Saturday, 30th September 2023

Boroffice: Very soon, there’ll be a defence space administration law

By J.K. Obatala
13 November 2016   |   3:46 am
Well, most countries have a Defence Space Command…There are certain things Space Commands do, that should not be in the public domain. They are part of the intelligence community.

Ondo APC Primary Was Not Tidy From Beginning

Senator Roberts Ajayi Boroffice

Senator Roberts Ajayi Boroffice


Ondo APC Primary Was Not Tidy From Beginning.

Senator Robert Ajaiyi Boroffice, was the founding director-general and chief executive officer at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA). Now chairman of the Senate Committee On Science And Technology, he recently updated J.K. OBATALA—during a visit to the National Assembly—on important legislative developments. The Senator also addressed assorted national issues, including landlines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the steel industry and the intractable NASRDA/NigComSat affair.

Let’s start with the Ondo State gubernatorial race. You were a candidate. What happened?
I think it was the normal process, in politics. I ran in the primaries, for the governorship—and the man with the highest number of votes won!

Have you any idea, about what went wrong?
A number of us thought the procedure was not good enough, that there were some problematic practices, particularly with regards to delegate lists. This includes the issue of non-delegates voting. We have presented that to the appeal panel, raised by the party.

What is the status of the bill to establish the Defence Space Administration (DSA), which you submitted some time ago?
We had the third and final reading today, which signifies the Senate’s passage of the bill. Essentially, its purpose is to enable the Nigerian military to have an institutional framework, within which to exploit space science and technology, in pursuing its objectives.

The Military has occupied structures within NASRDA. Is that going to be the base of DSA? Or will it have a permanent site elsewhere?
I think it would be good, if NASRDA and DSA were co-located permanently, within the same premises, to enable them to interact and collaborate.

Why do we need a military Space Agency?
Well, most countries have a Defence Space Command…There are certain things Space Commands do, that should not be in the public domain. They are part of the intelligence community. You can see what is being done with drones, in tracking down insurgents, militants, etc., in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. The Nigerian military, which already operates in secrecy, to some extent, will now have their own institutional framework to do those things. The traditional space agency, which is a member of the United Nations Committee On The Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS), cannot do what a military Space Agency will be expected do. In fact, COPOUS was established, to ensure that space is not used for military purposes. So the military operations must be separated.
You mentioned “drones”. Does Nigeria plan to introduce these vehicles into its space programme or its military capability?

You see, the truth is that unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” have now become part of standard military operations. Among the advantages are, that it reduces the number of foot soldiers and casualties. So it’s a good way of managing warfare. Drones are also very specific in targeting.

But drones have become commercially important as well…

Yes. Even Google is involved in the industry. How close is Nigeria to deploying drones?
I can’t say, specifically. But I know NASRDA and the oncoming DSA are making an effort, to see how they can develop drones—not only for military purposes, but also for research and other civilian uses.

Let me be clear: The new agency, is officially called the “Defense Space Administration”?
Yes. That’s correct.

Will its structure run parallel with that of NASRDA?
No, no. The structure is different, because the military establishment involved, is made up of people who are connected with defense and intelligence issues. It consists of people like the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Navy Staff, the Chief of Air Staff, the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Defense Staff… Those are the people who operate at the Board Level. And, of course, in the administration itself, there are both civilian and military personnel.

Structurally, DSA departments are different than the ones in a normal space agency. Because it is focused on the application of space technology to military and intelligence matters…

The director general at NASRDA, once opined to me, that it’s time to elevate the Space Agency to the level of a “ministry”. Would you support that?
Well, that would be very difficult, in the present situation! The country is trying to cut back its expense.

So, a proposal to create another Federal Ministry, for space, would not receive a favourable consideration, at this time. Actually, whether you call it an “agency” or a “ministry,” the challenge is really to fund the agency, and raise it to an international standard—which depends on the political will of our leaders…

When I say, “political will,” I’m thinking of India, for example, which is progressing rapidly in space…because the leadership invests lot of money—in spite of the fact that there’s poverty in India.

So I see no reason, why we cannot likewise support the space industry in this country. We’re using “poverty” as an excuse. It shouldn’t be an excuse. Our leaders simply don’t have the political will.

We talk a lot about “space technology”. But none of it is manufactured here. Don’t you think it’s time to create a manufacturing base for the space programme?
Yes. This is a problem. There’s no supporting industries, you know. We depend solely on our technical partners. The point you have made is very apt: That the country should be able to support the space industry, by encouraging the establishment of some companies that can manufacture components…
Many years ago, I was involved in a successful campaign to resuscitate the Delta Steel Company. The legislature sent a committee there, which vowed that the steel industry would be revived—and it was.

I don’t sense that kind of resolve now. Why is the legislature not paying any attention to heavy industry, especially steel?
Unfortunately, I’m not a member of the committee that is in charge of steel. But these industries have been the victim of international politics…

International politics?
Yes. International politics, as well as internal corruption—and many other things that people codify as the “Nigerian factor”.

Some of the steel industries were privatized. But those who bought them actually made matters worse! The foreigners carted some of the basic infrastructure off to their own countries and converted some plants to warehouses.  So there was indiscipline, even on the part of private buyers! The government’s enforcement of the agreements, have been very weak—or, in some instances, non-existent.

You were formerly director general at the Space Agency. So I’m curious to know your perspective on “NigComSat”. Why is this problem so intractable?
I don’t know. To me, it’s a very simple matter. You have a Space Agency with two products. One is satellite remote sensing data. They have established a vehicle, to market that data.

Another vehicle was established, to market the other product—which is bandwidth. I see no reason why the two of them cannot come under NASRDA.

