It is conducting research on the entire continent.

The truth is, NGSA has its’ work and the Space Agency has its too. We are not ‘taking their jobs.’ Earthquake studies is not their job, as such; it is our job and our collectively responsibility

How about the South African-based Square Kilometre Array (SKA)?
The fact is, they won’t accept Nigeria. Let me tell you. South Africa is playing politics with SKA. The whole of Africa backed that country to host this pioneering global project and it won. SKA was intended to raise the level of astronomical research, in Africa.

You know, three countries are prominent in the African astronomy — South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. So, why would they exclude us? It is not fair! On different occasions we have protested, yet nothing has been done.

What kind of politics, do you think they are playing?
Well, it is the politics of isolation. They are isolating us. That is what it means.
Kwara State University tried to build a space shuttle, but things did not go as expected. What happened?

It is one of those efforts; such sophisticated project requires a lot of money. I do not think Kwara State Government has the wherewithal, to support a project.

Was NASRDA involved?
Well, we were doing some cooperation, but nothing much happened.

As a retired and long-serving director general, in which direction would you like to see Nigeria’s Space Agency go?
I want NASRDA to embark on Deep Space Research within the shortest possible time. We should be thinking about it. Then, start collaborating with foreign projects that target the Moon. Our goal should be to send a spacecraft to the Moon, like India did. We must lead the rest of Africa into a new frontier in space.

You are suggesting Deep Space Research, it seems, as Nigeria’s first step, towards joining the global rush to establish colonies on the Moon?
Certainly. That is what I am talking about.
Speaking of ‘cherished’ memories, the thing I am going to miss most (aside from harassing you for interviews) is eating in your sitting room!

Yes. That is because you know I grew up in a household where there were many people and we always eat together. That culture is ingrained in me. Often, when there are no visitors at my house, for instance, we will wait for people to come, before we eat!

How many people were in your family home, when you were growing up in Abejukolo?
I am certainly sure that we were more than 30. There was the senior group, who ate together; while the younger ones were also made to eat together. After a while, the younger ones graduated into the senior class and the cycle continues.

Was it a polygamous home?
Yes. My father had four wives. His junior brother also had four wives. Then, another uncle had one wife.

Were they all living with their children?
Yes, it was a big compound such that in the evening all the women will bring their food and we all eat together based on your class.

You were brought up, according to royal traditions. What was it like?
The Igala throne is rotated between four ruling houses. I come from the Akogwu Royal House. My father is the great grandson of Ogala, the 12th Atta of Igala. Because of that, we grew up with a lot of discipline and instilled sense responsibility. It is like you belonging to the community to whom you had to answer, for your bad behaviour. Therefore, at every point, you must be careful about what you say and do.

Why did you choose ‘Remote Sensing,’ as a profession, when little as of the course then was known?
You are quite right. When I entered Twente University, in the Netherlands, Remote Sensing was still very new, even in Europe. So, I was excited and strongly attracted to it.

Some of my colleagues in Holland, would ask: “Seidu! Of what use would this course be to you in Africa?”
My reply, would always be: “Africa, like other regions, has its share of global responsibilities to bear. Remote Sensing skills, will help us to play our part.”

I am happy that NASRDA has raised its’ standard to a global level and played its part very well.


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