In any event, if the communications satellite organization is to stand on its own, there must be some synergy. There must be collaboration—a working relationship, between NigComSat and NASRDA.

But now, they are competing—which is not good for the nation. Then again, the issue of “management” has been a serious problem.

There was a false start, as far as the communications satellite is concerned…. When NigComSat was under NASRDA, my idea of how it should take-off, was different from what was done.

NigComSat was established when you were D.G.?
When I was D.G.—yes. We launched the satellite, with everything. And then we created NigComSat Limited, as a vehicle for selling the bandwidth.

But the way the management took off, was not what we recommended. Unfortunately, you know, there isn’t much one can do.

Can’t you introduce legislation, to require that NigComSat be brought back under NASRDA?
Well, interestingly, NigComSat has no bill to give its statutory status. There is no law backing it.
If there’s a move from NASRDA, of course, we will support the bill.

But, you see, when they do not bring us a bill, you don’t want to go and start … [laughing]. So, I think it is left for NASRDA to bring up this type of bill.

Of course if we want to do something like that, we wouldn’t do it with acrimony. We’d bring the two agencies together, and make them understand the need to cooperate.

Since we’re discussing “communications technology,” why is Nigeria relying solely on cellular phones, which it can neither manufacture nor control?

I’m not suggesting that cell phones be discarded. But would it not be wise, to invest in landline infrastructure?
Well, I don’t know. We have to compare the advantages—between the digital and the analogue world. The trend is to go digital.

With the landline, you need very extensive and very expensive infrastructure. It is predisposed to damages. Honestly, I think I would prefer the satellite communications. Maybe we can use fiber optics as backup, across the county.

Fiber optics are more technically advanced, than copper wire, running all over the place. Go to Mushin, in Lagos, for example, where there are wires running everywhere!

When there’s a problem, in a situation like that, the cause is very difficult to trace.

I know this doesn’t come under your jurisdiction. But do you have any thoughts, as a private citizen, on which direction Nigeria’s nuclear programme should be going?
Well, I think it is something we cannot run away from. With the problem we’re having in the power sector, we can be using nuclear technology to address the shortfall in power supply…

I believe that it’s something we should aspire to have. But then, that’s if we are serious about it and willing to commit funds, to build up the knowledge capital that can service this sector.

Again there must be political will—because a nuclear power system is very expensive to maintain. And there’s a lot of discipline involved.

Still, I think government is on the right track, because our energy policy encourages an energy mix—wind, hydro, geothermal, nuclear.
Let’s get to your own politics, here in the Senate. I note, in the media that you’ve had to deal with two very hot political issues—which I’d like you to comment on.

One, was the Federal Government’s spending on Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).
The data we have, shows that most of the relief materials do not get to the IDP. And it’s unfortunate. Some of the items are diverted. It’s not right, when millions of people are suffering. In fact, a United Nations relief organization has described it as one of the worst humanitarian crisis. Yet we are not at war, as such. It’s just an insurgency. Hence it’s in order for the Senate to investigate, so that corrections are made to ensure that relief materials get to the people who really need it.

Also, why did the proposal for special grants to Lagos cause such an uproar?
It’s unfortunate that the bill was killed. It was almost succeeding, until one of my colleagues made a statement that infuriated some members. I think there is a need for the grants. The case has been adequately made by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, that most of the revenue-generating Federal institutions are based in Lagos. But it is Lagos State that maintains them. Take the Port, for instance. Apapa Road, which services this facility, is usually congested and—unless it has recently been repaired –– in very, very bad shape.

It is the responsibility of Lagos State to repair the road. Yet it services the Nigerian Ports Authority, where a lot of revenue is generated. The same holds true, for many other Federal institutions. Now, the supposition is that, if you are giving 13 percent derivation to oil producing areas, a chunk of the Value Added Tax (VAT) ought to be awarded to Lagos to sustain development there.

Lagos is no longer an exclusively Yoruba enclave. It’s a mini-Nigeria.

Everybody is there…
Yes. Maybe the other way of doing it, is for Lagos State to impose a state sales tax, in addition to VAT. Maybe that is the solution.

Now that DSA is passed into law, what other legislation do you have in the works?
I still have two important bills outstanding. One has to do with transition, from one administration to the next. You know, this has been a problem. The Buhari-Jonathan transition, is an example. There was no communication. But if we have a law, which stipulates what-and-what should be done, I think it would help for a smooth transition. I also have a bill on food technology…

So what is your take on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which is being imported into Nigeria?
I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s good. You see, we have to be realistic. We have to allay the fears of our people, concerning the possibility of a harmful mutation taking place. It doesn’t happen. There is no scientific basis for it.

That’s interesting, since you are a geneticist.

I’m happy we succeeded in passing the biosafety regulation. It will enable us to participate in this modern era of genetic technology.

Explain the “biosafety regulations.”
Well, the purpose of biosafety regulations is to establish procedures for the use and disposal of genetic material, to avoid contaminating the local biosphere.

Once you have done that, companies like Monsanto, and others, can do business with Nigeria…

I understand the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has signed an MOU with Monsanto?
Yes. Yes. Monsanto can now do business with Nigeria, not only in the area of food but in seedlings, cotton, for instance. The cotton industry is almost gone. But if you go to Burkina Faso, it is benefitting from genetically modified technology—because they have the biosafety regulations. The yield per acre there, is far more than what we are getting here.

Then again, if you are not a signatory to this accord—if you haven’t adopted biosafety regulations—and use GMOs to produce crops, nobody will buy it from you. That’s because you don’t have the necessary regulatory environment. You’ll have to smuggle your goods into some other country to sell them. So the biosafety regulation is very important.

Is it law now?
Yes. We passed it last year in the 8th Assembly.

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